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HealthLife

Mental Health Professionals, Life Coaches, Who To Go To?

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In the end, it is great to be inspired by the lived experiences of survivors, stories of overcoming great challenges, and to be motivated by the successes of others. However,  when it comes to your mental health and everything that is connected to it, one must seek the proper professionals who are regulated, liable, and have accountability.

This article was co-authored by Berak Hussain, Registered Psychotherapist (The Muslim Counsellor) & Krista Arnold, Registered Child and Youth Worker

The pandemic of 2020 has resulted in major life-altering changes – from the way we interact with each other, the fears and anxieties created from catching the virus, the prohibition of travel and lockdowns, economic impacts such unemployment and soaring debt, and the loss of lives and physical impacts of the COVID-19 virus – our lives have drastically changed.

There has also, in addition to all of this, been an increase in demand for mental health services for the exponential rise of mental illnesses and disorders related to anxiety, isolation, depression, and the lack of human interactions. 

During this time, as we saw the fall of many companies, we also saw the rise of a plethora of online/home businesses. One such trending business was the sudden and aggressive self-promotions of pseudo-qualified and or unqualified self-labeled “professionals”, offering advice on how to live your life, transform your life, or spiritually revive your life. We have seen this in the concerning titles such as “life coaches”, “transformational coaches”, “mindset coaches”, “purpose coach”, “motivational coach”, “relationship advisor”.“spiritual coaches” etc . So, the question is – why is this concerning?

As a registered psychotherapist and part of the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario (CRPO), we have had to undergo rigorous qualification requirements in order to be able to legally practice therapy in our province. It became legally mandated for anyone to become registered in such a body in order to even use such a title much less practice therapy. 

These qualifications included years of related undergraduate and graduate studies, supervised clinical practicums, and continued supervision – with a peer or with an external supervisor. In addition, there are the yearly requirements of continued educational and professional development as well as professional insurance liability, and annual fees to maintain our title and legal privilege to practice therapy. Mental health professionals are bound by codified ethics, where unethical behaviour can result in unlicensing and severe reprimand.

“Life Coaches” and the like, however, are not regulated by a college or body where they can be monitored, audited, or where the public is protected from them like the mental health profession or even other professionals such as medical doctors or lawyers. It is as though one day after experiencing a midlife crisis, and going through challenges and working through them, they suddenly decided that they want to and can help others.

Some take a 6-week online course that suddenly certifies them with the titles described above, and boom they start to give advice to others on how to overcome challenges – not excluding mental health advice! Some of them have even gone to the extent to create courses on how to transform your life, take content from different backgrounds (use of other professional’s intellectual property), as well as content that has no research base, packaged up in questionable social media promotions including selling merchandise, all for the price of again questionable costs.

The Tony Robbins and Jay Shettys have done wonders banking millions of such programs including selling “how to be a life coach” type of programs, to the point where you see Muslims are getting on the same bandwagon, aspiring to be the next guru and offering similar programs.

The mental health profession is a field – it is analogous to planting seeds and harvesting the bounty; coping skills, understanding, and healing are planted and nourished. They’re treasured and the value of their growth is as relevant as their harvest.

Life coaching and co is an industry based on production not reduction, the commodification of pain and of the soul, unhealthy coping strategies, and trauma where they profit from others’ suffering. It’s completely at odds with healing.

As professional mental health support workers work within a field, not an industry, these professionals are actively trying to work themselves out of a job (meaning they are trying to reduce and to potentially eliminate the root causes of trauma and mental health issues permanently, not cultivating future client/patients).

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In this field, they are known as “clients” or “patients”. Client and patient are at times used interchangeably even though they can have different meanings of intent. One could be using a service and the latter to be under medical care for treatment (here and here). Depending on what the intention or nature of the workplace behind the service is to the person seeking the support, one could be used over the other. Depending on what the intention or nature of the workplace behind the service is to the person seeking the support, one could be used over the other.  

When having case consults with other mental health professionals such as psychiatrists, psychologists, counsellors, and social workers, similar discussions around this topic showed that it is not just a passing thought, that this coaching industry is an actual concern.

If a friend or “life coach” and a regulated professional give the same advice for a problem, circumstance, or for someone’s emotional state, and the advice of the friend or life coach is taken where the outcome is disastrous or even deadly, there is no accountability or protection for this person. With the regulated professional there is a regulatory legal board that one can complain to and that has mandated processes to investigate, reprimand, and protect the public with accountability.

Where would you even begin with a life coach? How would you legally follow up? It is a million-dollar industry that seeks to serve the egos of self-adoring fame seekers and especially in the social media world we live in where anyone can use the platform to self promote “the next best thing for a better life”.

There are therapists or other health professionals who now use the words “life coach” when introducing their work to “soften up” potential help seekers because of the known taboos, stigma, and misconceptions around mental health. Don’t forget they are trained professionals and using these titles to make it perhaps easier for people to approach them rather than with the potentially intimidating mental health titles. It’s also seen as a status label by some cultures to have a “life coach” as a status of success and again avoidance of being associated with mental health stigma. This is also connected to the terms “client” and “patient” where the same stigmas could be allies where one is service-based and one is medically based.

In the end, it is great to be inspired by the lived experiences of survivors, stories of overcoming great challenges, and to be motivated by the successes of others. However, when it comes to your mental health and everything that is connected to it, one must seek the proper professionals who are regulated, liable, and have accountability. Therapists like any other professional can also misdiagnose or provide the wrong treatment at times, however, again there is accountability.

Please mindfully be aware and research who you choose to share some of the most private and intimate details of your life, and to whom you entrust to receive the most helpful, professional, and proper care and treatment.

To finish, we will leave you with this to reflect upon: If you break a leg do you go to someone who has a First Aid certificate for treatment or to a professionally trained, regulated, ethically accounted medical doctor?


Sources

1. Mental Health in Canada: Covid-19 and Beyond (CAMH Policy Advice)

2. College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario 

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