Ohioans part of life coaching trend

NORTH RIDGEVILLE, Ohio - When things get trying in the New York dental office of Dr. Fred Hecht, he touches base with his personal coach, a fellow dentist in Ohio.

"When something goes great in the office, he knows the feeling," Hecht said of his four-year relationship with Ron Arndt, a dentist in the Cleveland suburb of North Ridgeville, who gets paid to help him get through. "When you have the patient from hell and can't satisfy them, he knows that feeling."

Arndt is part of a growing national industry of personal coaches -- basically professional friends with special knowledge. For example, former pastors are coaching other ministers.

Coaches exist for pretty much anyone who needs regular professional or other advice: coaches for spelling bee participants, divorcees, attorneys, military spouses and winery owners looking for advice about passing possessions on to their kids.

"We're training coaches to coach anyone through anything," said Sandy Vilas, president of Coachinc.com, an online coaching academy. "But now there are specialties we hadn't dreamed of."

Coaches dispense advice about personal happiness and financial success, usually through phone calls and e-mail newsletters.

Arndt invites his clients to his home for a Thanksgiving time dinner and gives them gifts, such as a DVD of "Mr. Holland's Opus," the story of an inspiring music teacher. He told clients to watch the film with their families to remember how important they are to others.

He earns about $19,000 a month coaching more than two dozen dentists and five other clients.

"People come to me under the expectation we are going to spend a lot of time on their business," Arndt said. "And rightly so, because we dentists get little to no training in running our businesses. We spend coaching time on those issues, but equally on life balance, what's important to them and how to make certain that relationships with spouses and kids are in the right place."

The International Coach Federation, an industry accreditation association, has 9,600 members, more than triple its numbers in 2000. Georgetown University now offers a certificate in "leadership coaching."

Betsy Muller is an energy coach who runs the Indigo Connection in Strongsville, near Cleveland, which promises to boost morale and increase energy. She was trained last year through a group in Saratoga, Calif.

"I wanted to help people with their health, frame of mind and attitudes," she said.

Despite an accreditation process, many coaches have little training or may lack a code of ethics. And some experts worry coaches might try to be substitute psychiatrists, though the International Coach Federation bars such conduct.

Clients say they want someone who helps them reach their goals and focuses on them.

"I can be selfish," said Debra Stanton, a pastor at the Bensalem United Methodist Church in suburban Philadelphia, who has used a coach for three years. "He tells me what's happening with him for less than a minute, then it's all about me."

Stanton sought out a coach three years ago as she struggled financially to modernize her church. Prayer-based counseling had "run its course," and consultants were too expensive, she said.

She hired clergy coach Val Hastings, a former Methodist pastor, for $250 a month. They discuss ways other churches handle similar problems.

"It was very important I had a pastor who knew what it's like," Stanton said. "Advice from a secular person would not have worked."

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