Mental health coaching is a new and upcoming area of coaching. A mental health coach works with those who want to improve their mental health.
Mental health is often ignored by many people. Many times, we look for help from a mental health professional only when it’s too late.
Our world is changing fast. Human relations are difficult and tricky. It is difficult to work your way around in today’s world. It is very easy to doubt yourself. You feel that you’re always missing a piece of the puzzle. Family tensions, workplace stress, and personal relationship issues are difficult to handle.
The pressure to be strong and perfect all the time is overwhelming!
Coaching for mental wellness aims to help clients live more fulfilling lives. It is also about empowering people living with long-term mental health issues.
What is mental health coaching?
It is a type of support system for people with mental health difficulties. It is also about helping people with long lasting mental health issues.
Coaching for mental health often uses cognitive and behavioural forms of techniques. The mental health coaching niche uses methods of therapy and counseling. This form of coaching does not mean to ‘treat’ mental illness. Instead, it works towards emotional well-being and having a better mental ‘health’.
Lack of emotional well-being keeps us from improving our lives. I know many people who want to improve their lives. But they are not sure how. Mental health coaching is the answer!
I have always believed that coaching is a form of partnership. It cannot be more true with mental health coaching. Both parties, you as a coach and your client, have only one goal. It is helping your client get better at dealing with their mental health issues.
Who is a mental health coach?
A mental health coach is one who helps improve their client’s mental well-being. A mental health coach uses a variety of tools and systems. They empower their clients to have better mental health.
A good mental health coach provides guidance and support. They also give motivation to their clients to better than before.
Mental health coaches work with clients to understand their needs. Once the needs are clear, mental health coaches set up goals to achieve. These goals can be short-term or long-term goals. To reach these goals, they create a plan.
Through this plan, their clients will be able to overcome their problems. Mental health coaches also work as a partner for responsibility. Clients are not alone in their journey! A good mental health coach will always support throughout the way.
Mental health coaches often use proven models of coaching to set up a plan of action. These plans help to nudge clients back on track whenever needed.
I have written in brief about the many models of coaching. If you want to be successful as a mental health coach, you must use these proven models!
Read more about it:
Mental health coach vs. counsellor vs. therapist
It is easy to confuse a mental health coach with a counsellor or a therapist. Mental health coaches use methods and learnings from counselling and therapy. But, mental health coaching differs greatly from counselling or therapy.
The way I see it, a mental health coach works on your current reality. Based on this current reality, they design plans for the future.
Therapy and counselling often focus on your past to deal with your current problems and issues. A mental health coach touches upon past history. But, in mental health coaching, the focus is on the present status and the future.
Coaching can, and must, work along with counselling and therapy. Mental health is a huge topic and all forms of support systems are important. Having many forms of support systems during treatment provides better results.
Consider an example of depression. Only a psychiatrist can recommend medicines. But those living with depression need more than medicines. Their symptoms affect their daily lives.
A coach or a counsellor can help this person living with depression to live a better life. While they are receiving medical treatment, coaching can provide support during the process.
Why two different approaches?
Because having depression and living with depression are two different things. Hence, they need different approaches.
Mental health coaching is usually short and limited in time. Therapy or counselling can go on for a long time.
Benefits of mental health coaching
Mental health is a complex topic. It includes mental illnesses like anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and depression. Note that formal diagnosis with anxiety or depression is not everything. It does not mean that they have good mental health and well-being.
We all deserve to thrive as a human being. Not only survival, not only existing, we must thrive as well. Positive mental health is beneficial to everyone. A mental health coach empowers people to a new level. Levels where their mental health and well-being is flourishing!
When done right, clients can have higher productivity and creativity. They can get a more positive outlook in life. They can improve their relationships with their friends, families, and partners. Better relationships also open doors for many opportunities in life. This leads to a better and more fulfilled living.
Benefits of having a Mental Health Coach in the Workplace
Many of us have pressures at work, the hurry to meet deadlines and office politics. This can take a huge toll on any person. A mental health coach can work wonders in a workplace with high stress levels.
The demand for mental health and well-being coaches in the workplace is on the rise. Companies now realize that their organization can thrive only when their employees thrive. They now want to ensure their employees like to come to work. They want employees to feel relaxed.
Harvard Business Review did a survey of 140 coaches. This survey was about companies that had hired coaches for their executives. The findings are alarming. They came during coaching sessions conducted for executives. Personal issues came up 76% of the time. 76% is a huge number!
Having a mental health coach in the workplace can benefit employees in
many ways. They can increase their performance, have more confidence to take on challenging tasks. The most important thing is that it gives them a better work-life balance. They may stop seeing their job as a negative part of their lives. They may start looking at it from a positive angle.
When done right, mental health coaching can increase concentration and reduce fatigue. It makes us better equipped to manage change and different emotions.
A good mental health coach collaborates with employees. They make sure that the employees feel more confident. That they feel capable of dealing with stressful situations. That they can deal with stress without losing hope and motivation. Problems at the workplace can make us feel powerless. But mental health coaching aims to give the power back to the person.
Myths about being a mental health coach
Mental health has a lot of stigma attached to it. There are many misconceptions about mental health coaching. This is because of the limited information available. This niche is a young and growing field. So, mental health coaches often have to deal with myths about their profession.
One myth is that a mental health coach can’t help with ‘real mental health issues’. This is a most wide-spread myth. That’s not true at all. People often consider mental health problems as ‘real’ only when they are in an extreme form. Only when the problem is big.
Mental health coaches work on a wide variety of issues. Not only stress but also anxiety, depression and eating disorders. They also help clients deal with negative thinking and stress management.
It is true that a mental health coach will not treat your illness. They are not supposed to treat! It is not their job. They have a different role. Mental health coaching among many things is a tool. A tool for people with mental illness manage their lives better.
Another wrong idea people have about mental health coaches is their training. That they are not ‘trained’ enough to deal with mental health issues. They neither have nor do they need to be a mental health professional. They don’t need a medical degree either.
But many coaches train in what they need in their work. They get their training from well-established places such as the International Coach Federation.
It is also believed that mental health coaches use a one-size-fits-all approach. Not true! Mental health coaching is a personalized coaching plan. Coaches spend a lot of time understanding the client. They also try to understand the situations and their environment. The goals and objectives result through partnership between the coach and the client.
Hence, it is specific to the client. The coaches tailor it to their needs. Even the tools used during coaching are not the same for everyone. They depend upon the context and the need for the mental health issue(s).
For example, journaling and practicing gratitude are good ways to work on your mental health. But these tools do not work on everyone. Journaling requires daily focus, which may not be possible for some people. Practising gratitude may not be the goals of your clients. A good mental health coach uses the techniques best for the personality of their clients.
Using Motivational Interviewing Techniques for Mental Health Coaching
There are many tools and techniques that coaches can use for mental health issues. One of my favorite techniques is a specific form of interviewing. It works on creating long-lasting motivation. This tool is Motivational Interviewing Technique. When used with care, it can be very empowering for clients.
The following list is from Sobell & Sobell’s (2008) work on motivational interviewing:
Asking permission for advice
No one likes to you to lecture them on what to do. Coaching for mental health should be an empowering process. Dictating your clients what to do can backfire. Asking for permission creates interest and shows respect towards your client.
Some ways in which you can ask for permission;
Would you mind if we can talk about … ?
Are you comfortable talking about … ?
Would you be interested to know more about this … ?
Open-ended questions on change
Open – ended questions are those kinds of questions that leave a lot of room for answers. Such questions allow your client to speak at length and at their own speed without rushing them. This deeper conversation opens up more opportunities. When such questions are used on topics such as ‘bringing change’, the results are amazing!
Here are some examples of open-ended questions;
Why do you think so?
Tell me more about this … ?
How can I help you move past your difficulties?
How would you like your current situation to improve?
What do you think will happen if the situation does not improve? Or what do you think will happen if you give up … ?
Reflective listening and affirmations
Reflective listening shows genuine concerns for the clients. This technique works best on open-ended questions. After a deep conversation, you can practice reflective listening. This is by acknowledging and repeating what they have said. Giving affirmations or compliments are an added bonus!
It helps in building your client’s confidence. It also boosts motivation for the rest of their journey. The following questions are some examples of affirmation and reflective listening:
What I hear you saying is that …
I get a sense that …
I completely understand your feeling of …
your outlook towards … really stands out
That was amazing, how you handled …
Normalizing is a method in which coaches tell their clients that they are not alone. That they are not the only ‘weird’ ones who experience that problem. Once people know that they’re not alone, achieving change becomes easier. Some ways through which you can normalize during mental health coaching sessions;
I know many people who feel like this
Many people are concerned about …
Let me tell you, you’re not alone in this …
Readiness scale is a way of asking your client on how ‘ready’ they are to work towards change. Use a scale of 1 to 5 or a scale of 1 to 10. This technique works best during the middle of a coaching session or at the end. From here, you can direct the conversation into making an action plan!
Here’s an example on how to use readiness scale in motivational interviewing:
On a scale of 1 to 10, how ready do you think you are to … ?
Think of a scale from 1 to 10. What number do you think you are at when it comes to … ?
Use affirmations along with a readiness scale. This is another unique way to combine two or more techniques. For example;
“You’ve been doing great during the last two weeks! On a scale of 1 to 10, how close do you think you’re towards achieving your goals?”
International Coach Federation Guidelines for Mental Health Coaches
Mental health coaching can be very empowering for people with mental health issues. But mental health issues are of a wide range. Some issues on the end of this range should be managed by a trained medical professional. Some issues must be referred to a therapist for timely intervention.
For example, you are a mental health coach and your client has been living with depression. You can help them manage their lives for the better. You can help them make workarounds. You can help them deal with the challenges posed by their symptoms in doing regular things. But if they show suicidal tendencies, refer them to a therapist or a counsellor.
The International Coach Federation has given us certain guidelines on referring clients. Mental health coaches can refer them to counsellors, therapists, care workers and doctors. Certain signs would show that the client’s range of issues is now outside the range and scope of coaching. It is important that coaches recognize these signs.
The easiest way to spot the signs is when the need for coaching changes. One can always go back to the agreement you’ve had with your client. One can check if the goals in the agreement are still relevant. Whenever possible and suitable, you can revise the goals. In situations where the client’s life is at risk, revising a goal is no longer an option. Remember, mental health coaching has its limitations!
A mental health coach should not diagnose or offer treatments such as medications. What should they do instead? Let us say that it is clear to the coach that the client needs a referral. You must then work on self-reflection and self-awareness. This increases the chances of your client accepting the need for an intervention.
A mental health coach can continue to work with the client towards accountability. They can empower their clients to make the most out of therapy and counselling.
Mental health coaches must reflect on their biases towards understanding mental health issues. Your client can have the same assumptions toward mental health. This may prevent them from seeking further treatment. They may feel that people will see them as ‘weak’ or ‘crazy’ if they seek treatment. Your should help clients overcome their negative associations with their mental health issues.
When should mental health coaches refer clients to other medical professionals?
Many people who have mental health issues can manage many things in their lives. They are high functioning as a person, despite their mental health issues. They may not have the best mental health, but they can go to work and do other tasks for daily living.
Activities of day-to-day functioning are as basic as feeding and grooming. Other examples are your client’s ability to have professional and social interactions.
What to do when your client’s mental health issues stop them from doing daily activities? Refer them to a therapist or a counsellor. A mental health coach must pay attention to details. Note the duration, frequency, and intensity of signs.
You may realise during your coaching process that your client is not making any progress. There are many tools and techniques to increase motivation and otherwise help them. However, a lack of progress can also mean that there are other psychological issues. In such a situation, you need to realise something crucial.
The status quo of the coaching process that helped in creating the coaching goal has changed. This is usually a sign that your client needs intervention from medical experts.
Other signs that you can look out for are significant swings in mood. A high level of anger, irritation, or sadness are also signals. Look for a decline in work performance. There may be a sudden withdrawal from social activities.
Other noticeable signs are weight gain or weight loss. A different appearance or poor personal hygiene suggests neglect towards self-care.
Your role as a mental health coach is first to identify resources. Then, work towards providing support and resources for healthcare. You should have a list of counsellors and therapists that you can contact for referrals.