EDMONTON – When life feels like a dark, endless tunnel, sometimes you need someone to help find the light at the end.
For Deb Barszczewski and a growing number of North Americans, that someone is a wellness coach, a life coach specializing in health and well-being.
Wellness coaches are paid motivators who guide clients to finding balance in their stressful lives by identifying problems, setting goals and helping them make behavioural changes that can lead to weight loss, more regular exercise, better management of stress.
In Barszczewski’s case, Claudette Pelletier-Hannah guided the accounting manager through the aftermath of ending a rocky, 18-year marriage and struggles with her career.
“Claudette put the tools in front of me to help me get back to basics. She gave me a lot of food for thought,” Barszczewski (pronounced Barshefski) says.
“By the end, I found clarity — what I needed, where I needed to go, what I don’t want — as well as a lot of confidence and self-esteem.
“I was also ready, and I think you need to be ready and accepting of that sort of self-analysis and be honest with yourself,” Barszczewski says.
It’s a common problem for women to focus on themselves because they spread themselves so thin trying to be everything to everybody: daughter, sister, spouse, parent, employee, says Pelletier-Hannah.
So to some women who first hear part of Pelletier-Hannah’s message, to accept that you are No. 1 can sound selfish.
But Barszczewski says she knows that “focusing on me actually makes me a better mom, a better employee, better in relationships with other people. It’s not a selfish thing at all.”
CASE STUDY 2
Marlene Peters is a member of one of two groups Pelletier-Hannah is currently coaching at the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women.
The group of up to 14 women meet for an hour once a week for 12 weeks. In between meetings, they have homework, using a workbook that helps them become more self-aware and helps them set and achieve goals for a healthier life.
Peters is trying to make positive changes around emotions and eating.
“I’m 90 pounds lighter than I was two years ago, but I gained 15 pounds over winter. Rather than waiting until I gained more, I decided to come here and start looking at some of the reasons why I’m eating, why I don’t exercise, why I don’t think positively,” Peters explains after a recent meeting. “I’m looking for balance in my life and groups really work for me.”
Peters sees Pelletier-Hannah every week. Kristi Jarmus, on the other hand, completed the coach’s 12-week weight and wellness program without ever meeting her.
Jarmus lives on Long Island, N.Y., and all of her coaching sessions with Pelletier-Hannah were done over the phone, which is the way most one-on-one coaching is done, even when coach and client live in the same city.
Jarmus, the married mother of three, says she initially wondered how weird it was going to be, being coached by someone she had never met face-to-face, “because you can read so much about people from their facial expressions.” But their weekly hour-long phone sessions turned out to be very comfortable and very life changing.
Jarmus had just completed a stressful family move from Winnipeg for her husband’s new job when the two women started talking.
She had also recently turned 40 and thought it was a good opportunity to look at her life and make any needed changes, specifically targeting her weight ups and downs. “I have never been successful in maintaining weight loss as part of a lifestyle. I always looked at it as a diet,” Jarmus explains.
By her second coaching session she discovered weight loss really wasn’t her number one priority, it was dealing with the anxiety and stress following the move that was causing her to eat more.
“I hold no judgment because I’m on the outside. I’m very objective so my approach is different from a parent’s or a spouse’s,” says Pelletier-Hannah.
“I do a lot of listening, ask a lot of questions and have the person figure out for themselves what they want and the plan of action that will help them get it,” Pelletier-Hannah says. “Mostly it’s about eliciting and empowering.”
Coaching doesn’t work for everyone. You have to be ready to make changes.If they are fully ready, she helps them move merrily along. If they’re not quite ready, she helps them reach another level, closer to being ready.
Client Deb Barszczewski says she feels healthier mentally since her work with the wellness coach, and family and friends see a difference.
“The physical wellness hasn’t kicked in for me yet, but I see the hope there. It gives me hope that it will happen, all in due time, when I’m ready,” she says. “As long as I keep focusing and keep making baby steps forward.”
HOW TO FIND A WELLNESS COACH
– Life coaches and wellness coaches are not regulated, so take some time in choosing one.
– A recommendation from a family member, friend or colleague is a good place to start.
– Look for a coach with at least two years experience and who is certified by a reputable organization.
– Credible coaches offer a free telephone consultation so client and coach can determine if they are on the same wavelength.
– Clients should feel energized and more confident after a coaching session.
– Terminate the relationship if it doesn’t feel right or if you’ve given it some time and made no headway.