Coaching and Mental Health: What is Normal?

I am currently reading A Guide to Coaching and Mental Health by Andrew and Carole Buckley. The first chapter discussed the question of what is normal. It is aiming to explain to coaches what to do if you come for coaching but also have a mental health issue or psychological abnormality.
Now life coaching is not counselling or therapy. It focuses on the positive. Coaching enables you to find your talents achieve your goals and so find meaning and purpose to your life that result in true happiness. It does not focus on the negative. It is not about overcoming what gone wrong psychologically.

The Buckleys are very clear that coaching is designed for people who are well and want to achieve their goals. Its purpose is not to deal with a psychological abnormality. However you may have such issues which you may or may not be aware of these.

How might your coach detect abnormality?

Most are normal as shown by this normal distribution curve

Most are normal as shown by this normal distribution curve

Most people are normal and your coach will start with the assumption that you are psychologically healthy and lack any abnormality unless they observe signs that indicate otherwise. But as the relationship develops they may see clues in your appearance, your behaviour and how you express your thoughts and emotions.

Of course you are unique

Have you always felt you were different? I have. I think most people do. Everyone has their own idiosyncrasies and if you are deviating from the expected social norms it may just be your own style.

A coach should be accepting of people and such little eccentricities should not in themselves necessarily indicate psychological abnormality. I think the Buckley’s would actually agree with this.

Are you functioning well despite circumstances?

They discuss that life can involve distressing situations and overcoming such suffering can be a normal part of life. You may be dealing with stress at work, bereavement or other major life changes. If your responses to these are typical then a coach may provide support as you work on your goals and overcome these problems.

Are you showing signs of dysfunction?

If your distress is greater than might be normally expected then your day-to-day functioning may become impaired. Such dysfunction may alert your coach to a psychological abnormality. A coach will need to take care as if you are failing to function adequately coaching may be ineffective or even harmful.

Are you lacking mental health?

We all may deviate to some degree from ideal metal health. The aim of coaching is to enable you to be fulfilled. So you may need to build your self esteem or work on coping well with stress. But if you are deviating so far from this that there are signs of a psychological abnormality it may not be safe to continue until this is dealt with.

Your coach may get it wrong!

They explain well that such observations are by their very nature subjective. They depend on the social context and the specific environment. Your coach will be affected by his own background when making such observations and will need to be aware of any misunderstanding due to cultural differences.

When might these issues arise?

As your coaching progresses and you begin to move out of your comfort zone to tackle your goals it may be that your coach comes to feel that a psychological abnormality is impacting on your coaching.

You may hit a barrier in your coaching, be trapped by psychological pain, become unbalanced by emotional turbulence or begin show clear signs of a recognisable condition.

How might your coach deal with these issues?

Your coach will probably get you to seek advice from someone who is qualified in a relevant field. You will be better off with a referral to the relevant specialist. There may be little that the coach can do for any condition that may have come to light especially if it has a biological basis.

However while you are undergoing therapy such as medication prescribed by your GP you still may want to talk to a coach. For instance, you may want to work on reducing your stressors, especially if you are on medication that will be reduced after a short period. Hopefully they will have familiarity with your condition and still help.

What do you think?

I am still reading this book. But what I have read so far I have really enjoyed. I hope to post some insights from A Guide to Coaching and Mental Health again. Please let me know what you think about these ideas.

Related Post

What is a Life Coach?

Further Reading

A Guide to Coaching and Mental Health is available from and

50 Common Cognitive Distortions

Cognitive DistortionsI’ve just seen this useful article Psychology Today. Dr Alicve Boyle outlines 50 ways that our thinking might be distorted. I recognise some in myself, do you recognise any yourself?

1. Personalizing.
2. Mindreading. Guessing what someone else is thinking, when they may not be thinking that.
3. Negative predictions.
4. Underestimating coping ability.
5. Catastrophizing.
6. Biased attention toward signs of social rejection, and lack of attention to signs of social acceptance.
7. Negatively biased recall of social encounters.
8. Thinking an absence of effusiveness means something is wrong.
9. Unrelenting standards.
10. Entitlement beliefs.
11. Justification and moral licensing.
12. Belief in a just world.
13. Seeing a situation only from your own perspective.
14. Belief that self-criticism is an effective way to motivate yourself toward better future behavior.
15. Recognizing feelings as causes of behavior, but not equally attending to how behavior influences thoughts and feelings.
16. All or nothing thinking.
17. Shoulds and musts.
18. Using feelings as the basis of a judgment, when the objective evidence does not support your feelings.
19. Basing future decisions on “sunk costs.”
20. Delusions.
21. Assuming your current feelings will stay the same in the future.
22. Cognitive labeling.
23. The Halo Effect.
24. Minimizing.
25. Magnifying (Cognitively Exaggerating).
26. Cognitive conformity.
27. Overgeneralizing
28. Blaming others.
29. Falling victim to the “Foot in the Door” technique.
30. Falling victim to the “Door in the Face” technique.
31. Focusing on the amount saved rather than the amount spent.
32. Overvaluing things because they’re yours.
33. Failure to consider alternative explanations.
34. The Self-Serving Bias
35. Attributing strangers’ behavior to their character and not considering situational/contextual factors.
36. Failure to consider opportunity cost.
37. Assumed similarity.
38. In-group bias.
39. “You don’t know what you don’t know.”
40. The tendency to underestimate how long tasks will take.
41. The belief that worry and overthinking will lead to problem solving insights.42. Biased implicit attitudes.
43. The Peak-End Rule.
44. The tendency to prefer familiar things.
45. The belief you can multi-task.
46. Failure to recognize the cognitive benefits of restorative activities and activities that increase positive emotions.
47. Positively biased predictions.
48. Cheating on your goals based on positive behaviors you plan to do later.
49. Repeating the same behavior and expecting different results (or thinking that doubling-down on a failed strategy will start to produce positive results).
50. “I can’t change my behavior.” (or “I can’t change my thinking style.”)

What is a Life Coach?

“Is there something you’ve been thinking about doing but have yet to start or complete?” asks Curly Martin in The Life Coach Handbook.

She then how to get people from thinking about doing it and actually doing it: “Life coaching is about gap analysis that closes the gap between life and dreams.” Curly Martin sees the job of the life coach is not to focus on a therapeutic relationship but to get results.

Life coaching is a powerful conversation based process. It helps you to move from where you are now to where you want or need to be. It creates clarity of purpose and direction.

Coaching releases your true potential. It empowers you to make changes in your life. It encourages you to achieve your dreams by a simple process of setting yourself goals.

How does life coaching work?

You have an initial meeting with a coach and work out a personalised program of goals and strategies for achieving them.

Once you are clear where you would like to be in life and where you are now the coach will help you make a plan to bridge the gap one step at a time. Your coach will help you to set goals, and to take steps towards achieving them.

You meet regularly (either face-to-face or over the telephone, video conferencing, etc.) and discuss your progress.

The life coach will empower you to fulfil that commitment by helping you to remove the obstacles in your way.

Your coach will help you to set priorities, stick to your goals, to overcome obstacles. They will be there to help you resolve your problems and to acknowledge your successes.

Achieving a goal may be the first step on a journey and the coach can then challenge you to achieve greater things.

The life coach will use a number of resources from their toolbox to achieve this. As they do you will begin to understand yourself better – your values, your strengths and weaknesses. For instance if you are spending too much time at work they will help you realise how your life is out of balance and help you to change this.

Coaching is non-directive

Your coach will act as a sounding board for your dreams and ambitions. They will help you to understand yourself so that you can see alternatives and re-prioritise issues in your life. They will help you find what you want to do but they will not tell you what to do.

Your coach will not provide the answers to your problems. They will not see their role as giving you advice or to recommend a course of action. You need to be true to your own set of values and find your unique may forward in your own context and situation.

Life coaching is not…

Counselling or therapy

Coaching involves a non-judgemental conversation but it is not counselling or psychotherapy. Even though now many counsellors and therapists do now offer coaching it is actually something very different.

Rather than focusing on problems coaching focuses on dreams. Rather than delving into the past to understand the origin of your problems it looks to the future at how you can achieve your goals and dreams.

Life coaches may use some approaches that have been developed for therapy such as CBT or NLP but they will not include therapeutic interventions. Coaching is not psychiatry, therapy or counselling. It is not about diagnosing or treating mental illness.

If you come for coaching but do also need therapy or counselling then your coach will recommend that you see a qualified therapist or counsellor.

Mentoring or training

A life coach is not like a mentor or trainer. It is not that they are an expert in an area of life and so can explain what to do or showing you how to do it. Remember they will not act as a consultant by recommending their solutions to your problems.

Even though they might not be experts on every issue that come up against but they can guide you through them be helping you set your goals and achieve them.

How can a life coach help you?

The life coach works on all areas of life. Coaching can help people succeed at work, in personal life or in relationships with others – to help you prioritise and to overcome barriers such as fear or shyness.

• You might want to overcome areas of stress, to get a better work-life balance, maybe even to downshift to spend more time with their family.

• You might want to improve your health by for instance by dieting

• You might need help with developing your career or looking for a job

• You might want be that you want to succeed at parenting

• You might want help with your dating or with your relationship with your partner

• You might want be that you want to develop spiritually

• You might just feel that there is something missing in your life. A coach can help you to find it. You might need a new direction or to unravel your worries. A coach can help you find what it is that you need to change and help you to change it.

Life coaching is holistic taking into account every aspect of life. It keeps every area of life in balance.

Are you interested in getting some life coaching?

I am currently training as a life coach with the Blackford Centre. If you are interested in getting some life coaching please contact me via my contact page.