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Is There Something Wrong With Me? (Part 1 – Introduction)

Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended as medical or psychological advice, but rather as personal opinion and educational information.

Blog Image by Liza Summer via Pexels

This series focuses on the basics of mental health and wellness because we all are impacted by the topic…whether in our own lives or the lives of our family and friends. I’ve titled this series “Is There Something Wrong With Me?” simply because when we are struggling, or feeling our emotions deeply, we tend to think we are flawed or there is something wrong with us. 

We all feel anxious at times, but how do we know when we are experiencing generalized anxiety disorder and need to seek professional help from a medical provider? Likewise, we all feel depressed sometimes, but how do we know when we are experiencing major depressive disorder and need to seek professional help from a medical provider? My hope is through this series you will gain a greater appreciation for the complex nature of our emotions, how thoughts and feelings influence our mental health, and a better understanding of when normal emotions cross into something more serious.

Before we dive into the specifics of what markers would identify an individual who has moved from a normal experience of anxiety or depression to a clinical diagnosis, we need to clearly define what is the role of counseling and coaching in mental health and wellness. Counseling and coaching are two unique disciplines that are each valuable for personal growth. Additionally, both ensure a safe, confidential space for a client to work towards improving well-being. A general overview of the benefits, and limitations, of both modalities is important for an individual considering professional services as well as what their specific needs and goals are before deciding which path would be the best next step to take in their journey. 

Quick Take: 

“Counseling is to Coaching what Physical Therapy is to Personal Training”

  • Counseling is a licensed medical professional who looks at the past to determine the root causes of mental illness. They offer a diagnosis and create a treatment plan in an attempt to reduce symptoms of psychopathology and improve cognitive, behavioral, or emotional functioning. Similarly, Physical Therapy is a licensed medical professional who looks at the root cause of a physical injury, offers a diagnosis, and creates a treatment plan to reduce symptoms, heal the current injury, improve function, and prevent future injury.
  • Coaching is a certified wellness professional who focuses on the present and future. They provide a mentally healthy individual intentional space to identify areas of dissatisfaction and collaborate with a coach to explore alternative approaches to their situation. They help a client connect to their own insight as they set a goal, make a decision, navigate a change, or challenge an old way of thinking, feeling, behaving, and creating new habits. Similarly, Personal Training is a certified wellness professional who focuses on the present and future. They provide a physically healthy individual space to identify areas of dissatisfaction in the realm of physical wellness, and collaborates with a trainer to set goals to navigate a change in their physical fitness and create new habits.

What is Counseling?

Counseling is a medical relationship in which a counselor, therapist, social worker, or psychologist is the expert regarding the client’s issues, will assign a diagnosis, and direct the path of the client to achieve a specific outcome through a treatment plan. 

WHAT HAPPENS IN A COUNSELING SESSION?

In a counseling session, the clinician will ask the client questions, but for the most part, the client does most of the talking. The counselor does not utilize self-disclosure about themselves or their personal life in the counseling session even if they have had a similar experience as the client. 

Typically, a client sees a counselor weekly for long-term therapy (a year or multiple years) depending on the treatment plan: frequency of treatment, length of treatment, type of treatment, and benefit coverage by an insurance company. 

DOES A CLIENT RECEIVE A DIAGNOSIS?

Clients receive a diagnosis from their provider so that the counselor can create a focused treatment plan and insurance can reimburse the costs of treatment. 

A diagnosis is not subjective (“you seem depressed” or “you look anxious”) but rather is assigned to a client based on observable symptoms over a specific time frame that corresponds to The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (DSM-TR) used by clinicians. The DSM is published by the American Psychiatric Association and is considered the definitive handbook used by healthcare professionals as the authoritative guide to the diagnosis of mental, behavioral, and psychological disorders. 

The American Psychology Association defines psychopathology as “the scientific study of mental disorders, including their theoretical underpinnings, etiology, progression, symptomatology, diagnosis, and treatment.” For many clients, a proper and accurate diagnosis initiates a treatment plan to reduce symptoms caused by psychopathology. 

WHAT IS THE FOCUS OF COUNSELING?

Counseling is problem-focused and the clinician will attempt to identify the root of the client’s problem. This is done through the exploration of the client’s past (family of origin, life history, personal narratives of key events and milestones) to determine how previous experiences can impact the client’s current functioning as well as increase a client’s awareness of the problems these dysfunctions can create. 

Common mental disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, substance abuse disorder, and an eating disorder. Other behavioral, cognitive, or emotional disorders may be caused by unresolved trauma due to previous or current abuse, neglect, assault, racialized trauma, traffic collision, near-death experience, natural disaster, terrorism, or war. 

HOW DOES A COUNSELOR WORK WITH TRAUMA?

Unresolved trauma by a single traumatic event in an individual’s life can lead to a diagnosis of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Unresolved trauma by a repeated traumatic event in an individual’s life can lead to a diagnosis of C-PTSD (chronic post-traumatic stress disorder). 

Psychosocial stressors such as job loss, divorce, grief, or a pandemic can be traumatic stressor that causes mental and behavioral symptoms, but they may not result in a DSM diagnosis. However, proper clinical treatment can help integrate the traumatic stressor into the person’s life and pave the way for healing from the event. 

EDUCATION AND TRAINING OF A COUNSELOR

Counselors must complete a Master’s Degree in Counseling or Social Work. Twenty five years ago, a counselor could work for an agency or practice with their master’s degree serving as proof of their professional credentials. Today, professional counselors are required by law to complete graduate level education at a CACREP accredited university or college program and be licensed in order to legally practice as a professional counselor in every state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Some counselors also have certification in coaching and maintain a separate coaching practice, though most focus exclusively on counseling.

If you are looking for a counselor, please check with your insurance carrier for a referral list or visit ​Psychology Today​ for a nationwide listing of counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists.

CLIENT’S RESPONSIBILITY 

Counseling is a clinical relationship where the counselor, as an expert, guides the client in addressing specific problems through exploration of past experiences, identification of root causes, and creation of a treatment plan with the goal of improving mental health and overall functioning, often related to diagnosed mental disorders or unresolved trauma. It is the client’s responsibility to follow the clincial guidance of the provider (example: assigned homework practices, attending a support group, referral to a psychiatrist for medication). If a client doesn’t feel they are improving or making progress with the particular provider, it is the client’s responsibility to interview additional providers to find one that would be a better fit for the mental health changes they want to address.

What is Coaching?

Coaching is a professional relationship in which the coach holds the belief that the client is the expert in their own life. Instead of a client looking to an expert for the right answers, a coach collaborates with a client to help a client as they set a goal, make a decision, navigate a change, or challenge an old way of thinking, feeling, behaving, and creating new habits.

WHAT HAPPENS IN A COACHING SESSION?

While the client’s past experiences and milestones may inform the present narrative, it is not the focus of the session. Coaching focuses on the client’s present and future as the coach collaborates with the client in a solution-focused way to help the client move towards their goals. Below is a general overview of coaching. For a detailed explanation of the coaching process at Well Soul Studio, please reference this ​blog​ article.

A coach may use self-disclosure by sharing examples from their own personal life as long as it doesn’t shift the focus of the client or the goals of the session. Typically, clients work with a coach bi-weekly until their goals are met (anywhere from 3 to 6 months), then monthly or as needed through maintenance sessions. One unique aspect of coaching is the resources available to a client including session notes as a reminder of key insights, and digital resources to reference outside of the sessions as the client applies the insights gained in the sessions. 

DOES A CLIENT RECEIVE A DIAGNOSIS?

Coaching is for individuals who are not struggling with psychopathology, who are not suffering from a mental, cognitive, or behavioral disorder, who are not dealing with unresolved trauma, and do not require a DSM diagnosis to receive treatment. A coach does not assign a client a diagnosis nor view a clients struggles through the lens of psychopathology. It is imperative that a client who has a mental health diagnosis (previously or currently) share this honestly on their intake form and openly discuss it with a coach prior to beginning the coaching relationship so safeguards can be put into place. Any struggles, issues, areas of dissatisfaction, or emotional challenges the client shares are viewed through the lens of normal experience of being human.

WHAT IS THE FOCUS OF COACHING?

The primary role of a coach is to create intentional space that feels safe enough for clients to (re)discover their authentic selves, tend their souls, and thrive in their life. A coach will ask clients insightful questions, listen deeply to a client share about issues that are important in their lives, assist clients in identifying areas of dissatisfaction, and in partnership with the client explore alternative approaches to their situation. 

A coach also shares resources and tools, facilitating experiential opportunities for a client to clarify their personal goals, increase their self-awareness, integrate their mind, body, and soul into the experience in a holistic way, and expand awareness of the somatic cues the body is giving the client rather than relying on an expert opinion of another person. 

HOW DOES A COACH WORK WITH TRAUMA?

If a coach learns of past or current trauma in the client’s life that that has not been addressed and resolved, the ethical next step is always to refer the client to licensed trauma therapist for appropriate treatment. In my practice, I incorporate tools and resources for post-traumatic growth. Post-traumatic growth simply means my training as a trauma therapist, as well as my certification as an integrative somatic therapist, has created a unique skill set that enables me to collaborate with clients after their trauma work is complete and help them move into a season of growth with intention. With a greater awareness of somatic cues in the body, and an understanding of the “window of tolerance”, a client can prune away “old wiring” in the brain based on old triggers, and create new neural pathways that help them thrive in this season of their life.

EDUCATION AND TRAINING OF A COACH

Coaching is an emerging field and professional accreditation is voluntary at this time. The International Coaching Federation is an international organization that has led the way in rigorous education and credentialing standards to ensure the professionalism and high standards of excellence in coaching. Any coach can claim to be “certified”, however if you encounter a coach who holds an ICF coaching certification and can verify their ICF credential, then you can be assured they are held to the highest standard of core competencies and ethics as a coach. It is essential that any individual interested in working with a coach should verify the coach’s education, training, and certification. Many life coaches have advanced degrees in counseling, psychology, human development, or education. Similarly, many business coaches have advanced degrees in business, leadership, human resources, or organizational development. Since many coaches tend to specialize in their scope of practice, it is important to inquire about their specific training, education, certification and experience to determine if they are a good fit in your life.

CLIENT’S RESPONSIBILITY 

Coaching is a collaborative, solution-focused professional relationship where the coach supports the client in identifying and achieving their personal goals by asking insightful questions, listening deeply, sharing tools, and empowering the client to tap into their own insight and make decisions aligned with their values and aspirations. It is the client’s responsiblity to be clear about their goals, take ownership of their decisions, utilize the tools and resources learned in coaching, and be honest about their thoughts and feelings as they navigate their journey through mental health and wellness.

Final Thoughts

Counseling and coaching are each unique modalities that are complementary to each other, not in competition with each other. Like an archeologist uses a variety of tools to excavate a historical site, we can use a variety of wellness tools to excavate our soul and the stories from our life. I encourage you to consider your personal goals, and mental health status, when deciding which modality is the right next step for you in your wellness journey. 

Do you, or someone you care about, need an intentional space to embrace your authentic self, tend your soul, and thrive in your one precious life? Your referral matters so much to my small business! Visit my ​coaching page​ to learn more about my focus. If my specialities do not match your needs, I could always recommend a colleauge who may be a good fit for you. You may also visit the ​International Coaching​​ Federation​ or ​Wayfinder​ by Martha Beck to locate a trained coach that would be a good fit or you.

In part 2 of this series, I will explore the emotional landscape and how to know when “normal” emotions (like anxiety) become pathological and require clinical treatment. 

I’M GRATEFUL YOU TOOK THE TIME TO READ THIS POST. DID YOU FIND IT HELPFUL? IF SO,I WOULD BE HONORED IF YOU SHARED IT WITH A FRIEND.
Bethany Grace

Get Coached

Do you need an intentional space so you can embrace your authentic self, tend your soul, and thrive in your one precious life? I’d love to help!

Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended as medical or psychological advice, but rather as personal opinion and educational information. Though Well Soul Studio, LLC was founded by a clinician with a master’s degree in counseling, the scope of this practice is limited to certified embodied coaching, somatic therapy, and enneagram discovery. If it is determined a client’s needs would better be served by a licensed mental health professional such as a counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist, Well Soul Studio, LLC will always make that recommendation. A client’s mental health and well-being are always a priority at Well Soul Studio, LLC. 

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