- More and more of us are seeking strengths-based, growth-oriented guidance.
- Life coaching provides an opportunity to promote mental wellness.
- Preventative mental health, by coaching the mind, can offer a better future.
To quote W.B. Yeats, “Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.”
After a decade in psychiatric practice, specializing in mood and anxiety disorders, I’ve come to a crossroads. I believe in the power of psychotherapy and psychopharmacology to relieve suffering in many of my patients, but where I am unclear is what follows their recovery. How do I help individuals move forward into a more meaningful, flourishing life?
How is society shifting toward a wellness model?
It seems that a generational shift to acceptance of psychotherapy as well as newer modalities for personal growth, including coaching, has been occurring over the past several decades, sped up considerably by the challenges of the pandemic. One cannot pick up a paper or magazine without being urged to meditate, practice mindfulness, or consider a particular supplement. We seem to be seeking, as a society, ways to create more fulfilling and healthy lives, even those who, on paper, appear to be functioning well.
Participating in my own coaching program was certainly eye-opening. I have worked with fantastic therapists throughout my career, both collaboratively and personally, but this was clearly offering a new skill set. Through the conversations and exercises, I explored ways to enrich my life, remove limiting beliefs about my capabilities, and imagine a more meaningful future.
What is the evidence for coaching as an intervention?
This experience prompted further research into the benefits of coaching, how it differs from psychotherapy, and recommendations for best practices. What I found was certainly heartening, including a randomized, controlled trial of a brief coaching intervention for physicians at the Mayo Clinic that led to significant decreases in measures of burnout. There was also a review of the benefits of numerous coaching interventions published by The Australian and British Psychological Societies.
An online search also reveals numerous coaching certification programs, as well as excellent resources for coaching education, such as The Institute of Coaching by McLean Hospital, a Harvard Medical School affiliate. However, none seemed specifically designed for psychiatrists or psychologists, who already understand the benefit of one-on-one psychotherapy to treat mental illness but need specific guidance in the potential pitfalls and challenges of transitioning to a goal-oriented, strengths-based coaching approach.
How psychiatrists can add to the field of coaching.
So this is what I hope to create, together with other mental health providers seeking a new set of tools to care for those in need, even those without a diagnosable mental illness. Indeed, what could be better than diving into the various theoretical orientations and practical applications involved in helping others live a more joyful, fulfilling life?
Defined concisely by Stober and Grant in their text, Evidence-Based Coaching, ”The aim of life coaching is sustained cognitive, emotional and behavioral changes that facilitate goal attainment and performance enhancement.”
Like me, many of you may also be interested in broadening your scope of practice to include techniques in Positive Psychology as developed by Dr. Martin Seligman, Ph.D., Designing Your Life by Stanford engineering professors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, Empowering Women Physicians with Dr. Sunny Smith, M.D., Hope Modules with Dr. James Griffith, M.D., and nutrition for mental wellness with Dr. Drew Ramsey, M.D., to name just a few.
I already utilize techniques from this list in my psychiatry practice, but they remain secondary, understandably, to evidence-based approaches in psychopharmacology and psychotherapy. With coaching, they take their place up front, in the good seats.
Bumps along the road
Admittedly, I’ve felt doubt about adding a coaching practice, as well as guilt about shrinking my private psychiatry practice and a sense of vulnerability in exploring new horizons with less structure than medical school and residency.
In the end, however, as the quote at the beginning of this essay suggests, seeking growth and challenge in your life may be the true path to happiness and fulfillment. Moving through discomfort allows the application of all available tools, with the goal of effecting positive change in the lives of others. It certainly feels like the beginning of a beautiful new adventure.
Dyrbye LN, Shanafelt TD, Gill PR, Satele DV, West CP. Effect of a Professional Coaching Intervention on the Well-being and Distress of Physicians: A Pilot Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Intern Med. 2019;179(10):1406–1414. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.2425
Greif, S. Advances in research on coaching outcomes. International Coaching Psychology Review. 2007; 2:3.
Linley PA, Nielsen KM, Gillett R, Biswas-Diener R. Using signature strengths in pursuit of goals: Effects on goal progress, need satisfaction, and well-being, and implications for coaching psychologists. International Coaching Psychology Review. 2010;5:1.
Stober, Dianne R., and Anthony M. Grant, eds. Evidence based coaching handbook: Putting best practices to work for your clients. John Wiley & Sons, 2010.