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Dispelling the myths of life coaching

Therapy and life coaching can share certain traits and aims; therapists analyse their client’s history as a tool for understanding present behaviours, whereas life coaches simply identify and describe current problematic behaviours so the client can primarily work to achieve demonstrable results and change.

Mental health services are increasingly expected to engage in a process of cultural change to fulfil guiding values and hopes for choice, personalisation, self-determination, social inclusion and personal recovery. Life coaching can support recovery for people with mental health needs and is emerging as a creative possibility with considerable potential (Bora, Leaning, Moores & Roberts, 2010).

Let’s debunk some life coaching myths…

Myth: Life coaches are like having a good friend to bounce ideas off and to keep you motivated.

Fact: Your coach may be friendly, but they are not your friend per se. Your coach should be your advocate. They should want the best from you. They should work with you to help reach your goals and to succeed. Ideally, your coach should hold you accountable and challenge you to grow and do more than you think you can do. They may push, pull, and stretch you in ways that may feel uncomfortable. Unlike a friendship, the coaching relationship is unilateral – it is exclusively focused on you and your goals, not the coach, or the coach’s family, or what he/she did over the weekend.

Myth: Life coaching is used for someone to control another person’s life. 

Fact: Bad or inexperienced coaches tell their clients what to do and are constantly giving advice. Good coaches should not. Most clients realise they don’t need another parent, sibling, friend, or co-worker telling them what they should be doing. Instead, coaches should help their clients explore and come up with the best choices for them based on where they are and the client’s vision for their future. Coaches are experts at the process of changing behaviour, which is much more valuable than simply giving instructions.

Myth: Coaching involves incense, meditation and other spiritual practices

Fact: While there are many spiritual coaches that may incorporate these practices into their session, most coaches are practical, professional, business people who are focused on tangible results, not airy-fairy mysticism.

Traditionally, life coaches were shying away from the complex issues involved with mental health, and recommending that such issues remain under the remit of psychology and counselling. A quick Google search for “life coaching mental illness” turns up dozens of online links, with many who now explicitly market coaching services for mental illness issues as part of therapy.

Psychological coaching focuses on the positive aspects of the human condition, much like positive counselling; it does not focus on the negative, irrational, and pathological aspects of life. Coaching is specific and goal-oriented. Like sports coaching, psychological coaching concentrates on individual or group strengths and abilities that can be used in new and different ways to enhance performance, feel better about the self, ensure smooth life transitions, deal with challenges, achieve goals, become more successful, and improve the overall quality of one’s personal and professional life. Thus, it can be an enabling and empowering mode of support.

In an article discussing the potential impact of life coaching on mental health from the British Psychological Society (BPS), there were mentions of studies of coaching for chronic conditions. The range of outcomes seen in coachees has included psychological benefits such as improved mood, social functioning and quality of life. This suggests that there is an inextricable link between coaching and mental health, even when coaching may have the sole aim of supporting someone’s physical health. Almost invariably, people’s health behaviours are rooted in some form of psychological or emotional difficulty.

With coaching, one doesn’t necessarily need to be an expert in whatever they are coaching somebody on, rather, it is the expert use of coaching skills that makes it successful and, indeed, applicable to a vast range of issues. Therefore individuals should be careful and if possible research thoroughly for any accreditations or background experience/s of the coach they want to utilise.

What do you think of life coaching as a form of therapy?

Have you listened to our podcast with certified life coach Fatou Ndow on motivation?

Hamida Moulvi

Hamida has a BSc (Hons) Psychology degree, having studied modules concerning Emotions and Mental Health. She is passionate about giving back to the community as it is important to benefit others - every little helps, in inspiring changes and raising awareness, especially within Muslim communities where many cultures can believe mental health isn't a real problem. She has a love for the way Islam guides, inspires and heals (HasbunAllahu w ni'mal wakeel) and is also interested in languages, being multilingual. She believes words have a powerful impact whether that be in written or spoken form, and that we are all here to learn, implement and share so helping write articles would achieve this also.

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