Some would say that life coaching should not be used to overcome anxiety and/or depression. Others would claim that life coaching interventions can be used for mild to moderate anxiety or depression.
Most life coaches and other professionals in the behavioral sciences would agree that any clients experiencing anxiety or depression that are clinical or suicidal in nature should be handled by a licensed therapist. Therefore, a life coach must be willing to refer a client dealing with serious anxiety and depression issues.
David Rock and Linda J. Page (2009), in their book Coaching with the Brain in Mind, give some direction in how a life coach could work with someone experiencing anxiety or depression. In dealing with anxiety, Rock and Page (2009) encourage coaches to help clients get through their anxiety by modifying their beliefs to be more in line with their behavior.
The concept of cognitive dissonance, first described by Leon Festinger (1919-1989), is when someone’s beliefs and actions seem to contradict. To have a client modify their beliefs to better fit their behavior would help them relieve the anxiety.
Coaches can also help reduce anxiety by helping them get clear about their goals. This helps the client focus, reduce uncertainty, and restore calmness.
“We reduce anxiety and the sense of being overwhelmed that comes from the amygdala’s response to uncertainty. As the amygdala is calmed, cognitive functions such as working memory may be energized” (Rock & Page, 2009, p. 255). They also give the following suggestions when working with clients dealing with anxiety:
- When anxiety strikes, your breathing may become shallow and quick. You can control the anxiety by controlling your breathing. Inhale slowly through your nose, breathing deeply from your belly, not your chest.
- Stress will make your body tight and stiff. You can counter the effects of stress on body and brain if you relax your muscles.
- Try positive imagery. Create an image that is relaxing, such as visualizing yourself on a secluded beach (2009, p. 340).
Though depression can be more than a life coach is trained to work with, Rock and Page (2009) give this suggestion when coaching someone with mild to moderate depression: Encourage the client to develop some level of exercise routine they are comfortable with doing.
According to Rock and Page, the United Press International did a study and reported “that half of patients suffering from long-term depression felt substantial improvement after a 10-day exercise program” (2009, p. 127). According to Rock and Page exercise also helps prevent depression from returning, releases endorphins which help people relax and feel better, and helps people’s thoughts organize themselves.
Life coaches must be careful not to work outside of their skillset. However, when working with mild to moderate anxiety and depression there are some interventions they can practice to help their clients overcome.
Rock, D. & Page, L, J. (2009). Coaching with the brain in mind: Foundations for practice. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
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