Inside break-up wellness: bootcamps, apps, counselling, coaching and retreats

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BY: MEGAN HAYNES
SPECIAL TO THE GLOBE AND MAIL
PUBLISHED AUGUST 7, 2018

For two years, Hamilton-based Joshua Lombardo-Bottema was stuck in a love-filled, passionate, but often toxic relationship. When his partner ended things, he got stuck in a rut.

“My relationship was super dramatic,” the 31-year-old says. “But I loved her very much and a breakup can feel as bad as physical pain. I’d rather be punched in the face – at least that pain fades in a few days.”

A few weeks later, when he couldn’t shake the depression, Lombardo-Bottema called up Natalia Juarez, a Toronto “breakup coach” who’s part of a burgeoning cottage industry for the newly single.

Dating is a $142-million industry in Canada, according to research firm IBISWorld – it’s natural there is money to be had at the end of relationships as well.

There are workshops and online classes that provide heartbreak-coping techniques, such as those offered by Toronto’s Joana Lopez. In these courses, Lopez spends time explaining the psychological responses people have to breakups, because understanding helps people better accept the associated sadness, which, in turn, helps them move on, she says.

For people who want a more intensive approach, there are retreats, such as Renew Breakup Bootcamp out of the United States, which offers four days of uninterrupted healing time, complete with yoga, healthy meals and group and solo therapy (at a cost of $1,600). For the tech-savvy, there are apps including Mend, which offer customized recovery plans based on where in the heartbreak cycle a user is – such as an “ex-detox” – and advice on how to be more active again.

Breakup coach Juarez worked with Lombardo-Bottema over five sessions. At first, she offered an empathic ear, which helped him feel like he wasn’t alone in his grief, he says. Next, she gave him reading assignments to help him better understand what kind of boyfriend he was. “I learned I wasn’t actually listening to my partner and hearing her fully,” he says. “I was pretty selfish, but I thought I was doing a good job because I was doing my best at the time.”

Juarez’s work isn’t always focused on recovery, she says. About 50 per cent of her clients, largely men in their 30s and 40s, want help winning back their former partners, she says. A good portion of her time is spent working with these clients to determine whether the relationship is viable and getting to the root of why it didn’t work out in the first place. About 25 per cent of her clients want help with the actual breaking up, and the last 25 per cent are seeking help in the aftermath.

But people have been dating and breaking up for centuries – is an entire industry dedicated to heartbreak necessary?

The niche market is a coalescence of two trends, says Toronto’s Johanna Faigelman, chief executive of market-research firm Human Branding and an anthropologist who studies millennials in particular. First, there’s a focus on “wellness.”

[Adults today] want to be healthier than their parents and a big part of that is about ‘self-care,’” she says. “They’re spending twice as much as [older adults] on things they see as self-care essentials, like work-out regimes, meditation classes, diet plans, therapy.”

Coaching is also seeing a rise with today’s 20-to-40-year-olds, Faigelman adds: In the United States alone, “life coaching” has ballooned to a US$1-billion industry, according to IBISWorld.

It’s important to note that there’s no “right way” to heal from a breakup, says Montreal’s Nadia Szkrumelak, psychiatrist-in-chief at McGill University Hospital Centre. Everyone deals with grief differently, and, for most, time will do most of the work for them. But for people who tend to handle stress badly or may be slipping into depression, support from third parties to develop coping plans can help ease the pain.

Psychologist and couples therapist Nicole McCance says these niche breakup services are not surprising, and can even be very useful.

“Breakups are about rejection,” she says. “It can feel like a death to some. They are grieving not only losing their partner, but the life they thought they would have.”

She warns that not everyone will be well-suited to breakup coaching services and retreats, however. “Sometimes people will need more than a niche focus. There might be underlying [issues] that caused the breakup that coaches won’t be trained to deal with.”

But for Lombardo-Bottema, the experience has been life-changing. He says he’s trying to get better at listening, taking the time to really understand what the other person is saying. That’s helped him not just in his relationships, but also in his business dealings, he says. But more than that, working with a coach has helped him move on from his ex.

“I felt like I was crippled emotionally,” he says. “With Natalia, I’ve done a tremendous amount of work on myself [since then]. I feel like I’m twice the man I used to be.”

Nicole Maunder