Class Action 

By Barbara Black

Life coaching gets academic credibility

A professional development program directed toward certification as a personal and professional coach is being launched at Concordia. Applied Human Sciences Professor James Gavin says that for a number of reasons, it's about time.

Life coaching is only about 15 years old, but it's one of the fastest-growing industries in North America and Europe. By way of illustration, Gavin and his colleague Madeleine Mcbrearty googled "personal coaching" several times during coaching workshops in 2006, and found that the phrase went from 46 million to 55 million hits over a six-month period.

It is still relatively unregulated — anybody can hang out his or her shingle as a personal coach — so coaching is still somewhat suspect as a profession. But big businesses such as Bombardier have had coaches on staff for years. Now universities are catching on to the fact that it deserves serious academic attention.

"It's only in the past five years that universities have expressed keen interest in the field," Gavin said. "There are about 250 schools teaching coaching in North America, and about 95 per cent of them are private; a lot are dot-com [online]. Now universities are seeing it as way to attract new students, and some are pursuing it as a serious academic area. The University of Sydney, for instance, has a doctoral program in coaching psychology."

James Gavin and Madeleine Mcbrearty are launching a program to provide accreditation to those who want to become life coaches. Magnifying glass

James Gavin and Madeleine Mcbrearty are launching a program to provide accreditation to those who want to become life coaches.

From about 1992 to 2002, Gavin said, coaching carried the taint of New Age, The Secret and flamboyant management guru Anthony Robbins. Now there's research, scholarly writing, and a sound academic understructure. Gavin and Mcbrearty plan to attend the first international academic conference on the subject in Dublin in 2008.

Whatever its current name, life coaching has a long history. It has roots as varied as sport psychology, management development and the broad field of psychotherapy.

Gavin earned his doctorate in psychology at New York University, and has some 40 years of experience as a clinician and organizational consultant. His clinical and academic focus has always been on helping people achieve greater personal effectiveness rather than on mental illness, and this focus is strongly represented in his perspectives on the training of coaches.

Madeleine Mcbrearty, who will teach the program with Gavin, holds two MAs from Concordia and is close to completing her doctoral studies in the SIP (special individualized program) with an emphasis on health-related change processes.

"Psychologists are likely to be critical of coaching, yet so much of the foundation of coaching is solidly based in psychological research,” Gavin said. “Of course, there are lots of questionable practices in coaching, but the field is doing a fabulous job of establishing standards for training and practice. We have to go beneath surface impressions of coaching to get to the current truth about the field's validity.”

Gavin wrote a book on coaching in 2005 as part of his work to understand the field. He and Mcbrearty have also enrolled in coaching courses to identify practices that could be incorporated in the new program.

The Personal and Professional Coach Certification (PPCC) program costs each student $2,900 for two terms. It promises to provide a strong grounding in the basics, particularly personal and executive or managerial coaching, plus a practicum.

The program is being offered through Concordia's Centre for Human Relations and Community Studies (CHRCS), which has for 45 years offered training, consulting, research and publishing services to groups and individuals on a self-financing basis. The Centre is based in the Department of Applied Human Sciences, where full-time faculty members and graduates of the department guide its programs.

An initial cohort comprising 18 MA graduates of the department and some faculty will complete the pilot program in December. The first public cohort began in late October. Applicants are expected to have an undergraduate degree and at least five years of related full-time work experience, such as in human resources or management. Some of the current students are already experienced coaches.

For more information on the PPCC program, please call ext. 2273 or contact the CHRCS at


Concordia University