Personal effectiveness trainers are the latest import from the States. Vicky Ward put one through her paces
Britain's latest cultural import from America is the PET or "Personal Effectiveness Trainer". These individuals offer "one-to-one `personal effectiveness' training that provides unbiased support, objectivity, motivation and a place to off-load with no career-limiting consequences". As if the "personal trainer", that creature permanently on hand to stop you reaching for the Mars Bars and count your sit-ups, was not already bad enough.

Nobody, I thought grimly, as I reached for the telephone, was going to tell me to tidy my desk. I'm perfectly effective with it untidy, thank you. Still, I breathed a small sigh of relief when I heard that it was going to be easier for my American PET, Jo Ellen Gryzb, to meet me at her smart north London office rather than mine. Jo Ellen was on hand to take me down to the boardroom - mahogany table and chairs, smart blotters, a clip chart. Attractive and glamorous, in an unthreatening way, Jo Ellen is one of those women who you'd imagine would find it easy to win over both sexes. And she needs to. Her sessions cost £100 an hour. No point asking her how she "effectivises" people, though. What you get is a stream of incomprehensible jargon: corporate coaching, workshops, psychotherapy, money-factors, sex-factors, "clms" (career limiting moves).

Instead you have to let her operate on you. "What do you enjoy about your job?" she starts and, thinking I don't need her help, I tell her all about how marvellous it is. "I'm 25," I brag, "and I've got a weekly column, a book offer and an ugly photo byline."

"Hmm," she muses. "Why did you mention your age? Seems to me that you don't want to bring that into the equation. If you are competing with men 10 years senior to you, you need to think of yourself as being as good or better than them. Age is irrelev-ant. You want to think about what you want to be doing in five years' time rather than what you've achieved to date. I sense that you are very ambitious but that you need to learn to actually enjoy the competition."

I gasped. She'd sussed me in one. I love good results, but I do hate the nitty-gritty of competition. "If we had an hour," she explained, "I would play your editor (male) and see how you present yourself in group conferences. I can see that you are a very feminine operator, so we would discuss how to channel that. There is no good pretending that women merely have to be as good in the office as men. They have to be better. We would discuss how to get your suggestions taken seriously in a predominantly male environment. We might have a quick peek at your family background and discuss whether or not you are still carrying some of your parents' attitudes which may or may not be useful in your office. We would look at why rebuff may drain your confidence and work on presenting your suggestions for articles in a different way and rebuild your confidence."

The best thing of all about Jo Ellen was her intuition. I didn't have to voice my half-problems. She saw them. She was not pushy, over-analytical, or overbearing. Above all, she exuded a comforting cheerfulness. She talked to me like a friend. And, like a friend, she listened. "Often something going wrong in the office is linked to something going wrong at home," she said, "so I discuss all aspects. But clearly we only focus on problems that need to be solved ... I took up psychotherapy," she explains, "because in my mid-thirties I burnt myself out. I was a complete workaholic. My aim is to stop small problems becoming so big that they get out of control."

Someone like myself, she says, who needs to concentrate on assertiveness, dealing with competition and sorting out what I want from my career long- term would only need two sessions. Whereas chief executives with a secret drug problem (she has had one of those) could use a year's worth.

Given the cost, however, it's not surprising that the people who tend to consult her are relatively "high-fliers", mainly in their early twenties, late thirties or sixties. (Interestingly, a disproportionate number of women responded to her initial leafleting campaign.) The concept of the PET, though, she hopes, will appeal to all ages and to freelancers just as much as corporate employees, since it is simply meant to help anybody with a problem with their work.

I don't know whether I'd spend £200, but when I left Jo Ellen's offices I felt considerably more happy with my life than when I had arrived.

Impact Factory personal effectiveness trainers: 071-226 1877.