Four months after her boyfriend of six months moved to New Zealand to be with another woman, Brittany Clark hadn’t emerged from her post-breakup blues. (You know the drill: It involves a lot of Ben and Jerry’s.) Worse, her friends were tired of hearing her talk about her ex; they all seemed to think it was long past due for her to move on.
“Most people have their own timeline of when they think you should be over something,” says Clark, 28, of San Francisco. “Everyone was moving on with their own lives, and I was still grappling with these emotions.”
When she saw an online ad for local breakup coach Regina Fletcher, Clark figured she might as well give it a try. She had never heard of breakup coaching, but it seemed like a way to talk through her troubles without burdening her friends.
“It was really nice to meet somebody who didn’t have preconceived notions of my relationship and who didn’t have a timeline,” Clark says. “Regina wasn’t like, ‘Oh, this again?’”
Fletcher is one of a few dozen relationship coaches across the country, who are available for hire online and in person and who specialize in helping clients through breakups. Breakup coaching, a lesser-known niche within the booming world of life coaching, helps clients rebuild a sense of self and move past former relationships.
If you’re thinking, “Ah, how bad can a breakup be?” consider this: A 2010 study published in the Journal of Neurophysiology found that “rejection in love” (translation: a bad breakup) can have effects on the body similar to those of craving cocaine.
Joy Harden Bradford, a breakup coach and licensed therapist in Atlanta, says breakups can be especially hard on women in their 30s who expected to marry their ex and to start a family but who now find themselves unexpectedly single again.
“For highly educated, ambitious, career-driven women, something that didn’t go right in their lives can really be traumatic,” she says, so talking to a coach can be a chance to discuss the breakup — which they may see as a personal failure — without having to go public (such as talking to family or friends) about their pain. Bradford likens it to seeing a therapist after a divorce or going to a support group after a spouse dies: It’s just part of the natural grieving process.
Pittsburgh-based breakup coach Akirah Robinson says coaching is most productive when singles are ready to move forward; they just need a little help getting there. “They’re trying to be as self-aware as possible,” she says. “They know that without it, they’re not going to be able to be in a healthy relationship.”
Robinson’s Breakup Bootcamp is a three-month program for women trying to recover from heartbreak. For $450, bootcamp participants get unlimited e-mail support and six 50-minute calls with her to discuss 10 topics that include forgiveness, self-care and reentering the dating pool. Participants also complete worksheets with exercises designed to get them to dig deeper into their habits and goals — including creating a strategy for not contacting an ex in moments of weakness.
Although relationship coaches offer client confidentiality, most are not licensed psychologists or specially trained in coaching. (Fletcher is a former special education teacher and Robinson a social worker.)
Joy Harden Bradford, who holds a PhD in counseling psychology from the University of Georgia, works as a breakup coach and a therapist, but she doesn’t mix the two practices. Therapy, she explains, is typically longer-term and digs deeper into a client’s past. Breakup coaching fills a more immediate need, helping clients deal with the near-term aftermath of a failed relationship.
For Clark, our single San Franciscan, the most helpful takeaway from coaching was learning to redirect the obsessive thoughts she had about her breakup. She would rehash old conversations and arguments, and she would wonder what she could’ve done differently. Coaching, she says, helped her break out of those negative-thought cycles.
Fletcher, Clark’s coach, says she encourages clients who are stuck on a past partner to think about something else — a hobby or an activity, something that requires planning — whenever they find themselves obsessing over an old relationship. “Maybe it’s a vacation you’re planning, or a song you’re composing, or a party you and your friends are co-planning. And if you don’t have something like that, create it.” In time, she says, the painful memories will become less frequent and eventually fade.
A year after her breakup, Clark is no longer stuck on her ex — and she’s not embarrassed to say that she got over him with the help of a breakup coach.
“I was a hot mess, and it hurt me for way longer than it probably should’ve. But I’m not ashamed of the fact that I had a broken heart.”