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Life coaching, NLP gain ground in Lebanon.

Summary: In one sitting, you can conquer a lifelong fear of commitment, dogs or snakes.

BEIRUT: In one sitting, you can conquer a lifelong fear of commitment, dogs or snakes. At least that's the experience of people who have had a successful session with a life coach, during which a technique called Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) is used to help people overcome their fears through visualization exercises.

"My fear of snakes ended in 10 minutes," says Ramy Rajeh, a 25-year-old Lebanese working for an advertising firm in Qatar, who claims he vanquished his serpent phobia three years ago thanks to on-the-spot mental exercises given by Beirut-based life coach and NLP practitioner Johnny Ghoul.

"My picture changed, and now I think of the snake as a nice creature," Rajeh explains.

He says he would recommend the experience to anyone, and continues to call his life coach whenever he needs advice or motivation.

Though relatively new to Lebanon, life coaching and NLP have been gaining ground over the past several years, with some clients attesting that such practices help them triumph over myriad phobias and bad habits, as well as social anxiety.

Life coaching dates back to the late 1970s, and was inspired by the teachings of Benjamin Karter, an American college football coach, who later became a motivational speaker. Since the late 1990s, programs have become available in much of the United States and in several other countries.

NLP, which also started in the 1970s, aims to enhance communication and personal growth by cultivating a holistic approach to challenges big and small. As the name suggests, it draws a connection between the neurological process, language and behavior patterns.

NLP founders Richard Bandler and John Grinder, though widely criticized for failing to present scientific evidence proving the efficacy of their methods, have nonetheless gained a worldwide following among therapists and management workshops.

Today, the Lebanese Coach Association has 22 members, and its website is used as a directory by those interested in hiring a life coach -- a vital resource, say practitioners, whose profession is based primarily on referrals but remains impeded by societal stigmatization of psychological treatment.

The International Coach Federation, with members in more than 100 countries, defines coaching as "partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential."

Indeed, an underlying reason people seek help from life coaches is to surmount social barriers preventing them from moving forward in their careers and personal lives.

One of Ghoul's current clients, a Lebanese executive living in Dubai, is afraid of asking his boss for a promotion. Through NLP, he has been able to subdue if not overcome this apprehension. "He has a fear of asking for things," Ghoul explains. "It's not really a fear of his boss."

Ghoul, who says the man's angst began in childhood when he was scolded for asking a question, often explores his clients' first experiences of discomfort for clues to their current condition.

"I regress the person to the initial event, and with coaching and NLP they expand their comfort zone," he says.

Although he attributes many people's phobias to disturbing childhood memories, he hesitates to blame parents for pain they might have caused.

"Children look for approval, affection and unconditional love in others. But kids have no manuals. Parents set conditions for the love of their kids," he says.

"And conditional love becomes that first boundary. People want to be loved, but they feel they're not good enough," Ghoul adds.

Some critics say that NLP and life coaching essentially manipulate psychotherapy without restrictions or regulations. However, those who practice it maintain that coaching is not meant to replace psychology, therapy or consulting, but is rather an interactive approach to solving specific problems and meeting certain goals.

"Some NLP practitioners say they do psychotherapy, but that's not fair. It's far-fetched," says Dania Dbaibo Darwish, a life coach who practices NLP and who is a certified psychotherapist.

"There are some disorders that are very severe, such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, where the patient requires medication," Darwish says. Still, she strongly recommends NLP and life coaching for more everyday challenges, such as relationship problems and phobias.

Practitioners also emphasize that success depends greatly on the client's desire to change.

"I have people coming to me to who want to quit smoking," says Ghoul, who initially discusses his clients' goals in a free exploratory session. "But if they say they're there because their wife and kids want them to quit, then I'll refuse to work with them."

Darwish believes that it's possible for people to coach themselves but maintains that they won't get results nearly as quickly as they would were they to go to a professional.

"They keep postponing [changing their behavior] if they don't have anyone to hold them accountable," she explains, noting that she gives her clients homework and then checks on their progress.

She says that in Lebanon, with its tight social networks, people tend to rely on their friends and family to navigate relationship and phobia issues. The problem with this, Darwish points out, is that those close to troubled persons will be biased and won't necessarily give them the tools they need to banish their demons.

One recent client wanted to work on his communication skills, so Darwish tasked him with initiating conversations as a way to build rapport and be more engaging with others.

Another client, Rola, a Beirut-based marketing manager who gave only her first name, has been coached by Darwish for three months now. She says the techniques she has learned allow her to see things more clearly, and have helped her communicate better with her husband and children.

"When there's an observer who highlights things [about me], then things make more sense," she says. "The dynamic between my husband and me has gotten better, and I'm able to put myself in other people's shoes."

Darwish points out that some people don't come to her with any specific goals in mind -- which for her is fine.

"Some people come for the positive energy and motivation. Some just want to grow and self-explore."

Copyright 2012, The Daily Star. All rights reserved.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Date:Apr 25, 2012
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