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The Spark Team Samples Coaches


We all know about coaches, don’t we? The ones with four wheels take us from place to place, the ones with two legs have whistles and shout at us to try harder and stop dawdling. But what about life coaches? Is a life coach the same as a mentor, a sponsor or a befriender? Or does a life coach offer something different, something more? Is life coaching just a turn of the century, ‘new-age’ phenomenon or does the concept have something more substantial to offer? We noticed here at the Spark that our directory’s Life Coaching section has grown rapidly recently. Never ones to turn our backs on a trend, and in the interests of informing our readers, the Spark team volunteered to try out some life coaches and try to answer those questions.


We randomly selected six Sparkland life coaches, pairing them with Spark team members. Our experiences were mostly positive but one Sparkee felt they had not made a good match and didn’t want to progress. That pairing was discontinued (none of the coaches used in this feature were involved). Our situation was artificial but the experience highlighted something very important for anyone seeking a life coach – its OK to stop if it doesn’t feel right; choose a coach who you feel naturally drawn to and ask them what their background and experience is before you book a session. Many life coaches offer a free introductory session so the two of you can test the water – take advantage of this - most life coaches we contacted told us how important it was that the client felt comfortable with their coach. If at any point you don’t there should be no obligation to proceed. Your intuition must be key so only go ahead if you feel positive about your ability to work with the coach.


We learnt a lot of other things about life coaching too.. its a modern approach to enabling people to manage a busy life and find personal fulfilment, and it’s a diverse art, practised by people with hugely different backgrounds, skills and life experiences. A life coach may be a qualified NLP practitioner, qualified in any number of professional skills, or they may simply have done a life coaching correspondence course, or a weekend workshop. There is no one benchmark or means of accreditation which will enable you to judge if someone if a “genuine” life coach, but there are lots of organisations which train and accredit coaches in the UK; a life coach may be affiliated to any or none of them. All the more reason to ask them, when you first make contact, about the methods they use and the depth of training and experience they have.


There is some agreement though; we found that life coaches help people focus clearly on what would make them happier in life and take decisive action to make that vision a reality. Coaching is not the same as therapy. It assumes that you know what you want at some level and your coach should empower and motivate you to achieve your goals. You do the hard work as they watch from the sidelines, offering guidance, motivation and clarity when necessary. A life coach is a kind of personal cheerleader, but without the whistle.


Carolyn Williamson coaches Beccy Golding


I took my enormous To-Do list to my first meeting with Carolyn, thinking I might be embarking on a time management/task prioritisation kind of session. Instead she just came out with it point blank: “What do you want?” and I told her: “To write my own fiction, a little bit every day.” There it was. I didn’t think I knew what I wanted but a part of me obviously did.


(I asked Carolyn what would have happened if I’d not known what I needed to work on. She explained that she would have got me to look at areas of my life that were working or not working for me, and through that identify things that I would like to change. From that we would develop goals to work on).


After I’d identified my heart’s desire, Carolyn said: “Okay, today we’re going to do creative visualisation”. This surprised me as I expected coaching to include lots of practical exercises or probing questions. Instead Carolyn talked me through a visualisation: I imagined going into my ‘perfect’ comfortable room, relaxing there, eating a perfect meal, being showered in golden light, and finally finding a present – a very special thing which was secret and personal to me (a fountain pen, if you must know). Then she guided me back to the real world.


Carolyn checked that I was happy to continue with the sessions and we agreed same time, same place next week. That weekend I went out and bought a desk.


The next session was also mainly visualisation and that second weekend I sorted out my writing room. The third session we used the ‘SMART’ model of coaching, (S: Specific, M: Modus Operandi, A: Achievable, R: Realistic, T: Timing) to further refine and define my goal. We also discussed what was getting in the way of me achieving what I wanted; this was personal stuff and included guilt, fear... the usual range of human baggage.


Carolyn also set me homework. I had to compile lists of advantages and disadvantages of achieving and not achieving my goal, and write letters to people, addressing the baggage, asking permission to be successful. That week, although I still wasn’t writing creatively, I found myself at my desk each morning checking emails and sorting stuff out.


In week four I wrote myself a pledge; to start writing the next Monday morning (which was also my birthday: a good date for a new start) and Carolyn set me some more homework: this time to write a letter to myself from a perspective of 18 months into the future, saying how much I’d achieved and how easy the process had been.


The next Monday morning – I started to write! I wrote every morning for a week.


In session five Carolyn praised me for my achievements and we returned to visualisation. For week six she has promised to work through a ‘maintenance programme’ with me.


Prior to the life coaching I wasn’t convinced that visualisation would be a powerful tool, or that the homework would be effective. However, I am now achieving what I wanted – I am writing regularly. The process was simple and to the point, and so it worked. I was surprised how doing things like making lists and writing letters opened up new areas of my subconscious – stuff that wasn’t coming up when I just sat down and thought about it. I now have a clear image of my special room, too, which has a very similar feeling to the room I have created in reality to work in.


I found Carolyn to be a gentle and sympathetic coach. She explains the reasoning behind her methods, and welcomes questions and discussion. She uses a range of ‘tools’ to coach clients, tailored to each individual, and these include motivational psychology, rational emotive therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy and more.


She offers a six-week coaching programme and I would recommend it – after all, it’s not that much time out of your life. Though the process sounds very simple, it enabled me to effect positive change in an area where I had been struggling.


Carolyn Williamson, Positive Change. Tel: 01275 373631

Nikki Townsend coaches Jason McNaughty


Nikki’s coaching is very practical. It is based on NLP, a form of contemporary therapy for personal development and positive change. It encompasses how we experience the world through our five senses, use language to order our thoughts, and use behaviour to communicate with others. It also looks at how we choose to manage our ideas and actions to produce results.


I presented Nikki with: ‘Things are good, what could make them even better?’ After initial discussion, we identified organization as one area that could be improved – she had me admit to not being perfect – this was getting interesting…


She introduced several techniques. First was Intervention: working with the conscious/unconscious to achieve a shift in how one regards past experiences: by reprogramming the memory and altering our interpretation of the past, we can change the outcome of thought processes and responses. This in turn creates an internal shift in how we relate to past experiences that anchor us in a state which prevents us from achieving our potential or goals. We can choose to re-organize our ideas and actions to produce results.


Nikki made me rehearse in my mind desired outcomes, how it would feel if my behaviour changed, and what improvements this might bring. To work smart rather than working hard, to gain a work/pleasure balance in life.


I had to imagine progressing on a ‘time line’ (an imaginary line on the floor across the room), as if the line was my life. Nikki got me to identify where on the line I would put myself and to use this point to become aware of my behaviour. I then identified this behaviour as a sequence of gestures, which when repeated several times became one fluid movement, and this she called a ‘Dancing Score’. Nikki mirrored me while I did this. It was really interesting to see via her, the form these gestures took, to compare how the initial gesture of what was in the past flowed into what is now and what could be in the future and how this shift might be maintained.


It really surprised me that these gestures did generate quite strong feelings. It was like stepping into a film of my life, watching and then editing it.


It is not possible to describe all of the ground that we covered, partly because it is quite a private journey to make. These two one and a half hour slots were very thought provoking, and sent me spinning into different ways of looking at the past and its relationship to the present.


I might now be more likely to pause and consider various aspects of an action, rather than plunging in with abandon just to see what happens. This has to be an improvement.


I have recommended Nikki to a friend, who, a victim of her own success, is floundering under an extraordinary workload. I am sure she would benefit a great deal from the clarity of these remarkably easy, intuitive and entertaining coaching sessions.


Nikki Townsend, Kaleidoscope. 0117 968 7506  e-mail:

Jan Castle coaches John Dawson


Why the heck did I want a life coach? As The Spark editor, you’d have thought I’d be serenely going about my business and going “Om” in the corner every ten minutes.


Well, not only did I have too much on my plate, I had a whole work’s canteen worth of plates. I also have three hats as well as the plates – editor/designer, photographer and facilitator of public speaking courses and I was getting overwhelmed. I was really enjoying the speaking training, as well as getting paid for my photographs and running The Spark but trying to fit it all in was making Jack a dull boy.


In the summer before I met my coach I thought it would be easier to work towards selling the Spark ASAP and then have a rest. I’ve done 13 years at the Spark – slightly longer than some people get for murder – and I was back from the summer hols feeling jaded, stuck and a little blue (Don’t tell anyone).


Jan Castle was the coach chosen for me. From the get-go, she was very clear that the session was about supporting me and helping me get what I wanted. And what I wanted was to make sense of being overwhelmed; to be clear about what I was facing and to get an overview – a view from the mountain  – and once I was there to make decisions based on clarity and an awareness of how I really wanted to live, rather than just making a reactive decision. This meant doing homework where I covered blank paper with all the stuff that I was doing as a mind map, which ended up resembling a NASA wiring diagram. But at least I could see the madness in front of me.


What was important about my sessions was the feeling of positivity I got from them – that things might be complicated but I was getting support to look at things.


The process went from – “what will I do when I leave The Spark” to “hang on a minute – there’s a lot to do before I leave” to “I can recommit to The Spark with enthusiasm and interest”. Important stuff.


But the sessions were not always about work; they were also about what I needed for a fuller life. I realized that work was drowning out friendships, quiet times, and times just to be a slob. So I’ve built more spaces into the working week that are non-negotiable – my harbours – that help look after me and my relationships.


By facing the issues I found a vitality that had been missing and it started a process of grabbing hold of The Spark and seeing how we could make things change. So now we are dancing with simplicity – we have a new ad system, we’ve changed our internal deadlines, examined our costings, and made a powerful change to my relationship with The Spark. I’ve also got to see more of my friends . That’s not bad in four sessions. I found Jan a powerful supporter (and appropriate challenger sometimes) of my process and an excellent coach.  And I’m going back for more, so watch this space


Jan Castle 0117 944 1618

David Griffiths coaches Darryl Bullock


Before I met with Life Coach and NLP therapist David Griffiths, he sent me a questionnaire to fill out over email. In it, he asked me to identify the things that, if I could change them, would improve my life; also to pinpoint five things that were important to me; list three of my strengths and briefly explain what I hoped to get from life coaching. I was surprised by how quickly I managed to complete the questionnaire. I was worried that citing my desire to “get a dog” as the number one thing to improve my lot looked a touch frivolous but I did confide in David that what I really hoped to achieve from all this was to improve my overall confidence.


From the moment I met him, David made me feel at ease and we set about getting to grips with my occasional issues of self doubt. He explained how he became involved with life coaching, and what he hoped we would be able to achieve over the few sessions we had together. “I believe that everyone has it within them to become who they want to be and live the life they dream of living,” he says. “The only limitations are the ones we impose upon ourselves. With Life Coaching you work on a life plan, setting positive goals and time limits while filtering out the stuff which is not relevant to you.”


During our first session it became quite obvious to him that the way forward for us would be using NLP. Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) studies the structure of how humans think and experience the world, and offers ways to re-programme your mind so that it looks at certain events in a different way.


To deal with my one specific issue David had me attempt a six-step reframe, where I created an anchor attached to a specific happy memory which I can trigger off when and where I need it for an extra boost of confidence, and a timeline, where we physically walked through my 41-year history to identify something in my past which may have been at the root of the issue in the first place.


If you’ve seen the Paul McKenna series on Sky One you’ll have some idea of how it works.  As David says: “It’s about identifying and overcoming problems. The first thing is to identify the issue, decide if the issue that the client comes to you with is really the issue they want to deal with, and then you clear everything up as you go along.”


It was an eye-opening experience, and one I would recommend to anyone suffering from feelings of self doubt or low self image. Discovering that my own issues hinged on a long-forgotten event from over three decades ago was surprising, but the empowerment that the sessions gave me, and the ability to let go of the baggage related to that event and move on with my life, can do me nothing but good.  David Griffiths, Life Coach and NLP Master Practitioner.


Tel: 0117 942 3310, email:



First published issue 43 (Winter 2005)




Disclaimer – details were correct at time of going to press, but may now have changed. Please make your own checks.


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