Finding the right kind of help

By Laura TomassiniLex KlerenMisch Pautsch Switch to German for original article

They call themselves Intuitive Energy Readers, Human Potential Coaches or Inner Child Healers: so-called life or mental coaches are now a dime a dozen. Their services should be taken with a pinch of salt, as not everyone who calls themselves a coach really has what it takes.

Their territory is social media, their "talent" is to influence life paths in such a way that fears disappear and the self-esteem of their clients is boosted, at least that's what many coaches promise potential clients online. Positive encouragement, meditation and the elimination of childhood traumas are supposed to bring about change. Feelings and behavioural patterns shaped by what was felt and experienced at a young age are broken through together and replaced with new, positive energy for the future.

However, several patients of psychologists Laura Schumacher and Nora Welter have experienced in the past that these promises should be viewed with a healthy dose of scepticism and can have serious consequences if used incorrectly. "The topic of coaching came up in one of my sessions because one of my patients was so unwell afterwards that I feared I would have to refer her to a psychiatric ward. She had taken part in a coaching programme and many things from her past were dredged up there, which were subsequently not dealt with properly because the person she had confided in lacked the appropriate skills, " reports Schumacher.

Beware of wrong therapy

The psychologist is currently training to become a psychotherapist and has discussed the topic with other colleagues as part of her supervision programme. And lo and behold: the reports of similar cases were piling up. "It quickly became apparent that many of us already had patients who had come into contact with coaching services and that some practices seemed very questionable, " explains the psychologist. Several examples particularly caught the eye of the budding psychotherapists: an underage patient who suffers from social anxiety and invested all her pocket money in a coach who promised her increased self-confidence, as well as the aforementioned patient who interrupted the coaching on her own initiative because she was getting worse and worse mentally after a while.

None of those affected wanted to talk personally about their negative experiences with coaching – out of fear of the consequences, shame, but above all because the experience still hurts too much and still makes some patients burst into tears to this day. "The problem is that many coaches present themselves online as psychologists, even though they are not psychologists at all. During the sessions, they address issues that they can't offer to treat and their clients are then left alone with their suffering. Pandora's box is opened and those affected don't know how to close it again, " warns Schumacher.

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