A lot of our clients specialize in the mental health space. Some practice as licensed psychologists, social workers or professional counselors, while others are unlicensed emotional wellness, mental health and wellbeing coaches. The main difference between those two groups is that one group (the licensed group) are regulated by state licensing boards. The second group (the coaching group) are not regulated by state licensing boards, at least not directly.
Coaching in the mental health and emotional wellness space can get tricky because coaches should not be offering therapy like their licensed colleagues. Rather, coaches should be helping “clients” (not “patients”) reach their goals. The goals that most of my coaching clients are helping their clients achieve relate to reduced stress, better sleep, achieving inner peace, finding purpose, finding happiness, or finding balance in their life. Mental health and emotional wellness coaches should not be diagnosing or treating depression, anxiety, PTSD or any other condition that might be listed on the DSM.
This can feel like a very fine line to walk. The risk of being perceived as treating or diagnosing mental illness is being accused of or investigated for the unlicensed practice of a mental health profession regulated by state licensing boards. In many states, such activity can be criminal. That is why it is essential that coaches find a competent wellness lawyer to help them find a path that reduces legal risk.
One of the best explanations I ever heard about the difference between what coaches offer and what licensed professionals offer is the clients that they serve. Licensed mental health practitioners are needed most when helping patients who are truly mentally ill. Only a licensed mental health expert can diagnose such patients and find a treatment plan to help them get healthy.
Coaches on the other hand are best used in cases when the client is already in good mental health. But, the individual may have some pressing life dilemmas that they need to work through. Maybe the client is facing a major life decision, such as taking a new job, starting a new business, entering into a new relationship, or contemplating a big move. A coach can be a good sounding board and help cheer on the client so they can articulate and then achieve their life goal and feel good about their decision. I know for me personally, when struggling with life choices, I have found the service of the coach much more valuable than the service of a licensed mental health provider. A good coach can help prioritize important decisions and hold me accountable for staying the course.
A coach shouldn’t focus on trying to explain your behavior or way of thinking in terms of mental health diagnoses, which is what a session with a licensed mental health practitioner may attempt to do. However, if I experience a traumatic event or find myself thinking terrible thoughts, a licensed mental health provider would be exactly the type of practitioner I would need because the licensed practitioner and I could use that diagnosis to then arrive at a plan of attack to address those thoughts.
Our firm has created numerous resources for coaches and consultants just like you. We have created a starter kit for launching a health or wellness coaching business, as well as training videos to learn more about the legal basics of starting such a business. We specialize in making sure you feel comfortable with your coaching or consulting practice from a legal standpoint, so that you can deliver the best services to your clients. Contact us today to help your coaching or consulting business thrive!