As actress and comedian Miranda Hart, 46, reveals she has retrained as a life coach, Maria Lally asks why so many other women are taking the same step.

She made her name sending herself up as perfectly imperfect Miranda in the self-titled, and some say semi-autobiographical, BBC series. And according to comedian Miranda Hart, it was the perfect training for a new career as a life coach.

"I have heard from people who got through grief by watching something that made them laugh," the 46-year-old told Radio Times this week.

"People with chronic illness finding joy in their lives, which in turn has led to symptom relief; young women who conquered anxiety and depression by believing that if Miranda could find love and accept herself then they could, too.

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"Ironically, for the past three or four years, I've been researching the 'keys' to wellbeing, taking courses and training to be a life coach."'

Hart is not alone. Because of the lack of regulation, it's hard to say exactly how many life coaches there are in the UK, but according to the International Coach Federation, the number of coaches (who are mostly women in midlife) grew from 47,500 in 2012 to 53,300 in 2016.

In 2017, the global life coaching industry was believed to be worth $2 billion (£1.5 billion). And that's before you get to the tens of thousands of life coaches on Instagram (there are currently 6.9 million posts, and counting, tagged with the #lifecoach hashtag).

For Mary Meadows, 43, the road to life coaching came via the breakdown of her marriage in 2014. "We had been married for 10 years and, after a long fertility journey and IVF, we had our son Albie in 2011," she says.

Miranda Hart in Miranda. Photo / Supplied
Miranda Hart in Miranda. Photo / Supplied

"I didn't go back to my job in HR in the hotel industry because we lived in Brighton and my work was an hour and a half away in London, and I couldn't see a way to make it work. I suffered from postnatal depression and, during that time, I remember googling to try to find some positive advice from mothers going through the same thing.

"This was before Instagram had really taken off, so all I found was rather depressing articles from doctors talking about the negative impact of postnatal depression on children. I guess the life coaching seeds were sown then."

Worse was to come when Mary's husband came home from work one day, when Albie was 18 months old, and announced he was leaving: "I honestly had no idea he was unhappy and I remember writing in my diary that evening: 'Ground Zero'.

"Overnight, I was a single mother and I had no idea how I would cope. I needed to work, but I had no idea what job would allow me to work around nursery hours. My husband moved away for work, so I had to be the constant in Albie's life. I was the dropper-offer and the picker-upper."

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It was during a conversation with friends that the idea of life coaching came up: "I was talking about what I could do," she remembers. "And they told me I was a good listener, I had a lot of empathy, and that I'm good at communicating.

"I was always the friend people turned to when they were having problems, and the idea of becoming a life coach came up. 'Is that even a proper job?' I asked."

Mary quickly realised one of the reasons many are slightly sceptical of life coaching: "I soon learnt that it's an entirely unregulated profession. Literally anybody can call themselves a life coach, especially on Instagram, and dish out bad advice. Some people read a self-help book and become a life coach. And I've heard of unqualified coaches charging thousands of pounds for six?month courses."

Like Hart, she spent years studying for approved qualifications. She says: "I wanted to make sure, if the industry is ever regulated, I would be OK. As a single mother, I wanted the qualifications that would enable me to keep working, but I also wanted a duty of care to the people I would be coaching. I have a professional membership to the National Council of Psychotherapists, I have insurance and I have to adhere to industry standards."

However, while life coaches can train with credited associations, there's no legal requirement and no protection for clients to hold unregulated life coaches to account.

"It cost me £3,000 and two years to gain a diploma in performance coaching, and while I loved it, it was a hard slog," says Mary. "Every spare minute I had, when my son was in nursery or asleep, was spent studying. I had a weekly webinar (an online conferencing session) at 6.30pm, which was right around his bedtime, so I had to hire a childminder to help me."

In 2015, Mary gained her qualification and began coaching women going through divorce, redundancy, career changes, relationship problems, as well as anxiety and depression.

"Life coaches often catch the slack of NHS mental health services, and I'm part of that net," she says. "While some people come to see me thinking about a career change, others come with quite serious problems and I have the training to spot that they don't need coaching, but urgent GP attention."

Mary says there's often a reason why women in midlife ("and it is usually women, although I know a couple of male ones") who have been through personal upheaval are more likely to become life coaches.

"Often it's women like me who have gone through a divorce, or mothers returning to a job after having children that just doesn't fit around their family any more. I don't think a twentysomething could become a life coach because they would lack the life experience.

"Women become wiser in their forties, having been hit by all the curveballs life throws out. In our twenties and thirties, we think we know how life is supposed to look. I teach my clients to reframe their expectations. Life doesn't get better, but your ability to cope with it does.

"Women spend a lot of their lives trying to please others, and tend to ignore those gut feelings about their relationships or jobs. Then in midlife their perspective shifts. I see it in my circle of friends. By our forties, we've lived a bit. We've suffered a bit. I think having gone through the process of depression and divorce myself, helps my coaching."

Hart has also previously spoken openly about spells of low moods. She hopes to channel this, along with her training, to help others.

"Within Miranda I was writing most of the keys [of wellbeing] without knowing it!" she said. "Now, as a result of my research, personal experience and my fans' letters, I can pass them on with authority."