By Erich Jordan
I first began to truly appreciate the potential coaching had to positively contribute to mental health and well-being when, during a session some years ago, a client happily announced the decision to cease taking antidepressants. Had this been anyone else, it would have raised alarm bells and hastened an immediate recommendation that they consult their doctor or therapist. But this was no ordinary client. This was a psychiatrist.
As a personal development and transformation coach, I work in the private and professional sector, so coaching a psychiatrist was not unusual for me. Never, however, had this particular client mentioned being depressed. Our conversations had revolved around the client’s practice, emotional regulation, social, health and fitness goals. When, therefore, my client declared recognising symptoms of overdose, I was fascinated and curious.
My client proceeded to explain their theory. Since taking control of so many areas of life, together with an enhanced sense of purpose, value and self-esteem, this person believed the brain had naturally adapted to a more rewarding social environment and experience of reality. This, in turn, had the effect of making the psychoactive drug being used redundant, which my client felt, explained the identified symptoms of overdose.
Far be it from me to endorse or contradict this theory.
I’d always been reticent to share this story as coaching is not therapy and I am not a doctor and in no way have I lost sight of this. But I can acknowledge how greater mental health had been reportedly achieved and experienced through a coaching intervention.
It was only recently when I came across an article in The British Journal of Psychiatry by Pat Bracken and colleagues that I was reminded of this experience and began to take greater interest in the idea of ‘Psychiatry Beyond the Current Paradigm’.
In this article, the authors propose that without “discounting the importance of the brain sciences and psychopharmacology …. psychiatry needs to move beyond the dominance of the current, technological paradigm”. The authors go on to say that “a growing body of empirical evidence points to the primary importance of the non-technical aspects of mental healthcare”. In simple terms, this means greater attention needs to be restored to the social dimension of mental illness and recovery. That is, we should no longer simply treat mental illness as a ‘brain’ problem. We need to ask what has happened to a person, rather than what is wrong with them.
To this end, Harrow M, Jobe TH, cited in the article, stresses “the importance of self-esteem and an ‘internal locus of control’” as important contributors to recovery. Pat Bracken and colleagues go on to conclude that “creating a therapeutic context that promotes empowerment and connectedness and that helps rebuild a positive self-identity is of great significance”.
As something of a purist, I recognise these factors as fundamental to the coaching environment we intentionally create with our clients. Without diverging from our coaching core competencies, we are inadvertently coaching clients towards greater mental health. This is not to say that coaches should begin taking on unmedicated, clinically depressed clients, or those diagnosed as schizophrenic or bi-polar. What it may mean, however, is that we should not be surprised when, in our capacity as coaches, our clients experience greater mental health and a heightened sense of well-being. If not a means to recovery, at the very least it seems reasonable to suggest that coaching may yet prove to be a preventative measure against future mental illness.
Factors involved in outcome and recovery in schizophrenia patients not on antipsychotic medications: a 15-year multifollow-up study. J Nerv Ment Dis 2007; 195: 406–14. PubMedWeb of Science.
Erich Jordan a registered coach in good standing with Coaches & Mentors of South Africa (COMENSA) and hold a PCC certification from the International Coaching Federation (ICF). His qualifications include a CPC (Certified Professional Coach) certificate from the International Coach Academy, a DipTh. from the Irene Theological College and a BTh. from The University of South Africa.
Erich spent 18 years in Christian ministry, 9 of which as the pastor of The Vineyard Fellowship in East London. In 1999 he entered the business world and built a successful national telecommunication company specialising in corporate least cost routing solutions. He sold this at the end of 2015 and now spends his time coaching and as a sailing instructor at the Buffalo River Yacht Club in East London.”
Contact Erich via his website: www.thecoachman.co.za/