As a Christian coach, it’s critical that you discern whether a potential client is coachable or, instead, requires a referral to a mental health professional. Sometimes that’s easier said than done. Some issues are obvious from the start, but others may not surface until later in the coaching process.

What then?

A simple litmus test can help. Ask yourself, “Based on what I’m hearing, does this person need healing, or does this individual want growth. A person in need of healing is not yet ready for coaching.

Red Flags

Here are several red flags to watch for to help guide the discernment process. If your client exhibits any of these red flags, refer him or her to a mental health professional:

  • Suicidal, homicidal, or assaultive ideation — When a new or existing client mentions thoughts of harming himself or others, it is a clear indication your client is suffering from deep emotional pain or trauma. Refer your client to a trained mental health professional for treatment.
  • Any type of addiction — Addictions in your client’s life, such as sexual addictions or pornography, gambling, overspending, or illicit or prescription drug abuse, etc., are signs that your client has underlying issues that must be addressed before coaching is effective.
  • Unresolved issues of abuse and neglect — Any form of abuse, whether it’s physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, economic, or mental, profoundly damages a person’s psyche and sense of self. Clients with unresolved issues related to abuse should seek healing prior to coaching.
  • Serious mental health issues including major depression, anxiety, complicated phobias, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive behavior (OCD), etc. — Mental health problems affect people’s thinking, behavior, and relationships. Professional counseling, not coaching, is their greatest need.
  • Anti-social behaviors — Any pattern of behavior that disregards the rights of others or violates social norms is a warning sign. Clients exhibiting these symptoms should see a trained, mental health professional.

Referring clients like these to professional counselors doesn’t make us uncaring people; it makes us discerning practitioners of coaching who have our clients’ best interests at heart.

If an area surfaces in a client’s life that needs healing, it doesn’t necessarily mean the coaching is over. You can take a coach-approach and help the client identify available resources, as well as how to proceed.

Unfortunately, some issues are so all consuming, they eclipse the person’s ability to continue working on areas of growth. Healing is sometimes necessary before growth can continue. If that’s the case, make a referral and let the client know you can resume working together once the healing work is done.

Yellow Flags

It’s also possible that an issue will surface that, although not a reason for immediate concern, indicates you should proceed with caution:

  • Past or present legal issues
  • Custody battles
  • Recent death or divorce
  • Complicated grieving
  • Over-the-top stories

As a professional, you should always be asking yourself, “Is coaching in my client’s best interest?” In addition, ask, “Where is my liability?”

Remember, as Christian coaches, we are growth practitioners, not healers. When in doubt, don’t.