What coaching offers people (beyond the invaluable tools of medical and talk-therapy) is a way to envision a future, and plan for it, based on who you really are and the ways you want to transform.
There’s an idea out there, an understandable one that pretty much holds sway now, that in treating an individual with depression, there’s no getting anywhere until the depression is dealt with—if not put in remission. We don’t disagree, but as with most firmly held opinions, it’s not without flaws of its own.
In no way are we speaking against dealing with depression directly, individually, and comprehensively. At its best, depression is a life wrecker, when it’s not a life-ender. That said, and affirmed, we come to that word "comprehensively".
Without for an instant speaking against the treatment of depression through appropriate medication and the form of “talk-therapy” to which the depressed individual responds best, we’re noting the point that not all problems have a single solution, and that often it’s as helpful to deal with depression as if it were not the problem, that is, the only problem.
Just last week we were speaking with a friend from southern Thailand, which in recent years has been ravaged by floods that were once an expected annual event. The solution in coastal areas was building houses on stilts. But what’s become clear in recent years is that, because of anthropogenic climate change and other human activities, the floods are only becoming more devastating by the year.
Our friend, who long ago moved to the city, was understandably distraught. “The house is all we have; it’s all we’ve ever had.” His best idea was crowd-funding to build a better, stronger, higher house, one whose only year-around occupant now is his very elderly mother. A group discussion with a group of friends who cared about him yielded his own realization that the real loss was not the house but the security the family home had provided, security now and for the foreseeable future gone.
The government had been trying to buy the property for decades, to widen a highway, and suddenly, with the perceptions of people who cared about him but were not, like him, restricted by deep family imperatives, the answer was to sell the land to create a truly secure place—elsewhere—for his mother’s last years. Without the perspective of others, he had no chance of seeing beyond the family’s most ancient myth, clung to most tenaciously by his mother.
Scott Berry | Life Coach and Counsellor
When you 'bottom-out' in the cycle of depression there's very little you can do but reach out for medical help. But once you get it, and you begin to emerge from that horrible place, that's when you can actively work too improve your life and create resilience strategies that help should you start 'falling' again.Learn More
The life coaching connection
For all the advances in the science, for which we’re daily grateful, it remains a fact that many people working their way out of clinical depression come to see that there’s more than the past at work in how they feel and, accordingly, behave. For most it’s imperative to face the past: the family history of depression, childhood sexual abuse, mandated caring for failing elders at the expense of their own education and job opportunities—or lost opportunities owing to nothing but grinding poverty.
Equally, it becomes essential to take as clear a look at the individual’s present circumstances that, even if they are not causing the depression, are reinforcing it, surrounding it like a moat without a drawbridge. Ask anyone in the throes of depression about the prospect of a better future, and, likely as not, there’s no longer even an active fantasy about a different kind of future. One of depression’s best ideas is: “It’s always going to be like this.”
A startling number of people are profoundly, inescapably unhappy because they’re in the wrong place, a place that’s not right for them in any of a number of ways. The turning point in our discussions with our Thai friend came by helping him see that the most important transformation he had to make—to build a life, to save his own life—and had made, was to leave that very house, against the family “script.”
It was imperative for him to leave a community, whatever its meager comforts, where his life prospects were limited to more poverty, a life spent scraping to get by. He then could also envision, for his mother, a place where she didn’t have to haul her aching bones up a ladder to sleep on a hardwood floor, fearing the weather. It turns out she rather likes her new room, with its color TV and freedom from terror every time there’s thunder and lightning.
Scott Berry | Life Coach and Counsellor
I'm Scott. I'm a life coach and counselor in Bangkok. I work with organizations to improve team performance and leadership capacity. I work with individuals who want to build a better life for themselves. A coach is a friend, someone on your side, with skills to help you create success.Learn More
What coaching offers
As our example is meant to show, life coaching is not a fuzzy new term for job counseling. Which is not to say that for many people the necessity becomes getting out of the mire of circumstantial depression caused by being in the wrong job. Or wrong marriage. Or wrong country.
But it starts with learning who we really are, apart from the family story that in truth is likely never to stop repeating itself, like the loud, imposing relative at a holiday gathering everyone’s tired of listening to. Apart from the pressures—or, perhaps, the apparent rewards—of our current jobs. Apart from suppressing a life-long urge to be creative—using an actual, genuine talent—in order to keep a sinking ship from going down, or to lavish that creativity on the first people who lay claim to it for their own ends.
Through coaching we can learn the fundamentals that don’t show up on our school report cards but that nevertheless run our lives until we decide to run our own. Are we essentially introverts or extroverts? For most of us, that’s not immediately obvious. An introvert can be the life of a party, having checked in with herself before going, knowing that she’s in the right frame of mind that night, and knowing that she’ll be at her best if she gives something (but not everything) of herself, because doing that sets others free, and everybody’s better off for it.
An extrovert might be in exactly the right job making surfboards in a shop where he works alone. What makes it meaningful for him is that when a customer comes by, it’s not like a customer at a shoe store. It’s someone who’s after something particular because it’s what makes him a better surfer—something only the surfboard maker really understands. The surfboard maker gets the gratification of finding out the most important things about his customer, and gets recognition from someone else for his skills.
Working against either fundamental disposition is a guaranteed satisfaction-killer. As are the other confusions we’re heir to in a noisy, know-it-all world. Our friend Carol was an extrovert who took immaculate care of her insides. Smart as hell, her real gift was for feeling—knowing her own, recognizing those of others.
When we met her she had a master’s degree in psychology with a specialization in Gestalt therapy who was much in demand—and more miserable by the day. Not so unusually for someone in her profession, she had grown tired of—her own words—“doing other people’s feeling for them,” and the big checks and the seafront home were no longer cutting it. What had gotten lost in the shuffle were her own changes as a growing, developing human being and her original, deeply earned sense of her own Gestalt.
Looking out at the sea one day, probably despondently, it hit her why she was living there and not in the Great Plains, where she was born and raised, and came to call, when she got her roaring sense of humor back, the Grunt Plains. In a week she sold her house and everything in it and crewed onto a medium sized ship and sailed the South Pacific—working harder than she ever had, and developing a body of awesome, splendid strength for no one but herself. For two years. She’s back on land now—wilderness, with horses—and is the happiest person we know.
To be clear, that’s not what happens for everybody. But all the work in psych had set the stage for her moment of clarity, that “deep knowing” the next right thing to do. It usually comes with a comparably deep conviction—knowledge really—that whatever it is, it could not possibly be wrong. And if another change becomes warranted—wilderness, horses, the man she’d always wanted because he was living the life that was right for him too—that is every bit as possible as that last, wild, life-transforming improbability.
Coaching starts with finding out who we are. Then it leads us to our own ideas about what the transformation we long for might look like—and be. Then it helps us imagine a future that’s consonant with who we are, and how we want to change—and step right into it. If it’s an alternative to depression you’re after, try happiness based on being you!
For further reading:
Depression - A Survival Guide
Download this FREE Survival Guide! Learn the basics for successful living with depression. The guide will help you if you've just been diagnosed or living with depression for a long time.