Five wellbeing essentials for coaches and mentors

Five wellbeing essentials for coaches and mentors

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As mental health awareness grows, and one in four people experience a mental health problem (1), many coaches and mentors find themselves working with clients who feel their mental and emotional wellbeing is challenged. While some practitioners are comfortable asking about wellbeing and feel prepared for client disclosure, others worry about getting it wrong, working outside their competence and placing clients at risk. As part of EMCC UK’s spotlight resources on health and wellbeing, Wendy Teo, Jo Twiselton, Imogen Maresch and Ana Nacif of the EMCC UK Health and Wellbeing Special Interest Group, signpost useful resources and identify five essentials for authentic coaching and mentoring conversations about mental and emotional wellbeing.

1. Be clear what wellbeing means

The Government Office for Science describes mental wellbeing as ‘a dynamic state, in which the individual is able to develop their potential, work productively and creatively, build strong and positive relationships with others, and contribute to their community. It is enhanced when an individual is able to fulfil their personal and social goals and achieve a sense of purpose in society’ (2). Wellbeing can impact how we think, feel and behave, so it is important for everyone, especially those helping clients to realise their potential.

Reduced mental wellbeing is not necessarily mental illness and the idea of a continuum from mental ill health to mental wellbeing (3) helps illustrate this. Wellbeing professionals often consider the balance between the amount of mental, physical and emotional resources available to cope with challenges (4), sometimes described as ‘mental capital’ (5) and support clients to rebalance this. There is broad agreement that wellbeing is supported by connection to others, physical activity, learning, giving and being mindful (6, 7, 8).

2. Approach it proactively

The coaching relationship that supports clients to achieve goals and wellbeing is likely to be central to success. Where coaches are trained to explore thoughts, beliefs and feelings, and support clients to face challenges positively, they may be uniquely positioned to contribute proactively to wellbeing, by supporting them to build their resources to face challenges, make changes and seize opportunities.

Agreeing wellbeing as an area for discussion and what questions it will be OK to ask is the best place to start. It might be as simple as explaining to clients what wellbeing is, its importance in achieving goals, and how wellbeing is something coaches cannot take for granted if they are to provide the appropriate level of support and challenge.

When contracted for, it may ease difficult situations and establish more productive relationships from day one. Support can be practical and action-orientated, for example, asking clients questions to help them develop a wellbeing workplan.

Being intuitive and listening for clues about what is going on for clients is part of the practitioner toolkit. However, we may not spot the signs in a new client or when behaviour is out of our experience, so we need to raise our own awareness. Common signs that a client might be struggling with their mental and emotional wellbeing are: difficulty concentrating, low mood, irritability, sleep or appetite problems, feelings of guilt, or not being able to cope (9).

Mental health first aid (MHFA) is an essential skill for coaches, mentors and supervisors to learn if they do not already have a clinical background in this area. It is also important that we act within very clear ethical guidelines in keeping with the Global Code of Ethics, as we can cause harm to our clients and ourselves if we are not clear about the limits of coaching and mentoring when the client needs a clinical or therapeutic relationship.

Practitioners trained to listen and respond with non-judgmental compassion and to positively affirm clients’ courage in disclosing mental or emotional distress, can help them identify strengths, resources and support. Coaches need to know of the additional support and information available to clients in distress and encourage them to seek the support of relevant professionals, friends and family. This may mean ending a coaching relationship mid session if the coach is out of their depth, as recommended by Downey (Effective Modern Coaching, 2014). Pelham (The Coaching Relationship in Practice, 2016) states that invitations to deepen conversations about emotions should only ever go as deep as is directly relevant for the specific coaching goals agreed.

3. Resilience is key to wellbeing

Helping clients build resilience is another way of being proactive. Resilience has many definitions, but it is generally considered to be a process comprising thoughts, behaviours and feelings which support positive adaption to adversity (10).

Psychological resilience can be increased as a personal resource when dealing with difficult situations, and promote quicker recovery. There is consensus that physical energy, positive and flexible thinking, a sense of purpose, self-belief and strong interpersonal relationships are core factors which influence personal resilience. Practitioners who contract with clients for wellbeing conversations can explore these aspects of their client’s life, as practical resources to help them achieve their objectives.

4. Put your needs first

Practitioners need to practice and role model self-care (11) and respect their own wellbeing first. Often described as putting your safety mask on before helping others, this is important for practitioner recovery, self-awareness, and the ability to be fully present with clients.

Supervision can further support practitioner wellbeing and offer an additional level of safety. It can also aid coaches in exploring the safe boundaries of their competence, identify development gaps and understand what further support a client might need (12).

There is a wealth of training available for practitioners wishing to develop their skills in this area. With so much on offer, it is useful to identify strengths and gaps with a peer or supervisor, to help you invest wisely. Search terms to explore with ‘coaching’ are ‘positive psychology’, ‘stress management’, ‘resilience’, ‘wellbeing’, and ‘mental health first aid’. EMCC aims to support its members with further guides and webinars. For more information check the EMCC UK Events page.

5. Be prepared to signpost

Tuning into clients’ mental and emotional wellbeing could make you better at helping them identify when coaching may not meet their needs. Discussing more appropriate support does not have to be uncomfortable if you are prepared. Coaches should not diagnose a mental health condition, even if done in a tentative, hypothetical questioning, or a seemingly coaching way, as this could be very psychologically damaging both to the client and to the coaching relationship. Wellbeing concerns can be raised in terms of feelings and emotions, with appropriate signposting.

If your client is in crisis, you can encourage them to seek immediate help through emergency services on 999 or their local Accident and Emergency department. If they are not facing a medical emergency, they can ring 111 or contact their GP (13). Clients can access emotional and crisis support through specialist helplines, such as the Samaritans, SANEline, and Helplines Partnership, which has a searchable helplines database.

The UK NHS offers free mental and emotional support services: clients can search ‘IAPT – location’. Therapeutic support, including counselling and psychotherapy practitioners, can be found through searchable online databases such as the BACP Register, and may have shorter waiting times than NHS services.

What do these five essentials mean for coaches and mentors?

Mental and emotional wellbeing are a factor for today’s clients and are central to practitioners’ work and professional development. Coaching and mentoring practitioners are well placed to help most clients manage their mental wellbeing positively, build resilience and access resources, if they take a ground-up approach from contracting to supervision.

There is plenty we can do to increase skills and access resources to grow our confidence in supporting clients who are experiencing difficulties. Practicing self-care and accessing supervision must be a priority to protect coach and client wellbeing, along with up to date referral information.

Key for coaches, mentors and supervisors is to actively engage with wellbeing conversations, be aware of how clients are feeling, and to err on the side of caution – being willing to pause a relationship pending a clinical review if the coach is concerned about a client. This way we can help to improve wellbeing in a way which is safe for ourselves and our clients.


1. Mental Health UK (2021). Mental health information and support

2. Beddington, J. et al (2008). Foresight, Mental Capital and Wellbeing Project. Final project report. The Government Office for Science, London

3. Chowdhury, M.R. (2021). The Mental Health Continuum Model.

4. Dodge, R., Daly, A., Huyton, J., & Sanders, L. (2012). The challenge of defining wellbeing. International Journal of Wellbeing, 2(3), 222-235

5. Beddington, J. et al (2008). Foresight, Mental Capital and Wellbeing Project. Final project report. The Government Office for Science, London

6. New Economic Foundation (2011). Five ways to wellbeing: new applications, new ways of thinking

7. NHS (2019) Five steps to mental wellbeing. NHS UK

8. Mind (2021). Five ways to wellbeing

9. Mental Health UK (2021). Mental health information and support

10. Fletcher, D., & Sarkar, M. (2013). Psychological resilience: A review and critique of definitions, concepts, and theory. Eur Psychol, 18(1), 12–23. APA PsycArticles

11. Thrive (2021). Self-Care Audit and Action Plan

12. EMCC Global (2021). EMCC Accredited Supervisor Database

13. MHFA England (2021) Mental Health First Aid Action Plan ALGEE

Image: Wendy Teo