You know that coaches can play an important role in winning a football game, training for a marathon, or even becoming more productive at work. But is there a role for coaches in mental health care?
Yes, says Wendy Nickerson, PhD, licensed psychologist and professor of psychology at Calsouthern University in Arizona.
“Through mental health coaching, patients can receive evidence-based care immediately and more affordable care as well,” she says.
Dr. Nickerson is also the founder of the Nickerson Institute of Integrative Health Training, which offers mental health coaching certification accredited by US and Canadian regulatory bodies.
Mental health coaches can’t do everything psychiatrists, psychologists and other licensed therapists can do, but given the growing shortage of mental health care providers, coaches can help meet a growing need across the continuum. mental health care.
Waiting lists to see a mental health practitioner are at an all time high. After surveying its 26,400 members in October 2021, the American Psychological Association (APA) found an increase in demand for appointments and new referrals.
Overall, the APA found its workforce had no capacity for new patients, while 68% said their waiting lists had grown longer compared to 2020 at its peak. of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, a February 2022 report from the Association of Behavioral Healthcare, which focused on outpatient clinics in Massachusetts, found that wait times for an initial mental health assessment by a licensed clinician exceeded two months. The report suggested that the shrinking workforce was to blame.
In a report (PDF) published in 2018, researchers at the University of California warned of this kind of mental health care shortage, predicting that California would have 30% fewer therapists than needed to meet demand by 2028.
From coast to coast, the United States is struggling with a shortage of mental health services to help Americans in need.
So if you’re considering seeking mental health coaching to improve areas of your life, here’s everything you need to know to get started.
What is a mental health coach and what does he do?
Mental health coaches help their patients develop greater self-awareness and learn effective tools to better manage their life’s challenges, according to Shane O’Neil-Hart, LCSW, senior clinical director of the program at mental health coaching at Lyra Health in San Fransisco, which provides online mental health care including coaching, medication management and blended care therapy.
“Coaches help clients manage their emotions, challenge negative thought patterns, improve relationship skills, and reduce stress and anxiety, which in turn boosts mental health,” says O’Neil-Hart .
They’ll work with you to improve your mood, challenge self-limiting beliefs, and teach you the importance of self-love and acceptance, says Melissa Segreto, a registered mental health coach in Oakville, Ontario, Canada.
“Like a therapist, a mental health coach is someone who listens to you and acts as your support system — and gives you insight into what’s going on beneath the surface,” she says.
Coaches will typically do the following things to help patients focus on their goals:
- Ask questions about what you want out of life Coaches ask the kinds of questions that help clients see themselves in a new light and open up new avenues of transformation and personal growth. They can challenge their clients to imagine where they want to be in the next five years, for example, and help them achieve their goals, Segreto says.
- Introduce coping strategies and skills Calming your breathing, practicing mindfulness, and trying the Emotional Freedom Technique or the Subconscious Freedom Technique are just some of the strategies your mental health coach can teach you to help you cope with the challenges you are facing. , says Segreto.
- Help clients design their life path and encourage behavior change O’Neil-Hart says coaches work with you regularly, holding you accountable for practicing the tactics you learn. They may ask you to do homework after each session, such as providing journaling prompts or trying out a new breathing technique the next time you’re overwhelmed, then ask you about your progress.
What is the difference between a mental health coach and other therapists?
Mental health coaches stand out from other categories of mental health professionals for a few key reasons, including:
- They cannot diagnose mental health disorders. While psychologists, psychiatrists and other types of therapists are trained and equipped to diagnose mental health issues, coaches cannot. If you need an assessment and diagnosis, coaches aren’t your best bet.
- They cannot prescribe medication. According to Nickerson, psychiatrists and psychiatric nurse practitioners can prescribe medication for mental health, alongside therapy, which sets them apart from several other types of mental health professionals (including mental health coaches).
- They don’t discuss the past, but rather focus on your present and your future. While psychologists may focus on your childhood or developmental years, mental health coaches move away from the past and focus on discussions about your goals for the future, the kind of person you want to be and where you want your life to go, says Segreto. .
- They are not specialized in the treatment of complex clinical problems. Nickerson notes that if you’re struggling with serious mental health issues, including depression, suicidal thoughts, post-traumatic stress disorder, or trauma from abuse, you should see someone with more advanced training in mental health, such as a licensed psychiatrist, psychologist or other counselor with more expertise.
Mental health coaches, however, are trained to know when to refer clients to a psychiatrist or psychologist if that person’s needs exceed their expertise and training — and they are taught about suicide prevention, Nickerson says.
Lyra Health, for example, offers its coaches ongoing consultation with licensed psychologists to answer questions, prepare referrals, or build additional resources, adding another layer of security to ensure patients receive the most appropriate form of care. , according to O’Neil. -Stag. If patients need more specific care or prefer to work with a therapist, Lyra will help them make the transition by connecting them with a therapist.
Is a mental health coach right for me?
Nickerson says mental health coaches are a great first line of defense to help Americans struggling with mild mental health issues, or as a palliative while they wait for an appointment with a clinician for an assessment and a diagnostic.
She says some clients continue to see both a mental health coach and a psychiatrist or psychologist, depending on their needs.
O’Neil-Hart says that some good reasons to seek mental health coaching before or instead of other therapy include the following situations:
- The mental and emotional health issues you face are on the milder end of the spectrum.
- You prefer a goal-oriented approach that emphasizes personal growth and development.
- You want to improve your stress management or your work-life balance.
- You want help clarifying your values, goals, or purpose in life.
- You want to learn practical and actionable ways to meet your personal and professional challenges.
- You’re willing to do homework, including self-assessments, reading, journaling, or meditation, to help you get to know yourself better and feel good about yourself.
He says mental health coaching can help with a wide range of mild to moderate symptoms, including:
- feeling stuck in life
- Coping with the end of a relationship
- Interpersonal issues
- Life transitions
- Coping with difficult emotions, such as anger
But don’t feel limited by this list. Segreto notes that anyone can benefit from mental health coaching to help them better understand themselves and where they would like their life to go.
“This work is for everyone in their daily lives. It’s about having the tools to build resilience in your life so you can navigate whatever life throws at you,” she says.
What qualifications should mental health coaches have?
It is important to note that while other therapists must be licensed or registered in the state in which they practice, mental health coaching is an unregulated field. That means anyone can call themselves a mental health coach, and it’s your responsibility to verify their training, experience and credentials, Nickerson says.
When looking for a mental health coach, check that they are listed, she notes. This means that your coach has trained with an organization approved by certain bodies, such as the American Association of Drugless Practitioners, the Health Coach Alliance, or the International Coaching Federation (ICF).
There are no prerequisites for mental health coaching, although most people who enroll in Nickerson’s training usually have an undergraduate degree as a baseline, she says.
O’Neil-Hart says Lyra Health conducts rigorous vetting, accreditation, and training of its mental health coaches. Applicants must graduate from an ICF-accredited program and, once hired, must complete a four-month orientation program supervised by a team of psychologists.
You can also check how long your mental health coach has been practicing, what symptoms they specialize in treating, and what tactics they’re trained to teach.
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