Types of Coaching
It's helpful to know these basic categories, although styles of coaching often blend. I work with the whole person, not their diagnosis.
Life coaching is the best known type of coaching. It consists of working with a client to help them determine goals and areas for positive change in their life. The coach's job is not to give advice; rather, through active listening and structured dialogue, we empower our clients to seek and find their own answers.
Persons with mood disorders grapple with the same issues as everyone else: finding balance with work and family; pursuing creative and entrepreneurial dreams; dating and relationships. We also face special challenges such as stigma in the workplace, and the decision of when to "come out" to an employer or potential romantic partner. We will work together to chart a course for the long haul, but also break the journey into manageable steps. Being bipolar may impact our dreams, but it's never a reason to give up on them!
Wellness coaching is specific to issues surrounding an individual's health and well-being. These may include developing a plan for diet and exercise as well as introducing techniques to reduce overall stress and anxiety. Lifetime fitness is especially important to clients diagnosed with a mood disorder, as many medications can cause weight gain as well as health conditions like high blood pressure. Even moderate exercise has huge therapeutic benefits; studies have shown that daily exercise is as effective in combating depression as prescription medication.
In my coaching practice, I work with clients to establish fitness as a lifetime goal. If your short-term goal is weight loss, we also make time to talk about issues of body image and self esteem. For local area clients, we can literally walk the walk -- meeting to walk and talk together for our coaching session rather rather than sitting indoors. Wellness coaching does not substitute for a doctor's care. Instead, it complements.
High functioning clients with mood disorders face unique challenges. You may feel isolated from living with an "invisible illness." You may wonder whether with medication, you have lost some of your ability to function at your "personal best." There's a good chance that you are extremely perfectionistic and motivated.
You may be a doctor, a lawyer, a university professor, a business leader, a writer, an artist, or a full-time parent. You may wonder if it's wise to go for that next promotion, apply to graduate school, or have another child. I can't tell you the answers to these questions. What I can do is help you explore ways that your experiences become a strength, not a liability.
You will find, over time, that you have better judgment and coping skills than peers who never had to face these challenges. You will find that your creativity did not disappear with treatment, it just found a different place to rest. You may discover you have greater empathy with a wider range of people. As with all other types of coaching, you are the one in charge. I'm here to remind you that you can and will succeed.
"Getting Back on the Horse"
In July 2000, I traveled to Costa Rica by myself at the age of 23. I had been saving for this trip ever since I got my first job after college. I was excited to learn Spanish and spend the next year traveling through Latin America. That was where I had my first manic episode. Luckily, my language program was able to work with my family and get me back safely to the States. Within a month I had a definitive diagnosis as Bipolar Type I. I wasn't happy with the diagnosis. I got a second opinion. Then, with the full support of my fiancee, I accepted the diagnosis, started taking Lithium, and went back to living my life.
Before going back to work full-time, I wanted to return to Costa Rica one more time. Alone.
I had the savings and I was in good physical condition. So I worked with my psychiatrist (a native Spanish speaker) to plan the trip and cover every contingency. In the end, I stayed for three months. It was a life-changing experience. It paved the way for a lifetime of travel and following my own intuition and vision.
I share this personal story as an example of "getting back on the horse."
If you are learning horseback riding and you fall, the advice is usually to get back on the horse as soon as you are physically healed and able. This is a good metaphor for life after a serious bout with mania or depression. If we are injured, and not able to work or play, we need to be good to ourselves. We need to take time to recover. But we also need to believe in our ability to get back out there when we are ready!
Getting back on the horse can mean many different things. There is no right or wrong pace. I will never push you or judge your choices. But I'm here to share that recovery is possible. Yes, you have a diagnosis. But for the vast majority of people it is treatable and beatable.