As a lifelong advocate for chronic pain victims, I find the traditional stance of the much of the professional coaching community to be rather unenlightened, and even downright discriminatory, when it comes to accepting clients who are not deemed perfectly healthy. The philosophy that disturbs me is the ideology that coaching, by some definitions, describes ways in which “healthy people” can make positive changes in their lives. It implies that people who are “less than healthy” do not need or want to make positive changes or improve their satisfaction with life.
This attitude has been fostered due to the fear of litigation or malpractice, since life coaches are forbidden from providing medical or mental health services. Many coaching organizations advise their members not to accept clients who have health issues, since these risks might place the coach in a compromised position professionally. I wholeheartedly disagree with this advice and have built my own business on the exact opposite stance. By nature, people who have health issues require guidance, support, and motivation even more than the general population. In essence, these are the people who require life coaching the most.
Coaches who do work with chronically ill and pained clients must be experts in their field and should never cross the line into forbidden territory. They must not provide any form of healthcare, nor impart any type of mental health services to their clients. However, these guidelines are an inherent part of all types of coaching, including services that are directed at “healthy people”. Why then should sick or pained people be deprived of all the wonderful benefits of coaching, just because they fail to fit the mold of a “perfect client”?
Furthermore, the accepted definition of “healthy” is extremely suspect. In my own life, I have met only a handful of truly healthy people. Sure, many are not diagnosed with specific health issues, but nevertheless, do suffer from some physical, cognitive or emotional difficulties that could justifiably place them in treatment with a physician or mental health professional. Almost everyone I meet has unhealthy habits that negatively impact their lives. By nature, people are flawed and virtually everyone demonstrates behaviors that should preclude them from being called completely “healthy”. Why then, should people who embrace their sufferings and own them, yet still desire to improve their lives, be denied of their opportunity for qualified support services?
People who are affected by pain and illness need advocates, mentors and coaches more than anyone else. These people already suffer from terribly affective consequences of their conditions; both mind and body. It is well known that chronic pain and persistent illness require medical care. Some people with enduring pain and sickness also might benefit from professional mental health care. However, why should these most deserving of all people not enjoy the addition of a professional coach to their life improvement team?
Luckily, the tide is turning and many niche coaches have begun to focus their expertise on helping people who fit the definition of “less-than-healthy”. With doctors and mental health professionals not only outwardly declaring the benefits of pain coaching, but also often joining the effort themselves, there is no reason why so many coaching professionals, schools, and organizations should be so frightened of encouraging their peers, students, and members to assist all people who want to enhance their lives; including, and especially, people with long-term health issues.
I must make myself absolutely crystal clear that I am not advocating that coaches should ever replace or duplicate services offered by licensed health or mental health professionals. On the contrary, I am saying that coaches make excellent complementary parts of the complete life improvement team, providing exclusive support and motivating services that are far beyond the capacity for other professionals to render.
I have been involved in health research, patient education and advocacy for decades, due to my own struggles with chronic pain. I can tell firsthand the struggles faced by people in pain and the lack of support services that are available to help. Doctors and therapists simply do not have the time resources available to provide the encouragement and inspiration that chronically ill and pained people require. However, this is where coaches shine. A coach will be there to listen, challenge, motivate, support and guide any person towards improving every aspect of their life.
Remember that coaching addresses many facets of life, not just the specific issues dealt with by doctors and mental health practitioners. Chronic pain sufferers have other life issues besides those anatomical concerns caused directly by their oppressive health problems. Coaches are perfectly suited to assist people in coping with the multilayered traumas of pain and illness, not just those that affect the health, per se.
I am proud of my accomplishments in life, despite having suffered from chronic back and neck pain for almost 30 years. None of my victories would have been possible if I did not enjoy the mentorship of some great coaches. I am thrilled to provide these same benefits to sick and pained people who still aspire to achieve more in life, in spite of their ailments and sufferings. This is not only my vocation, but also my reason for living. I have nothing but respect for the many fine health coaches who specialize in helping people who do not fit the classic definition of an “ideal coaching client”.
I encourage all professional coaches to accept the simple truth that sick and pained people do need coaching and should receive it. Although pain coaching is certainly not a service that most coaches are trained to provide, I still would welcome a shift in perception about the true nature of what constitutes health and how chronic pain victims should be treated by the coaching profession.
More about Adam:
Adam Rostocki, aka The Chronic Pain Coach, is a dedicated patient advocate, medical journalist and specialized life coach who works exclusively with sick and pained clients. He is also the editor of the peer-acclaimed Cure Back Pain Network, which has been providing free educational and advocacy resources for chronic pain sufferers for a decade.