I’m a life coach, you’re a life coach: the rise of an unregulated trade | Life and magnificence

In November 2020, Olivia* was prepared for her life to be remodeled. She had simply stepped away from her lengthy profession in enterprise and paid $18,000 for a six-month program to turn out to be a life coach. “It was an enormous choice financially, nevertheless it felt proper,” she mentioned. “I needed to start out bringing the work I’d carried out on myself to see if I may assist others.” This system, she believed, was the important thing to a profession that may be each profitable and emotionally satisfying.

All through her life, Olivia had explored her interior world by way of religious retreats, remedy, and psychology books. However she’d been dismissive of life teaching, which she considered “bullshit” – till she heard about Brooke Castillo.

Castillo, a lean, blond Californian who lives in Austin, Texas, was as soon as a small-time self-help guru, the creator of self-published books with titles like, If I’m So Good, Why Can’t I Lose Weight? Over the previous handful of years, she’s turn out to be the reigning queen of the world of life teaching, due to her savvy advertising and marketing strategies, fusion of recent age therapyspeak and girlboss rhetoric, and the parasocial relationship she cultivates with listeners to her common podcast, the Life Coach Faculty (LCS). Castillo doesn’t merely coach individuals to enhance their lives. She’s constructed a multimillion-dollar enterprise by persuading her followers that they, too, can discover that means (and cash) by changing into life coaches.

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Olivia initially found Castillo via the Life Coach Faculty podcast, which frequently ranks amongst iTunes’s high enterprise podcasts; its episodes have greater than 45 million downloads. In episodes with titles like Self-Picture and Why Change Is Exhausting, Castillo delivers agency however pleasant recommendation about boundaries, time administration, and emotional regulation. She is accessible and direct; she seems like a no-nonsense large sister who desires the very best for you.

Castillo tells listeners that their issues aren’t attributable to exterior circumstances – dangerous bosses, troublesome mothers-in-law – however slightly their incapability to handle their very own ideas. She opens up about her personal struggles with weight and anxiousness, and punctuates her anecdotes with a heat, trilling snigger. “Once you work with a therapist, you’re speaking to somebody who doesn’t essentially share your points,” Olivia mentioned. “This felt extra like, ‘I’m in your airplane, let’s determine this out collectively,’ which was very interesting.” She started to eagerly await new episodes, which drop each Thursday – Castillo hasn’t missed per week since she started her present in 2014. Olivia has gone again and listened to this system ranging from the very first episode, taking notes on notably revealing insights.

Like a lot of Castillo’s listeners, Olivia was a profitable skilled middle-aged girl. And, like many, she discovered Castillo at a time when she felt an itching dissatisfaction along with her life. On her podcast, and in her persona, Castillo provided the promise of one thing higher. She had discovered to handle her thoughts and was rewarded with a satisfying life: a cheerful marriage, two teenage sons, a pristine residence and a thriving multimillion-dollar enterprise serving to different individuals self-actualize. Quickly, Olivia started contemplating quitting her job to turn out to be a life coach, too.

Teaching is a completely unregulated trade – there are not any oversight boards, no commonplace curricula, no codes of ethics; if I needed to hang around my shingle as a life coach tomorrow, nobody would cease me. Teaching is distinct from remedy, in that it tends to deal with serving to useful individuals enhance their lives, slightly than treating individuals with medical points – though these strains aren’t all the time clear.

Castillo, who has an air of effectivity and an undergraduate diploma in psychology, based the for-profit Life Coach Faculty in 2007; within the years since, she has impressed hundreds of individuals to enroll in a web-based certification program that prices as a lot as a yr of school. In the event that they full this system efficiently, she proclaims them to be “licensed” life coaches. The certification isn’t acknowledged by any exterior authority, however Castillo likes to say that within the unruly world of teaching, her program is the gold commonplace, the “Yale of life teaching faculties”.

The Life Coach Faculty caters to the concept anybody who works laborious can construct a thriving profession as a life coach. Final yr, with extra individuals than ever anxious, indoors and on-line due to the pandemic, the corporate made $37m in gross income. As staff left their jobs in droves, searching for higher working situations and extra fulfilling careers, LCS educated a document variety of aspiring life coaches. “Our enrollments went means up,” Castillo advised me. “Those that had been on the fence about altering their lives, this was an excellent catalyst for therefore a lot of them.”

However the speedy rise of Castillo and the Life Coach Faculty additionally raises questions on an unregulated trade at a time when the demand for psychological well being providers is outpacing provide. Working within the murky realm of “empowerment”, the place private growth and monetary success blur collectively, LCS is definitely having a second; its income greater than quadrupled between 2017 and 2019. Is Castillo empowering her largely feminine shopper base with the instruments and assist they want? Or promoting them an unattainable fantasy?


Castillo, now in her late 40s, wears her cropped blond hair swept to the aspect, her eyes ringed thickly with liner. She got here of age in California throughout the golden age of self-help. Beginning with Robin Norwood’s Girls Who Love Too A lot as a young person, she launched into a decades-long journey of self discovery. By day, she labored in a cubicle at Hewlett-Packard; in her spare time, she took lengthy walks and listened to private growth gurus’ cassettes on her Walkman.

From inspirational speaker Byron Katie, she discovered to not blame exterior circumstances for her issues. From channeler Esther Hicks, she discovered concerning the regulation of attraction (later popularized via the e book and movie The Secret), and practiced vibrationally aligning herself with tens of hundreds of thousands of {dollars}. From entrepreneurial guru Tony Robbins, she discovered to assert her private energy and remodel her life from odd to extraordinary.

Within the early 2000s, she noticed a trim life coach named Martha Beck on The Oprah Winfrey Present who specialised in working with over-scheduled girls. Impressed, Castillo enrolled in Beck’s three-day teaching certification program, then started advertising and marketing herself as a weight reduction coach. She visualized her best shopper: a lady standing in her kitchen at 2am, consuming out of the fridge. Castillo taught that losing a few pounds was extra about mindset than food plan or train; if her shoppers obtained in contact with the feelings that spurred them to overeat, she advised them, the kilos would soften away. Different coaches started asking about her methodologies, and Castillo realized she may attain many extra individuals (and earn rather more cash) by coaching teams of individuals to turn out to be coaches themselves, slightly than working one-on-one with shoppers.

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In 1995, the nonprofit Worldwide Teaching Federation (ICF), an impartial credentialing physique, tried to impose a set of requirements and a code of ethics on the trade, and met with middling success. Though tens of hundreds of coaches belong to the ICF, many extra – together with Castillo, who has dismissed the ICF as clubby and ineffective – don’t. As an alternative, she opted to create her personal certification program by way of the Life Coach Faculty, which she based along with her husband, Chris, in 2007. Initially, LCS trainings passed off largely in particular person. A pair dozen college students would collect on the Vacation Inn Categorical in El Dorado Hills, California, the place they spent per week studying Castillo’s signature product, the CTFAR Mannequin: all circumstances (C) are impartial; your ideas (T) create your emotions (F), which encourage your actions (A), which result in your outcomes (R). Course supplies promised CTFAR “can actually resolve any drawback”.

The mannequin was basically a simplified model of cognitive behavioral remedy with some power-of-positive-thinking thrown in. Her college students discovered it transformative. “There have been very highly effective elements to being in that room,” Kelly Hollingsworth, who enrolled in LCS coaching in 2015, advised me.

By 2017, Castillo had simplified her enterprise into two streams: for individuals who needed to be coached, there was Self Teaching Students, a $297 month-to-month membership program; for individuals who needed to turn out to be coaches, there was Life Coach Faculty Certification, a six-month on-line course initially priced round $15,000. (The present course is three months lengthy and prices $21,000; by comparability, some ICF-certified packages price as little as $1,000, whereas tuition for Georgetown College’s skilled certificates in life teaching runs $13,995.)

Castillo was open along with her college students about how a lot she discovered from her personal coaches, together with a controversial man named Frank Kern. Kern, a self-styled web advertising and marketing guru, was fined 1 / 4 of one million {dollars} by the Federal Commerce Fee in 2006 for making false guarantees. Round 2014, Castillo watched one in all Kern’s free webinars, then enrolled in a $1,500 one-day brainstorming session. On the finish of this system, she signed up for a yr of one-on-one teaching for $36,000.

Kern’s recommendation turned out to be comparatively easy: create a membership program, and spend an infinite sum of money on Fb adverts selling it. Castillo credit Kern for serving to LCS remodel from a enterprise that earned $300,000 yearly into one which, just some years later, introduced in $10m. In 2018, Castillo introduced a brand new aim; by 2028, she vowed, the Life Coach Faculty could be a $100m-a-year enterprise.

It was a lofty however attainable ambition, contemplating that the teaching trade was on the verge of its personal growth. One trade group estimates that the variety of life coaches grew by a 3rd between 2015 and 2019. As everlasting jobs gave technique to a gig-based financial system, teaching suited an anxious workforce scrambling to monetize aspect hustles and deal with burnout. It was like remedy, however extra outcome-based; it may even show you how to earn more money. Castillo’s methodology, with its mix of CBT, mindfulness and entrepreneurialism, all held along with the drive of her persona, promised swift, tangible outcomes to those that put within the work. “My work could be very sensible, nevertheless it’s additionally magical,” Castillo advised me. “I don’t lose anybody, as a result of I’m sensible sufficient that I hold the engineers and woo sufficient that I hold the tarot card reader individuals.”

That mix of empowerment and self-improvement was notably interesting to skilled girls in center age. “Brooke is advertising and marketing to people who find themselves sort of caught. New retirees who’re bored, empty nesters whose youngsters are going off to school, stay-at-home mothers who’re bored with child discuss all day lengthy,” an LCS employees member advised me. “Individuals who need one thing extra.”

Illustration: Maria Medem/The Guardian

Meg Blatt discovered teaching at a fraught time in her life, shortly after she’d misplaced her job and her mom, with whom she’d had a troublesome relationship. Listening to Castillo’s podcast made her really feel she may achieve a measure of management over her trauma.

Again and again, she heard Castillo current teaching as a dream profession. “You get to make a good looking residing. A residing that could be very profitable and helps the planet,” Castillo mentioned in a single episode. “Serving to the psychological and emotional well being of the human species is a reward in and of itself, and on high of that, you receives a commission for it. It’s a good looking factor, my associates.”

On the podcast, in Students supplies, and at LCS stay occasions, Castillo confirmed off her college students who had gone from being coached to having profitable careers as life coaches. Blatt signed up for Students and shortly determined she needed to turn out to be a coach, too. “You’re sitting in an enormous convention room in a stunning Dallas resort, and there are coaches who’re multiple-million-dollar earners sitting throughout you, being known as on to speak about their experiences and the challenges they went via,” Blatt mentioned. “Like, this particular person was simply licensed two years in the past they usually simply hit their second seven-figure yr. And that chance felt actually tangible in that second.”

It was an attractive pitch: earn a residing by serving to different individuals whereas working from residence and making your personal schedule, with no coaching or credentials essential past the LCS course. These high-earning LCS coaches, with their neat hair, pristine rooms, tidy minds and seven-figure incomes, appeared like proof that it was achievable.

Olivia, the Castillo acolyte who took notes on each podcast, additionally enrolled in Self-Teaching Students, the place she studied modules on relationships and goal-setting. “Not solely did I do the workbooks and the homework and attend each name, however I additionally gave myself extra assignments,” Olivia advised me. “I’m sort of insane that means.”

Enrolling in Students felt like being inducted into an unique membership of ladies working to stay their greatest lives. LCS despatched new college students a pen studded with Swarovski crystals. Castillo made common appearances on stay calls and shared behind-the-scenes movies about her life. “Each month, you bought a brand new workbook within the mail. And when that e book dropped, social media would explode,” one other pupil advised me.

When Olivia stop her job and enrolled within the LCS certification course, she justified the numerous price as an funding in her future enterprise teaching different skilled girls. She appeared ahead to the next stage of fabric and deep engagement with fellow coaches. “It’s the very subsequent deepest stage of the work that I’ve to supply the world,” Castillo has mentioned concerning the certification program. “It’s my greatest work, it’s what I’m most happy with.”

However inside a month, Olivia was disillusioned. The coaching largely consisted of fabric that had already been lined in Castillo’s different packages. As soon as per week, Olivia and a dozen different college students had an hour of debate with an LCS coach, one of many firm’s many contract staff, who appeared harried and distracted.

Olivia diligently did her homework, making movies of herself teaching, however says she by no means acquired any suggestions. She took exams on LCS ideas, however wasn’t advised the outcomes. (Erika Royal, who left her position as a accomplice in Ft Lauderdale, Florida, regulation agency Holland & Knight to turn out to be LCS’s CEO late final yr, advised me that this was an indication Olivia was doing effectively. “In case your submissions are simply wonderful, you don’t get a whole lot of suggestions. You’re doing simply wonderful. You simply proceed.”) College students have been discouraged from asking questions and advised to not e-mail their instructors.

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Castillo was hardly current in any respect. “She’s a part of the product – you’re shopping for her,” Olivia mentioned. “These different coaches step in for her, however, , I would like her, I would like the true factor.”

When Olivia complained to customer support, she was met with a reply straight out of the LCS playbook: the issue was simply in her ideas. “Which could be very handy, proper? As a result of it means they’ll by no means be incorrect,” she mentioned. Sarah Foutz, who was a LCS contract worker for 2 years and has appeared on Castillo’s podcast, advised me she met with comparable pushback when she complained about being requested to work further hours with out extra pay, or receiving insufficient coaching: “They might inform us to ask, ‘How is that this excellent for me?’” she mentioned. “It’s utilizing the instruments they educate us about altering our ideas to make a crappy state of affairs really feel higher. It retains us quiet.”

By the tip of this system, Olivia was so fed up that she tried to fail the ultimate examination simply to see what would occur; she handed anyway. Castillo didn’t attend the digital commencement ceremony. “It felt like get em in, get em in, promote, promote promote. And as soon as they’re in, it’s like, – effectively, I gotta go promote to extra individuals,” Olivia mentioned. She’s working to develop a profession as a coach, however she’s not capable of hearken to Castillo’s podcast. “I nonetheless harbor a whole lot of anger and disappointment.”


After finishing the certification program, most LCS graduates launch their very own teaching companies. Some have been resoundingly profitable. In 2016, LCS started giving out awards recognizing high-earning coaches. Since then, 122 individuals have reported incomes an annual revenue of at the least $100,000 from their teaching gigs, together with 12 “two comma” (that’s, million-dollar) coaches and one who makes greater than $10m.

Many others have a special end result. Doreen* accomplished LCS certification in 2019. “Abruptly, in a yr, you’re a enterprise proprietor. It’s similar to – what webcam do I take advantage of? What enterprise insurance coverage do I get? And the way do I get out of my very own means?” Like Blatt and Olivia, Doreen had hoped to make teaching her full-time job, however as a substitute had “only a few” paid shoppers. “That’s the story of lots of people I’ve talked to. They’ve a number of paid shoppers, or they’ve none,” she advised me.

Throughout the world of LCS, there’s just one cause you’re not succeeding: your ideas. “Should you can’t make your a reimbursement in your tuition, you’re doing it incorrect. Interval,” Castillo has mentioned. Thankfully, there’s a easy answer: extra teaching. Stacy Boehman, whose web site tagline is I assist life coaches make cash, is one in all quite a few Castillo’s high-profile protegees who specialise in teaching coaches. Boehman has a background in gross sales, spending years performing stay infomercials in Walmarts and on navy bases; she has additionally labored with multi-level advertising and marketing teams. Her web site is stocked with shiny headshots of former college students alongside their glowing endorsements: mentoring along with her during the last two and a half years has not solely helped me create a $500k enterprise but additionally my dream LIFE.

Each Doreen and Blatt enrolled in Boehman’s group teaching program. Blatt additionally signed up for six months of one-on-one teaching with one in all Boehman’s deputies for $10,000. Typically her coach was like a cheerleader, reminding Blatt of how superior and succesful she was. Typically, she delivered a harder sort of love: “You’re being an enormous helpless child,” she wrote in a single message. “HELPLESS HELPLESS HELPLESS.”

As she labored to construct her enterprise, Blatt often chafed towards the LCS worldview. Was it true that every one circumstances have been impartial, and that her ideas have been the supply of all her issues? What about her abusive childhood? What concerning the time she’d been sexually assaulted – was that a impartial circumstance? However her coaches helped persuade her that it was precisely these sorts of ideas that have been undermining her progress. She enrolled in a $5,000 group-coaching program, and signed on for an additional six months of one-on-one teaching, hoping to get her thoughts straight.

Coaches are inspired to determine a distinct segment – say, medical doctors who need to drop some pounds, or feminine attorneys with imposter syndrome – and Blatt toyed with the concept of working with enterprise house owners who, like her, struggled with anxiousness. “I had a panic dysfunction, and instruments from LCS actually did assist me, as a result of it’s principally CBT,” she advised me. However she was additionally involved that anxiousness, at the least in its medical kind, could be past the scope of teaching. When she introduced that objection to her coach, she says, “she was like, ‘No, it’s not an issue, it’s your pondering about it as an issue that’s making it an issue.’”

Blatt chalked her preliminary objections as much as “limiting beliefs” and adopted her coach’s recommendation. She made movies and Fb posts about how she’d overcome her personal anxiousness, and inspired individuals to join a free session name. “I used to be getting individuals who have been clearly disordered – anxiousness, despair,” she mentioned. One among her first consultations was with a lady who mentioned that she was so anxious that she’d misplaced her residence, her job and her youngsters. She was residing in her cousin’s trailer, sleeping on the sofa, and couldn’t get her life collectively. Blatt couldn’t fairly deliver herself to attempt to recruit her as a shopper; as a substitute, she really useful that she discuss to a psychological well being skilled. “It wasn’t simply her ideas that she wanted assist with, it was many different elements,” Blatt mentioned. However when she advised her teaching neighborhood concerning the seek the advice of, they critiqued her choice. “The response was, you’re simply speaking your self out of earning money. Your ideas are providing you with the results of not signing the shopper.”

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Different college students advised me they have been alarmed by the blurry boundaries round what points might be addressed with teaching. “I noticed about two months in that it was principally unlicensed remedy,” Susan* advised me. On a number of events, when individuals wrote in to LCS about severe issues – together with anxiousness, consuming issues, and suicidal ideas – they have been inspired to join Students. “No referral to psychological well being assist, no suicide hotline, no nothing,” somebody conversant in LCS’s interior workings advised me. (Final yr, LCS started requiring college students hunt down and take a suicide prevention course.)

However regardless of the mounting dissatisfaction behind the scenes, LCS’s floor nonetheless appeared shiny; potential college students researching this system on-line advised me they discovered solely glowing testimonials. Workers members have been instructed to delete feedback that even hinted at criticism or negativity from the inner discussion board, Foutz advised me. “If it comes out of Brooke’s mouth, it’s true, it’s the regulation,” she mentioned. “I didn’t know there have been so many individuals who had issues, as a result of none of us needed to talk up.”

Then, final spring, after George Floyd was murdered and companies scrambled to show their antiracist bona fides, LCS was conspicuously silent. Castillo’s employees pushed her to problem an announcement, or at the least a Fb publish, decrying racism and voicing assist for his or her Black members, however she refused. As an alternative, on 1 June, LCS printed a obscure Instagram textual content publish –“Love is all the time the reply” – that appeared like an try and sidestep the nationwide looking on race. It had the precise reverse impact. LCS social media was flooded with livid feedback; on the inner Slack channel, coaches known as out Castillo. The college was inundated with cancellations and calls for for refunds.

Because the backlash constructed, Castillo launched a video with a fellow coach, who can also be white. In it, Castillo wept as she talked about how troublesome the earlier days had been for her. Her eye make-up working, she admitted that she had dealt with the state of affairs poorly. One coach advised me she discovered it highly effective and susceptible. Many others criticized it for centering Castillo’s expertise. “I believed, holy mackerel. I don’t suppose I can affiliate myself along with her, along with her title,” one LCS-certified coach advised me.

However Castillo, who has since employed a private variety coach, says the expertise was on the entire a constructive one, and catalyst for much-needed change. “Lots of people have been attacking me and have been fairly merciless,” she advised me. “However the reality of the matter is, it actually took that stage of aggressiveness to get my consideration. I used to be actually delusional and oblivious to that being a weak point and a progress space for me.” In December, she stepped down as CEO and employed Royal, a Black girl, to fill the position. In her new position as CEO, Royal nonetheless typically appeared to be channeling Castillo. After I requested her about her imaginative and prescient for the corporate over the following 5 to 10 years, she paused. “You realize, our plan is to get to creating $100m a yr by 2028,” she mentioned ultimately. “So we’re simply steadily shifting in that path.” Self-Teaching Students now has a module on “Insights for Black Students” comprising three hours of movies on topics reminiscent of being Black in company America and “Black wealth and cash beliefs”. There isn’t a content material about racism aimed toward a white viewers.

The occasions of final spring and summer time pressured Blatt to confront her doubts about LCS and the Mannequin. “I used to be seeing my Black associates in a lot fucking ache, and all these teachings, that you could possibly change your ideas to simply really feel a special means about that – it was simply bullshit,” she mentioned. She severed ties with the LCS neighborhood, which she now considers to be akin to a cult. “They’d actually damaged me down. Notably throughout the pandemic, my solely socializing was inside this neighborhood, and it had eroded my sense of self, my confidence.”


The occasions of final summer time appeared to have shaken one thing free at LCS. Final fall, Castillo introduced on her podcast that she and Chris have been getting a divorce. She shut down the LCS Slack channel, which had been one of many solely methods for the rank-and-file to speak along with her. She appeared much less engaged with the neighborhood. (“We get in large bother if we discuss to Brooke,” an worker advised me.) “Typically I ponder if she even is aware of that there’s a complete group of coaches who’re sad along with her,” Doreen mentioned.

LCS just lately introduced a brand new coverage that limits some LCS perks – a web-based coach database; invites to in-person occasions – to coaches deemed “energetic”. To qualify, licensed coaches should cross an annual check based mostly on content material from the podcast and earn at the least $10,000 a yr from their teaching enterprise. The brand new coverage sparked one other spherical of defections. “I keep in mind the minute I needed to alter it,” Castillo defined throughout our half-hour Zoom dialog, on a regular basis she may spare.

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She was in a room I acknowledged from her movies, understated and spotless and white. Her two Boston Terriers – Rocket and Rory – sprawled on the pale furnishings behind her. “We had so many individuals in our viewers who weren’t earning money as life coaches, as a result of they weren’t attempting to make cash as life coaches. And it introduced down the vibe of the those that have been attempting. As quickly as we modified it, that’s when our pupil physique grew to become rather more profitable. There was on the spot vitality. It was a bunch that needed to be energetic, needed to make use of the instruments, needed to be engaged, wasn’t simply alongside for the journey.”

After I introduced up the critiques I’d heard from greater than a dozen LCS college students and employees, Castillo appeared baffled, however her smile by no means left her face. “It seems like these individuals are attributing their lack of success to the Life Coach Faculty, that we in some way didn’t give them what they wanted,” she mentioned. “And so, yeah, I may see that they’d be upset at us, if that’s what they’re making that imply.”

In June, Hollingsworth filed a grievance with the Texas legal professional common’s workplace concerning the new “energetic coach” coverage, amongst different points. “The general public view of The Life Coach Faculty seems spectacular. LCS has created a extremely expert advertising and marketing machine that pulls new recruits in ever-increasing numbers,” she wrote. “However behind the paywall, LCS coaches know that there are issues. We additionally know that we now have been groomed to not say something about these issues, and even to suppose that they’re issues.”

Doreen advised me that, regardless of her frustration with LCS, she nonetheless has “a whole lot of loving emotions for Brooke Castillo”. She has hardly any paying shoppers in the mean time, however she’s nonetheless investing in additional teaching for herself. I requested her if she had earned her preliminary funding again. “No,” she advised me. “No by rather a lot,” she mentioned. “As a result of I’m nonetheless spending cash.”

For a second, she sounded deflated. However then, as if some thought course of clicked into place in her thoughts, she perked again up. “I imply, I positively will make all of my a reimbursement. It simply hasn’t occurred but. I sleep like a child at night time, as a result of I do know that I’m actually good. And I’m actually pushed. And I’ve a very, actually good concept. So I’ll positively make it again. Simply, I haven’t but.”

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