A guide to Coaching and Mental Health: The recognition and management of psychological issues (Andrew Buckley, Carole Buckley), is a practical guide to help coaches recognize signs of mental health in their client and make an informed decision on how appropriate coaching is. It also provides examples as well as definition and management of the most common mental health problems. 

How it contributes to the Coaching Profession

It is really important for a coach to be able to recognize the signs of Mental Health, because if unrecognized, they can negatively impact the ability for the client to reach its goal, or even worse, it can impact their condition.  We never think about those cases, but they are very real, and having awareness of most common mental health problems, signs and symptoms, is a great addition to the coach toolbox, and an essential one for a MH&WB coach I would say. 

What I learnt by reading this book

First I realized how important it was. Coaching someone in the wrong mental state can make their conditions worse, with potential very dramatic outcome. What is our responsibility as coaches? The line is blurry, it is not black&white, you need to express your own judgement, to the best of your knowledge. The book was a good and strong reminder on how important it is to always ask yourself : “am I coaching right now”.

When dealing with someone who might display some signs of struggle, it is easy to start  asking more questions which open up the field of psychotherapy … This is not our role as coaches to do that, but it can be tempting, especially if you think you know enough and can help. I learnt that it is your role to work within the boundaries of your coaching capacity. To do that, you need to be always aware and recognize early signs of problems which could impact the coaching session. And this is not an easy task, and requires understanding of the various forms of Mental health as well as judgement on whether the situation is critical or not, to make a call on the next steps. 

Coaching someone in the wrong mental state can make their conditions worse, with potential very dramatic outcome

What was the key message/conclusion drawn in the book

The message of the book is clear: As a coach, you have a responsibility to determine whether coaching is safe and should proceed. There are clear boundaries within which coaching can happen. To do that, you need to develop a good picture of your client state, constantly look out for unusual signs: appearance, behavior, Mood etc … If you notice something, it is important to try to understand further what category of problem he is facing: functional suffering, dysfunctional suffering or Mental illness. This is important in order to decide how to proceed next.  While you might be able to proceed with coaching with someone in functional suffering, it probably will be a more difficult call for someone who displays signs of mental illness and clearly requires the help of a professional. The mental state could also change while coaching progress, and this is why ongoing attention is required by the coach, an “alert system” as they mention in the book. 

It Is also important to gather more information, and understand how pervasive the situation is , whether it happened in the past and whether there is any plan. They refer to it as the 3 P’s. As you build a larger picture/understanding and assess what is most suitable to do next, it is also important to understand the considerations, from the ethic, the confidentiality, the contract (why the client or a 3rd party). This is when you realize how complicated it is to decide what ’s next, and the more understanding you have the better decision you can make, but it is at the end of the day a decision on the side of the coach, never an easy one.