- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 20, 2006

EVANSTON, Ill. — Joanie Edelberg built a library of dating self-help books and accepted the help of friends who introduced her to available men, but nothing was happening.

So the Evanston, Ill., real estate broker acquired a dating coach.

Miss Edelberg, 50, discovered a range of services dating coaches provide, from personal consultations to fashion makeovers to “field trips” on which the coaches observe their clients’ interaction with the opposite sex in a social setting and provide feedback.

The goal of their services is to help their clients hone their seductive skills for the often vexing dating world.

Dating coaches’ clientele is diverse. Miss Edelberg’s coach, Chicago-based Patti Feinstein, said her male and female clients range in age from 22 to 72. But the one thing they have in common is difficulty in meeting the right person.

Mrs. Feinstein became a dating coach after getting fed up with her career as a matchmaker and seeing many of her clients’ dates go badly.

“Many of them had built up their expectations so high that they were flopping on their dates,” she said. “Finally, I realized that many of them just didn’t know how to date. So I figured I’d try to teach them that, instead.”

Mrs. Feinstein re-entered the dating pool to study interactions between singles. She also spent a year working with a psychiatrist to improve her understanding of psychology. In 2002, she began offering her services as a dating coach.

Mrs. Feinstein is far from alone. Because there is no central accreditation agency for personal coaches, information on the number of dating coaches in the United States is hard to come by. But the nonprofit International Coach Federation, whose members offer personal coaching services in a variety of areas, claims a membership of 10,500 worldwide.

Mrs. Feinstein, who charges $100 per hour for her counseling services, tries to help her clients work through their challenges with a mixture of personal counseling and in-the-field coaching.

“Everybody has a different issue, and they can’t always see it,” she said. “I try to tell them what the issues are without hurting their feelings. I try to make dating fun for them instead of this hugely anxiety-ridden experience.”

Although the services dating coaches provide often resemble psychotherapy and many dating coaches have a background in it, the American Psychological Association warns the two are not to be confused.

Spokeswoman Pamela Willenz said psychologists or psychiatrists have doctoral-level health/mental health training and are required to be licensed to practice in the state in which they work. Dating coaches are not accredited as such by the APA but are often, like Mrs. Feinstein, self-made.

John Fergus, a Los Angeles-based dating coach who charges $75 an hour for his counseling sessions, cites his 34-year experience of organizing singles events and workshops as qualification. He concentrates on modifying his clients’ behavior and body language to match what he has seen work in a singles environment. But it isn’t a one-size-fits-all endeavor; he tailors his advice to suit each client’s personality, weaknesses and strengths.

Mrs. Feinstein and Mr. Fergus both said their client base is evenly split between men and women. In what may be a sign of growing social acceptance of romance counseling, Mrs. Feinstein has seen a major uptick in her male clientele in the past year.

“I used to have a lot of women clients and no men, but now I almost have more male clients than I know what to do with. That movie ‘Hitch’ may have made it more acceptable for men,” she said, referring to the 2005 comedy depicting Will Smith as a “date doctor” for romantically challenged men.

For many people who seek out the services of a dating coach, it isn’t their first attempt at self-improvement. Mr. Fergus estimates that 40 percent of his clients have seen a therapist.

“One of the concerns a lot of my clients have is that they may have worked on a lot of issues already, but they’re still sort of stuck socially,” he said. “My goal is to help them find what’s holding them back, and help them develop the social skills they need to get past it.”

Miss Edelberg began receiving personal consultations from Mrs. Feinstein in the summer of 2003. Later, Mrs. Feinstein began to accompany Miss Edelberg “in the field,” watching her interactions and helping her identify obstacles, including what eventually became known as “the circle top.”

“It was a very revealing lace mesh shirt with clear sequins on it,” Miss Edelberg said. “When I wore it, men wouldn’t come within 5 feet. They’d circle around, but never come talk to me.”

The two later found a less-daring, ribbed V-neck sweater produced better results for Miss Edelberg.

Today, Miss Edelberg is engaged to a real estate lawyer she met through mutual friends, with a wedding planned for this winter.

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