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A Journey with Mental Health and the Coaching Relationship

It has been an interesting few years of growth, maturity and awareness in the world of mental health. With the recent interview given by Prince Harry on his struggles since the death of his mother the media has been full of reports of the increase in people, men in particular, who have contacted our mental health organisations. It is now not uncommon to read on LinkedIn or other media sites of senior executives now willingly talking about their mental health issues, especially with regard to depression and anxiety. My colleague in the executive coaching world, Beverley McMaster inspired by this recently wrote a thought provoking article including a suggestion that it could now be time to reconsider the term mental health as emotional health. It wouldn't be without precedent to update terminology that had become outmoded and stigmatised for fresh new wording. This process of evolution is often referred to in terms of political correctness and many attempts have become a thing of ridicule but is it not time that the common parlance of mental is addressed and made more relevant to the modern world?

I have a deep and very personal interest in mental health, specifically as it relates to trauma in childhood and how this manifests in adulthood, particularly in times of high pressure and stress. Over the last few years I have learnt a great deal, from understanding how trauma is thought to embody itself physically in the body often in the hips and lower back specifically in the iliopsoas muscle group, to being aware of how it can trigger the sympathetic system into a fight, flight or freeze response and in extreme cases trigger a dissociative state. The important work of Karen Horney identifying that people will typically adapt to either a 'move towards', 'move away', or 'move against' behaviour is fascinating to behold in action in somatic awareness workshops where delegates can physically and automatically move in one of these patterns, unexpectedly giving away their preferred neurological response to perceived threat. I am also aware through the work of Babette Rothschild that many people who have suffered trauma, some aspects of which might remain unresolved for them feel they are absolutely fine and able to function normally and it is unlikely any on looker would disagree. Trauma is extremely complex, or indeed is at the very least really strange as the title of Steve Haines' book, 'Trauma is Really Strange' states. This is a short book well worth taking notice of and addresses aspects of this in exploring the route to recovery.

As Prince Harry has stated, and as the surrounding commentary has reinforced, being open about this and talking is incredibly important. Some studies have indicated that trauma might be able to be passed down through the generations, there are examples I believe of second and third generation holocaust victims suffering still perhaps from what happened in the Second World War to their relatives. It is important to talk, and to share what's going on within a close and caring network with professional support. Where children are involved it is also important to involve them and explain what is happening so that they are informed and involved, have the chance to understand, and not be fearful of changes in behaviour and to be traumatised themselves in consequence. There are many good books that can be used to aid these conversations which I have listed below.

The Black Dog Institute and the books by Matthew Johnstone make depression and anxiety, and their management, often symptoms of traumatic experiences, accessible to all in a helpful and sensitive way, so much so that the associated video has received sponsorship by the World Health Organisation.

Recovery is a journey with many treacherous peaks and troughs to navigate, not least of which is society's perspectives and biases. Interventions are many and include the stalwart of medication, talking therapies, in particular the currently favoured Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), the increasingly recognised Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Transcendental Meditation (TM), and somatic therapies, and many other tools to help manage the presenting symptoms whilst the person recovers over time. Studies have also highlighted the value of regular exercise, an upright posture, and being outdoors in nature.

Investment is still low in supporting those with such needs and waiting lists on the NHS long, and interventions can be expensive if funded privately but the overall cost is low when considered against the alternative of failed careers, marriages, families, friendships and in the worst cases lives themselves.

Working in a leadership and executive coaching environment we are strictly and professionally mindful of boundaries around this topic and where such issues arise we address these sensitively to ensure the right support can be found if outside our area of professional expertise. In most cases coaching can work with a number of presenting behaviours without crossing this boundary and without a need for therapeutic interventions for the coaching topics at hand as many of the skills from humanistic or client-centered psychotherapy of Carl Rogers underpin and have been adapted for modern professional coaching, from gestalt to transactional analysis approaches, and the increased awareness that comes from the coaching discussion and being able to talk openly in a safe and confidential environment is being shown through neuroscientific research to have a positive impact for the client. Adding in somatic awareness and resilience techniques; grounding and centering, the client is more able to learn to be in the present and manage stress and pressure better so that the threshold for any triggers are managed more effectively.

I wish Prince Harry and the Duke of Cambridge well in their journey to recovery, I don't believe that many of us were surprised by the news, we are all human and have the potential to suffer the after effects of such traumatic events. It is believed that about 20% of people who experience a traumatic event are impacted negatively from it, meaning about 80% are not which is presented as encouraging of the mind and body's resilience. These are broad averages and I suspect from behaviours I have witnessed in the corporate environment under times of pressure that many more people are unconsciously affected by events early in life that manifest negatively in adulthood in such circumstances and in turn impact on others, but my hope is that with the increasing awareness and access to information and appropriately experienced and qualified professionals that we will see a positive shift and acceptance allowing a more nurturing and understanding society to allow recovery for those that need it.

Useful Links:

Beverley McMaster -

Karen Horney -

Trauma is Really Strange by Steve Haines -

Black Dog Institute -

Black Dog video by Matthew Johnstone -

Babette Rothschild -


Books for conversations with children:

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