Coaching is a powerful process, but it’s not the answer to all problems. Sometimes, a coaching client should be referred to a different specialist, such as a therapist or counselor. In fact, failing to do so is a clear ethical violation for a coach.
Thankfully, ICF has developed a helpful guide for when a referral to a therapist or other professional is recommended or required. Below is the quick overview, and you can download the full text of a white paper on this topic here.
WHEN AND HOW TO REFER A CLIENT TO THERAPY OR OTHER HELPING PROFESSIONALS*
- Coach’s ethical responsibility
- Psychotherapy is outside coaching scope of work
- Intervention is important to recovery
- Intervention may save a life
- Issue is outside your competency and experience level
- Issue interferes with daily functioning
- Issue is a barrier to making progress in coaching
- Issue is psychological in nature and deals with deep seated emotions
- Be direct and calm
- Express concern and care
- Point out specific behaviors
- Listen closely
- Encourage client to seek help
- Normalize therapy
- Make referral
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
- Marked changes in mood such as irritability, anger, anxiety, or sadness
- Decline in performance at work or school
- Withdrawal from social relationships and activities
- Changes in weight and appearance, including negligence of personal hygiene
- Disturbances in sleep (either oversleeping or difficulty falling or staying asleep)
- Expresses hopelessness or suicidal thoughts
Common issues that warrant a referral to therapy include anxiety, depression, eating disorders, post traumatic stress, substance abuse, suicidal ideation, and thought disorders.
If you believe someone may be in imminent danger of self-harm or hurting another person:
- Call your local emergency number
- Stay with person until help arrives
- Ask what means they have that may cause harm
- Listen, but do not judge, argue, threaten, or yell
If you think someone is considering suicide, get help from a crisis or suicide prevention hotline.
Contact information for crisis centers:
Befrienders Worldwide – https://www.befrienders.org/
International Association for Suicide Prevention – https://www.iasp.info/resources/Crisis_Centres
International Suicide Prevention Wiki – http://suicideprevention.wikia.com/wiki/International_
* Other helping professionals include a support group, a mentor, a specialist coach, or a spiritual representative. See “Referring a Client to Therapy: A Set of Guidelines” for more details on indicators and the referral process.
** Keep in mind that mental health is on a spectrum, so watch for duration, frequency, and intensity of symptoms. Consider consulting a supervisor or a mental health professional when you are uncertain.
Sources: American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5) (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association. American Psychological Association. (2017). Retrieved from www.apa.org. Qualitative research conducted by ICF.
Cite as: Hullinger, A. M. and DiGirolamo, J. A. (2018). Referring a client to therapy: A set of guidelines. Retrieved from Internation al Coaching Federation website: https://coachingfederation.org/app/uploads/2018/05/Whitepaper-Client-Referral.pdf.