Unfortunately, while social media and internet have enables us more efficiency in the delivery of help, it also created more possibility for sub-par professionals who are not properly trained to offer services that are often misleading and do more damage than good. Maybe you heard about the Hippocrates oath - key is not to do harm. "The Hippocratic Oath is an oath historically taken by physicians. It is one of the most widely known of Greek medical texts. In its original form, it requires a new physician to swear, by a number of healing gods, to uphold specific ethical standards. The Oath is the earliest expression of medical ethics in the Western world (Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hippocratic_Oath).
Professionals that are properly trained to help clients with mental and emotional illnesses or disorders are psychiatrists, licensed social workers, licensed marriage and family therapists, or licensed mental health counselors and a few others, such as psychiatric nurses. Definitely NOT life coaches, including "certified" life coaches. They might be able to help clients with life challenges that require setting goals, or improving skills, for example changing a career, or finding a romantic partner, but there are limitations and most of them are not even aware of them out of a drive to make a quick buck. Like in any other field, there are good and bad therapists and good and bad life coaches (I do know some good life coaches who have ethics and understand limitations). However, more often than not, coming uncross unqualified and unethical life coaches has been my experience of living in S Fla for over 20 years, and being a therapist 15 of those years.
I wrote and clarified some of the distinctions in my previous article The Difference Between a Psychologist, Psychotherapist and a Psychiatrist Demistified, June 2014. ( http://www.naturalstressmanagement.com/blog/the-difference-between-a-psychologist-a-psychotherapist-and-a-psychotherapist-de-mistified).
Problem is that coaching field is not upheld to any rigorous ethical and legal considerations, as is in the case of licensed mental health professionals. The only regulating body is the International Coaching Federation (ICF) so the coaching schools that are following the standards, are more likely to offer quality programs yet it's still not a guarantee and that's why ethics and moral obligation to refer clients is key.
Once to my horror I observed a "healer/life coach' proudly described how they treated a client, who was suicidal! First of all, all clients who enter mental health treatment with a licensed clinician, are guaranteed privacy (including social media) and HIPPA compliance so this was already first violation, not to mention the fact that this person didn't have any training that is key in cases like this.
Over the years I had several incidents with life coaches and their approach. I actually attended 6 months intense training by coaching school that is accredited by the International Coaching Federation and this is in addition to graduate school and other training over the years.
I came across one of such life coaching programs locally here in S Fla. I actually read on the website (that is by the way very poorly done) that the founder had a criminal and drug history. Over the last 30 years of being in education and psychology field, I have studied many self-help authors and I do believe that people who had to deal with adverse life situations can be one of the best teachers and there are several people that come to mind: Louise Hay, Wayne Dyer, Donna Eden, just to name a few. However they were also humble people and their first priority was not sales, but sharing what they had learned with others and they also didn't cross the boundaries when it comes to mental health. I cannot say that all the trainers from this program are like the three trainers I had personally met, but this happened in the span of over 10 years and it seems their approach and lack of knowledge how to approach clients remains the same. I can only go by what I had personally experienced and I might have even taken their workshop if I wasn't so turned off by lack of proper interpersonal, communication, and sales skills and a complete lack of knowledge of basics of human development/psychology.
I came across a life coach that was a part of the coaching/self-growth program back in 2004 at one of the networking meetings when I just graduated and I was immediately turned off by her aggressive sales pitch. In graduate school the first thing we learn is UNCONDITIONAL POSITIVE REGARD for a client. You need to work with people where they are. The person tried to convince me that I desperately need the help of this program because my life is "such a mess" and "I will not be successful" because my "strategy" was no good and I created my own trauma and that basically everything negative that happened was my fault. This happened on two more occasions over the years with two different coaches from this particular program and last time just this past week after the person was told I had no interest. My only intention to meet with her was social as I had expressed lack of interest before due to my previous experiences with two other coaches from this program and yet she persisted to try to put me down and shame me and the worst thing was that I was recently in a car accident that was clearly a result of the road rage and she persisted to tell me "I created this and attracted this." which sounds to me more like new age philosophy. The worst of all was though that this person really didn't take time to understand my personal situation and missed the fact that I actually have been suffering from mental illness and kept pushing her agenda. I couldn't even respond in the moment I needed time to reflect on it.
While I do believe that mindset is key, any properly trained clinician knows that shaming and putting people down is the last thing you want to do especially when you say you want to help the person. This kind of approach could break a person who is struggling and was exposed to harshness and criticism.
Bottom line is, even if the program works for some people, their sales pitch clearly shows to me that there is no depth and people who sell this program in most cases (at least the ones I came across) have no proper training or credentials. Specifically this person only took this course 6 years ago and was in a service industry before and now calls herself a "Master Trainer." and it comes with a sense of entitlement. I am very intuitive and sense people's energy very quickly in the past I just didn't trust myself enough however in most cases my gut was right. I have always been open minded person and have worked all my life, and at least for 30 years, on healing my own trauma, and earned a Master's Degree from a highly reputable University in Miami, Fl. This is not the only case; I had similar experience with another self-growth program, Landmark Forum. Even though I gained some skills, the way they go about sales (they call it enrolling people) totally turned me off from further exploring it. How can you be ethical when you are desperate to make money and therefore have not taken time to really understand if this person is a match for the program?
So my concern is twofold: most of these life coaches have no proper understanding of human psychology and understanding that at least in case when people experienced significant life trauma or have underlying mental illness by making them wrong, coercing them, and using aggressive tactics, they can cause serious damage. Fortunately I have worked on my self esteem which used to be very low, but many people that are struggling with mental health disorders have difficult time asserting themselves especially if they were abused. So basically, they are taking advantage of their innocence and willing to try to do anything to feel better and since they do not have proper training they also are not able to distinguish who is the right candidate for their program. Another issue is also high cost of these programs or coaching sessions. Recently my client told me that his friend who is a life coach offered him a friend and family discount for a coaching session - and the discount was $500/hr!
Here are some questions that might help you when you are deciding between a licensed clinician/psychotherapist or a life coach:
1. Where did you get your training and what are your credentials? Is your school accredited?
2. How much experience do you have with this particular issue that I am struggling with?
3. Does this issue/disorder that I am struggling with fall under mental health and needs to be properly diagnosed, or does it relate more to certain goals I want to accomplish in life (getting fit, losing weight, changing career, finding a life partner)
4. Is this person really listening to me and willing to help me even if it means he or she needs to refer me out to a licensed clinician, or is this person just trying to close the sale and is not interested in my well-being?
5. Trust your intuition - if something doesn't feel right, listen to your gut and do more research. Ask for testimonials, credentials, references, and licensing board, if applicable. You are worth it!
Don't just blindly follow promises, do your research.
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