It’s not that I hate all life coaches. I’m sure lots of them are fine. A few might even be qualified. But you gotta admit, the industry’s got some cowboys.
Coaching culture in general can feel a bit iffy. I know an exec coach who studied and took exams for years, and any advice they’ve given me has been absolute gold. Thoughtful, qualified, accomplished, curious, supportive and professional.
But there’s this other, darker side where it seems: if you can’t do… coach.
I once had a “taster” session with a life coach, and she spent an hour talking about her divorce that had happened four years before. It was awkward beyond belief.
The next day she sent a diary invitation for another session with an invoice for £300. After I declined her kind offer, she unfollowed me on Twitter.
I know another life coach who gets angry if you ask her what qualifications she has, announcing that you’re “projecting your insecurities” for requesting proof of expertise.
I recently spied a person I know on LinkedIn who’s been incapable of keeping a job throughout their whole career, was described as a bully by former colleagues and has a reputation for being truly terrible with any feedback. They’ve just repositioned themselves as a “career coach”.
Is this OK? Is it safe? I worry so much about the potential domino effect of toxic humans teaching other, more vulnerable humans to be just as toxic (charging hundreds of pounds a time) that I wrote a show about it: GROUP.
I like to experiment with my writing. My first book (bestseller) The Little Girl Who Gave Zero Fucks was a feminist fairytale written in verse. My second book, House of Weeds, was a concept illustrated poetry collection.
GROUP originally started life as a Covid project: an eight-episode head-fuck of a sitcom, written about a terrible life coach called Genevieve de Beauvoir, who ruins the lives of four individuals answering her Gumtree ad for free coaching.
Not surprisingly, the character of Genevieve ended up being a lot like me, but on a really, really, really bad day. Me, but more highly strung, and with fluffier hair and a penchant for CBD.
The show was written for audio (fun! innovative!) and I even recorded a pilot with Global radio, finding a cast of strange legends to join me on my weird comedy journey.
As wonderful as the pilot was, we realised that with something as subtle as a group life-coaching session, you probably need to see people’s faces. And so began the long, painful journey to try to get the damn thing made for TV.
Somehow, along the way, the cast and I realised we get on, and have an amazing chemistry. We make each other laugh.
As time passes, the identities of each of the actors: Sabrina Francis, Jan Smolaga, Marvyn Wilson and Sam Picone, seem to be merging with those of the characters, so we knew we had to do something else with it.
Marvyn, who plays Wilde in the show (Wilde’s an actor specialising in immersive theatre with an inconsistent grasp on reality), recently said to me: “I can’t imagine GROUP not being in my life, now. You could turn it into a burlesque show and I’d probably be like, yeah, let’s try it.”
Thus, GROUP the theatre production was born. It’s not burlesque. Yet. But it’s a 90-minute interactive show chronicling the launch of Genevieve’s new pamphlet: Accost your Imposter and Empower your Power (language typical of the meaningless tropes commonly used in the life coaching space).
It’s the funniest version of the story we’ve done. Genevieve offers free coaching to our four fragile individuals who are sitting in the audience.
The session quickly descends into a dark, surreal and unsettling experience that takes aim at the messy way society is still narrating mental health.
And, yes, the cowboys making money via the vulnerabilities of others.
Amy Kean is an author and chief executive of Good Shout. GROUP is showing this month at the Golden Goose Theatre