What is coaching for MH&WB*?

Coaching for Mental health & Well-being is a collaborative journey of self-discovery towards becoming the best possible version of yourself.  It is coaching, but with a special emphasis on the Mental Health & Well-Being of the person. It needs to be front and center. 

*MH&WB: Mental Health & Well-Being

One approach is to treat coaching for MH&WB as a more specialized coaching area

Whether the client has a wellbeing goal or not, suffers or suffered from a Mental Health challenge or not, the coach is paying additional attention to his client MH&WB. He does so through what is said, what is being asked, the goal and impact of the goal on the client’s life “balance”, the client ability and readiness to be coached. As a coach for MH&WB*, I see 3 potential applications to my coaching: 

  • Recovery to Discovery: This is the scenario where the client suffers/suffered a mental illness/challenge (depression), or has to deal with a new reality with mental illness (i.e: GAD). In order for coaching to take place, the client needs to come to the realization of the problem , and be in a recovery phase, whether while being treated or not. Coaching can enhance the recovery, be the catalyst to faster recovery or identification of a new goal (this is the discovery part). In this case, coaching can work as a complement to another professional treatment (i.e: therapy), can come after treatment (i.e: medication) or can be sufficient without another professional intervention. The role of the coach is to accompany the client through the recovery cycle, including drawbacks, all the way to a stable state where the client has discovered a new potential. This scenario will be described further below as I discuss an example of a client who had a miscarriage followed by 3 months of sick leave to discover the need for a new meaning at work. 

In this case, coaching can work as a complement to another professional treatment (i.e: therapy), can come after treatment (i.e: medication) or can be sufficient without another professional intervention

  • Maintaining a Healthy Balance while pursuing a new goal: Someone might have had challenging episodes in the past, and have maintained things under control until now. But then something happens and that balance can be very fragile. It might not require a professional just yet. The client in this case has already done some work on themselves, understand their condition but just need to make sure that the goal they want to reach will not throw it out of balance. A coach can help them on both achieving their goal while maintaining the healthy balance they need, and reaching out to a MH&WB coach might sound more appropriate in this specific case. As an example, a potential client reached out to me. She suffered from anorexia at a younger age, and had concern that her actual work -life balance could trigger a relapse as she is actually trying to reach a promotion at work. 
  • Achieving a specific health goal: More and more people want to live a more balanced and healthy life. Whether they start with a gym coach, a nutritionist, or by themselves, they are in a new mindset and could benefit from coaching in order to achieve their goal. While we were doing our coaching practice, I had many instances where the “coachee” referred to a specific well-being goal such as losing weight or achieving a sport challenge and more. It is not unrealistic to think that more clients could turn to a MH&WB coach in order to achieve more radical lifestyle change with the goal to live a healthier life or even in order to prevent challenges from impacting their life by building resilience through coaching. 

In all the scenarios described above, the client will probably be attracted by the specialization of the coach in Mental Health & Well-Being. It is imperative for the coach though, to make very clear what their background is in this space, and differentiate coaching from any other type of professional intervention. 

An other approach is to say the MH&WB is an integral part of coaching

Coaching for MH&WB is a new area of coaching, and there is probably some debate to be having on whether it needs to be a separate area or not. What is the difference with other specialized areas such as career, life or executive coaching? It is hard to put a very prescriptive definition to it.

I believe that every coach needs to have MH&WB as an integral part of their coaching practice. Whether someone comes to be coached to reach a career goal, a life goal, or a well-being goal, the coach needs to be aware of any well-being or mental health challenges. Sometimes the client knows, and can state them clearly, sometimes they don’t, and the coach needs to be able to recognise them, and understand how much of a blocker they are. This takes skills, awareness, and practice. 

Coaching for balance

A colleague who does a lot of career coaching recently mentioned to me that there isn’t a single session where well-being doesn’t come up. Indeed, part of the goal of a coach is to challenge his client, sometimes push him further out of his comfort zone, and to do so, he needs to understand where the limits might be. I like the co-active coaching model. The role of the coach is to manage the process while ensuring the client maintains balance in their life. Understanding what balance is for the client, what affects it, what underlying known/unknown issues are present, will help the coach greatly to manage the process and the client to reach fulfillment. (ref: Co-Active Coaching, Fourth Edition)

Coaching within boundaries

It is essential for a coach to be able to look at signs of Mental Health & Well-Being problems which can interfere with the coaching and impact the client. To do so, he needs to  develop a better picture of the client, understand whether a situation, a behaviour, a mood is temporary or not. Did it happen in the past? Is the client conscious and dealing with it? 

A guide to Coaching and Mental Health (Andrew Buckley and Carole Buckley) is a book for every coach, and explains the complexity of the choices the coach faces, including the considerations, the implications, the ethics and confidentiality challenges. 

Dealing with the new reality of Mental Health, Well-Being and Stress

While I acknowledge that it is important not to create additional stress/anxiety by bombarding the general population with sensationalist headlines which trigger fears, I believe there are undeniable facts and research which indicates an increase in stress levels and stress related illness, as well as mental health issues. 

  • 9 in 10 UK employees will be exposed to Mental health challenges before they reach 30, whether directly or indirectly. ( This Can happen – Research 2019 by Accenture)
  • Depression is on the rise.  Depression can affect anyone and it is one of the most widespread illnesses, often co-existing with other serious illnesses. According to the World Health Organization, unipolar depressive disorders were ranked as the third leading cause of the global burden of disease in 2004 and will move into the first place by 2030. (Source: World Health Organization)
  • Work Related Stress has doubled in Ireland in the last 5 years (Source: Research Serie Number 84, ESRI, 2018). We live in a new reality of Modern Stress and our client does so to. Chronic Stress impacts our client Well-Being, and can lead to Mental or even Physical challenges. Emotional Stress is a major cause of Depression. Stress also increases the risk of Heart Disease x5. 
    • When stressed, an individual can be up to 30% less productive. 
    • Those working more than 40h per week are twice as likely to experience stress than those working 36-40h. 
    • An other survey in the UK found that 59% of British adults say life is more stressful today than 5 years ago, and 72% say they feel stressed.

9 in 10 UK employees will be exposed to Mental health challenges before they reach 30, whether directly or indirectly.

This Can happen – Research 2019 by Accenture

The point I am getting at is: as a coach, there is a high possibility that you are dealing with someone experiencing (or having experienced) Stress, Anxiety or other well-being/ mental health challenges. As for mental Health Issues, illnesses or disorders, stress is still very stigmatized. People will fear judgement from others and the negative impact it could have for their career progression (in a work environment) for instance. This means that it is often under reported. 

In summary,, my recommendation is for ALL coaches to take a MH&WB first approach, especially in the early sessions, to get a better understanding on how best to approach coaching with this particular client.