by Kristen Domingue

I started my coaching practice the same way I’ve done just about everything in my life — taking one inspired step after the next. I navigate these steps never quite knowing exactly where they will lead, but confident that if I trust myself, honoring my heart, intuition and inner wisdom, I’ll land it right! And I must say, establishing my coaching practice and founding the Life Empowerment Coaching & Healing Arts Center here in Ann Arbor has been one of my best landings thus far.  

Even as a very young child, I was fascinated by people. Questions like, “Why was she loudly sighing?” “What made him laugh so hard?” “Why was my friend frowning?” constantly wandered through my mind. It was all a mystery to me, and I wanted to understand more. I sensed there was a lot going on behind a gesture, a comment, or an expression. If I could figure out what was happening, I believed I would feel safer in my world and be able to better navigate it. 

In high school, I was introduced to the topics of personal development and psychology, and boom — clarity! I knew instantly I wanted to study psychology and really grasp what makes people behave the way they do. I was thrilled to learn there was a science behind psychological development. If I could study it, it would help me to meaningfully and powerfully connect with others. 

After graduating with a psychology degree from University of Michigan, I worked as a childcare counselor for several years at a group home for troubled adolescent girls. I then decided to pursue a Masters of Social Work degree. I realized that with this advanced degree, I could do psychotherapy and more intensely and purposefully help people.  

As part of my training, I worked in the Inpatient Adolescent Psychiatric Unit at the University of Michigan Hospital. This internship morphed into a staff position. I treasure, and still use to this day, all of the knowledge and experience I gained working psychodynamically with extremely troubled teens and families. Understanding the deeper psychological underpinnings of human functioning allows me to be more compassionate, empathetic, and helpful in my work and personal relationships.  

Though I loved working as an inpatient psychotherapist, I became frustrated by the challenges of mental health insurance standards dictating the length of stay. I believed it was crucial that a patient’s discharge be based on true emotional healing and readiness. Insurance dictates made this impossible. I left the hospital and started a private practice, where I was able to work with adolescents, adults and couples as long as necessary to achieve the healing and relief they desired. My practice thrived for 25 years until life challenges, and then life coaching, called me in a new direction!  

From Great Challenge, Great Change 

In addition to being a therapist, I’ve also spent my own time in therapy. Severe depression haunted me at various points in my life. Like my clients, hard work in therapy helped me alleviate and better cope with psychological symptoms, yet the job was far from complete. Feeling emotionally well did not necessarily mean I was living the life I longed for and dreamed of, a life I LOVED. A healthy mind does not always automatically create a sense of inner peace or joy. It was this realization that fueled and inspired my life coaching practice. I discovered that you can have all the insight in the world, but unless you take action on that insight, transformation doesn’t happen!   

For me, this is the biggest distinction between therapy and coaching — therapy helps you understand your life. Coaching helps you take action and transform it!  

Sometimes it just hits you — that pivotal moment when you know something has to change. For me, the moment was a full-out panic attack, as I realized my life was far from what I wanted, far from what I would deem good enough: I was in a marriage that left me feeling straight-jacketed. 

You reach that moment and hear yourself shouting “No!” It is then that you can propel yourself to an expansive and powerful “Yes!” My “yes” to myself was a commitment to discover and live from the heart of what really mattered to me.   

I let go of pieces of my life that were broken or unhealthy. This was extremely difficult; it included ending my marriage. Upon deep reflection, I realized I had abandoned vital parts of myself in an attempt to maintain this attachment. By pushing aside or burying key aspects of myself, I paid a huge price: a loss of authenticity, personal power and energy.   

Excessively compromising ourselves, or putting ourselves on a back shelf in an attempt to make a relationship work takes a tremendous amount of psychological energy. Once I recognized this was what I was doing in my marriage and stopped doing so, I was blown away by how much freed up energy I had for the other important aspects of my life!   

My relationships with my daughter, friends, extended family, and colleagues flourished. Perhaps most importantly, my relationship with myself became the priority it needed to be! As I reclaimed and honored my abandoned passions, creativity, and whole-hearted spirit, I literally coached myself back home to myself.   

I stepped into an even more purposeful, richly rewarding phase of parenting my daughter. We had many fun play-dates, travel adventures, and cozy nights at home. I took piano lessons, picking up where I left off at age 11. I gave myself permission to explore and enjoy hot yoga, encaustic wax painting, and kirtan chanting. I also had fabulous fun socializing with close friends with whom I previously had little contact. We explored art galleries, savored downtown nightlife, and discovered great music venues and places to dance. 

Soon after that, I entered a year-long coaching program and became a certified life coach through the International Coach Academy. I was determined to gift others similar knowledge and self-empowerment tools I had discovered that helped me take deliberate, intentional, deeply gratifying action in my life.   

Sharing the Wisdom  

I’ve been coaching for almost 12 years now, savoring the joy and privilege of helping many adolescents, adults, and couples courageously, confidently, and powerfully transform their lives! It is extraordinary to watch an individual evolve from being completely stuck to removing barriers and obstacles, and using new skills or tools to move forward to a degree that they sometimes feel downright unstoppable.  

Most recently, I’ve also grown my practice to include my Mid-Life Magnificence programs and workshops dedicated to celebrating, uplifting, and empowering women in mid-life. My work focuses on helping women embrace their radiant, sexy, sensual feminine energy, power, and spirit. My own life journey has opened me to the magnificence of this period of life, and I’ve never felt more alive, vibrant, and excited about what’s ahead. I’m determined to keep my dazzle on and my sparkle sparkling, and I want to help other women do the same!  

When I finally had the courage to stand in my truth, honor my inner wisdom, trust myself, and therefore make the agonizing decision to leave my marriage, I came back to a more joyful, authentic self.   

On Blending Work and Family 

I maintain the balance and blend between work and family through my commitment to working part-time, which I have done ever since my daughter Juliet was born 21 years ago. Having two full days when I’m not at my Life Coaching Center allows me both the time to address the more mundane aspects of daily existence with ease, and most importantly, gives me lots of leisure time to simply be, and enjoy my beloveds!  

Three years ago, my life and heart broke wide open into beautiful technicolor when I married my husband, Steve. Being a newlywed again makes me giddy, as I was a single mom for 10 years. Steve and I live happily together in our tiny little bungalow atop a tiny little hill in Ann Arbor. My daughter pops in from college occasionally as icing on my cake. Life is good. I cherish every moment, and live it as one big adventure that I trust is unfolding in some sort of perfect order.  

Advice to Younger Me 

If I could go back in time a bit, and give advice to my younger self it would be this: Check in with yourself often. Ask, “What is my heart longing for?” Trust the answer you hear. Courageously head in that direction! 


Maria Sylvester, MSW, CPC, is a regular contributor and great friend of The Brick Magazine. You can find her article for this month on page 50.

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