Depression coaching or counselling: what’s the difference?

Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses in the world. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) over 300 million people around the globe of all ages, backgrounds, and situations experience depression. An estimated 20% of us in the UK aged 16 and over show symptoms of anxiety and depression, such as low mood, low self-worth, trouble sleeping, low energy and concentration, as well as an increased or decreased appetite.

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Long-lasting depression can affect how we function at work, home, or in education, as well as how we interact with friends, family, or colleagues. While feeling down from time to time can be a normal part of life, it’s when these feelings last over a prolonged period of time it can be a sign that something else may be going on. When combined with feelings of hopelessness or inadequacy, these can be signs you may be experiencing depression and may need a little more help and support.

Whether you have an official diagnosis of depression or not, if you are struggling with your emotions or feel unable to cope, it could be worth seeking help and support. No matter how big or small your worries are, there are people available to help.

What’s the difference between a depression coach and a counsellor?

If you think you may be experiencing depression, it’s important to seek help from a medical professional. Your GP can suggest a number of treatment options, often recommending a combination of psychotherapy and antidepressants to help treat both the immediate symptoms (with medication) and underlying causes (with therapy).

A life coach (or a depression coach) can be a helpful addition (rather than a replacement) to talking therapy or other medical treatments. Your counsellor may recommend seeing a coach to help guide you through helpful approaches to achieving and setting goals or addressing other areas in your life that may be adding to your sense of dissatisfaction or affecting your overall well-being.

While counselling looks to help you identify that ‘lightbulb moment’ – the combination or single thing that may be contributing to how you are feeling, coaching focuses more on what you can change here and now to create the outcomes you would like to see in the future. Although there is a common perception that therapists just work with the past and coaches focus solely on the future, coaching and counselling can in many ways overlap.

How can coaching help with depression?

Coaching can help in a number of different ways. Working with a coach can help to:

Identify areas for improvement – with the help of a coach, you can begin to identify specific areas of your life that you may want to work on or improve. Once these have been identified, they can help you begin to set realistic, attainable goals that can help you move forward and gain a sense of achievement and progress.

Depression can lead to many erring towards a more negative attitude, struggling to find motivation or dwelling on negative emotions. A coach can help you to find your own motivation with the help of regular influxes of optimism, energy, and highlighting how you can better appreciate the small areas of progress you are already making (and may not realise you are already achieving).

Build healthy habits – a coach can help encourage you to develop healthier habits to incorporate into your day-to-day life. For example, they can help motivate or inspire you to take up a regular exercise routine or improve your sleeping habits, both of which studies have proven to boost mood and decrease feelings of depression.

Pinpoint what’s missing – joy is an important part of maintaining good mental health. A coach can help you identify any areas in which you may be missing this; for example, starting new hobbies, finding ways to combine your passions with your career, nurturing existing relationships, or finding ways to help you de-stress.

Encourage healthy self-care routines – when we are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, anxious or depressed, it can be easy to overlook or dismiss things we know can benefit us physically or mentally. Eating right, getting regular exercise, and keeping healthy sleep schedules are just a few of the activities that can not only help us recover from a period of ill mental health, but can also help us maintain good mental health and a better sense of well-being. A coach may be able to help you re-prioritise self-care and show you the benefits of making time and space for well-being and self-care in your life.

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How can counselling help with depression?

A counsellor or therapist can help in a number of different ways. Most commonly offering a combination of talking therapy and medication for major (clinical) or long-term depression, some may also suggest coaching as a complementary form of support. Some of the frequently used counselling types that can help with depression can include:

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), CBT works on the idea that how we think and behave affects the way in which we feel. People experiencing depression may tend towards more self-defeating thoughts, which in turn can lead to more negative behaviour. CBT helps address this pattern of negativity, showing people how to identify and challenge these thoughts.

Interpersonal therapy (IPT) – focusing on how our mental health can affect our relationships and how our relationships can affect us, IPT looks at psychological symptoms (such as depression) as a response to our difficulty in communicating with others. IPT looks at how people can break the cycle of symptoms and deteriorating communication.

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) – a type of talking therapy that can be particularly helpful for those who experience recurring depression, MBCT combines elements of mindfulness (such as meditation and breathing exercises) with cognitive therapy to help break negative thought patterns.

Art therapy – offering a way for people to explore their emotions and communicate in new, different ways, art therapy can be especially beneficial for people who find it difficult to talk about how they are feeling.

Which is right for me?

Different approaches work well for different people. If you try a method that you don’t feel is working well for you, it’s important to keep trying until you find something that best fits your needs and you are comfortable with.

Both coaching and counselling are typically confidential, with the change to set clear boundaries before you begin. While each offers a slightly different approach, both coaching and counselling for depression can help you to identify, address, and resolve problems that may be causing or exacerbating how you are feeling. With their help, you can gain the tools and knowledge to help improve your mental health.

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Written by Bonnie Evie Gifford
Bonnie Evie Gifford is a Senior Writer at Happiful.
Written by Bonnie Evie Gifford
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