Life coaching for adolescents.

As a high school student growing up in suburban Milwaukee, Michelle Marie King felt bullied by other students for being “short, fat and awkward,” she said. While in high school, she was recruited as a model by the hair products company Redken Fifth Avenue NYC. At 18, she moved to Arizona and worked as a runway model until the pressures of the fashion industry became too much and sent her into a tailspin of anxiety, bulimia and depression.

King eventually recovered from what she called “a dark place” in her life. She moved to Colorado and became a motivational speaker, personal coach and blogger. She won the Ms. Colorado pageant in 2013 and continued to work as a model. However, the birth of her daughter in 2015 reminded King of her struggles as a teenager. She left modeling and began coaching young girls on how to enter the modeling industry in a positive way. In 2016 she founded Positive Presence, a life-coaching service that helps teenagers confront their demons, meet new challenges or just get over the rough patches of adolescence.

King studied at the School of Positive Transformation where she earned certification as a master practitioner in positive psychology. She and her family moved to Chanhassen in 2019, and she opened a Positive Presence office in Highland Village.

Positive Presence
Michelle Marie King helps young people overcome stress and meet new challenges through her life-coaching service Positive Presence in Highland Park. Photo by Brad Stauffer

Positive Presence is just beginning to get a foothold in Minnesota. The company currently has 17 life coaches in 11 states and nearly a dozen more in training. Over the past five years, it has served about 250 clients in 38 states.

Positive Presence’s life coaches work as independent contractors, meeting with clients in person or via Zoom for one hour every week or every other week over a six- or 12-month contract. The life coaches receive extensive training in SELF, a program that teaches them the best way to deal with 500 different scenarios ranging from everyday challenges to more serious mental health issues. Prospective coaches are heavily vetted, and just 25 percent are chosen for the program.

Positive Presence’s clients range in age from 12 years to college. Some are overachievers who are feeling the pressure of trying to be perfect. Others have been hanging out with the wrong crowd or have become addicted to video games or drugs. Still others are having trouble managing their time or staying within a budget or are struggling with anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder.

“Mentoring was once an organic process for humans,” King said. “Our goal is to bring that back. We believe we can change lives.”

The life coaches are generally within 10 years of age of their clients. Many have suffered “their own level of darkness and have their own stories,” King said. “They can relate to their young clients, and that’s really important. We want to give young people a positive relationship with adult mentors who can help them face their issues.”

Blake Cleaver, 26, a Positive Presence coach from Kansas City, has helped her clients deal with the social and academic pressures of high school and college as well as anxiety and body-image problems. She provides plenty of advice in coaching sessions, she said, and has directed clients to Positive Presence’s online resources, too. “You can see a lot of change in students who go through the program,” she said.

Positive Presence does not replace professional psychological counseling or treatment that some teens may need on their journey to adulthood, King said. It is, rather, an additional tool for parents who want to help their children navigate the high school years. Health insurance does not cover the cost of life coaching, she said, but more than 80 percent of parents retain the company’s services after their initial contract ends, she said.

Both of Vickie Lamb’s daughters have worked with Positive Presence coaches. Her youngest daughter, Emily, now 20, worked with a coach on issues she had when her family moved to a new home during her high school years. Lamb’s daughter, Katie, now 22, worked with her coach on the challenges of being away at college.

Positive Presence gives young people “a person to talk to when they’re stressed with everything life can throw at them,” Lamb said. Emily liked the program so much she has gone on to become a Positive Presence coach.

King is now in the process of creating life-coaching programs tailored to gender, targeting males and non-binary individuals. A new Spanish-speaking program is also in the works, and King is hoping to expand into Mexico and Canada.

With Positive Presence, King wants to provide a service where youths can receive help from a mentor during a critical period in their lives. “Mentoring was once an organic process for humans,” she said. “Our goal is to bring that back. We believe we can change lives.”

— Frank Jossi


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