Breath – The Pause for Connection

In marriage therapy work, one of the listening and connection skills we practice is sharing our feelings/experiences and validating our partner’s experiences. This is a fundamental building block of relationships, and it can lead to significant communication complications when it breaks down. Let me give you some examples of how it can break down. 

Husband (H): I am upset and angry that you spent so much time on the phone with your mother when we had plans to go out with friends. It made us late. I hate being late. I guess you care about your mother more than me. 

Wife (W): I hear that you are angry. You just don’t get it. My mom needed me. You have never liked her anyway. 

H: Now you are just turning this on me. Always blaming me and never apologizing. 

W: I might try to apologize if you were nicer to my mother and me. Don’t you remember how you treated her last Christmas?

(The conflict escalates here as the couple no longer discusses the original problem). 


Here is a second example.

Wife (W): I felt alone and rejected last Tuesday when you got home so late. I had no idea that you planned to watch the game with friends. I had supper ready for us, and honestly, I was planning to watch the game with you after we ate. 

Husband (H): I can see being lonely. But what do you mean rejected? I am home with you every night. I have not been out with friends for over two months. It was Steve’s birthday. Maybe I should have texted you to remind you, but I told you about these plans on Sunday. It makes me angry that you are accusing me of rejecting you.

W: You never told me about these plans on Sunday. I was out with the kids most of the day, so we were never really together on Sunday. You think you communicate, but you don’t. 

H: You never listen to me. We were standing right there in the kitchen. You even told me to have a good time. Honestly, your accusations make me not want to spend any time with you because I can never get it right. 

(You can also imagine how this little exchange only gets worse). 


I want to present a model for how to have these conversations calmly, improve your connections, and reduce the intensity of conflict. In the example above, the couples do an excellent job of starting with sharing their feelings. These are good “I” statements. And the response of their spouses begins well. You might even say they were validating because they at least “parroted” back what their partner said. “I can see being lonely,” or “I hear that you are angry.” 

But each partner quickly switches into a defensive mode of blaming or playing the victim. These words of accusation and victimhood undo any sense of validation between the couple, and it severs their connections. At this point, it becomes a tit-for-tat explosion. 

Validation requires two components:

  1. Make sure your partner feels heard. Use your own words.
  2. Taking ownership of the problem or offense. Admit what you did that caused the offense. 

Let me show you a better validation from each of the examples above. In the first example, it could have sounded like this:

W: I know it made you mad for me to spend so much time on the phone with my mom. Being late has never been your favorite thing and it probably made you embarrassed that all our friends were there waiting on us when we arrived. (The wife has been on the phone for a long time, and she summarizes her partner’s feelings in her own words.)

In the second example, the husband could have started here:

H: I regret that you were lonely and even felt unimportant when I didn’t come home. I want to spend time together, too. I thought I had told you it was Steve’s birthday, but somehow, I failed to make sure you knew about these plans. It might have helped for me to text you during the day to make sure we were on the same page.  (Again, he used his own words but also offers a bit of what he wished he had done differently).

So these modifications are suitable, but often, in any problem, there are two perspectives. The partner who offers validation can end up asking in their mind, “Well, what about me? When does my partner understand me?” 

This is where the often missed step of “Taking a Breath” is omitted. If you look back to the original examples, the spouse who got defensive was using their failed validation as an attempt to present their viewpoint/feelings/perspective. This is a “cart before the horse” scenario. Breathing is the secret to reaching a point where both partners are heard. 

Here is how it works. Imagine that each partner in the examples above gives the improved “edited” validations I offered. After saying those validations, they want to get confirmation from their partner that they feel understood. They might say something like, “Yes, thank you.” Or “I appreciate your understanding.” There might be some nonverbal confirmation of a smile or relaxing sigh. If you are unsure if your partner feels you “get it,” you can always ask, “Do you think I understand?” If you receive confirmation, you can take a breath and offer your feelings/perspective.

Feelings – Breath Cycle

So, let’s rework the above conversations with the Validation-Breathe cycle and see how they improve and how both partners feel heard and respected. 


Example 1

Husband (H): I am upset and angry that you spent so much time on the phone with your mother when we had plans to go out with friends. It made us late. I hate being late. I guess you care about your mother more than me. (This last statement is a criticism and not appropriate. But if the spouse does the validation, it will help settle any anger).

Wife (W): I know it made you mad for me to spend so much time on the phone with my mom. Being late has never been your favorite thing and it probably made you embarrassed that all our friends were there waiting on us when we arrived. (The wife owns being on the phone for so long, and she summarizes her partner’s feelings in her own words).

H: You are right; I was embarrassed. Thank you for understanding.

W: BREATHE

W: I felt trapped that night. I knew we needed to be leaving, but my mom was really struggling with a serious problem. I know my mom is difficult, and I don’t even like dealing with her all the time, but she is my mom, and I am the only support she has right now. 

H: Trapped. Like you were feeling pressure from both me and your mom? 

W: Yes.

H: I can see that. I am not sure how we could have solved that situation better, but from now on I can try to be more understanding of how hard it might be to have to be the only source of support for you mom.

W: Thank you. 


Example 2

Wife (W): Last Tuesday, I felt alone and rejected when you got home so late. I had no idea that you planned to go watch the game with friends. I had supper ready for us, and honestly, I was making plans to watch the game with you after we ate. 

H: I regret that you were lonely and even felt unimportant when I didn’t come home. I want to spend time together, too. I thought I had told you that it was Steve’s birthday, but somehow, I failed to make sure you knew about these plans. It might have helped for me to text you during the day to make sure we were on the same page.

H: (a bit unsure of what his wife is feeling) Do you think I understand what you are trying to say?

W: Yes. I am sorry. I appreciate you hearing me. 

H: BREATHE

H: I was a bit confused today when you brought this up since I thought I had communicated with you. Again, I may have not give you the message clearly. I appreciate that you wanted to spend time together because I want the same thing. Can we try again and find a time to schedule?

W: I agree we somehow missed each other in communicating plans. Can we just plan for this next game night to be our time to watch the game together?

H: Yes, I cannot wait. 

Pausing and taking a breath are a couple of small ways to enhance validation and connection in your marriage. Those “little things” create a space of safety between the two of you. Pause and breathe, slow down the process, and keep you from rushing into sharing your feelings/experiences. Intimacy requires both partners to feel understood. Love chooses not to rush the process – “It [Love] does not insist on its own way.” (I Corinthians 13:5, NRSV) 

Marriage Therapy Outcomes

Dr. DeYoung did an analysis of all his work with couples for the past 10 years. It includes work with over 250 couples and just under 4000 hours of therapy with couples in that time. 

Couples who commit to therapy beyond three meetings with Dr. DeYoung have an 88% success rate for therapy. On average those couples participated in 18 hours of therapy. 

A common reason for marriage therapy is affairs. Dr. DeYoung has worked with numerous couples attempting to overcome the challenges of betrayal from affairs. 78% of couples that have worked with Dr. DeYoung accomplish their therapy goals. This subset of couples participated in 21 hours of therapy on average. 

Couples can also be affected by problems from substance abuse. Dr. DeYoung has worked with numerous couples attempting to cope with problems caused by substance use. 74% of couples that have worked with Dr. DeYoung and also been dealing with substance abuse accomplish their therapy goals. 

This subset of couples participated in 21 hours of therapy on average. ​

Therapy in Bare Feet

We have developed a significant comfort level with telehealth options for our medical and mental health care. My private practice has shifted from providing in-home therapy to meeting with clients solely via encrypted and secure video. Following the pandemic, I found this method highly effective, convenient, safe, and practical for couples and families. 

Doing so much by video has changed many things. And one of those things is what we wear while conducting business by video. Since we only see each other from the chest up, this has lent itself to greater freedom in clothing options from the waist down. This may have created some rather embarrassing moments for some, but I can guarantee that I have consistently maintained a must-be-wearing “jeans” policy for all therapy sessions. But I do have a confession. I am barefoot for nearly 100% of therapy sessions. I even have a small heater for my feet in winter because cold toes can significantly distract me. 

Walking barefoot has many benefits. So many nerve endings in the bottom of the foot are stimulated when freed from shoes. Before you read any further, go outside and stand in the grass while you finish this blog. Imagine walking on the beach, splashing in the water, and enjoying the sand between your toes. When I walk outside to get the mail, my feet on the grass or pavement causes feelings to move up my entire body. If you are in the grass, notice that now. Those nerve endings activate and cause all manner of emotions. New sensations move from the bottom of our feet through our entire body. Feeling new phenomena in the grass, sand, or concrete often brings unique, heightened awareness. We might be more careful with our steps or slow down and experience the sensations deeply. The effect of the new feelings and heightened awareness is that we are more effectively attuned to our environment.

Another benefit to walking barefoot is loosening constraints. Taking your shoes off after a long day can feel so freeing. There is a bit of tension relief. Having your feet free can even be soothing. There is freedom in being barefoot. Now, I am confident the ladies understand this more than we guys do. You ladies have shoes that press and contort your feet in all manner of uncomfortable ways. We do many things for style and having the right image. We often want to “put the best foot forward” (sorry, I couldn’t help it). But all this foot dressing is also limiting. Something we need freedom from. Being barefoot frees us from the superficial coverings that bind and create discomfort.   

I never set out to do therapy in bare feet intentionally. The context of using a home office has made the choice a natural one. And the experience of doing therapy in bare feet has helped connect me with some important values for treatment. 

Heightened awareness of self and our other relationships is necessary for change in therapy. We have to learn to slow down and listen more. We tune into our feelings and reactions to understand their source better. Just as walking barefoot helps us feel new feelings and possibly feel them more deeply, participating in therapy can do the same. Feeling deep and connecting with our inside selves is a part of the therapeutic process. We call this process insight or gaining self-awareness. It requires us to observe, reflect, and draw inferences about our experiences, feelings, and emotions. When working with a couple, individual, or family, I find success in peeling past immediate problem-solving solutions and helping make insightful connections to our inner experiences and feelings. This process is not always comfortable, and it can even be painful. It is like stepping on an unexpected sharp stone when walking through the yard (or a Lego in a dark house). But it is often in these new spaces of awareness we can see, understand, and experience our problems in a way that can facilitate change. 

Just like removing our shoes loosens constraints, we must do similar things in therapy. We must push our boundaries, nudge outside our comfort zones, and challenge our conventional thinking. When we experience problems in life, they are often supported by assumptions, beliefs, and values that can bind us. We may feel compelled to live behind a mask or project a particular identity.  Change is at the center of therapy. Change means many things, including seeing, thinking, feeling, and behaving differently. To experience change, we have to get unstuck; successful therapy helps us to do that. Hopefully, working together in therapy creates a type of freedom. In this space, we can test, challenge, and change those constraints in our lives that have us trapped or stuck.

Therapy in bare feet is a good idea. I encourage you to do the same. Take your shoes off and walk in the grass. Feel new things. Feel them more deeply. Find the freedom to explore new feelings, test your assumptions, and challenge yourself to growth and change. Show your therapist your bare feet on the screen or take your shoes off in their office. Tell them you want to do therapy in your bare feet. I don’t think they will mind.

Teen Mental Health Crisis

May is mental health awareness month. And to contribute to our collective awareness of mental health, I want to discuss a current crisis. I honestly don’t use those words flippantly. The mental health of our preadolescent and teenage students in our country is in severe decline. I want to share with you some statistics that show this drastic decline and challenge us to rise as a community to support our most fragile groups.

In February 2023, the CDC released a shockingreport about teenage suicide in America. Suicide rates reached an all-time high in 2018, and though there was a slight decline in the next couple of years, in 2021, rates jumped again to reach an all-time high. Of particular concern is the level of hopelessness among our younger generations. Just a few statistics from that report:

  • 60% of teenage girls reported feeling persistently hopeless in 2021
  • 1 in 3 teen girls had seriously considered suicide
  • 1 in 5 teen girls had experienced sexual violence in the past year.
  • 14% reported being forced to have sex. Please stop and ponder that number. Over 1 in 10 girls reported being sexually assaulted. Remember, the vast majority of sexual assaults go unreported. Also, boys are the perpetrators of these assaults. What is going on with our young men that this seems to be more of normal behavior and expectation for them? 
  • In a global survey of over 400,000 teens, only 22% reported being close to their family. ​


When we see statistics like that, many want to jump to conclusions about the cause. Please don’t be too quick to blame COVID or social media. Most experts in this area say COVID was a stressor that split open cracks already well formed in our society. However, some fair blame can be directed toward smartphones, screens, and social media.

Jonothan Haidt, a psychologist, has begun publishing data that strongly implicates social media with the rise of anxiety and depression in teenagers, specifically teen girls. His work is extensive, and I would point you to this website for a deeper review. But, the most significant conclusion from his work is a definitive turn in mental health among our teenagers with the introduction of the front-facing camera on smartphones (we can now take endless selfies) and the rise of Instagram. These both happened around 2012. The data is obvious, and though Dr. Haidt has faced pushback on his data analysis (this is part of science), the skeptics need more stable ground in their arguments.

So, we can put some blame on screens and social media. But from my perspective as a therapist, we continue to mishandle this problem. Our first mistake has been that we adults have drowned ourselves in social media as adults. We could have been better examples. Our kids witness us scrolling, posting, and commenting as frequently or even more than they are engaged with their social media apps. Children learn from watching their parents. No child development expert would disagree with that statement. And we need to be honest. We have been bad examples. We should work on setting better boundaries with our use of social media. I would love for such a cultural movement to abandon social media so dramatically that the billions these companies are raking in from selling us as a product dries up. It is a bit of a pipe dream, but I can dream, can’t I?

Secondly, as parents, we have attempted to manage the phone, screen time, and social media through a punishment/reward system. My bias is that punishments/rewards as a primary form of parenting are ineffective. They can have short-term value, but there are far more effective ways to parent. We need to stop taking phones or relying on router parental controls as the sole means to manage our child’s screen time. Instead, we need to be having conversations about screen time. It starts with a relationship. Why does your kid like TikTok? What videos do they enjoy on social media? Do you watch them together? Do you have a relationship with your child outside of TV and other screens? Do you go on walks or eat meals without screens? Do you play games (not video games) together? If you want to read a classic about this kind of relational parenting, read Dr. Haim Ginott’s Between Parent and Child.

Let me suggest a bit more controversial source of this mental health crisis. GUNS. School shootings have significantly increased.* In the 1970s, there were approximately 60s deaths nationwide from school-related shooting incidents. We are currently on track to have over 400 school-related shooting deaths this decade. These numbers have only increased since the 1970s. Lockdown drills are common practice for all ages in public schools. Young elementary children know that lockdown drills are designed to keep them safe from an active shooter on their campus. Many express significant fears and anxiety, knowing this is a constant reality.

My wife is a public school teacher. If I had the time and space to explain the procedures, rules, and expectations they must keep in mind for these lockdown drills, it would overwhelm all of us. Teachers are evaluated in their handling of lockdown drills. During drills, people go around wiggling locked doors. Children hear what it will sound like if a gunman is walking the halls. This is practiced stress and trauma. Now look, we used to have fire drills in school. The fire alarm would go off, and we would celebrate a break from our work while we walked outside. But during those drills, we were not walking through simulated smoke, seeing fire trucks, or feeling the heat of an actual fire. But in gunman lockdown drills, children are pressed to “remain silent” so they are not heard, and then in the silence, a door is wiggled, attempted to open. For all children, this is stressful, but for a sensitive child, this repeated lived-out terror.

As I write this blog, I feel inclined to write a much longer blog about guns and mental health. That will come in July 2023. But let me say for this post that our cultural obsession with firearms harms us. The late game theorist Anatol Rapoport illustrated that conflict will always escalate in games where there must be a winner and loser (we call them zero-sum games). We are witnessing this before our very eyes. Exercising your right of gun ownership to keep an arsenal of weapons in your home only contributes to the cultural escalation of violence. Weaponry reduction and inviting whole communities into conversations for creating safe and peaceful spaces in our cities is the right direction.

Our children witness this escalation. They genuinely fear that their school is next. I fear that the school down the street is next. This is not a far-off problem we can dismiss as “their problem.” Our children see it, and their mental health is suffering.

So what do we need to do?

  1. We need to stop doubling down on solutions of the past. Stop saying this worked for me in my family or growing up. The world has fundamentally changed. It is time for new and creative solutions, even if they make us uncomfortable. 
  2. Stop pointing fingers of blame. Instead, engage in dialogue with those in your community. Talk to people who look different from you, are in another generation than you, vote differently, and go to another church of faith. We are better united than divided. 
  3. Connect with a young person. Love them. Please support them. Encourage them. Listen to them. Don’t worry about correcting or fixing it. 
  4. If you want a Christian faith view of mental health. Check out this YouTube channel from The Hills Church. Pastor Rick Atchley is doing a multi-week series on mental health. It started a few weeks back, but all the messages are titled “Let’s Talk about Mental Health.” 
  5. I did a podcast for The Hills Children and Youth Next Gen program on Mind Body connection and mental health. You can find that on this link.

Data from
*Naval Postgraduate School Center for Homeland Defense and Security, https://www.chds.us/sssc/charts-graphs/

Blossoming New Life Into Your Marriage

April is spring and more importantly it is the season of Easter. This is the time we celebrate new life and the new life given through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We see grass, plants, and trees blossoming as they waken from their sleep. And as part of this season of resurrection, I want to share some connections with marriage. 

One of the most “revolutionary” ideas in my book, Revolutionary Marriage, was the idea that resurrection is part of marriage. 

Marriages unfortunately experience death. Not only do partners die, we grow apart. We injure each other and even kill the marriage through divorce. 

But I suggested a primary goal for marriage was to bring new life – resurrection. The most obvious way this occurs is through conception and childbirth. But spouses also bring new life to each other by our actions and how we live together. In this blog I am wanting to identify some specific ways you can bring resurrected new life to your spouse. 

In my book I wrote the following: 
I have often struggled with those marriage retreat weekends that seem to offer quick fixes for marriages. Their recommended solutions present often illusory experiences that offer emotional highs but don’t resolve the underlying disconnection and relationship decay. They too often feed the myth that excitement and joy are signposts of a successful and vibrant marriage. For example, most retreats suggest the importance of regular date nights. I support that idea, but too often they are superficial acts that cover over a lack of grace and goodwill in the marriage. Date nights are nice, but the small and ordinary acts of grace will keep love alive.
The veneer of financial success, great vacations, and well-behaved children can be very thin. It does not help the husband and wife who are celebrating their 25th anniversary, but haven’t slept in the same room for 10 years. Wives promote the success of their children, but secretly resent their husband and his work. Husbands earn sales awards and build huge retirement funds, while having no desire to share retirement years with their wives.

Those examples are marriages where the interior of the relationship is rotten and dying. Our goal in marriage needs to develop a rich, fertile and vibrant interior of the relationship. It is from that space each partner can grow and flourish. 

Today I want to recommend four ways to bring new life into your marriage and your spouse. 

  • Speak words of life.

I address this topic in Revolutionary Marriage. The wisdom of Proverbs tells us that “the tongue can bring life or death”, Proverbs 18:21. Or in Proverbs 15:4a, “The words of the godly are a life giving fountain.” Your words either brings life to your spouse or in the worst of circumstances your can speak death. Our words are powerful and we should be careful with them. Above all we should avoid criticism. Let’s spend far less time correcting each other pointing out what we did wrong. We should validate. We should compliment, and speak words of admiration to our spouse. We need to express our gratitude for our spouse’s gifts (skills). Our spoken thankfulness is like watering the garden of our spouses spirit. 

  • Listen in ways that makes your spouse feel understood.

Listening empathically is a core ingredient of intimacy and connection in relationships. From a mechanical standpoint this means being able to parrot or repeat what our spouse says. This is a good start but it will never be enough. Listening must be a matter of our heart where we give ourselves over to hearing what our partner is saying. It means putting aside your own personal agenda. It means hearing and accepting your spouse’s feelings even if you don’t agree. It means asking them questions so you can expand your understanding. You should have a heart of curiosity. It means hearing what is not being said and reading between the lines. It means connecting with something in your own experience that shows you can identify with what they are describing. There are so many tools and ideas for being a more empathic listener. Google “empathic listening” and find a few articles. They will all be of help. This is the fertilizer that sustains healthy growth.

  • Serve them in small sacrifices.

We want to do the big stuff in marriage that makes the big splash. Fancy dates, big vacations, and extravagant gifts. But a happy marriage is not built on these things. If you are hoping for more of these things to make you happy, your are setting yourself up for disappointment. Because the thrill will be so short lived and it will never be enough. You need to find joy in providing and receiving the small sacrifices. What little chores can you do to help around the house? Can you take care of bath time? Can you be the one to get up and do night time feedings? Can you fix that broken appliance that you promised to take care of six months ago? It is doing these little things, without looking for rewards that brings life to marriage. These things are the seeds of new growth.

  • Eliminate contempt from your marriage.

I mention this idea in Revolutionary Marriage. But I speak at length about this topic in my marriage conference for couples (It is available online here). Contempt according to Dr.’s John and Julie Gottman, is “fueled by long-simmering negative thoughts about one’s partner, and it arises in the form of an attack on someone’s sense of self. Contempt, simply put, says, ‘I’m better than you. And you are lesser than me.'” Contempt is fatal assault on the identity of your spouse. Contempt has no place in marriage. Expressing contempt is committing an evil against your partner. Why? Because you are denying their image bearing goodness. Love builds up – it never tears down. You will bring life to your spouse when you help them be their best image representation of Christ. Encourage and support them in this endeavor. This is the process of pruning for fruitful growth. It must be done with tenderness and love. Contempt condemns the plant as worthless. Love prunes the plant to produce its life-giving best.

Therapy vs. Coaching

​Professional Life Coaching is considered one of the fastest growing industries in North America. According to the International Coaching Federation (ICF) there are more than 26,000 professional coaches in North America. Revenue in the coaching industry during 2022 was approximately 1.5 billion dollars and is expected to grow to be 2.1 billion in 2030. According to Zip Recruiter the average salary for a Life Coach is $62,000 per year. The top 2% of Life coaches can make between 180K-240K per year. At current growth rates published by the ICF there are likely to be an additional 12,000 professional coaches in the next 10 years. 

In comparison there are approximately 110,000 licensed Master’s level therapist’s in the United States. Revenue in the mental health market for 2022 was 76 billion in 2021 and is expected to exceed 100 billion in 2029. The average licensed mental health counselor/therapist makes $72,000 a year. The top 2% of licensed therapist can make 135K or more.  In the next ten years there are expected to be 13,000 more licensed mental health counselor jobs added to the job market. 

Though the share of the market is much larger for mental health providers, at the individual provider level there is little difference. A Life Coach and a Therapist can make a similar income. But is the service they are providing the community the same? As a licensed professional I have grown concerned with a number of clients who have sought service with a professional life coach and as a result of a bad experience were shocked to learn of the vast differences between the two types of provider. 

I do believe that Life Coaching serves a place in our communities. As a service to individuals it can provide tools and supports that are extremely beneficial. But the consumer of Life Coaching services needs to be aware of what they are purchasing. Information is power to help the consumer make the best choices. 

Let’s look at some Key differences between Life Coaches and Therapist/Counselors. 

Education
There are significant education differences between Life Coaches and Therapists. To be a licensed Therapist/Counselor in any state in the United States you must have the minimum of a Master’s Degree from an accredited University. According to the ICF there are no minimum education requirements to be a Life Coach. It appears that an individual can work towards and complete a Life Coach credentialing process with a high school diploma or GED. 

This means a Therapist/Counselor has completed at least 6 years of college work — their four year undergraduate degree and a two years Master’s degree program. This means that therapist/counselors have far exceeded the education of many Life Coaches before ever beginning a certification/license process. Most coaching programs are approximately 60 hours of online course work as a one time class. A typical 3 hour college class meets 48 hours not counting all the outside reading and assignments. So one college class exceeds the one course for coaching certification. 

The type of education is also critical. Life coaches do not necessarily have a background in mental health. They may have a degree in finance, or interior design, but may be offering coaching for parenting or mental health issues. 

Many life coaches may have advanced degrees, but it would benefit the consumer to inquire about the actual training and education a life coach has received. 

Training/Certification
Most counselor training programs in graduate school have rigorous training components. They will require several hundred hours of client therapy services (mine required 500) as necessary for graduation. Graduate counseling students are also required to meet with a clinical supervisor and review their work with clients. This usually is dozens of hours during the two years of course work. My graduate program required 100 hours of meetings with supervisors. Once graduated a therapist cannot practice independently. They must also complete hundreds more hours of therapy (my license required 2000 hours) and dozens more hours of supervised evaluation of their work (mine required 200 hours) before being fully licensed. 

As a comparison, the most basic coaching certification requires only 100 hours of coaching experience and 10 hours meeting with a supervisor.  For the ICF to give you their highest certification you must have 200 hours of coaching education, 2500 hours of coaching experience and meet with a mentor coach for 10 hours. 

There are significant differences here, specifically in the level of supervision of a providers early work. Life coaches only need to meet with a mentor for 10 hours (per ICF website). But therapist/counselors must meet with a supervisor for over 300 hours prior to being licensed. The experiences gained from a relationship with a trusted supervisor are invaluable and the licensure process for counselors is set up to honor that important relationship.

Regulation
All mental health providers are licensed in their state of residence. This includes Psychologists, LPC, LMFT, and LMSW. In Texas, these licenses are regulated by the Behavioral Health Executive Council (BHEC) and that council functions under the state laws of Texas. All mental health providers must meet rigorous licensure requirements and ongoing continuing education as mandated by law. The public is able to file complaints with the BHEC. The BHEC has the right by law to sanction and punish licensed practitioners in Texas. Texas (and any other state) has a strict codes of ethics that guide a counselors practice and if a therapist/counselor breaks that code they can be disciplined, including losing their license to practice. This level of ethics and regulation helps keep therapist/counselors accountable to the community that they serve. 

Life coaches are not regulated by state law. The public has no recourse if a coach behaves inappropriately or unethically. There is no state board to file a complaint. The ICF does have a code of ethics for coaches, but the code is not enforceable. There is no ICF board to file a complaint against a member coach. This means there is no accountability for the coach to anyone other than to themselves. As a therapist this is my biggest concern for the community regarding Life Coaching – there is no accountability to protect the consumer and public trust. 

For the consumer seeking support services or mental health services, it is important to understand what they are getting. Most therapists are prepared to answer questions about their education, training, and licensure. It is important to ask questions of both life coaches or therapists. Certifications can seem very significant, but don’t be shy to ask a therapist or coach to explain what went into achieving a certain designation.  Therapy and Life Coaching both have important purposes and the more informed you are as a consumer, the better choices you can make regarding what services you plan to utilize.