Psycho-WHAT? (Part Six: Life Coaches, hypnotists, etc.)

Many mental health professionals would like to ignore the role that unlicensed individuals have, but, the truth is, there will always be room for, and a place for, those people who haven’t gone through the traditional route in established universities.  I’d like to talk briefly about three of these, starting with the relatively new phenomenon of Life Coaches.

Life Coaches – undergo varied training, depending on the type of program they go through, although there is nothing to prevent someone from taking the title on themselves.  As yet, there is no regulation and no standards, save for some organizations that are attempting to self police the field, outside of government licenses or regulation.  Typically, coaches work either over the phone (which is fairly common) or in person, helping individuals to keep on track with goals that they mutually set in the early sessions.  Some life coaches also focus on business:  keeping an entrepreneur on track with goals, or helping a busy executive to keep focused.

The distinction between Life Coaches and psychotherapists can be a tough one to make at times.  Rhonda Britten, a life coach who has booked more time on reality TV than any other adviser (and, for full disclosure, my cousin) defines psychotherapy as focusing in on the past, while life coaches focus on the present and future. While that may be true, psychotherapy has recently been more future oriented, as exemplified by the schools of “solution focused” therapy, with one of the main exponents, Bill O’Hanlon, talking about the evolution of psychotherapy as moving from past to future focused.

Whatever the case may be, Life Coaching has proven a possible route to being in a helping profession with avoiding government regulation, large university tuition bills and a certain freedom of practice.  For those that are business oriented and like to marketing themselves, this is a great opportunity to put oneself out there and develop a career.  Life Coaches also have the advantage that there is no “stigma” to been seen consulting them, whereas the shadow and labeling of mental illness inherent in other professions that are licensed can be a factor in stopping people from getting help.

As with any profession, some people are better than others and some programs are better than others.  I would note, however, than even a badly trained or practicing Life Coach will mean that you have to tell someone each week what you are doing to reach your goals, increasing the level of accountability and helping you keep on track!  Most of us, if we know we are being watched or followed by someone else, will start to have an investment in looking good to the other person!

Hypnotists and NLPers – have been in practice since the days of Mesmer, with techniques changing over time, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly.  Nowadays, most non-licensed hypnotists will seek out training with a program connected to the American Guild of Hypnotists, which certifies people at various levels of expertise.  Only a few states regulate hypnosis, but these hypnotists must always be careful of practicing within their areas of expertise.  For instance, while they can note that someone is “sad” to label them “depressed” could get them in trouble, since that’s a diagnosis a licensed professional has to make, no matter if the client themselves uses the term!  Much of the focus of these practitioners is on smoking cessation and weight control, certainly both worthy topics to focus on and an area that is taught in even the most basic of courses.  There may be others that venture into other areas, even spiritual work, looking to use the trance phenomenon as a stepping stone to spiritual progress or even psychic abilities.  Certainly in this last category, the tradition is even older than Mesmer, since traditional, pre-literate societies used trance for their healing methods via what the anthropologists would label as shamanic practices.  Indeed, one hypnotist I was in communication with described himself, rather delightedly, as a “shaman with a neck tie”!

Neuro Linguistic Programming or NLP was invented in the 1980’s, started by a professor of linguistics, John Grinder and a mathematician and general genius named Richard Bandler.  They started out building linguistic models of psychotherapy sessions, trying to find common patterns in speech in the best of therapists.  They also analyzed the language patterns of the then best clinical hypnotist in the world, Milton Erickson, a psychiatrist in Arizona.  Soon, they started to notice non verbal patterns in communication and found that they could use their basic approach to build a teachable model of any mental skill to others.  One of their first successes was to model how good spellers of the English language manage to defeat the very non-phonetic nature of English spelling!  

NLP has been used widely in advertising, marketing, business consulting and, naturally, psychotherapy.  The easiest way to describe the whole field is by means of thinking of the brain as a computer (not an uncommon thing today).  NLP attempts to go into the mind, find the mental patterns or “software” and then “upgrade” the programs to be more efficient and allow the person to have more choices.  Because of the modeling of hypnosis that NLP has done, most NLP trained professionals also use hypnosis.

Astrologers, Tarot Readers and Ministers – As shown by my statements about shamanism, spiritual advisers of all sorts have long been a source of wisdom for people stuck in the various difficult conditions life can bring us.  The parish priest or the pastor of the local church one is a member of frequently receive all sorts of requests of advice and counseling, as do clergy of any faith: Buddhist, Hindu, Wiccan or Muslim.  Most main stream denominations require seminary training which gives experience and classes in Chaplaincy, giving experience in active listening, spiritual counseling and problem solving.  Some clergy go on to advanced training and some get doctorates in pastoral care, further education moving into the area of psychotherapy.  More biblically based groups may have ministers who have simply attended a Bible college and may be actively against any forms of counseling, even those labeled within their faith.  Once again, quality of help depends on personal competency as well as training.

More off beat advisers, such as Astrologers or Tarot readers are consulted by any number of people in all socio-economic classes.  Whatever one thinks of these, at the very least, the effort to formulate a question and to get advice, even random advice, can move the person out of a cognitive “rut” they are stuck in and provide ideas on a new course of action.  The famous writer Edward DeBono calls this “lateral thinking” and conducts courses which even use randcmoe words from the dictionary as a way to start creative thinking about problems, certainly comparable to letting the mind contemplate the possible relationships between a tarot card or planetary position!  While these methods have a socially marginal air to them, their mystique can often compel the person to a different course of action and, as the above mentioned Bill O’Hanlon talks about, doing one thing different can make a lot of difference.

So, with this, we come to the end of my brief excursion into the area of advice giving, counseling or psychotherapy professionals.  The vast array of appears to grow every day, with odd corners such as “Spiritual Direction” or Mind/Body therapists or “Spiritual Companionship” seeming to pop up every day.  As is often the case, referral from someone trusted to a professional of any sort is often a good way to examine your options, but this series is meant to show just how many options there are.

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