3 Essential Steps to Becoming a Successful Mental Health Coach

mental health coach

With almost a quarter of adults experiencing mental health issues in the US, caring for our psychological health is undoubtedly important.

As the stigma around mental health conditions decreases, more and more people seek treatment to feel better. However, 38% of psychologists have a waitlist, and they might not find any when they need it. For a young demographic and minorities, help is even less accessible.

Mental health coaching can help fill in a part of that gap, but it’s a fundamentally different practice from therapy. As a mental health coach, you must be clear about what services you can and cannot provide your clients.

Evidence-based practices can help you effectively improve the well-being of the people you work with, but not all mental health coach training programs are created equally.

In this guide, we’ll explore how you can become a certified mental health coach and build a successful career helping clients improve their mental health.

What Do Mental Health Coaches Do?

Mental health coaches work with clients to improve their mental well-being, cope with stress, and achieve better well-being and resilience. They specialize in addressing non-clinical mental health issues but refrain from providing diagnosis, treating mental illness, or prescribing medication.

They provide support beyond traditional life coaching through evidence-based practices like Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) or breathwork. They help clients identify stressors and develop healthy coping strategies against them.

Mental health coaching can offer practical tools to regulate one’s emotions and cultivate resilience in the face of challenges. Here are several examples:

  • Asking thought-provoking questions for self-reflection and perspective shifts
  • Introducing new skills and perspectives to overcome obstacles and manage emotions effectively
  • Identifying and leveraging personal strengths for self-compassion and acceptance
  • Enhancing relationship skills
  • Designing actionable steps for behavior change and holding clients accountable through personalized homework assignments and practices

These enable clients to navigate difficult situations more efficiently and regain control over their lives.

Coaching can also offer a broader perspective on one’s life and keep clients accountable for long-term behavior changes supporting their mental health. Clients learn to apply new strategies to their daily lives through personalized assignments and insightful sessions for lasting transformation.

What’s the Difference Between a Mental Health Coach and a Therapist?

Mental health coaches and therapists both aim to support individuals in improving their mental well-being, but they differ in several key aspects.

AspectMental Health CoachTherapist
CredentialsCertification from coaching programs accredited by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) or other coaching organizations.Minimum master’s degree in psychology or any related field, plus state licensure for clinical practice.
Area of focusFocuses on the present and future, providing support for personal development and behavioral change.Addresses past and present challenges, with training to provide clinical treatment for mental illness.
MedicationDoes not prescribe medication.May prescribe medication as part of the treatment plan.
DiagnosesCannot diagnose mental illness.Diagnoses and treats mental illness using clinical assessment.
ApproachUses coaching techniques and principles, drawing from evidence-based therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).Uses clinical therapy techniques tailored to individual needs and diagnoses.
AccountabilityHolds clients accountable for personal development goals and behavioral change through regular sessions and homework assignments.Provides structured therapy sessions with ongoing assessment and treatment planning.

One of the most important differences between the two practices is the ability of psychologists to diagnose mental illness.

They do this based on the American Psychiatric Association’s “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.” This standardized approach helps professionals assess symptoms, establish diagnosis, and develop treatment plans based on recognized criteria.

However, casual usage of terms like “depression” and “anxiety” in everyday language can create confusion as they don’t always mean clinical mental health disorders. This ambiguity blurs the line between everyday emotional experiences and diagnosable mental health conditions.

For instance, anxiety is a normal human emotion experienced by everyone to some extent. However, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is the clinical diagnosis of excessive and persistent worry that significantly interferes with daily functioning.

The same goes for depression, which can mean a mood state and differs from Major Depressive Disorder involving persistent sadness, loss of interest, and impaired functioning. The key differences lie in the seriousness of these concerns and their interference with work, relationships, and overall well-being.

If you suspect that your client’s symptoms interfere with their ability to perform the necessities of life, you should always refer them to a licensed mental health practitioner.

How to Become a Mental Health Coach

To launch a mental health coach career, you typically need specialized training and personal qualities. A background in mental health, psychology, counseling, or a related field can help boost your qualifications, but you can also undergo specialized coaching training or certification instead.

Additionally, qualities like strong communication skills, active listening, empathy, and a genuine desire to help others are essential to building a practice in this field—as do staying updated on current mental health practices.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to become a professional mental health coach:

1. Get Trained

Most mental health coaches are highly trained professionals. Beyond fundamental coaching principles, they learn the science behind and the application of evidence-based therapeutic practices. They also get trained on ethical guidelines such as maintaining professional boundaries in their client relationships and keeping client information confidential.

Choosing an area of focus within mental health coaching, like mindfulness or neuro-linguistic programming, can help you determine which training program is right for you. It will also allow you to specialize and customize your services to meet your client’s needs.

Some specialized mental health coach certification programs are:

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Taking training from an accredited organization can help boost your credentials. Here are some of these certifying bodies:

Specialized training is what sets life coaches apart from those working with clients struggling with mental health issues.

2. Gain Experience

If you have a background in social work or fields related to human psychology, you can leverage that experience in your coaching work. However, you must also practice conducting coaching sessions and applying the tools you’ve learned in your training in different coaching scenarios.

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If you’re applying for credentials with an organization like the ICF, by default, you have to complete and log a set number of paid and unpaid coaching hours to receive your certification. Accredited training programs also typically include some practice hours with other participants.

In addition, you can arrange peer-coaching sessions with fellow trainees in practice groups or coaching communities aspiring to start their practice. This gives you a chance to do the following:

  • Exchange feedback
  • Refine your coaching techniques
  • Gain confidence
  • Experience coaching from the client’s perspective

Offering a few pro bono sessions to people in your network can also add to your mental health coaching experience. Plus, it can lead to testimonials and paid clients later on. Make sure you clearly define the structure and duration of these pro bono coaching engagements as if you were offering paid services.

3. Establish Your Practice

To offer coaching services, you need to run your own business. Define your target audience, craft a coaching package, and set your rates. Register your business so you can pay taxes legally and define your goals in a business plan.

Here’s how to get new coaching clients:

  • Build a professional online presence with a polished website and active social media profiles.
  • Network within your industry and community to establish connections and referral partnerships.
  • Consider offering free resources to attract potential clients and showcase your expertise.
  • Use content marketing strategies like blogging or video creation to attract leads.
  • Collaborate with complementary businesses to expand your reach.
  • Invest in paid advertising campaigns to target specific audiences and generate leads.

Once you onboard those clients, you must also manage your relationship with them. That means taking care of session bookings, signing contracts, and taking payments from them. 

Paperbell can handle all of this to save you time and headaches. It’s an all-in-one client management tool specifically designed for coaches—and it’s free with your first client.

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Can Life Coaches Become Mental Health Coaches?

Yes! Life coaches can transition to becoming mental health coaches, but it typically requires additional training.

Life coaches typically complete training programs emphasizing coaching skills and methodologies, assisting clients in setting and achieving personal and professional goals. In contrast, mental health coaches often hold degrees in psychology or specialized credentials in mental health coaching.

While life coaches primarily work with individuals seeking personal growth and empowerment, mental health coaches specialize in supporting clients with mental health concerns such as stress, anxiety, and depression.

They integrate coaching principles with evidence-based strategies to provide guidance and support within their scope of practice. While both professions contribute to clients’ well-being, mental health coaches offer specialized expertise in addressing mental health-related issues and promoting emotional wellness.

How Much Do Mental Health Coaches Charge

The average rates mental health coaches charge vary significantly based on their credentials, experience, location, and the specific services they provide.

Mental health coaching sessions generally range from $75 to $250 on average. Some coaches offer package deals for multiple sessions or sliding scale fees.

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For example, Jes Baker is a mental health coach who charges $170 for a 50-minute session. She also offers spots on a sliding scale between $45-125 for the ones who can’t afford to work with her, though these sessions are limited and subject to specific criteria (e.g., being unemployed).

[ Read: Your Dream Health Coach Website Template Is In This List ]

Additionally, she runs a Patreon community where she shares member-only resources and accepts bookings for large-scale events starting from $5000.

So, as you can see, you can get really creative with your pricing structure to find the option that works best for you and your audience. To set your rates, look up how much other coaches charge within your specialty and your ideal clients’ typical budget.

How to Get Clients as a Mental Health Coach

To build your mental health coaching practice, you can try these client acquisition strategies:

  • Build an online presence: Use social media platforms where your clients will most likely hang out. See how Sarah Caliendo, Burnout Coach, engages her audience on Instagram with mental health-related content.
  • Host workshops: Events related to your expertise allow you to reach multiple clients and demonstrate the value of your services. Here’s an example of a workplace mental health program for employees and managers.
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  • Network within your industry: Connect with company reps who value employee well-being and potential clients within mental health-related communities. For example, check out the Wellbeing at Work Summit.
  • Utilize online directories: List your profile and coaching services on online directories like CoachCompare to increase your visibility so potential clients can easily find you online.
  • Ask for referrals: Encourage satisfied clients to refer their friends or colleagues to you and offer incentives to motivate them to recommend your services.

Above all, always strive to provide exceptional service to your clients. If you create a lasting positive change in their lives, they will tell their circle about you.

[ Read: How to Get Coaching Clients: 19 Strategies That Actually Work ]

Run Your Mental Health Coaching Practice With Ease

We hope this guide has given you some clarity on how you can build a successful mental health coaching practice.

Once you’re ready to take clients, Paperbell can streamline the admin side of your business so you can focus on building your dreams.

It’s an all-in-one client management tool that handles bookings, contracts, payments, and more.

Try Paperbell for free with your first client.

mental health coach

By Annamaria Nagy
Annamaria Nagy is a Brand Identity Coach and Copywriter. She's been writing for over 10 years about topics like personal development, coaching, and business. She was previously the Head of SEO at the leading transformational education company, Mindvalley.
April 11, 2024

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