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by Laura Berman Fortgang
J P Tarcher, 2001
Review by Diane Goldberg, MSSW on Feb 24th 2002

Living Your Best LifeLiving Your Best Life is potentially a very useful book and potentially a rather dangerous book. As most "coaches" suggest potential is critical to success in life, work, and love. And how the client uses coaching or anything else for that matter, determines outcome. It is important that the consumer not use coaching instead of therapy.

Fortgang walks the reader through a workbook-like set of instructions so that the reader can define goals, assess values, identify, and overcome obstacles to getting what he or she wants from life. Many of these exercises in self-discovery can be quite useful for a person who feels "stuck." If a reader is in a quandary about an occupational choice involving change, it is easy to see that the process outlined in the book could be very helpful.

A reader who is not suffering from depression or anxiety and is in need of a formula to clarify thoughts and feelings can benefit from Living Your Best Life. Despite disclaimers and the "coaching-standard" coaching-is-not therapy and the claim that coaches frequently refer clients to therapy, there is some potential for harm here. The author states that coaching is a profession that assists people in dealing with the "here and now" while therapy helps clients deal with the "past." This vast oversimplification underlines the author's layperson perspective on therapy and may seduce some readers into avoiding the help that they need. To compound this, the author's personal disclosure of her past: anorexic, depressed, unable to function for year combined with her arising phoenix-like from the ashes could easily stimulate a person suffering from illness to self-help her way into greater distress. It is important to keep in mind that the author, prior to discovering the wonders of coaching, had been unable to function for a year. This reviewer does not wish to denigrate the author for this, anything but, simply to remind readers that perhaps serious problems cannot be glossed over with aphorisms.

The author must doubtless be an excellent speaker; her numerous television appearances suggest that she is personable and interesting. She could have benefited from the services of a more forceful editor. The work is often convoluted; the reader must wade through tons of vague verbiage, and will often trip over long passages that make points that could be covered in half the words.

Many of the ideas in this work seem similar to solution-focused brief therapy. The author introduces the idea of asking yourself "what" questions instead of "why" questions as well as several exercises that seem to be reminiscent of "the miracle question" a popular brief therapy technique. Again if the reader is not experiencing severe distress this can be useful.

The author also borrows a bit from Buddhism in her discussions of "being" instead of "doing." In an anecdote from her life where she is demonstrating the importance of "ego-reduction" and the need to "be" not "do" she discusses attending an alumni event after changing careers. She explains she was feeling internal pressure to "do" something to explain or promote her new career and when she let go of the pressure and simply "was" that people approached her and she made important contacts. This reviewer found herself glancing at the author's photo on the cover and cynically thinking, well of course, here is a very attractive young woman alone at a social event, she has a nice smile that would make both women and men comfortable --- why wouldn't other people talk to her?

If you have considered paying a coach to assist you in sorting out your life, this book might be a good investment. In addition to exploring coaching strategies it provides contact information for coaching certification programs and professional organizations. The smart consumer will want to check out these resources to get a firm idea of what this new profession of coaching does. Living Your Best Life is definitely worth a read for anyone curious about coaching.

© 2002 Diane Goldberg

Diane Goldberg received her MSSW from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and is an LCSW in North Carolina. She is currently a consultant and free lance writer with a particular interest in stress management, crisis intervention, travel, and woman's issues.