The breakup coach: Sometimes ice cream and Alanis aren’t enough

A new breed of life coach will charge good money to help you get over heartbreak

Topics: Love and Sex, Breakups, relationships, Breakup coach, Russell Brand, Alanis Morrissette, Girls, Katy Perry, Editor's Picks,

The breakup coach: Sometimes ice cream and Alanis aren't enough (Credit: Arsgera via Shutterstock)

I just want to call him. That’s a phrase Susan J. Elliott heard from a client just this week — and one she hears most weeks. Newly single women will time and again try to get permission from her to call their ex. That’s because the former therapist is a new breed of personal motivator: The breakup coach.

There is no shortage of professed wisdom on getting through heartbreak: There are women’s magazines, advice columnists, self-help books and, of course, the cliche Sunday brunch proclamations of “you deserve better.” That’s not to mention the prescriptions of a Katherine Heigl movie, a tub of ice cream and some “Jagged Little Pill” karaoke. And yet, enough people still find themselves in search of post-breakup help that Elliott now does breakup coaching full-time and has clients the world over. It was recently rumored, and totally unsubstantiated, that Katy Perry paid a high-priced breakup coach to get over her ex-husband Russell Brand.

Elliott, author of “Getting Past Your Breakup,” typically focuses on helping clients to get over the immediate hurt of the breakup. That’s why she often first sets out to end contact between her client and their ex. (This reminds me of Charlie’s fictional app on HBO’s “Girls,” which fines people for contacting exes.) “The more time they spend talking to their ex rehashing things, the harder it is for me to bring them back to the focus on themselves,” she says. It can be difficult to effectively put a kibosh on contact: Clients often want to contact their ex in the hopes of getting back together or understanding why the relationship ended. In the case of the client mentioned above, Elliott asked her to write down all the questions she could possibly ask her ex and then to write down all the answers she could possibly get in return, in hopes that it would make her realize how pointless the conversation would be. For example, Elliott says, “She can say, ‘You told me you loved me’ and he could say, ‘Well I did, but I don’t anymore.’ That’s not going to make her feel any better.”



Plenty of her sessions, which cost $89 each, are spent talking clients out of trying to get back together with their ex. “If you’re trying to get the person to come back by pointing out, ‘I was so good to you, I did this for you, I did that for you’ and you make them feel guilty and they come back, OK, how long do you have to keep doing that? For the rest of your life you have to keep reminding them how great you are?” And then there’s the tough work of rebuilding clients’ self-confidence. She often hears things like, “I’m gonna be alone forever,” along with complaints of being “old,” “fat” or “frumpy.” Instead of worrying about the future, she tries to get clients to develop “hobbies and interests.” She says, “I tell people a good relationship is one that expands your life and a bad relationship will narrow your life — but first you have to have a life.”

Other breakup coaches, like Lyndra Hearn Antonson, focus more on identifying troubling relationship patterns and preventing clients from replicating them in future relationships. “If we’re blaming the external word or ex-partners, we’re stuck in being victims and aren’t able to really evolve,” she says. “Part of what’s important in breakup coaching is for people to be in a place where they may be able to see that they keep attracting people who aren’t available or who care more about themselves.” While Antonson says “people,” most of her clients are women, who are generally “given more permission to focus on relationships, talk about them and even get help.”

There is no standard training for breakup coaches; their experience ranges from some time in the self-help aisle to life coaching workshops to decades as a traditional psychotherapist. Similarly, services include everything from in-person talk sessions to motivational email blasts generated from a Mad Libs–like form that you fill out. Some messaging is based on actual psychological principals, some on a you-go-girl mentality that is, shall we say, not so academic. (Consider this e-card featuring a princess in a pink gown that reads,”A certain ‘PRINCE’ turned out to have frog-like tendencies. Please bear with me while I wipe away the taste of amphibian.”) It’s no surprise then that some coaches seem like respectable professionals, while others come off as total hucksters.

You might wonder, as I did, why someone would see a breakup coach as opposed to your standard insurance-covered therapist. Elliott argues that traditional talk therapy is “much less interactive” and “much more passive.” “I think that when people are going through a breakup, they want someone to guide them as to what to do,” she tells me. “None of us are really taught what to do in breakups, other than people saying stupid things like, ‘There are plenty of fish in the sea’ or ‘Go out and get a pedicure and manicure.’” Antonson, a former psychotherapist, says her new-found profession addresses the less serious cases. “Coaching is more for people who are functioning relatively well,” she says. “But breakups tend to cause most of us to kind of regress … so sometimes it can be a bit confusing whether a person needs breakup coaching or therapy.”

Or, you know, a good friend.

Tracy Clark-Flory

Tracy Clark-Flory is a staff writer at Salon. Follow @tracyclarkflory on Twitter and Facebook.

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.

    Domino's

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.

    Arby's/Facebook

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.

    KFC

    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.

    Pizzagamechangers.com

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.

    7-Eleven

    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>