Life coaches run the gauntlet

Life coaches run the gauntlet

Sean Buranahiran's recent bad publicity puts profession under scrutiny

Social media influencer Sean Buranahiran (left) annoyed many of his followers when he said he met Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon and found him to be
Social media influencer Sean Buranahiran (left) annoyed many of his followers when he said he met Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon and found him to be "kind of sweet". (Photo from Sean Buranahiran Facebook account)

Scandals around social media influencer and well-known "life coach" Sean Buranahiran have put this well-publicised yet poorly understood profession under the spotlight.

Other certified life coaches are feeling the heat after the heavy attacks on the young Thai by social media users, to the extent where many of them declined to give an interview or refrained from talking about the man.

However, life coaching has become one of the fastest-growing industries in Thailand in recent years. As people's desire to find fulfilment in all areas of their lives increases, so has the number of people seeking a coach to help them achieve their goals.

Although there are no figures available on the number of people engaged in coaching, the International Coach Federation (ICF), the leading global organisation for life coaches, has at least 195 members in Thailand, compared with just 133 members back in 2016.

When Win, a 29-year-old marketing manager, was searching for a life coach about a year ago, he wanted to make sure he was hiring someone reputable.

"Normally, if someone introduces themselves as a life coach, they're just people who often post motivational quotes or inspirational video clips on their social media account," he said.

Eventually, Win found a life coach he thought might be suitable -- "an older man who had a career in the same field and plenty of life experience" -- and hired him. But things did not work out the way he hoped.

"If he asked me a question, and I said that I didn't know the answer, he would ask, 'If you did know the answer, what would it be?' He did that on every occasion. It was becoming boring. I told him that I was going to need some answers from him because his only strategy wasn't getting us anywhere. I terminated our arrangement after two months," he recalled.


An ICF-certified business coach, who asked not to be named due to the contract with her company and clients, said life coaches and business coaches are often ranked alongside motivational speakers, influencers and consultants.

"However, life coaches and business coaches will not tell their clients what to do but ask powerful questions that will help the clients find the answers by themselves," she said, adding that therefore, unlike a consultant, a life coach or business coach will not need specific knowledge about the business the client is in.

She said business coaches certified by the ICF will be trained to a particular standard and are required to abide by a code of ethics, as well as having to continue their study to retain the certification. They will also be reviewed by the ICF, peer coaches and their clients.

Meanwhile, Thai coaches do not necessarily have to attend courses abroad as the Thailand Coaching Academy, established by Potchanart Seebungkerd, is an accredited coach training programme certified by the ICF, she said.

Ms Potchanart, aka Jimi the Coach, studied coaching science in Australia for two years before founding her company in Thailand in 2012.

Annop Niyomdecha, an organisational psychologist who has over 15 years of experience in the field, said he is concerned that anyone can call themselves a life coach.

"Life coaching experiences can vary hugely from massive life-changing improvements to a complete disaster. The reason for this is that the coaching industry is not as regulated as other advisory professions, so many people can call themselves coaches without any formal training," said Mr Annop.


"I've seen an increasing number of incompetent and untrained coaches. These self-proclaimed gurus and influencers on social media give the industry a terrible reputation. Many of them also offer coaching services and charge very high fees because they can make lots of money by calling themselves a life coach," he said.

According to sources, one-on-one coaching sessions of about 1-1.5 hours can cost tens of thousand baht. A session of business or executive coaching can cost even more.

Watchara Trabhumi, a 29-year-old business owner, said he recently spent 30,000 baht on a life coaching programme run by a famous life coach and influencer on social media and found it to be worth the investment.

"Yes, it's quite expensive for a five-day online training programme, but it gave me the confidence and courage I needed to make critical decisions at the right time. I realise that life coaching still has a stigma to it. Some people may see it as a scam, but in my case it did work well. I think it's all about finding a coach who is right for you," he said.


Mr Annop said life coaches, in his opinion, work with their clients to help them achieve goals, overcome obstacles and make changes or shifts in their lives. The coach works on the assumption that their client, as a partner, has the answers to create the changes they seek.

"A life coach is almost like a sculptor who can look at you and see the potential for you to achieve all that you desire. Through specific strategies and skills, the coach helps you define yourself and create the life you envision. Coaches help you focus, provide direction, challenge you, support you and motivate you," he said.

He said coaches usually use skills that include observing, deep listening, asking empowering questions, challenging and motivating and do not counsel or analyse the past.

"Life coaching is based on the principle that the client has the intrinsic ability to determine and achieve their goals. Everything is based on the present and what you want to achieve moving forward," he added.

"Unlike therapists, coaches don't diagnose or treat anything. While therapy focuses on healing past issues, coaching focuses on implementing changes to create a new future," he said.

Mr Annop said there are also differences between a life coach and a motivational speaker. Life coaching is normally one-to-one or in a small group whereas motivational speaking is one to many or a large audience.

Moreover, life coaches are trained in helping others reach their potential in their professional and personal lives. While there are no regulations regarding becoming a life coach, those who chose to be certified by a respected coaching body must complete training requirements, log hours of coaching, and complete exams, he said.


Varoth Chotpitayasunondh, a psychiatrist and spokesman for the Department of Mental Health (DMH), said he is concerned that the demand for life coaches is being met by individuals who do not have qualifications or training in psychology. "When it comes to mental wellbeing, it's important to get advice from professionals and experts who have been properly taught," he said.

Dr Varoth said if individuals who seek life coaching have mental health problems, there is a danger they may not be receiving appropriate treatment during the coaching.

"Many self-help gurus and self-made life coaches now use a technique called neuro-linguistic programming to motivate their clients to achieve their goals. It could be dangerous if it is used by someone who is not well-trained or doesn't understand this technique," he said.


"Psychiatrists and psychologists have to study for nine years and six years [respectively] before we can actually practise, so I think life coaches should at the very minimum have training in mental health identification and first aid, and have referral networks to psychologists and psychiatrists in that case," he said.

Dr Varoth said there have been calls for stricter licensing and more organisational bodies to look into the matter. "In the future, the profession should be standardised and the DMH is looking into it," he said.

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