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Spotlight Iowa City: Aiding personal growth

BY MEAGHAN ROHAN | FEBRUARY 23, 2010 7:30 AM

Christy Aumer/The Daily Iowan
Janet Shepherd laughs with partner Jay in the kitchen of their Iowa City home on Monday. Shepherd is a coach at the Iowa City Learning Foundation.
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Janet Shepherd is a coach who loves to play.

As a seminar leader for the Iowa City Learning Foundation, an organization that offers classes to promote personal growth, she tries to improve people’s lives through workshops and seminars — all while having fun, of course.

“Kids learn by playing and goofing around, and as we become adults, we become serious about learning,” said Shepherd, bouncing her head to jazz music. She incorporates dance, music, skits, and field trips to enrich her attendees’ experience, she said.

“Creating Intimacy Through Play” is one of Shepherd’s free workshops offered monthly at the Coralville and Iowa City Public Libraries. Other workshops focus on self-esteem, transforming resentment into peace, striving for perfection, and, her personal favorite, “Life Design 101.”

“Janet has a great way of being authoritative, but also has a great way of bringing fun and light,” said Shari Stevens, Shepherd’s friend of eight years, who has taken one of the coach’s classes.

Besides conducting seminars, Shepherd has a private practice in Iowa City as a psychologist and life coach, with a focus on positive psychology.

Shepherd realized that she wanted to study psychology at New College in Sarasota, Fla., after volunteering at a local rape crisis center. She eventually earned a Ph.D. at the University of South Florida. But 20 years ago, she moved to Iowa City for postdoctorate work at the VA Hospital, practicing as a psychologist.

The life-coach part came later.

In 1995, the 55-year-old took her first class with the Iowa City Learning Foundation.

“I learned things I had never learned before, even though I had a Ph.D. in psychology,” said Shepherd, who wears small-frame purple glasses. The class changed her perspective on her field.

Psychology involves looking at the aspects that are wrong with people and trying to fix them, Shepherd said. But coaching comes from a different context that asks what works and what’s effective in people’s lives.

The native of Baltimore essentially helps people uncover what she called “stories” and mold those revelations into positive change. An example of one such story could be a boy who was always told he was shy and grew up timid. He later looked back to help himself change his demeanor.

“All have stories about themselves,” Shepherd said.

Robert van Deusen, who has known Shepherd for 11 years through the foundation, said the petite woman is an expert about giving feedback regarding what she hears in each person’s story.

“Janet has insight into the kinds of stories that all of us make up in order to make sense of our world. Some of these stories still serve us and are useful, while others may no longer be useful and may even hold us back or keep us stuck,” he said.

He has watched Shepherd’s development over the last decade and described her as “highly skilled.”

Shepherd describes her work in both individual sessions and seminars as “personal transformation.”

“Coaching doesn’t blame people, it supports growth and allows people to start seeing themselves as whole,” said Shepherd.


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