People are worn out and stressed out after two years of a pandemic, in addition to an increasing number of stressors like a divisive political atmosphere, racial and gun violence, harsh weather, rising inflation, a faltering stock market, and the conflict in Ukraine.
Brazen behavior is on the rise and mental health statistics are sobering: Approximately 40% of American adults reported experiencing anxiety or depressive symptoms during the pandemic, up from 10% pre-pandemic, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
What’s more, we’re now learning that the COVID-19 virus itself may contribute to mental health problems: In the year following infection, survivors are 35% more likely to acquire an anxiety illness and 39% more likely to develop a depressive condition.
It’s clear that people need mental health support, and even the federal government is starting to heed the call: Efforts to support the growing mental health care needs of Americans are increasingly making bipartisan headway.
But what does “support” mean? Therapy is the most common definition of mental health care. With decades of research, it is a tried-and-true method for enhancing mental health outcomes.
As a practicing, licensed, clinical therapist, “I am obviously in support of therapy. As the leader of the clinical strategy and research team at a company that provides mental health benefits, we quickly and eagerly connect our members who have clinical-level mental health needs to licensed therapists who can help.”
That won’t ever change, but not everyone who needs support can access therapy. In the United States and elsewhere, there is a severe scarcity of licensed therapists, a situation that will take time to resolve. Due to the lack, new patients must wait on waiting lists before receiving care.
Even therapists who are taking on new patients are frequently not covered by health insurance because the payment rates are too low for them to be financially feasible. Due to all these issues, most people cannot afford therapy, thus we suggest increasing the number of professionals who can help those in need.
I am obviously in support of therapy. As the leader of the clinical strategy and research team at a company that provides mental health benefits, we quickly and eagerly connect our members who have clinical-level mental health needs to licensed therapists who can help.Clinical Therapist
The Role of Coaching
Coaching could be one possible alternative. Although many people need assistance with their mental health, clinical-level care is not necessary for their symptoms. The vacuum can be filled by licensed coaches who have received training in scientifically supported mental health practices.
There is proof that subclinical practitioners can successfully treat depression and other mental health issues. Paraprofessionals can effectively use some of the most revered ideas in clinical therapy, such as cognitive behavior therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy.
In contrast to the body of evidence supporting clinical therapy for better mental health, coaching is a newer modality with less research behind it but that’s changing. Recent research conducted by the company Modern Health, of which I am a VP led by research scientist Dr. Sara Sagui-Henson, shows promising evidence in support of coaching.
According to a peer-reviewed study that has just been approved for publication in the Journal of Technology in Behavioral Science, 58 percent of those who began treatment with symptoms of depression experienced clinical recovery after at least one session with a licensed coach and saw a 76 percent improvement in their general well-being. These results support our earlier research, which showed that people’s wellbeing improved in direct proportion to the number of sessions they attended.
We examined the therapeutic alliance, or the partnership between the provider and the client in a one-on-one care context, in the same study conducted during the pandemic. The therapeutic alliance between a client and a provider should be characterized by traits like mutual respect and affection, as well as by whether the two believe they are jointly pursuing their shared objectives.
According to earlier studies, therapy sessions end with higher results when there is a strong therapeutic bond. However, the therapeutic alliance’s potential strength and significance as a predictor of successful outcomes in coaching are little understood by the discipline. This research found that in a one-on-one virtual care setting, therapeutic alliance was just as strong between clients and their coaches as it was between clients and their therapists (with an average 4.8 therapeutic alliance rating out of 5 for both coaching and therapy).
Ninety percent of participants believed their coach or therapist could support them and help them work toward their shared goals, and in both situations, a stronger therapeutic alliance predicted greater well-being improvement.
This may be encouraging for the entire profession and indicates that coaching for mental health could be a workable substitute for therapy for mild mental health requirements. When properly qualified and trained, coaches can deliver comparable therapy that enhances mental health results while frequently being more reasonably priced.
It could also be easier for the field to increase the supply of coaches (versus therapists, whose credentials require years of training). Additionally, it might be more practical for coaches to concentrate on early intervention by preventing the emergence of clinical-level symptoms, leaving therapists free to handle cases involving more severe symptoms. When taking individual treatment choices into account, coaching makes sense as well; not everyone wants to see a therapist, even if one is available. A less stigmatized form of care is coaching.
Of course, coaching is not a panacea, and in this field we have our work cut out for us: We need to address institutional and personal stigma, an ongoing problem that presents a meaningful barrier to care for many people. We need to work to increase diversity within provider networks and to ensure individuals receive culturally centered care. We must improve access to care within communities not typically served and continue to ideate on how to bring effective, sustainably priced mental health care to more people.
In addition to online group care sessions, clinical therapy, psychiatry, and medication management for those who require it, there are also digital resources like meditations and courses and alternative therapies, I argue that coaching by vetted, certified providers is a great and increasingly, research-backed way to serve people with moderate mental health care needs.