(p. 784) Dating Skills Coaching and Psychotherapy
I am a dating coach, drama therapist, and licensed marriage and family therapist located in the San Francisco Bay area of Northern California. I established my company, Bay Area Dating Coach, in 2010 to help singles acquire the dating skills needed to find love. While working as a dating coach, I interned at a private practice–style agency and specialized in the use of drama therapy to treat social anxiety and dating difficulties. I became a California-licensed marriage and family therapist in 2014. I’ve since expanded Bay Area Dating Coach to provide dating psychotherapy as well as coaching, and have brought on additional staff, including associate clinicians and coaches. All of my associates hold a master’s degree in counseling psychology, and some are drama therapists and/or licensed marriage and family therapists. I look forward to expanding further by adding staff, locations, and additional services such as specialized groups, online courses, and offerings for LGBTQIA singles
The Niche Practice Activity
At Bay Area Dating Coach, we help singles develop the skills, knowledge, and confidence they need to find love, affection, and connection. We work with singles 18 years of age and older from a variety of backgrounds. Our individual and group coaching and psychotherapy focus on four key areas of healthy dating: strategy, skills, confidence, and “wisdom,” or the ability to recognize and build secure attachments. We also provide “field coaching,” wherein we offer feedback and support to clients in real-life social/dating settings. Our groups and workshops give singles a chance to learn skills and receive support and feedback from like-minded singles. Examples of past groups and workshops include “Overcoming Social and Dating Anxiety,” “Five Simple Steps to Better Dates,” and “Practice Dating.”
(p. 785) At Bay Area Dating Coach, we find that offering both coaching and psychotherapy allows us to serve a wide range of clients and dating issues. Via coaching, we help clients who are mentally well and/or contemporaneously receiving psychotherapy take their love life to the next level. Many of these clients seek us out because they’ve found it difficult to obtain the specialized dating support they need from other providers. Coaching gives us the freedom to provide creative, out-of-the-box services such as field coaching and practice dates, as no regulatory body currently exists in the field of coaching. In the case of psychotherapy, we not only help clients define and pursue their dating goals but also provide mental health treatment for issues that may underlie their dating difficulties. Where coaching focuses on taking concrete steps toward an envisioned future, psychotherapy allows us to identify, explore, and heal difficult past experiences and psychological blocks.
Both coaching and psychotherapy carry positives and negatives. While coaching provides some with an opportunity to pursue personal growth in a society that stigmatizes psychotherapy, clients must pay for coaching sessions out of pocket. On the other hand, clients may receive reimbursement for psychotherapy via their health insurance; however, such coverage requires the client to receive a diagnosis, which can affect the client psychologically and have a negative impact on future opportunities, such as applications for insurance or national service positions.
As providers of both coaching and psychotherapy, we must constantly monitor our services to ensure we are providing ethical and legal treatment. Specifically, per our state and professional ethics codes, we must ensure clients receive the kind of service they expect and have agreed to. For example, if a client has signed on for coaching services, we are careful to focus on the client’s present-day, concrete issues rather than delving into the psychological blocks underlying those issues. Or if a client is receiving long-term, depth psychotherapy, the psychotherapist will not offer services such as field coaching. We employ an extensive intake process to determine which services are most appropriate for a client, then continue to assess the appropriateness of services provided by monitoring the client’s progress and responses to treatment. Should the client need a different or additional service, we discuss this with him or her, obtain consent, and make the appropriate referral or service adjustment, making sure to document and justify each action taken. While this process requires our vigilance, it allows us to serve a wide range of clients and issues by offering a variety of coaching and psychotherapy services.
Developing an Interest and Training in this Niche Activity
My labor of love began early: I grew up shy, sensitive, and a hopeless romantic. In high school, I blossomed socially and romantically, partially thanks to the confidence I gained through the performing arts. My love life served as a great experiment (though I didn’t know it then) wherein I sometimes painfully, sometimes blissfully, gathered observations about the mysteries behind love, attraction, and lasting relationships. Fast-forward to graduate school at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, where I studied counseling psychology with an emphasis in drama therapy: I woke one morning in a dreamy epiphany, seeing myself helping singles through role-playing and other drama therapy techniques.
(p. 786) Being in the tech startup capital of the world and having a number of male friends who, despite being quality gents, struggled with dating due to being “nerdy,” I found myself especially interested in working with socially awkward heterosexual men. I shared my vision with my then boyfriend, a successful entrepreneur who himself had found improvisational theater pivotal in overcoming his own social and romantic blind spots, and I was lucky enough to build my coaching business under his tutelage.
I began training to work with singles in graduate school. Opting for an independent study project as one of my electives, I wrote a paper on heterosocial anxiety—“Drama Therapy for Girl-Shy Heterosexual Males Seeking Relationship.” I became familiar with the existing data on and approaches to treating heterosocial anxiety in males and used this information to identify appropriate drama therapy approaches. Once I graduated and established Bay Area Dating Coach, I sought further trainings and resources on the topics of sexuality, gender, diversity, trauma, attachment, healthy relating, and social anxiety. As my original independent study revealed, there was little written from a clinical perspective about treating dating difficulties, so self-education and trainings on a variety of related topics were key. My previous work as a sex educator and theater activist proved helpful, as did ongoing postgraduate drama therapy trainings. I did not seek coaching certification or training, as I found the skills developed in my master’s program to be sufficient. I have found that ongoing training is key not only for clinical integrity, but because the dating world and my business and client needs constantly evolve. For example, as I expanded my work to support women, LGBTQIA, differently abled, widowed, and elderly singles, I’ve sought resources focused on these populations and continued my training in anti-oppression, diversity-inclusive clinical care.
Joys and Challenges Related to this Niche Activity
I find working with singles highly satisfying. Many of my clients have gone from little or no dating experience to first kisses, lost virginities, committed relationships, and happy marriages. As such, I recommend working in this niche but would like to offer some disclaimers. Check in with yourself: How excited do you feel about helping clients find love? Just as singles must have hearts resilient enough to withstand the loneliness and rejection inherent in dating, you will need a well of passion from which to draw when your clients’ frustration and learned helplessness begin to distort your clinical vision. In addition, keep in mind that dating/sexuality work invariably incites erotic (counter)transference. Be sure that you’re willing and able to confront and explore these issues. With eroticized transference—that is, erotic transference that a client cannot address effectively in the therapeutic work—comes safety risks. I’ve received inappropriate and frightening romantic advances from clients, and in one (unusually extreme) case eventually had to obtain a restraining order. I’ve learned a great deal from these experiences and am now highly selective and safety-conscious in my practice as a result. Make sure you’re well supported and respond immediately to any hints of erotic(ized) transference or safety risks. Also, keep in mind that when dealing with chronic relational issues, a large segment of those seeking services will struggle with severe (p. 787) trauma histories, personality disorders, and severe substance abuse. Establish self-care structures and practice boundaries to help prevent burnout. For example, due to our current capacity and scope of competence, we provide trauma treatment but refer out in the case of personality disorders or severe substance abuse.
Business Aspects of this Niche Activity
While establishing Bay Area Dating Coach, I generated business largely through low-cost workshops. I advertised these workshops on Meetup.com and other local listservs and found that singles are eager to gather, as they tend to feel isolated and ostracized. In addition to workshops, I found it helpful to run ongoing groups and maintain a blog and newsletter, both of which can be accessed at bayareadatingcoach.com. As I’ve established myself, I’ve begun to receive referrals via word of mouth, Yelp.com, social media sites, clinician and power partner (i.e., those in allied fields such as matchmakers and online dating photographers) referrals, and web searches.
I have clients pay privately, as insurance plans typically do not cover coaching and they provide reimbursement for psychotherapy at rates that do not, in my mind, justify the resources and stress required to manage claims.
Developing this Niche Activity into a Practice Strategy
If you’re interested in developing a dating skills niche in your practice, I recommend familiarizing yourself with modern dating. Speak with as many singles as you can; get a sense of their difficulties. Use the newest, trending dating technologies. For example, online dating at the time of this writing generally includes two types of platforms: online, profile-driven sites such as OKCupid and Match.com, and mutual match apps such as Tinder and Bumble. Read all the books you can get your hands on (see bayareadatingcoach.com/resources for recommendations). While you engage in this self-education, notice which aspects of dating pique your interest. Dating skills, while seemingly a narrow niche, is actually a rather general term. I’ve had much more success running highly focused workshops, such as “Confidence in Dating,” than offering general dating workshops. It may also be helpful to focus on a particular population—I’ve seen dating coaches who work only with divorced women at midlife, LGBTQIA singles, and other specific groups. I have had success targeting single heterosexual men, socially anxious singles, and women age 40 and older.
We give our clients a great gift when we as clinicians pursue self-actualization. Whether you develop a practice focused on dating skills or another niche, I wish you fulfillment. May you find and manifest your calling, not only for yourself but for the benefit of those you serve.
(p. 788) For More Information
There are no foundational or classic resources in the field of dating skills therapy and coaching, so you’ll need to tailor your education according to your needs and interests. It is vital to gain foundational knowledge in social skills, social anxiety, trauma, attachment, and the building blocks of healthy relationships. You may want to join a (dating) coaching organization for networking, referrals, and education (e.g., the International Coach Federation at https://www.coachfederation.org/join). I also strongly suggest getting some basic training in drama therapy so you can help your clients build skills through experiential techniques such as role-playing and improvisation. See the North American Drama Therapy Association (www.nadta.com) to learn more about drama therapy and find a trainer near you.
References and Resources
Antony, M. M., & Swinson, R. P. (2008). The shyness and social anxiety workbook: Proven, step-by-step techniques for overcoming your fear. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.Find this resource:
Glover, R. A. (2003). No more Mr. Nice Guy: A proven plan for getting what you want in love, sex, and life. Philadelphia, PA: Running Press.Find this resource:
Gottman, J. D., & Declaire, J. (2002). The relationship cure: A 5-step guide to strengthening your marriage, family, and friendships. New York: Three Rivers Press.Find this resource:
Grover, R. L., Nangle, D. W., & Zeff, K. R. (2005). The measure of adolescent heterosocial competence: Development and initial validation. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 34(2), 282–291.Find this resource:
Levine, A., & Heller, R. S. F. (2010). Attached: The new science of adult attachment and how it can help you find—and keep—love. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin.Find this resource:
Matchmaking Institute. (n.d.). Matchmakers and Date Coaches Conference. Retrieved from https://matchmakinginstitute.com/conference/
Relationship Coaching Institute. (n.d.). Become a dating coach. Retrieved from http://www.relationshipcoachinginstitute.com/become-a-dating-coach
Zur Institute. (n.d.). Certificate program in coaching & psychotherapy. Retrieved from http://www.zurinstitute.com/certificateincoaching.html