Life coaches, personal trainers, career advisers – are all common services in many countries, with their popularity firmly established within society. For Ethiopia, however, such an approach to psychologial stability and well-being is relatively new, reports SOLIANA ALEMAYEHU, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER. The sector does not come without controversy either, with many unregistered and uncertified individuals chancing their arm. This can be dangerous, according to some experts, though others firmly testify to the great benefits that can be garnered.
She described it as a place where everyone was encouraged to speak up, to be assertive, to share – where people from different walks of life got together for lively conversation and debate, in an exciting, energetic environment, led by an influential central figure.
“He made it come to life,” said Naomi Bisrat, with nostalgia still evident in her voice four years after she partook in those life coaching sessions. “He helped me to dream.”
Life coaches counsel and encourage clients on matters related to various aspects of their lives. There is a life coach somewhere in the world for almost any problem people face, whether personal or professional issues and matters of the heart, both literal and figurative.
Operating in a grey area that is neither unanimously accredited nor discredited, life coaching is growing through tasks previously designated to elders, parents, religious leaders and even friends. In the US and UK alone, there are more than eight peer-formed accreditation organisations.
The industry has slowly risen over the past decade to become ‘all the rage’ in many parts of the world. Aided partly by the hard economic times and uncertainty that have persisted since the economic crisis of 2008, the Harvard Business Review estimated it to be a billion dollar a year industry in 2011. The Guardian’s January 2016 estimates put it at double that amount. Professional backgrounds have also evolved. Psychologists, educational specialists and clinical social workers are all clamouring for a piece of the pie – increasing quality and fuelling competition. The sector is diversifying and specialising.
Three years ago, a voluntary group called the International Coaching Federation (ICF), which gives accreditation to coaching, carried out an international study. It discovered that there are an estimated 47,500 life coaches in the world. Over a third of these are found in North America, and they charge an average of 230 dollars an hour.
While not as lucrative, life coaching is a trend that is slowly starting to grow in Ethiopia as well. From magazine columns to radio shows and from organised seminars to wellness centres, the field is slowly developing as a business.
Ebba Tesfaye is a practicing life coach, who refers to himself as a motivational trainer. He argues that many have potential, but their capacities are hidden because of their cultural and social conditioning, or economic backgrounds.
“They have so much, but see themselves as so little,” he said. “What we do is help them to realise what they already have.”
He added that negative experiences give birth to negative thought patterns, which hold back their owners. But through the different techniques he applies, he claims to be able not only to reignite dreams, but also to help to achieve them.
The elusive industry of ‘life coaching’ in the capital employs catchy phrases and embraces umbrella philosophies, but is not subject to regulation and standardisation. The Food, Medicine and Health Care Administration & Control Authority (FMHACA) recognises workers in the helping professions, such as medical workers, psychologists and social workers, who, through their licences, may counsel their clients. But, so far, there is no specific counselling licence for them or others.
Accreditation or no accreditation, life coaches are making a living throughout the world – though some significantly more successfully than the rest. Personal trainers earn an average of 35 dollars an hour in the US, while career advisers earn half of that. At the other end of the spectrum, business trainers, a.k.a. executive coaches, can earn upwards of 3,500 dollars for a single hour’s work.
Though executive training is not as profitable in Ethiopia, Ebba has started to work in this field. His journey towards becoming a life coach began from what he described as “a bad place” in his youth. So bad, he said he had even reached the point of having suicidal tendencies. Not having anyone to talk to, worsened the situation.
A reintroduction into his faith helped him return from that bad place. Soon after, he started noticing others who were in the same kind of state he had been in.
“I wanted to help others feel better,” Ebba said. “So, I started to talk to and listen to people I thought were having a hard time.”
At a loss as to how to reply to the things they confided in him, he started reading up on motivational things to say. He noticed the effect his replies had and started to participate in mini-media and then on radio.
“I used to call myself an up and coming motivational speaker,” he said. “Until one day, after hearing a speech I gave, another motivational speaker told me that I already was one.”
Armed with a Master’s degree in Counselling Psychology from a local private university, a certificate in Positive Psychotherapy and some online courses in Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Ebba, in collaboration with his father, who had the required managerial accreditation, opened T.E.A. Consultancy.
He trains people in how to manage stress, time, conflict, attitudes and communications. Among his clients are Coca-Cola and the German federal organisation, GiZ.
A two- to three-day training exercise for a group of 20 to 25 people brings him income of 50,000 Br to 60,000 Br. This sum covers the costs of services provided by four other facilitators he hires, the venue and refreshments.
But his is not the only type of life coaching available in the City
Another type of life coaching revolves around physical health. Dawit Mengistu, an Ethiopian who has lived throughout Europe and worked as a public health consultant, came back to his roots to open the Bole Wellness Centre. He counsels his clients on lifestyle choices that affect their health – from sleeping routines to eating habits.
He, along with his staff of eight, focuses on preventative, sometimes curative, measures for non-communicable diseases. The Centre offers, in addition to counselling, spa and physiotherapy services.
Bikila Kidanu went to see Dawit three years ago. He came to Addis after being referred from the hospital in Metehara, where he formerly worked. He had suffered from tuberculosis (TB) most of his life and his disease had got to the point where it could not be medicated. Despite consultations with the Korean Hospital, Betezata Hospital, Black Lion Hospital and the Pasteur Institute, he continued to suffer from typhoid, typhus and bronchitis.
“My whole body was in pain, my skin had darkened and I weighed just 49kg,” Bikila said.
On hearing about the services delivered at the Wellness Centre, he went to speak to Dawit.
After a three-hour consultation, Dawit told Bikila that his immunity was low and needed to be boosted. Bikila recalled that an Aloe vera solution and tablets were prescribed.
“I was fine within months,” Bikila said. “I now weigh 79kg.”
Dawit explained that health counselling is pretty common in the US, driven by aging baby boomers who want to live longer and better. But in Ethiopia, it is yet to catch on. Starting up his Centre required licences from the Addis Health Bureau and FMHACA, with costs amounting to around 100,000 Br. He added that this figure was low because a friend had helped him with the venue.
A general consultation at the Centre costs 300 Br to 500 Br for the first consultation, along with approximately three monthly follow-ups. A similar consultation for weight loss costs 1,000 Br to 2,000 Br.
Last year, the Centre generated about half a million Birr in total revenue. Dawit also trains large groups of people when he is invited, although, unlike Ebba, he has yet to monetise it.
“I would rather keep creating awareness first,” he said.
Bikila’s ecstatic recommendation of his coach is not found across the board, however. Some do not remember their trainer so fondly.
For 450 Br a month, Naomi was one of 25 that used to go to two-hour classes given three times a week by Layne Mulubirhan, a self-proclaimed life coach.
She had first heard about the classes through her friend, Amanuel Zerihun.
“There were these huge posters in the middle of Mexico that claimed to help its users grow their personal skills,” he said. “So we thought we should try it.”
The first couple of classes were free, but those who wanted to continue paid to do so.
“He used to tell us the struggles he was able to pass and it inspired us,” Naomi said. “We thought – ‘if he can do it, so can we’.”
Over six months later, they graduated from his programme. At their graduation ceremony, held at the National Theatre, Coach Layne presented his vision. It was a vision where he had a big building located in the heart of the city, where he could offer many personal development lessons and train lots of youth.
Mesmerised by his oratory skills, those in the audience offered to help. One of his students, who was also a student of Architecture, offered to make the designs and the building model. Both Amanuel and Naomi recalled other people who offered their money or expertise. They also remembered a woman who offered 1,000sqm of land she owned, located around Mexico.
“My mother also offered to work with him on land she owned just outside the city in Sebeta,” Amanuel said.
Unlike the owner of the plot in Mexico, Amanuel explained that she had not given up her title deed. Rather, she proposed that they work on it together to build an orphanage. But after a site visit and a couple of meetings, his mother changed her mind.
A few months later, according to many accounts, Layne disappeared. It was unclear where he had disappeared to or how much of the freely offered cash he had taken with him.
Knowing what she knows now, Naomi doubts she would have gone through the training again, though she admits she did gain from it. His teachings of how the mind works, how to condition it and the practice of reaffirming her goals were methods she continued to use long after he disappeared.
“I probably could have just read The Secret,” she said.
Her former classmate, Amanuel, on the contrary, had no regrets. He claimed to have been directly benefitted regardless of where Layne ended up. Given the chance, he said he would do it all over again.
A certified counsellor, with over 15 years of experience in the mainstream health sector, is wary about the sudden rise in the number of motivational speakers. She believes Ethiopian culture makes its people gullible. In the western world, life coaches are blossoming, providing complementary services where there are already enough psychologists. But here people could be using life coaches instead.
“It brings about a sort of euphoria and there could be a let-down if it does not come with serious follow up sessions,” she said, requesting not to be named.
She recommended that people looking for coaches be careful. It is not all harmful, she admitted, but advised that people should ensure that the coach they choose has a background in psychology or social work, and substantial years of practice.
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