11/04/2017 02:52 BST | Updated 11/04/2017 02:52 BST

The Charlatan Life Coach

Life coaching appears to mostly attract people who couldn't be bothered to actually study psychology, and instead want to earn a quick buck.

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Before you hand over your money to a life coach, be wary of their intentions...

Laura Harris

When an American friend – we'll call her 'Maeve' – told me her partner, 'Dave', was setting up a 'life coaching' business focusing exclusively on women, my first thought was, "Oh, is he calling it 'Mansplaining, Inc.'?" It's not like women don't already have to deal with men telling us what to do and how to do it, and now here was someone who was heading into that last refuge of charlatanism in the 21st century, ready to take mansplaining to a whole new level. When I suggested that, since he was moving to Cape Town from America to set up shop, I introduce him to some local groups who assist vulnerable women, his response was illustrative: he was adamant: if he couldn't earn a lot of money from women clients, he wasn't interested.

Over the next few days, I watched as he controlled Maeve's behaviour, thoughts, and words, to the point where the only way to get any semblance of the woman I had once known was to physically get her away from his presence. With him around, she became little more than an agreeable drone, or puppet. This was his 'life coaching' in action. After 7 years with him, she had become a shadow of her former self. While offering wise advice is often a much-needed ability to everyone at some point in their lives, 'life coaching' appears to mostly attract people who couldn't be bothered to actually study psychology, and instead want to earn a quick buck from people who either can't afford a professional trained to deal with their issues, or they feel a stigma is attached to asking for professional help.

My blood started to boil as he launched into details of the women he had "coached". He told me their names and a full description of their issues. If he had been a member of a professional organisation, there would have been grounds to have him permanently removed. But there is no supervisory organisation, no universal standard of practice to support clients. It is an entirely unregulated business that exists purely on vulnerable people needing help.

They depend on their 'client' believing that the more they have to pay, the better the service they will receive – a flawed premise of capitalism, but one the charlatans rely on for their bank balance. The most common attribute for many 'life coaches' is an ability to sell. They can start a business online, adapt cool but meaningless terminology designed to impress those unable to analyse bullshit when they hear it, and pick up humans with low self-esteem and an income. The birth of the charlatan often comes by impressing their friends they're wiser than WebMD, and surround themselves with people less intelligent who fall for their pitch.

The ego of the emotionally abusive person is both flawed and massive: who else can think of the world as a shopping market of vulnerable people all waiting with baited breath to hand over their money to his extraordinary tableau of skills? I started to understand why he had decided to focus his attentions on women. Most women are raised to "be nice", to respect authority so when a predator appears on the horizon and is quickly able to identify those women, all they have to do is encourage her to open up to them and reveal their weaknesses.

The charlatans who practice 'life coaching' inevitably live a mess of a life: incapable of self-analysis and a deeper, meaningful understanding of human psychology - especially their own. They are frequently failures in the various pursuits they've tried throughout their lives, and 'life coaching' gives them the ego boost they desperately need. When you meet any person who loves to talk about themselves in a way that presents them as either a genius or a victim, take a step back and peer hard through the curtain of their words.

If that person is trying to enlist you to their 'life coaching' enterprise, listen closely to what they say, how they say it, and whether they have a natural curiosity about you. Ask questions, and listen closely to the way they answer. The professional will never force you to reveal anything, but will take the time to establish a base of honesty and trust. If you're quiet, they won't try and sell you on how special and gifted they are, they will gently draw you out.

If they're qualified to do what they say they can do, they won't be bragging about it, sharing your information with others, and nor will they be boasting about how much money they can make. They will show respect, real humility, and caring. There will be no bullying or manipulation. They will not try to diminish or demean whatever you say. Coaching is about empathy, asking the right questions, listening.

Emotional abuse, manipulation, self-aggrandizement, an open acknowledgement that they're in it to make money – those are cons and quacks. Be cautious when someone labels themselves: their behaviour is all the label anyone needs. A certificate printed off the internet is no substitute for a genuine professional, or a caring person who can listen and guide. Ernest Hemingway nailed it, "Develop a built-in bullshit detector if you want to survive." If you want to thrive, work on developing analytical skills that help you step away from any emotional involvement and truly ask the questions the charlatan may not want to answer. Be your best friend, and never give up the ability to protect yourself.