Is There a Place for The Profession of Coaching in The Management of Mental Health?
The global pandemic has been mentally taxing on those without a mental health diagnosis and has been devastating for those already diagnosed with mental disease. As we enter mental health awareness month, many conversations will be held around the topic of mental health. I believe the use of coaching to promote mental resilience and health deserves to be a part of this discourse.
I have been a coach for many years and a coach trainer for 14 years. Every year, our students face the same dilemma.
“Can I work with clients who have a mental health disease?”
When the mental health disease is manageable and the client is functional, a coach can be instrumental in helping to develop mental resilience. In the workplace, mental resilience will support employees in sustaining their mental health, resulting in fewer absences and downtime due to mental relapse.
How can coaching build mental resilience?
Mental resilience is something that can be learned by working with a coach who can help develop a positive mindset and different tools for responding to challenges. A coach will also be available and provide a support system to help in overcoming those stressors.
A 2020 Netherland study on the impact of COVID-19 on mental health showed that people with no prior diagnosis of depressive, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorders displayed a greater increase in symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic. The study cited an increase in anxiety, worry, and loneliness as the key indicators.
Successful organizations must ensure that mental wellness support is available to help employees cope with the added stress of work and life. Having access to coaching and support to build mental resilience will become a have-to measure in the workplace as companies rebuild their workforces in the wake of the pandemic.
Attitudes towards mental disease need to change/are changing
The time has come to once and for all stop treating mental health as an incurable infectious disease. It must no longer be viewed as a condition for which the sufferer has to be locked away for their own good or for the good of others. Mental illness is a treatable disease.
Mental health, as I say to my students, is like having a sprained ankle that can be easily hurt and may take a while to fully heal. The only difference is that we can see an ankle and we cannot see our brain. Even in today’s world where brain imaging is common, we still cannot predict how the brain will heal, but we can use the sprained ankle metaphor to gain a better understanding.
In the summer of 2019, I twisted my ankle in the back parking lot of my office building. I was taking out the garbage and didn’t notice a small pebble on the ground. It happened so quickly I couldn’t believe such a small ankle could hurt so much. The pain was so intense, I had to visit the hospital emergency room to have it assessed. I was given crutches and told to rest my foot for two weeks or so.
Surprisingly, as I informed friends and family about my condition, I was told that sprained ankles did not heal, they continue to hurt and can even reoccur. I didn’t want to believe them, so I secured some ankle braces, resigned to the crutches and sought physiotherapy. A few months later, my ankle pain was gone and needed no further supports. I thought it was good to go until I reinjured my ankle a year later.
It now seems as if my ankle has decided to flare up every year. The recurring ankle pain has impacted my lifestyle choices. I have had to change all my shoes and cultivate a new way of walking and running. I have been forced to adopt an entirely new routine of stretching and strengthening exercises to maintain and strengthen my ankle. If I fail to maintain my routine, then I am promptly reminded with severe pain in my ankle.
As I consider the incident, I ponder on how life would be if the injury had been to my brain instead of my ankle. What changes would I have to make to prevent a flare-up? What new habits, practices, and routines would I need to develop?
Coaching as a tool for healing mental disease
Millions of people every day engage with a coach to get support in developing new habits and creating new routines that are easy, manageable, less overwhelming and increase accountability to staying consistent.
Since coaching is such a masterful process for habit change and formation, could it then play a part in healing the ‘sprain’ in my brain?
While coaching is certainly not the process for those in a mental health crisis, it is ideal for those needing support to create new lifestyle routines and accountability partnerships to maintain their mental health.
People seeking to build mental resilience needs support and encouragement to adopt new lifestyle routines. When this support is lacking, episodes and relapses are much more likely as they ‘fall out of practice’.
Having access to a coach to encourage and explore ideas, brainstorm, and design new structures which relieve the added stress of the new diagnosis will help maintain longer episodes without a mental health crisis.
The lifestyle changes necessary to live well with mental health diagnoses are manifold. Reducing stress, overwhelm, turmoil and worry are all key factors in staying mentally well. Eating healthy, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and limiting stressful encounters and relationships are the goal, and sometimes the most difficult part, of this journey.
The coaching relationship serves as a place for the client to examine their thinking, gain clarity and focus on the areas of their lives where they need to improve. These wellness coaching conversations are extremely important for the client seeking help to maintain mental health.
Becoming a mental health coach
At Coach Velocity School of Coaching, we have developed a course specifically for that purpose. The “Coaching and Mental Health” course is designed to give coaches and leaders the tools they need to support their clients and employees in maintaining their mental health.
Since mental health disease is now one that we all encounter in our work or life, it is essential to prepare our coaches to assess for mental health episodes. They need to feel comfortable referring clients to mental health experts and know how to respond to new clients’ requests for coaching. We teach how to understand the client in the process; when to stay in coaching and when not to coach.
In developing a high level of comfort and acceptance around the topic of mental health, our students learn to understand their role in supporting their clients to restructure their lives around their illness.
Like my ankle sprain, mental health needs to be seen as just another injury one can develop and there needs to be less fear and discomfort around the disease. Coaching is a process for opening minds to new ideas and it can be used to help create more inclusiveness and understanding for people with mental health disease by opening another avenue for support where they feel less like patients and more like productive individuals who need support to restructure their lives to manage a diagnosis,
To learn more about the Coaching and Mental Health course being offered at Coach Velocity School of Coaching, visit coachvelocity.com.
To your wellness,
Joyce Odidison, MA. PCC. CTDP.
Joyce Odidison is a Conflict Analyst, Speaker, Author, thought leader, and the world’s leading expert on Interpersonal Wellness Competency Mindset teaching and coaching. Joyce is President & CEO of Interpersonal Wellness Services Inc. for over 24. She is the host of the Global Workplace Wellness Summit and What’s Happening at Work podcast. Joyce has authored five books and is also Coach Training Director and Founder of Coach Velocity School of Coaching, the only black-owned coaching school. Joyce is a C-Suite level workplace wellness expert and corporate trainer, who works with government, private sector, non-profits, and post-secondary institutions struggling with difficult work relationships or stressful situations. She can be reached by phone at: 1 877 999-9591 www.interpersonalwellness.com