Mental Health: The Role of Coaching and Counseling

Mental Health: The Role of Coaching, Counseling and their Key Differences and Compliments

Catalyst Coaching Podcast
Catalyst Coaching Podcast

Full Transcript

Brad: Welcome to the latest episode of the Catalyst Health and Wellness Coaching podcast. My name’s Brad Cooper. I’ll be your host and today’s episode is especially pertinent to us as wellness coaches for two very important reasons. Number one, mental health is a key area worldwide right now. You know that. As coaches, anything we can do to help our clients on a broader basis enhance their mental health, there’s value to that. Secondly, the relationships we form with our clients oftentimes means that you’re among the first to hear when they are having struggles and we need to talk about how to deal with that, but then keep in mind we’re not counselors, at least not most of us. Some counselors have gone on to become health and wellness coaches, but it’s critical that we talk that through a little bit and the differential and how to handle that. Our guest today is both a licensed counselor and a nationally board certified health and wellness coach, and she’s going to help us address each one of these areas.

Brad: Let me go ahead and introduce our guest today is Suzanna Cooper. She is recognized clearly as a thought leader in the field of health and wellness coaching education. Her background includes two master’s degrees and two licensures covering counseling and occupational therapy. In addition, she has combined this with advanced training in positive behavior change with a specialized focused on intrinsic motivation and motivational interviewing. Susanna is one of a very select group of individuals who have been invited to participate in the motivational interviewing network of trainers, a collection of the best and brightest minds from across the globe in this specialty area. She currently serves as the chief learning officer for the Catalyst Coaching Institute and speaks regularly at conferences and events nationwide. Personally, she’s the mom to three adult children, married for 26 years to one incredibly lucky guy and enjoys everything from hiking, the skiing to tennis, and an occasional half marathon. Let’s welcome Suzanna Cooper. Well, Suzanna, thanks for joining us today. My first question there seems to be such a big focus on mental health in society today. How would you say that ties into health and wellness coaching?

Suzanna: I think it really ties back to this mind body connection. Just looking at the idea of holistic wellbeing and I think that’s actually something that we as wellness coaches do a really good job of and that’s helping our clients recognize that when they’re talking to us in a wellness coaching session, it’s not just exercise or it’s not just eating or fitness that we’re talking about really kind of broadening that out into more holistic wellbeing. So I think some ways we can do that is to maybe pull in like a wheel of wellness or dimensions of wellness. There’s a great site people can go to if they want to, to just see an example of this. It’s the substance abuse and mental health services administration website, so it’s, and it really goes through kind of what are these dimensions of wellness.

Suzanna: Just for example, when we’re talking about how this integrates with mental health, looking at emotional wellbeing, so that’s just our ability to kind of just cope and deal with all the stresses that are going on in our life. Dealing with having relationships that are satisfying to us. That ties in with social wellness, which is just, again, it’s that sense of connection and belonging and having support systems. That all ties into spiritual wellness, which is looking at a sense of purpose and meaning in life. So it’s just all tied together and I think that’s something that we do really well as coaches is helping our clients recognize it’s this whole connection that we have.

Brad: Wow. Nice kickoff. So let’s, talk through the differences here. You’re both a nationally board certified wellness coach and a licensed counselor. Can you explain to our listeners some of the differences between these two areas of recognized expertise?

Suzanna: Sure. I think this is probably one of the questions I get asked more than anything is just what is the difference? So I’m going to give you kind of an image or word picture here, so stick with me as I go through this. So if you think of ourselves as individuals like an iceberg, so picture an iceberg so you’ve got what’s up above the water. So those are things that we see in other people, right, things like behaviors and actions, words that are said, and then think of the iceberg underneath. So that’s all the rest of the person that’s stuff that we don’t necessarily see. So it’s maybe things like our motivations, things that are tied to our emotions, to our past experiences, to our temperament, all kinds of different things underneath the iceberg.

Suzanna: So the way I kind of differentiate coaching and counseling is a difference between snorkeling and scuba diving. So if you’ve ever snorkeled think about that fact you put on your mask, you’ve got your snorkel, you’re swimming along the top, right? So as coaches, we are experts in behavior change. We’re experts in seeing how clients, what’s going on with them, what’s important to them, what are they doing, where are they now? Where do they want to go? Those things on the surface. Now, if you’ve ever been snorkeling, you probably know you can dive under the water. It actually takes a little skill to not swallow water, but you can take a deep dive, go down. And I think we do that as coaches. Sometimes we do ask about where have they been successful in the past? We definitely tie into emotions, right? When we’re talking to our clients and they start to tear up or we start to notice a change in their emotions, then yes, we’re going to pause and we’re gonna recognize that and we’re going to note that there’s something important there.

Suzanna: So we definitely tie into values and motivation, past successes, but then we pop back up to the surface so we’re not going to stay down deep. On the flip side, counselors are more like scuba divers, so they are just equipped to go down and stay down deeper in terms of what they’re talking to their client about. So there is a difference in terms of training. Counselors go, they get their master’s degree, they are trained in mental health and different diagnoses and all kinds of things like that. And so it’s just a different setup to go and stay down deeper in terms of talking about kind of what’s the underlying reason that’s causing the things that we’re seeing happening in the person’s life. So I think hopefully that is helpful. I also kind of look at it as, as wellness coaches were very present, focused and future focus. So it’s really what’s happening in the person’s life now and where are they headed? Right? We’re looking at goals counselors also we look at the present, right? We look at what’s happening in life, we look at where they’re wanting to go and we really look back to the past and see how are things from the past impacting the present. So I think that’s kind of a key difference in the coaching and the counseling.

Brad: I have not heard that analogy before. That was actually super helpful. As wellness coaches, our clients will often share some very personal things with us and we can help them work through some of those. At what point is it important though, for a coach to refer a client to a counselor or a mental health professional?

Suzanna: That’s a really good question and I think it’s important for us as coaches just to to always be aware when we’re talking to our clients and just be watching and listening and and see if if they’re passing that point of our scope of practice and our expertise where we want to talk to them about the idea of going to see a counselor, so it could be a variety of things. It could be if we are wondering if there might be some type of underlying mental illness going on. If they’re talking about any type of addiction, that could be an addiction to any type of substance. It could be an addiction to exercise. It could be something going on with their eating. If they would ever mention anything about hurting themselves, hurting someone else, of course we’re wanting to pull in some outside resources and get some help with that and I think just a really good gauge for that is just how is the person doing in their daily life?

Suzanna: Are they able to get up to take care of themselves, to take care of their own responsibilities in their life? Whether that’s, if they’re a parent and they’re helping their kids and managing their family. If they have a job, are they able to get up and go to work and do their job? If we start recognizing that someone is no longer doing those things, then that is definitely a red flag when we would want to make sure that they’re getting additional help. I think sometimes too, it can be when we’re working with our clients and, and they’re just stuck. So we’re doing a good job as a coach, you know, we’re talking to them about what’s important to them. We’re talking about what motivates them. We’re looking at their stages of change. We’re setting goals based on where they’re at and we’re still just stuck like they’re just not moving forward.

Suzanna: I think that’s, that’s another time where we might really want to just kind of pause and have that conversation with our client about maybe seeking some additional help to try to get unstuck.

Brad: So that leads us into the practical. You’re coaching someone and counseling is brought up. What’s the typical response that you get from a coaching client when you bring up the idea of counseling?

Suzanna: So something that I think is very cool about coaching our clients is we have this trusted relationship with them, so we typically have been working with them for a while and as you mentioned earlier, we’ve been talking about things that are really important to them, very personal things when they’re talking about what their goals are, what their visions are for health and wellness and so we already have established this relationship. So I think when we reached the point of just wondering about the idea of counseling, we’re really in a unique position to have this conversation with our client where we can just say that.

Suzanna: I mean we can. We can just make a note of, you know what, gosh, we’re doing a really good job here with coming up with goals and coming up with ideas and it seems like you’re just stuck here. I’m wondering your thoughts on maybe going to talk to a counselor and get some additional help. Let’s see what’s getting in the way of you reaching your goals and really kind of find out, I think we can find out what are their thoughts about seeing a counselor. Sometimes it’s actually a pretty easy conversation. They’ve seen a counselor in the past and they already have a name, they already have a number and it’s really just a matter of talking about yeah, I think it actually would be good for me to go back and see a counselor. Other times they’ve never seen a counselor before and this is like a brand new thought for them and it’s an interesting discussion to just hear, you know, what do they think about that and what concerns do they have about that or what’s their hesitation?

Suzanna: How might it be helpful? How has it been helpful just talking in the coaching session. That a lot of times is a good indicator if they’re feeling like it is helpful that they are making some progress, talking with their coach that they’re liking this and they’re wanting to go deeper and just recognizing that helps them realize, you know, maybe I could see a counselor, maybe it would be helpful to do and then as coaches we can actually kind of see where they’re at again with the stages of change and setting goals and talk to them and maybe that’s a goal we set is that they’re going to call a counselor and set an appointment. If we’re doing coaching with someone who is working or maybe we’re in a corporate coaching environment, there might be an employee assistance program that is available for the client at no charge to them.

Suzanna: So that’s something that corporate coaches typically will have phone numbers, they’ll have contact information for the employee assistance program. So it’s not just talking about could you go see a counselor? It’s literally here’s the phone number and when do you think you could call based on your next two days and send me an email once you do call the counselor just so I know you’re taken care of. So it’s that type of thing where we can really help our clients, I think to move past their hesitation and their fear of contacting a counselor to actually call and connect and get the additional help that they could use.

Brad: I mean, that’s so practical. So you mentioned specifically referring someone to counseling if they are stuck in reaching their goals. Can you give me an example of kind of what you mean by that?

Suzanna: One situation that comes to mind I would say is something that we deal with a lot as coaches and that is working with someone who is wanting to eat healthier, maybe wanting to lose weight, maybe dealing with some medical concerns that they’re working on.

Suzanna: So when it comes to eating, gosh, there’s a lot tied to food and a lot of emotions that can be tied to food. And so as coaches there’s a lot we can do with this. So just the idea of food itself, we can talk about what someone’s eating, when they’re eating, why they’re eating, how much they’re eating, right? There’s a lot of components to just this one specific type of goal that we can talk to our clients about and the idea of emotional eating. So this is something that as coaches, we are trained in to recognize when a person is eating in what we call emotional eating. So as a response to maybe a stressor going on, something that’s about to happen, something that just happened. Going to food is something that a lot of us do. So it’s not an unusual thing.

Suzanna: Food can actually be fairly soothing. That’s why we have the word comfort food, right? So this is something that a lot of us do. It’s when it gets a little out of control. So it’s when it’s sabotaging goals that we have, it’s when we do it in a mindless way, we just grab food and we eat and maybe we eat a lot of it. So it’s when it’s kind of an excess when we’re not aware of it. If we consciously are stressed and we decide we want to eat a brownie, sure there’s nothing wrong with doing that, right? If we’re doing that every day, if we’re eating a pan of brownies that’s when it’s getting too big. So emotional eating, we can work with our clients on that.

Suzanna: As coaches, we can help them maybe do a food log, for example, where they’re writing down some of these things about what they’re eating when they’re eating it. Are they hungry? Are they not? What their emotions are? There’s great ways we can help our clients as coaches deal with emotional eating and when we do all of those things, the client maybe is even recognizing that this is going on, but feeling like they just aren’t able to stop. Like they’re motivated to stop. They want to stop. You’re setting goals with them and again, they’re just coming up upon this where it feels out of their control. It feels like they can’t make a change. They’re getting really frustrated with it. If there’s a lot of emotion tied to it. So if you’re talking about this with your client, and again they’re, they’re really tearing up, there’s a lot of emotion to what they’re saying. You look in their food log journal and again, there’s some heavy emotions going on. So all of this is just a great indicator to have that conversation with our client that this is cool, like we were really onto something here with this emotional eating and this is, it’s a good thing to recognize that this is something that could really be getting in the way of reaching a goal.

Suzanna: And so having that conversation, we can help them take that hard step, that next step to actually dig in a little deeper with a counselor who can find out what’s triggering these emotions, how is this tied to experiences in the past to things that can kind of be brought to light and at that point the client can really have some tools and some ways and some support to deal with those things to then come back into the coaching and move forward with their health and wellness goals.

Brad: Very helpful. And for some reason, I’m hungry for brownies right now, but looking at it from the other direction, how would a counselor benefit professionally or personally from earning their wellness coach certification?

Suzanna: I think there’s two different ways you can look at it from the perspective of a counselor wondering about kind of what is up with Health and Wellness Coaching and why might they want to get some additional training.

Suzanna: So two things. One is they might decide that this is another offering they want to be able to give to clients as part of their business. So looking at actually being a health and wellness coach now, if a person is a counselor too no matter what background that is, whether it’s counseling, social work, psychologist, all different areas of being a therapist, what’s important would be always to go back to your governing body, read the code of ethics, maybe even call and talk through what you’re thinking in terms of how do you stay a therapist, a counselor. You can’t take that away just because you’re doing wellness coaching. So how does that all work? We want to make sure we’re staying within our guidelines and our ethics. One of the biggest things I’ve seen across the board with different states is the idea that there should never ever be a question in the mind of the client.

Suzanna: Are they seeing you for counseling or are they seeing you for coaching? Those are two very distinct services. The agreement, the contract you do initially with the client will be different depending on the service. Payment will be different. Wellness coaching at this point in the industry is a cash pay industry. This is not something that can be billed through insurance companies. So again, just being very distinct is important. But as a counselor, great skills, at attending, listening to your clients, all kinds of things that go very well into health and wellness coaching. So the second piece I’ve seen as counselors coming through the training to be a health and wellness coach just because they’re wanting more knowledge, they’re wanting more information about things related to health and wellness to integrate into their counseling sessions. So I think as counselors, there’s a similar feel of this holistic idea of this mind body connection, recognizing that, and yet sometimes I think when we’re in the middle of counseling, we’re so caught up in kind of what’s happening in the moment with our client in their life, maybe trying to help them settle. If there’s some type of crisis going on that we forget about some of the foundational pieces of wellness that can really help our clients.

Suzanna: So basic things like talking to our clients about sleep, about what types of things are they eating, caffeine intake, activity. Just are they getting up, are they getting outside, do they have any activity going on? And do they have any structure to their days. These are basic health and wellness concepts that can really be grounding to our clients when we’re talking with them and can really help them as they’re setting goals in counseling. They can just be really good things to have our clients choose kind of what, what they’re interested in. Pick some small goals and actually have some success with integrating that. And I think as they start feeling better physically by integrating just some basic health and wellness foundational skills, it’s going to help them feel more grounded as they’re also working on maybe some deeper work that they’re working on in terms of dealing with stress or dealing with some different things that are going on in their lives.

Brad: What’d I tell everybody, this is pretty good stuff isn’t it. Alright. So there’s obviously value in both coaching and counseling. What would you like individuals from each of those separate professions to know about the other one?

Suzanna: I think it’s helpful just to recognize the common beliefs between the two professions and how we can really come alongside each other and serve our clients and work well. So I think just valuing the other profession, I think for counselors to have a better understanding of health and wellness coaches. I think it’s particularly helpful with the recent national board certification that’s available for health and wellness coaches because I think it provides some credibility for us as coaches in the industry to show this is the training we have and this is where our expertise lies. And so I think as we can share that with counselors and professionals in that field, then I think they’re gonna feel more confident of knowing what we have to bring to clients.

Suzanna: And same thing as coaches. I think it’s important for us to understand the differences between coaching and counseling to recognize the importance of scope of practice to really help move our clients to whatever resources they need, whether it is going to see a physician, whether it’s going to see a physical therapist, whether it’s going to see a personal trainer, whether it’s going to see a counselor, like what is it? That’s a great thing we do as coaches I think is we can hear what’s really going on in the client’s life and we’re trying to set them up for success. So we’re trying to help them build the support system to be successful and just being kind of that person who can refer them to where they need to go.

Brad: Excellent. Okay so on a practical side, as wellness coaches, we’re obviously not immune to gaps in our own mental health. What are some practical things? What can you give us in terms of mental health that we can be implementing as health and wellness coaches in our own lives?

Suzanna: Oh dear. So this is actually a whole other topic. I think you could do multiple podcasts on this topic itself. So I think it’s just really the idea of recognizing as as wellness coaches, we want to walk the talk and what I mean by that, thankfully it does not mean we have to be perfect at health and wellness, but I think it does mean that we want to take time to reflect on our own self care. Oftentimes I find that wellness coaches and counselors actually this would go for both are very good listeners, are very good at caregiving, coming alongside other people and there are just a lot of needs out there and it can be hard to say no sometimes, it can be hard to prioritize. It can be hard to look at balance in our own lives. So I think all of that is key for us. We we can’t serve our clients if we are emotionally drained, if we are not feeling filled up and healthy and ready to reach out to our clients. So I think that’s important for us actually to recognize in our own lives, how are we doing and what other support do we need? When do we need to go see a counselor? One of the things being in school, when I got my degree in counseling, for example, we had to see a counselor that was a requirement as part of our training program. It was to go and have our own counselor. So I think just again, removing any stigma from that, reaching out for whatever help we need when we need it, whether it’s just to deal with something that we’re struggling with or it’s just because we’re ready to grow, we just want to grow and go deeper and be our best selves.

Suzanna: So recognizing that, I think reaching out to other coaches is great. So not trying to do this in a vacuum, but being a community. So if you are working in a company and there are other coaches reaching out to the other coaches, talking to them about how things are going. If you’re not in a company, if you’re doing this by yourself, then how about other coaches in the community making an effort to get to know some other people out there, you know, we do something in our company where we set up the ability to coach the coach and we trade off on terms of who our partner is, but we actually coach each other and it’s amazing. I find, I mean, I could do a Webinar on a particular topic, right? But when it’s happening in my life, there’s just something about talking to a coach about it.

Suzanna: Again, I know all of the content. That is just the idea of talking it out and having them ask me those questions of why is it important to you? Why now? What would that look like in your life? What goals could you set? How does this fit in with life right now? There’s just something about that that helps me personally move forward in my thinking. So I think not being in a vacuum, trying to connect with other coaches, with other resources, and then just being really purposeful in our own self care so that we’re bringing our best self to our clients every time that we talked to them.

Brad: Well, speaking of your life, we’re now up to the your turn question. Is there a specific area in which you’re focused right now, personally in health and wellness that you’d be willing to walk us through? Just a little bit of the journey.

Suzanna: So something new that I have started trying in the last six months is pilates. That was something I had heard about for a long time and I finally decided to take advantage of going for a free introductory session trying it out and I really enjoy it and I think what I like about it is you can be at any skill level to go to a pilates class you’re working on, a pilates reformer, which you might have to look up if you don’t know what that is, google it to do, but it’s just great for core strengthening, just for workouts. It’s fun. It’s interesting. There’s so many different things you can do and I think that piece of it that I liked the best that surprised me actually is that when I go I’ll go for an hour long class and partway through the class I realize I’m no longer thinking about work.

Suzanna: I’m no longer thinking about my to do list. I’m really just paying attention to what I’m doing and I think it’s great to have something, some type of activity where we feel like it really helps us just be present and be mindful. And I mean I’m doing that just because I have to just for the coordination of trying to do what they’re having us do for the balance activities. You know, you have to focus on something in front of you and I can’t be thinking of all these other things at work when I’m trying not to fall over. So pilates has been kind of a fun new thing that I’ve added in the last six months. That gives me some physical activity exercise as well as just helps me stop thinking of other things and just have that refreshment of being present for that short time.

Brad: Alright, last question. It’s actually a pair of questions. Our audience is a mix of folks that are current health and wellness coaches as well as those folks that are thinking might want to do this with my career. Could you give us kind of a part A and part B final words of wisdom for each of those groups of individuals, so the person who is currently coaching, anything you can recommend for them, whether it’s to enhance what they’re doing to get their fire back, their passion back, take better care of themselves. Some of the things you mentioned before and then secondly for the person that’s on the fence, they were listening to this podcast for some reason, but they just haven’t decided. Any advice for that person.

Suzanna: So for anybody thinking about getting into health and wellness coaching, I would say do it. It is such a good time in the industry right now to jump into wellness coaching with a whole new national board certification that’s going on out there. It’s great. It’s a great time to get in, to get your training, to get involved and to understand what’s going on in the industry. For current coaches, thank you for all that you’re doing. What you’re doing is making such a difference. You are having such an impact on people out there and it is hard. It takes a lot of focus. It takes a lot of emotional energy. It’s a lot of training. It’s a lot that you’re doing to bring to your clients, but you are making such a big difference, so thank you for what you’re doing.

Suzanna: Reach out to the coaching community. Get the support that you need so that you can keep going. Keep doing it. There’s so much to learn in this field, so one of the things I love about actually both coaching and counseling is there’s just so much to learn. It’s so interesting. All the different things that are coming out there now to learn about our brains and neuroplasticity and how we learn and how we grow and all the different aspects of health and wellness, so I think get out there, learn, read, listen to more podcasts like you’re doing. I mean, this is great to just keep staying energized, excited, and constantly learning all the new things that are out there.

Brad: Fantastic. Suzanna, thank you so much for joining us today. Excellent job. So much information and we really appreciate it.

Brad: Wasn’t that outstanding? What insight. I think a lot of people are going to be listening to that a second or even third time through to absorb everything. I loved the analogy she gave when comparing coaching to counseling, of talking about snorkeling versus scuba diving. I had never heard that before. I thought that was a beautiful word picture to help us keep everything in perspective. That brings us pretty much to the end of this episode. I want to, as always, thank you for joining us. Thank you for spreading the word. Please reach out if you have questions. If you have ideas, if you have suggestions for the podcast, we love hearing those. The email address is Lot of resources on the website. We actually added a new one this week and I wanted to mention it’s a wellness coaching library.

Brad: We have coaches and future coaches consistently asking about book suggestions. What books should I read, what would help me with my career, what would help me in my business? That kind of thing, and so what we’ve done, if you go to and just go over to the resources tab, you’ll see it under that. There are a few different options there. You’ll see the library there and we’ve broken it into three broad categories. We have books on coaching in general. We have books on health and wellness more broadly, and then we have books that will help you build your business, so might be a nice spot to look if you’re looking for some different ideas for an upcoming trip or vacation or something like that, where you’ll be doing some more reading, that might be a good place to start. Thank you so much for helping others move towards what we love to call #BetterThanYesterday. Make it a great week and I’ll talk with you soon. On the next episode of the Catalyst Health and Wellness Coaching Podcast.