Professionals coaches are aware of their boundaries and the limitations of coaching. Although there is significant overlap between the skills of a coach and a counsellor, ICF coaches need to be very aware of the nuances involved in signposting a client to a different professional.
Note how the title is a bit misleading on this post as we wouldn’t be signposting to an actual therapist, but more on that later!
This blog post tackles that. It goes a bit more deeply into the question of:
‘If I am feeling that the client might be best served by someone else, such as a therapist, how do I do that?’
Not all coaches will have an understanding of mental health and their connections to this area might be limited. In addition, as a result of the world we now live in where coaches take clients from all over the globe, signposting using an online medium or within a country that you’re not familiar with can prove challenging.
Take an example of a client who you might have met for a discovery call or had a first session with. Throughout the session the client mentions they feel anxious a lot, have trouble sleeping, have noticed that their weight keeps fluctuating and there’s a lot of negative self-talk. As a coach you might be be wondering what to do.
Here are some ideas to help your confidence in working as a coach when signposting:
1. Don’t be scared of inviting a client into a discussion. The aim of the discussion is not to diagnose (most coaches aren’t trained in this) but instead to discuss some of the behavioural aspects that the client mentions (e.g. trouble sleeping, the word ‘anxious’, the kind of self-talk they present). If you’re comfortable and depending on the client you might also check in with them to see what other support, if any, they have sought or are seeking.
2. Explore client’s support systems. Most clients will have some access to support that they can tap into to help them more specifically with areas that go outside of the coaching contract. For example, clients might have a GP or be registered with a surgery, could have medical insurance, have family members or close friends they can talk to or have an Employee Assistance Program through work. Identify what support systems a client has and leverage these in the discussion.
3. Don’t just think ‘therapy’. At times we can take a shortcut of immediately mentioning therapy to a client. As coaches, we cannot assume or diagnose that a client might benefit from therapy. Unless you have been trained in therapeutic approaches or are a mental health practitioner, be careful not to imply that a client needs therapy for their situation.
4. Instead think ‘GP’. In the UK common practice is to refer back to the GP instead of a specific service. There are many therapies out there and us supporting a client to self-diagnose and go to a specific therapist can be unhelpful. Same as in coaching there needs to a be a good therapist/client fit. A GP and a doctor’s surgery will be able to support the individual match up with the services that they need.
5. Get an agreement. And this agreement typically is that they will discuss what is happening with their GP. This is the most important part of the process, since, as we mentioned we cannot diagnose a client. By supporting a client come up with ways to follow up and get in touch with their GP we are working in an ethical way.
6. Follow up. A few days after the session it’s good practice to follow up with your client, perhaps through an email. Be careful of not breaking confidentiality within the email and keep your communication brief. However it’s also ideal to note your recommendation of following up with a doctor.
7. Accept the client’s wishes. Not all clients will want to speak with their GP and as coaches we need to accept that (unless we feel there is imminent harm to themselves or others). As part of our coaching agreement we have to provide this information without attachment and respect the client’s wishes. Some clients might not be aware that support from other individuals (e.g. a GP) might be helpful. They might have also never thought about therapy, so it can take some time for the discussion to sink in and for behaviour change to happen.
8. Check if the coaching is working. If you still decide to continue working with the client do several check-ins to make sure that the coaching is helpful to them. Note that it is okay to work with clients who are also going through therapy.
It is also worth mentioning that the majority of clients that we work with are functioning individuals, however it’s important for us to know what we can do in situations where additional support might be required.
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