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3 observations that indicate it’s time to work with a mental health professional

Coaching clients are no different than non-coaching clients in that they too suffer with unwanted thoughts and difficult emotions. Working with a coach by no means implies that you will never experience a dip in your mental health. The thorny issue for you and your coach is to recognise and take proactive steps toward a psychologist when your mental health dips to a level that interferes with your coaching journey.

Perhaps you informed your coach that you felt the need to work with a mental health professional. Maybe you spoke with a family doctor about your mood, and you left the office with a referral to a psychologist. Often, however, you may not be aware when coaching has reached its capacity to help you grow and it is time to partner with another expert. This is where your coach comes in. Coaches are trained professionals that know the boundaries of their profession and recognize when their skills and competencies are no longer capable of supporting you. It is your coach’s professional obligation to be on the alert for any signs of mental distress, and to properly help you make that decision. Here are three signs that indicate it is time to seek help for your mental health.

  • You notice that your unwanted thoughts and difficult emotions are consuming you day and night. Although you will have unwanted thoughts (e.g., I can’t do anything right!) and experience difficult emotions (e.g., sadness, anger, frustration, impatience), they usually tend to rise and fall instead of persisting for days, weeks, and months. Such mental states are automatically aroused when you find yourself in a difficult situation that you could not have planned for as well as when you fabricate in your mind a story about a future possibility. However, when you are constantly worrying about the future, ruminating on past conversations or events, unable to shake off the frustration or notice a stream of negative thoughts no matter where you go and no matter who is with you, it is a strong indicator that you may be experiencing mental (aka psychic) pain that cannot be dealt with in coaching. There is good cause to seek support from a mental health professional.

  • You notice your engagement to your coaching goal declining with no apparent reason. During your coaching journey, you may experience a moment when you do not feel the same level of excitement or even commitment to your coaching journey. This happens to the best of us because life is challenging and sometimes, we simply have too much on our plate. We lose focus, momentum, and even interest. The challenge here is when you have spoken to your coach about it, discussed a plan on how to restore a sense of excitement and commitment, and still the feeling persists. Although it may be tempting to convince yourself that perhaps the coach is not the right fit, soon enough you may find your level of engagement in other activities also declining gradually. Before long, this tendency to disengage becomes a habit, and not seen as something to be dealt with by your mind. Your mind is that part of you that can observe how you were once emotionally connected to your coaching goal (and other life projects) and how you are no longer. Therefore, once you have had the conversation with your coach and you have tried to get back on track and it did not work, it is time to speak with a mental health professional.

  • You notice your mood changing abruptly without any direct relation to what is going on in the present moment. There are times when you catch yourself reminiscing to a time in your life when you felt joy and happiness. These are wonderful memories, and they may be triggered by the sight of a loved one, the tender words of a child, or even a leisurely walk in the park. And, just like that you may find yourself overwhelmed by discomfort and fear through no direct action of your own. You didn’t bring yourself to think about a sad moment in your life and you certainly did not wake up in the morning purposely choosing to create grief for yourself. In this state of mind, no encouraging words or even insightful comments from your coach shifts your mood. You notice your mind moving back to that darker place, making it harder and harder for you to follow the coaching conversation. You may perhaps convince yourself that the next time you will be more present in session. The next time does come and here you are again, unable to follow, engage as you did, or even make decisions that move you closer to your coaching goal. Instead, the feeling of despair grows stronger as time goes by and it starts to impact other relationships. It is time to work with a mental health professional who can help you surface what is creating psychic pain and work through it.

In a nutshell, I encourage you to work with a professional trained in mental health when:

  • You feel like you are not yourself, and no matter what you do you cannot change this feeling.
  • Your unwanted thoughts and difficult emotions are more enduring and widespread.
  • You cannot shake off painful memories that flood your mind, making it harder for you to stay connected to anything and anyone in your life.

If you are currently in a coaching program and experiencing any of these states, share with your coach who is trained in helping you take your first step toward the recovery of your mental health.

Are you concerned about your client’s mental state and would like guidance on how to best help them?