Ann Parnes switched careers in 2013, leaving a job as assistant district attorney in Jefferson Parish’s juvenile court to become a life coach. At the time, few people understood what her new position entailed.
“No one knew what a life coach did,” says Parnes, who co-founded Pivotal Perspectives with Kimberly Putman. “In other cities, there were plenty of life coaches, but when we started here, the reaction was, ‘What is that?’
“Now, I’m noticing more and more life coaches.”
Though New Orleans was slow to embrace the trend, life coaching has been around for a while. The International Coach Foundation launched in 1992 and remains the largest certifying body for life coaches, says Parnes, who is ICF certified. Today, the nonprofit comprises 30,000 coaches in 140 countries. Celebrities ranging from Oprah Winfrey to Leonardo diCaprio have retained life coaches.
What does a life coach do? The answer depends on which coach you’re talking to, but in general, they help clients achieve goals. Life coaches don’t usually have degrees in psychology, and they emphasize that they aren’t therapists (but their practices can be similar to cognitive behavioral therapy). Instead of seeking out the origin of deep-seated issues, life coaches focus on the client’s present and future.
“Most people who come to me feel stuck and aren’t sure what to do next,” says Mia Oramous, owner of Transform NOLA. “Their job or relationship isn’t satisfactory; they could be unhappy with their living situation or New Orleans. They could just be unhappy with how they’re feeling—it’s any number of things.”
When Oramous came to life coaching in 2005, it was an outgrowth of her work as a personal trainer and yoga teacher. She encourages clients to remain rooted in mindfulness and gratitude, while accepting reality for what it is.
“I approach (coaching) as letting go of the things you don’t have control over—which if you think about it, is a lot of stuff,” she says. “That way, you become open to things that might guide you toward your intentions.
“I’m not your quote unquote ‘typical’ life coach,” she says, laughing. “I’m more of a being coach, I guess.”
Parnes favors a systematic approach with her clients, most of whom present career and relationship challenges.
“We get where they want to go, step by step,” she says. “The client generates their own ideas, assignments and how they want to be held accountable. We chart the path and come up with landmarks that we celebrate together along the way.”
A life coach who moved to New Orleans from California’s Bay Area earlier this year, Hannah Wycoff formerly worked as a residential counselor at a group home for teenagers in the foster care system. She describes her approach as a mix between these two strategies.
“If they’re the kind of person who wants charts, wheels and calendars, I have the skills and resources to provide that structure,” Wycoff says. “But if someone wants to talk and sort through it in a more emotional way, feeling it out, I’m down to get into that space.”
Life coaches specialize in all kinds of niches—from relationship and weight-loss coaching to LGBTQ and entrepreneurship coaching. Many offer a free consultation so potential clients can see if they click. Some offer sliding scales, including Wycoff. She says that when hiring a life coach, people should trust their gut reactions and look for someone credible.
The right coach-client partnership can be transformative, clients say.
“I’ve worked with a few life coaches at different times in my life,” says Shanda Catrice. “The first one helped me sell my house and move to San Francisco to attend graduate school, a dream of mine that I couldn’t see ever happening.”
From career shifts to relocations, people experience an unprecedented amount of flux. Life coaches help people optimize transitions while offering a supportive presence, Wycoff says.
“There’s something missing in our society—a void (where we should have) another person witness a life change,” Wycoff says. “For me, it’s super exciting to be that person. I think there’s a human need for that.”