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Jackee Holder on Life Coaching and Emotional Health

On the future of mental health

Eric Maisel
Source: Eric Maisel

The following interview is part of a “future of mental health” interview series that will be running for 100+ days. This series presents different points of view about what helps a person in distress. I’ve aimed to be ecumenical and included many points of view different from my own. I hope you enjoy it. As with every service and resource in the mental health field, please do your due diligence. If you’d like to learn more about these philosophies, services, and organizations mentioned, follow the links provided.


Interview with Jackee Holder

I envision a future mental health helper, someone I call a human experience specialist, who embodies the best of psychotherapy and the best of coaching and who also brings some new skills, talents and knowledge to the table. There is a great deal that a good coach knows and does that can help a person in emotional and mental distress heal and grow; and there is a lot in the idea of self-coaching that individuals can put to real use. Here is Jackee Holder on coaching and self-coaching.

EM: You’re a life coach. Can you tell us how you envision that works and how it differs from what a psychotherapist or other mental health professional does (if it does differ)?

JH: My work as a life coach supports individuals to make time to focus on what really matters in their life and work. There are many similarities between the two and some notable differences. The training of coaches is shorter and not regulated to the same degree as the training of psychotherapists and some mental health professionals. Coaches are not trained to work therapeutically with deep-seated emotional or psychological problems. However this doesn't mean that coaches don't venture into the world of emotions and beliefs. Coaches are trained and equipped to work with and be responsive to negative and limiting beliefs and behaviours that form part of the normal malaise of human complexity.

For example a coach would work with individuals whose beliefs may be getting in the way of performance, productivity and well -being. But when these themes are deeply rooted in regular negative patterns of behaviours that are proving harmful or consistently unproductive, then working with a trained psychotherapist or mental health practitioner may be the best intervention. Psychotherapists will traditionally return to re-examine the roots of earlier beliefs, values and behaviours and help an individual understand the cause of behaviours and beliefs.

Coaches on the whole tend to be more future-focused and tend not to dwell in depth on the past but will focus attention on how resourceful the individual is in the present to move forward in the future. However this varies according to the training and experience of the coach and how they work. We used the following metaphors on one of our former coach training programmes to describe the differences between a coach, counsellor, consultant and mentor, which might be helpful:

* A therapist will help you explore what is stopping you driving the car

* A counsellor will listen to your anxieties about driving the car

* A mentor will give you tips from their experience of driving the car

* A consultant will advise you on how to drive the car

* A coach will encourage and support you in driving the car

EM: You believe that individuals in emotional and mental distress can help themselves via self-coaching. What are the top two or three strategies you think that individuals should employ to “help themselves?”

JH: I have found a simple practice like journaling on a regular basis, which involves writing down and naming current and past feelings and emotions, is extremely helpful as a way of making sense of sometimes complex and difficult emotions. The work of Dr James Pennebaker from the University Of Texas highlights through ongoing research how writing about traumatic events for four consecutive days for twenty minutes revealed a number of physical and psychological benefits.

Journaling and reflective writing is not about navel gazing but as a self coaching tool is a way of raising self-awareness and increasing personal understanding of your emotions as well as providing a lens into the dynamics of how you relate to others. Recording your feelings is like tracing a map, which helps you to both identify and manage your personal emotions and also helps with how you process data that contributes to your overall responses and interactions with others. Reading back through your journals provides a reflexive self- coaching tool that often gets missed. This approach brings in a more critical lens with a positive intention.

EM: Coaches, even though they are not licensed mental health professionals, have to be psychologically minded in order to understand what’s going with the person they’re trying to help. How do you “walk this line” between being psychologically minded but not “doing therapy?”

JH: Yes, coaches have to be psychologically minded and this is gained through coach training and extensive and ongoing continuous professional development, on line training and maintaining a reflective practice that upholds the standards and ethics of the profession. I recently completed eighteen months of personal weekly therapy. At the same time I have also worked regularly with a coach and a coach supervisor with whom I explore my coaching practice and coaching caseload.

Personally I found the therapeutic space a place where it was safe to delve into the depth of my emotions and difficulties with a view to understanding the motivations and origins of certain behaviours and beliefs about myself. The focus was on really coming to terms with why I do the things I do and think the way I do and where that would have originated. The space to offload in therapy has been a useful place to be at, at this point of my life journey. It helped me to focus more wholeheartedly on my wounded self. But it is a different space despite similarities from the coaching space.

My work with my coach on the other hand focused on the parts of the self that are still resourceful and resilient, as did therapy. Some of the deep therapeutic work I did with my therapist would not sit comfortably in coaching but there are huge overlaps between the two. There were many instances in my coaching where we touched on existentialism and spirituality and the crisis of personal identity, which was congruent and relevant to the coaching conversation and which greatly enriched the work we were doing.

EM: If I’m the loved one of someone in emotional or mental distress, how might I help them move in the direction of engaging in some self-coaching, given what may be their resistance to helping themselves?

JH: By being an exquisite listener without judgement or even wanting to fix or make things better. Having the ability to hold the space and be with the feelings no matter how difficult and complex that emerges.

Sometimes the right question offered in the right moment can trigger a moment of hope or way of seeing a situation differently that might open the door to some self-coaching. But bare in mind this is all dependent on the state of mental health and well-being of the person concerned. Self-coaching may be out of reach for some individuals depending on their mental health diagnosis.

I've offered a new notebook and pen and that was the way into some personal self-coaching that made a big difference. Here are some questions that can be personalised that might provide a gateway into a loved one applying self-coaching themselves during a difficult time:

1. What's the question you don't want to ask yourself or answer right now?

2. How are you really feeling?

3. If you could wave a magic wand what would you wish for to help you change the current situation you are in.

4. What would your inner coach say to you right now that would make a real difference to how things are right now?

5. What's good, loving and still okay about you right now?

6. What have you lost? What is being found?

EM: In addition to self-coaching, what do you think helps people in distress? If you had a loved one in emotional or mental distress, what would you encourage him or her to try?

JH: I’d suggest or do all of the following:

1. Reassure individuals that being in the place of not knowing is okay and is a valuable part of change and growth and healing

2. Encourage the individual to apply as many restorative practices as possible that will help to still and quieten the mind, re-energise and to stabilise some of the feelings and emotions associated with distress

3. Get out into nature and reap the psychological and physical benefits nature has to offer

4. Talk to people; break the cycle of isolation if this is something you are prone to

5. Rest, sleep and eat well

6. Have a mentor poem close to hand whose words offer comfort or respite during difficult times


Jackee Holder is a corporate coach, coach trainer, facilitator and author. She is the author of three non-fiction print titles, 49 Ways To Write Yourself Well: The Science and Wisdom of Writing and Journaling, Be Your Own Best Life Coach: Take Charge and Live The Life You’ve Always Wanted and a spiritual memoir, Soul Purpose: Self Affirming Rituals, Meditations and Creative Exercises To Revive Your Spirit. She is the creator of the Paper Therapy online course and holds a Masters degree in Creative Writing and Personal Development from Sussex University. She teaches creative writing and therapeutic and reflective/ journaling writing workshops and retreats. Reading and writing are where she finds her joy.

Twitter: @jackeeholder

Linkedin: JackeeHolder


Eric Maisel, Ph.D., is the author of 40+ books, among them The Future of Mental Health, Rethinking Depression, Mastering Creative Anxiety, Life Purpose Boot Camp and The Van Gogh Blues. Write Dr. Maisel at, visit him at, and learn more about the future of mental health movement at

To learn more about and/or to purchase The Future of Mental Health visit here

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