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How to Support Mental Health and Goal Setting in Your Agency

Date:Tuesday July 6, 2021

At their heart, therapeutic conversations have a simple goal that is difficult to achieve: to learn more about why someone is experiencing their current mental health situation and develop strategies to improve that health.


Your first responder teams have many sources of stress and cause for mental blocks, frustrations, and even clinical conditions like depression. At the same time, they have a wider world of interests and goals: they are often parents, spouses, friends, and involved in many other communities.


Stress-inducing events and changes in life circumstances can be a positive reason to look into  options for therapy, counseling, or life coaching. However, these services are different resources, so knowing the difference can help you present the options to your team more clearly.

Therapy Vs. Counseling


The terms therapy and counseling are often used in place of each other, referring to meeting with someone with a credential, such as a Ph.D. in counseling psychology or a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology, as well as a licensure to discuss mental health concerns, goals, and strategies for improvement.


Therapy is a short name for psychotherapy, which has its roots in a long-term relationship with a psychologist who will help the patient discuss both their current concerns and the underlying background that may inform those concerns. Traditionally, this relationship continues long enough to implement some new strategies for coping with life’s challenges and for setting and achieving goals, with the therapist’s sessions as a place to brainstorm, discuss, consider, and reflect.


Counseling is a very broad umbrella term, but sessions with a counselor can often be used as a more short or medium-term relationship of talk therapy, where an individual, couple, or family spends time working out particular concerns with a licensed mental health counselor, often one with a specialty in working with one or more particular populations.


In both cases, these therapeutic talking sessions are seen as a patient-health practitioner relationship, even though therapists and counselors, unless they are also psychiatrists, do not prescribe medication as part of their work.


Life Coaching as an Additional, Non-Diagnostic Service


Life coaches are quick to tell you that they are not healthcare providers; they aren’t interested in replacing a therapeutic environment if that is what someone needs. In practice, sessions may involve talking about some similar goals and thought processes with a life coach, but the conversation will tend to be non-diagnostic (no identification of mental disorders or needs for treatment) and future-oriented, not digging into the past.


In a first responder setting where a team member isn’t struggling with a particular trauma but is instead interested in exploring what taking on a new leadership role might look like, life coaching or executive coaching can be a valuable tool for exploring goals and motivations. The life coach offers guiding prompts and questions to help an individual decide what is best for them.


As you can see, working through a long history of mental health concerns with a psychotherapist, addressing a particular crisis with a counselor, or making a game plan to reach ambitious goals with a life coach are all going to be needs in first responders’ lives. By helping them know what these services are and how they can help, you put your team on a path toward more access to the help they need.



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