Pierre Le Coz
Professor of philosophy, Université Aix-Marseille II, Member of the National Consultative Committee of Ethics
Development of coaching in France: a new opening for cults
More than ever before, peddlers of wellbeing are omnipresent on the French market of soul distress. Faced with an increasing demand for assistance in decision-making and psycho-emotional support, more and more new spiritual advisers propose some kind of mental therapy. With the help of new information technologies, they propose various training courses and seminars to teach self-confidence and how to exert influence on others.
However, their publicity has evolved in the last few years. They understand that expressions such as "guru", "spiritual Master", "guide", etc. now arouse mistrust and suspicion in public opinion. Until recently, in France, the word psychotherapist was the “Trojan horse", of swindlers and abusers of all kinds hiding behind a pseudo-professional neutral term. However, since 2003 the concept of "psychotherapy" was little by little discredited by French members of Parliament ruling that people practising psychological assistance should produce proof of their professional training.
The French State encountered much resistance on this question when it attempted to pass legislation providing a legal framework for psychotherapeutic practices. Nevertheless, public opinion has become aware that the title of "psychotherapist" can be a mask for "charismatic" personalities with shady projects. On the occasion of parliamentary debates, it clearly appeared that this trade with vaguely delimited contours could claim no university status and had never received the approval of a public institution.
The title "psychotherapist" now of contested validity, is less and less used by self proclaimed soul healers. However, the ethical problem involved in emotionally exploiting vulnerable people has, as yet, not been solved. "New Religious Movements" (as one moderately calls them in France) are little by little migrating from the psychotherapeutic field to invest that of coaching. Using mental conditioning intended to boost man’s natural energy, coaching is currently ramifying into all the fields of professional and private life.
In the 1990s we regarded this tendency as a simple fashion phenomenon. Today we have to admit that coaching has taken root in our culture. After being currently used in sport and then in business, it has gained the institutions and has become part of everyday life. Admittedly, the coaches, to reassure their clients, tell them that they do not practice "psychotherapy". The French Society of Coaching in its «code of ethics» insists that a coach should not undertake a psychotherapeutic relationship. It is apparent however on consulting their web sites that coaches sell their assistance at very high prices, while penetrating in their clients’ intimacy. The web is swarming with sites of "spiritual coaching". At the same time one can observe a renaissance of cultic rhetoric which - without completely giving up the traditional mystico-orientalist terminology - uses language borrowed from vocabularies in the lexical fields specific to sport, management and cognitive therapies.
Thus coaching returns to New Age strategy combining a "holistic" vision of health, the huge variety of traditional knowledge and contemporary psychological techniques. As an example, one will quote a spiritual coaching training scheme currently offered on a French web site:
- Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)
- Cognitive science (science of learning)
- Creative approach / Art Therapy (creative expression)
- Creative techniques (problem-solving methods)
- Emotional approach (principle of responsibility based on emotion
- Body Approach (massage, body harmony, body mirror)
- Breathing techniques (rebirth)
- Relaxation techniques (meditation, sophrology)
- Mental techniques (self-hypnosis, creative visualisation)
- Approch by Tarology, Astrology, Numerology
- Approach by Questionnaires (cognitive principle, use your brain)
- Approach by "bio-psychology" or "bio-personality"
Amalgamating body and spirit, private life and profession, success in businesses and finding a meaning to one’s life, the practice of coaching is "holistic" by definition. It is presented as a new kind of mental and spiritual power to help the individual to adapt to the difficult requirements of social reality by learning how to influence others. Coaching benefits of the strenuous requirements of performance and competitiveness imposed by the mad rhythm of life to which are subjected a great number of our contemporaries. In a world dominated by vague fears due to the climate of insecurity which accompanies the transformation of the planet into a gigantic economic market, it constitutes the new chosen ground of cultic movements.
On the basis of this analysis the speaker outlined the dangers to which this mental form of influence exerted by this kind of new soul management exposes society.
 L’empire des coachs. Une nouvelle forme de contrôle social (avec Roland Gori), Albin Michel, Paris, 2006.