A new self-improvement phenomenon called life coaching is sweeping the UAE.

Born out of competitive pressures and the struggle to find a balance in the frenetic pace of modern life, it's drawing devotees in hordes. Corporate executives, entrepreneurs, artistes, professionals, just about everybody seems to be hooked on this new tool, paying Dh400 plus per session to regain control of their lives.

“After 37 years of going nowhere – with the occasional success and no fulfilment – I was introduced to life coaching by accident. Four years on, I see the experience as ‘finding the light switch and flicking it on','' said Ahmad Adel, a business excellence director.

Like Adel, self-made Dubai entrepreneur Joseph R., 49, also claims finding “purpose and direction'' after hiring a life coach. “It opened a whole new world for me,'' he says.

“A lot of people in Dubai can get swept away. It's quite a dangerous place to be in if you're not grounded in yourself,'' says Anna Wallenten, a co-active life coach and personal trainer.

Dr Ron Villejo, Management Trainer at the Emirates National Oil Co (ENOC) Group in Dubai, adds: “Reflecting periodically is the key to managing one's life, work and relationships effectively. This can be done entirely on our own. But for some, it's beneficial to have a coach prompt, structure and facilitate such a reflection.''

In the US, where it originated, life coaching is now a $100 million (Dh3.67 million) business, second only to the IT industry. And while it's nowhere that big in the UAE, its growth has been rapid.

A growing industry

There are now hundreds of life coaches across the country.

As many as 75 have got their training from Dubai's Co-active Training Institute (CTI) alone.

Since its opening in 2005, CTI has witnessed a sharp increase in the number of graduates. In the last year alone, the number of applicants has jumped 25 per cent. Experts forecast that by 2011, it will be as common to have a life coach as it is to have a personal fitness trainer. “Very soon the question will not be ‘Do you have a coach?' but rather ‘Who is your coach?','' says one expert.

“A friend suffering from stress recently went to see a doctor. Instead of prescribing medicine, the doctor recommended she see a life coach,'' recalls Hanan Nagi, a CTI-trained life coach and motivational speaker.

Guidance, not advice

“Life coaching is not to be confused with counselling. It's a form of philosophy that does not offer advice and maintains that people are naturally creative, resourceful and completely capable of finding their own answers,'' says Wallenten.

A life coach's purpose is to act as a mirror to the client.

“You can only change if you can mirror yourself in someone else and it needs to be someone who has no agenda and is there only for you,'' says Rikke Ebel Nielsen, a happiness provider and managing partner at Ebel Signature.

A life coach's job is to listen, question and elicit the skills and creativity a client already possesses. “Instead of saying ‘you need to do this' we ask ‘what do you want to do about this?''' says Banan Hadidi, a part-time CTI-trained life coach. However, Hanan adds: “It's always useful to have someone who can help you with your blind spots.''

A positive effect

Despite the economic downturn, the demand for life coaches seems to be on the rise. “People are still investing in themselves,'' says life coach Sarah Townson.

In fact Wallenten considers redundancies, loss of loved ones or change in spending habits as positive aspects. “They force a person to strip down to his or her bare basics, which is really exciting because, as a life coach, that's where I want a person to be,'' she says.

By starting from scratch, clients are able to re-evaluate their values and continue on a path that honours those values.

Adds Nielsen, “People made redundant find opportunities for the better.'' “A life coach is not someone you go to when you have problems. It's someone you go to when you want more out of life,'' Wallenten says.

Identify your values

“I find that a lot of people haven't even identified what their values are. They forget about what their essence is and they live life because it's easy to live like that. But they're not alive. Actually, people don't know why they do things and they don't know what all they can do because they don't know what to change,'' Wallenten adds. As Adel puts it: “Now I am enjoying steady success, a rocketing career, solid finances and genuine relations. More importantly, I've learnt about inner peace and congruency.''


Anna Wallenten
050-398 7521
Co-active life coach, personal trainer for Body Pump, Body Balance and Body Attack

Ron Villejo
050-715 9026
Management Trainer, ENOC

Rikke Ebel Nielsen
050-260 5114
Happiness provider at Ebel Signature

Hanan Nagi
050-145 7055
Life coach and motivational speaker

Banan Hadidi
050-464 8657
Life coach