I Am Concerned and Scared: Employers Beware


A lot of attention is being focused on employee mental health today. This focus includes employers being encouraged to do lots of different things related to employee access to and support for the treatment of mental illness.

I recently read an article in an employee benefits related newsletter which touted the benefits of using mental health coaches. The article was written by an employee of the vendor providing the coaching services.[Red Flag #1: The article is an educational marketing piece.]

The author wrote that employers and health plans are facing a growing responsibility for providing mental health care. [Red Flag #2: Employee mental health is about way more than providing care for employees who unfortunately experience a mental illness.]

The author noted that their highly trained specialist coaches teach and motivate employees to apply the evidence-based skills they learn.[Red Flag #3: Teaching and coaching are two very different things. Each requires its own knowledge base and skillsets. Coaching is very different from teaching and true coaching is not teaching, but rather guiding and facilitating the coachee to their own best solutions.]

The author writes that mental health coaching can be a more effective alternative to therapy. [Red Flag #4: Coaching and therapy, when done correctly, can both be effective. Neither is an alternative for the other. They are different and applied to very different client/employee needs.]

The author writes that the coaches are highly trained individuals with widely recognized and well-established credentials. [Red Flag #5: The author neglects to tell the reader what these widely recognized and well-established credentials actually are.]

The author writes that the coaches use the principles and techniques from cognitive behavioral therapy, (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and the unified protocol for emotional disorders. [Red Flag # 6: While coaches can certainly benefit from knowing and applying CBT, DBT and emotional disorder protocol principless, therapy techniques and treatment protocols are best left to the therapists.]

The author writes that mental health coaching can produce clinical outcomes on par with therapy and coaching can be a more cost-effective solution for employers. [Red Flag #7: Coaching outcomes are not clinical in nature, so no matter how good the coaching outcomes might be, they can never be on par with therapy.]

The author writes that mental health coaching, when used as part of a larger mental health strategy, is a clear win for employers. No red flag here. If employers want to effectively and successfully address the mental health of their employees, then the employer must approach employee mental health in a comprehensive manner. This comprehensive approach must address mental wellness/wellbeing, or positive mental health, must address psychosocial distress, in addition to addressing mental illness.

Employers Beware. Research is clear that approximately 20% — 30% of your employees experience a mental illness. These unfortunate employees need the best therapeutic care you can afford to offer them. Coaching is not an alternative to therapy. At best, mental health focused coaching is a supplement to therapy, if therapy is, in fact, needed and warranted.

No one reading this article should get the idea I am anti-therapy or anti-coaching because I am definitely not either. I was a licensed mental health professional for 42 years. I have successfully completed four different coaching programs and I am certified in both on-site and remote instruction and training. Training/education, coaching and therapy each have their own appropriate place or role in addressing the mental health of employees.

No one of the three is a replacement for any one of the other two. Coaching is coaching. Teaching is teaching. Therapy is therapy. The three are not interchangeable despite what any vendor wants you to believe. Employers, don’t be fooled by educational type marketing.



Bill McPeck has been involved as a leader and practitioner in employee health, safety, wellness and wellbeing for close to 30 years.

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William McPeck

Bill McPeck has been involved as a leader and practitioner in employee health, safety, wellness and wellbeing for close to 30 years.