Thinking of getting a divorce? Worried about dating again in midlife? Devastated by the death of a pet? Struggling to make sense of the menopause?
Not so long ago, you would be expected to suffer such big life-events on your own or, if you were lucky, lean on friends’ shoulders while you stumbled through them. Women in particular were taught to put the needs of others first — heaven forbid they should prioritise their own ambition at work or happiness at home.
No longer. Once considered a self-indulgent American fad, coaching people through life’s rougher patches is booming in the UK, with midlife women leading the charge.
In 2020, with the arrival of Covid, there was a 153 per cent increase in UK-based life coaches. With nearly 400,000 registered on LinkedIn, there is now a hand to hold through every possible life-experience and emotion, from sober coaches to confidence coaches to pet bereavement coaches to people trained to advise on women’s empowerment, menopause, dating, sex, divorce and every midlife problem in between.
Six women (pictured) reveal how they radically changed their lives to become coaches, following a 153 per cent increase in UK-based life coaches
So why has the UK, traditional home of the stiff upper lip, now embraced the concept of a paid-for wingwoman? Experts say that, in theory, women have more freedom than ever to live their lives the way they choose — yet in reality, the complex modern world can prove very hard to navigate.
Where a woman might once have put up with a sexless marriage, resigned herself to a boring retirement or suffered through the indignity of a grisly menopause, these days she knows there is a better way. All she needs is a dedicated mentor on speed dial — an expert always in her corner, ready with tips and advice to get her past any obstacle life throws at her.
Here, we speak to six brilliant women who radically changed their own lives to become specialist coaches — and promise to help you transform yours, too.
MENOPAUSE IS HARD TO COPE WITH BY YOURSELF
Sheetal Ladva Kanwar, 45, is a menopause coach. She lives in South London with her husband and two sons.
Sheetal Ladva Kanwar, 45, (pictured) who lives in South London, coaches perimenopausal and menopausal women
THE COACH: A qualified pharmacist for more than 20 years, Sheetal was involved in a serious accident six years ago when a car hit her as she crossed the road at a zebra crossing. It left her with chronic back pain and PTSD. Medication was only ‘a sticking plaster’ and this prompted her to overhaul her life.
‘It really made me think about my lifestyle,’ she says.
She regained control by eating more healthily, exercising more and taking up yoga and meditation. She trained in ‘lifestyle medicine’ and now focuses on coaching perimenopausal and menopausal women because ‘it’s a complicated area to struggle through by yourself’.
WHO SHE HELPS: Women in their 40s and 50s, many of whom don’t realise the wildly fluctuating hormones of perimenopause can start years before periods stop: on average, from the age of 45 onwards.
There are about 34 possible physical and psychological symptoms, says Sheetal, but because many women are only aware of the most-discussed — hot flushes and night sweats, for example — ‘they sometimes feel as if they are unravelling or going mad’ when they get perimenopausal anxiety or brain fog.
WHAT SHE DOES: Sheetal supports clients one-on-one, focusing on plant-based nutrition, exercise, sleep, stress management and social connections. ‘It’s a partnership,’ she says. ‘It’s not me telling them what to do. I give them options and we work out what suits them best.’ She can also advise on HRT and supplements, including alternative remedies.
- Don’t write off HRT as a treatment option. For most women the benefits outweigh the risks.
As well as helping with symptom control, HRT can also help to reduce the risk of osteoporosis, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, bowel cancer and dementia.
- While they work for some, there isn’t much evidence for the effectiveness of alternative remedies such as black cohosh and red clover. But lifestyle changes, including regular exercise, good sleep, a healthy diet and stress management, can make a big difference.
- Many women think ‘this is a natural part of ageing, so I can’t do anything about it’. That is not true, so be proactive. Educate yourself on the symptoms and research your options. Then, if you see a GP (ideally, one specialising in women’s health), you can have a more informed, considered conversation.
GRIEF FOR A PET IS REAL AND DEVASTATING
Wendy Andrew, 45, is a pet bereavement coach. She lives in Glasgow with her dog Pixie.
Wendy Andrew, 45, (pictured) who lives in Glasgow, qualified as a pet bereavement coach, after wanting to support a friend whose dog fell ill
THE COACH: Wendy’s family bred labradors and she is a professional dog walker. ‘Animals have always been a huge part of my life,’ she says. She qualified as a pet bereavement coach in 2019, after wanting to support a friend whose dog fell gravely ill. She passed a pet bereavement counselling course, run by the International School for Canine Psychology and Behaviour, with distinction, and is also the author of How To Recover From Pet Loss.
WHO SHE HELPS: Anyone struggling to cope with the death of a pet of any species — from a dog or cat to a rabbit or rat. Often clients suffer ‘disenfranchised grief — grief that is not accepted or supported in society,’ says Wendy. Yet ‘your companion animal is part of your family. The bond is extremely strong. You fall out with people, but with your pet it’s unconditional love, good times, happy memories. When they go, it’s devastating.’
WHAT SHE DOES: One-to-one support via Zoom, with empathetic listening and coping mechanisms such as resilience-building. Wendy provides a safe space for people to talk about their grief. ‘I let them know they are perfectly entitled to feel whatever they are feeling.’
She also offers guided meditation ‘to quiet the mind’s chatter’. People often feel guilty if they had to have their pet put down, and she can help them move on. She charges £35 for a single session or £190 for a block of six sessions.
- Set boundaries. To those bereft of understanding and compassion who tell you ‘it’s just a cat’, say: ‘Thank you, but I’m not ready to speak about this yet.’
- Keeping a journal can help you process and move forward with your grief. ‘It’s a healthy way of expressing yourself and getting what’s on the inside out. If you bottle things up, they fester. And it can identify grief triggers, too — ‘this happened today and I found it really upsetting’.
- Don’t compare your own grief journey with those of others. Some people recover quickly; for others it takes much longer.
THE JUST-MARRIED DIVORCE COACH
Emma Heptonstall, 47, a divorce coach, is married and based in London and York.
Emma Heptonstall, 47, (pictured), who is based between London and York, began her coaching business after working in family mediation
THE COACH: A former lawyer, Emma worked in the UK Family Proceedings Court, helping families deal with a split. Moving to family mediation, she realised that many midlife and older women didn’t ‘dare’ to leave long-term marriages because their partner controlled the finances. So six years ago she began her coaching business, The Divorce Alchemist, ‘for the lady who wants to leave’.
She got married herself for the first time last month.
WHO SHE HELPS: Clients are often married for 20-plus years but feel ‘lost and alone’. Some are in a hostile environment, but ‘I also have clients who say their husband is a good man, a great father, but she has just fallen out of love with him and wants to leave’. These are the women who often struggle the most with the thought of ending a relationship, but ‘an unhappy marriage is not OK’.
WHAT SHE DOES: ‘The first questions I ask are: Who are you now? Who do you want to be? Where do you want to be in six months, 18 months, five years? It gives the divorce process direction.’
She offers emotional and practical support, can help clients find a lawyer and teaches them how to communicate their needs more effectively. She also brings women together — a membership package costing £197 a month includes a private Facebook group, access to online training and a weekly Zoom social chat. One-to-one coaching packages start at £300 per 90-minute session, on a pay-as-you-go basis.
- When you feel calm — ideally before mentioning the D-word — write down what you want and what you are willing to let go. Even an amicable divorce is emotional: a list of your goals keeps you focused when you are fraught.
- Find a lawyer who is a good fit but don’t treat them like your therapist. Lawyers are expensive and emotional support is not their strong suit.
- Never negotiate until you know all the numbers. Often women tell their spouse ‘as long as I can stay in the house, I don’t need maintenance and you can keep your pension’. That is often their biggest mistake. Don’t trade your future for feeling safe now.
I FOUND ONE WOMAN A HUSBAND IN 8 WEEKS
Kate Mansfield, 46, is a dating coach. She lives in North London with her son.
Kate Mansfield, 46, (pictured), who lives in North London, started a dating business after word-of-mouth referrals about her ability to help people find love
THE COACH: With a previous career in TV and film, Kate was inspired by her own struggle with dating and relationships.
‘I had a lot of therapy and coaching myself,’ she says. Initially she trained as a corporate coach in 2011 with The Coaching Academy, helping clients fulfil their potential in the workplace. ‘But every woman I spoke to in the corporate world wanted to talk about her dating and love life.’ When several of her clients found love as a result of her help, she received word-of-mouth referrals and her new dating business was born.
WHO SHE HELPS: Clients are typically over 35 and in the prime of midlife. They are ‘high-achieving, independent, strong women’ who must be committed and ‘coachable’ — in other words, ‘ready to accept they are the common denominator in what is not working in their love life’.
It is not about self-blame, she adds, but ‘becoming accountable’ for a failing love life. After taking Kate’s three-month course, one client met her future husband online within eight weeks.
WHAT SHE DOES: The first step is ‘the dating diet’, which means ‘no dating allowed for the first four weeks’, a tactic intended to help women focus on themselves. There is then at least three months of coursework — including learning what makes men tick.
‘We pair up with a men’s coaching group for single men,’ says Kate, ‘and do a Q&A session with them every other week’. It has been a game-changer, helping to foster understanding ‘that men and women do communicate quite differently’ and that ‘men also get hurt, feel abandoned, scared and rejected’. Her pricing varies but starts at £2,000.
- Take a break. People get stuck on a horrible hamster wheel of dating apps where it’s not working so they try harder, feel more desperate and make worse choices. Pull that energy back into you. It will raise your self-esteem.
- Many women who have been hurt wear that ‘don’t-come-near- me’ look. Approach dating with a view to friendship first and being open and warm, not seeing men as the enemy. It can shift things.
- Have a clear vision of what you want, but don’t be shallow. Try to find something deeper than good looks or a well-paid job. What qualities are important to you? What are your values?
BE OPTIMISTIC ABOUT YOUR FUTURE AT 50
Sarah Robinson, 47, is a retirement coach. She lives with her husband and daughter in Worcestershire.
Sarah Robinson, 47, (pictured), who lives in Worcestershire, began retirement coaching when most of her career clients hit their 50s
THE COACH: A career consultant for 20 years, Sarah switched to retirement coaching when most of her clients hit their 50s and often wanted to make radical changes to their lives. The prospect of retirement can provoke dread or an identity crisis, or feel like a full stop when it need not, she says.
WHO SHE HELPS: Midlife women at a transition point — her oldest client is 66.
‘They know retirement is imminent, whether in a few years or 15, and think: “How do I get meaning and fulfilment if I’m not working?” ’
Some women work for longer than they want ‘because they are fearful of what comes next’. Part of Sarah’s job is to help them overcome that panic about who they are without work to define them.
WHAT SHE DOES: Sarah assesses ‘retirement readiness’, focusing on work, health, finances and family — and ‘helping people re-frame and adjust their attitude towards ageing’. Clients understand themselves better and form plans so that, approaching retirement, they know what gives them ‘energy, fulfilment and purpose’. Sarah offers a 90-minute online ‘Kick Start Your Retirement Planning’ coaching session, which includes a Life Options Profile, for £195.
- When crafting your vision of your retirement, involve your partner. Talk to him. Different expectations may cause friction.
- Embrace the opportunity that retirement presents. Be curious and optimistic about it being a new beginning.
- Identify what gives you meaning and purpose. Is it passing on knowledge, being creative, earning money from a hobby? Unless you know what that is, you won’t have a framework on which to build.
I WAS A DRINKER, NOW I HELP WOMEN GET SOBER
Claire Owen, 47, is a sober coach. She lives in North Wales with her husband and two sons.
Claire Owen, 47, (pictured), who lives in North Wales, took a life-coaching course after volunteering in a rehab clinic
THE COACH: A friend’s struggle prompted Claire to look at her own drinking. She didn’t hit rock bottom ‘but I was dancing on a line between fun and a problem,’ she says.
‘I needed a lot of strength to change a habit that was a big part of my life. I was drinking about 100 units a week and still functioning well, but inside I felt horrible — on this rollercoaster of self-loathing, drink, regret, repeat.’
When she quit three years ago, ‘everything changed for the better’. Suddenly it was clear that her successful, but stressful, business in property management was part of the problem — and after volunteering in a rehab clinic, she took a life-coaching course to support others in becoming sober.
WHO SHE HELPS: Often midlife empty-nesters who feel unfulfilled. They may have friends who insist they ‘just need a good night out’, which means they never truly focus on what they need to change in their life to be happy. They want to quit or cut down but don’t feel their situation suits AA or rehab.
‘Drinking is a cultural problem, too,’ says Claire. ‘“Just have one; it’s gin o’ clock; Mummy needs wine”. It’s everywhere, and you have to tackle that too.’
WHAT SHE DOES: Claire compares some people’s alcohol use to a train journey and says: ‘I’m inviting ladies to get off earlier.’ Counter-intuitively, the focus of her online programme isn’t alcohol at all but the question: ‘What do you want?’
Finding your motivation — whether that is wanting to improve health, wealth or a relationship — has a knock-on effect. Her services include a 45-day Sober Goals programme, which costs £333. It supports women to either cut down on alcohol or quit entirely.
- Track your habits to increase self-awareness. You may not realise you drank every day this week.
- Don’t think of forgoing alcohol as going without. If you are partying, dress up, drink sparkling water and leave looking your best.
- Don’t try to quit through willpower. The effort will exhaust you and you’ll end up thinking ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’. Instead, try to uncover what you believe alcohol gives you. ‘When I was drinking, I thought I needed it to have fun, relax and feel glamorous, but everything I believed about alcohol was a lie.’