Individual Counseling, Couples Counseling and Sex Therapy

How Life And Weight Loss Coaches Can Be Bad For Your Health

Look around- life coaches, weight loss coaches, beauty coaches, nutrition coaches…everyone wants to “coach” you on something!  And congratulations to you for wanting to improve your life.  I’m not here to rain on your parade- I just want to hand you an umbrella so you don’t accidentally get drenched.

See, none of these coaches are regulated by the state when it comes to handling emotional problems.  (Did you know that?)  That means they have no required training, have passed no standardized test, have not been under supervision, and are not subject to the mental health licensing board’s continuing scrutiny.  They are also not bound by a common code of ethics, mandated to take continuing education credits, including boundary issues, heck, I don’t even know if they are required to carry malpractice insurance.

Yet, these people will attempt to help you with your psychological issues.  Sure, they will present themselves as “self-esteem” or “relationship” issues, or even “self-defeating thinking.”  But do these professionals really know what to do when these common issues have roots that go beyond the weight that won’t come off, or your hesitation in pursuing that advanced degree?  What if the roots of these issues were deeper?  What if you’ve been told your whole life you were stupid (so you hesitate to improve your education) or that food meant comfort (so you never learned how to cope with depression in a healthy way).  Life coaches do not have the intense training and supervision required to gain the advanced skills required to cope with these types of issues.

A few years ago I was on vacation in Utah at a spa.  One evening, I was listening to a presentation by a life coach on how to overcome life’s obstacles (or something to that effect).  Someone raised their hand and spoke about how hard it’s been to carry on with life since their spouse died last year.  Immediately red flags raised in my mind, as they would in any other formally trained clinician.  Unfortunately, not so much for the life coach.  Instead, the presenter breezily said something to the effect that we must get over the bad things in life to get on with the good.  Horrified, I sought out the widow after the talk was over to make sure she was OK.  She told me she didn’t appreciate the life coach’s remark, that it was very insensitive and made her feel bad about feeling bad about her loss.  I was glad I was there that night, because I was able to briefly explain that people just don’t “get over” a loss that painful, and that it would take a very long time, and did  she have support, etc.  See what I mean?  I’m sure that life coach meant well, but she just hurt somebody by not understanding the limits of her own expertise, and not understanding enough about mental health to know what questions to ask and how to refer!  Rather, in her ignorance, she just papered over someone else’s pain.  And that widow didn’t pay money for this type of treatment, especially when she can get it out in the world everyday for free.

And, please, before I get hate mail from life coaches- I’m not saying they don’t have value.  Sure they do.  But before you use a life coach, you may want to ask if they work with a licensed mental health counselor, and how they decide whether or not to refer someone.  If you get any kind of vague answer, I would recommend finding another one.  As the objective professional, the life coach has the lion’s share of the responsibility in figuring out whether or not they are qualified to help you with your issues.

1 Comment

  1. Chef Joy

    Several excellent points, Counselor Barb. It is surely an ethical issue if not potentially harmful to counsel someone in need of psychological intervention without having the proper training and credentials. The same can be said of those who attempt to advise others on what nutritional supplements to take. One is entering a dangerous realm making nutritional recommendations without knowing a person’s full medical condition, not being licensed where required by law, and not having the education or credentials as observed by a recognized authority. For science-based nutritional advice, see a fully qualified professional – a Registered Dietician.

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