Mental Health & Wellness: What should you opt for in Pakistan: Life Coaching or Therapy?

Author: Sana Gilani

As a Pakistani who has worked on Mental Health in any capacity that I could have, I have realized that people are still not aware about therapy and try to shun the conversation around it. A lot of orthodox Pakistanis are still afraid to tell people they are taking therapy or seeing a mental health consultant, mainly because people think you are ‘crazy’ or ‘weak’.

It becomes a social stigma, something of a stain that you carry with you for the rest of your life.

For this reason, there hasn’t been a lot of healthy debate about the difference between life coaching and therapy, and when one should be consulting either.

If you feel like you don’t have any sort of mood disorder or symptoms of depression/anxiety, opting for a life coach would give you the ability to gain a fresh, informed perspective to problems that you are currently facing.

A few positive outcomes of working with life coaches include:

  • A better work/life balance
  • Enhanced Creativity
  • Improved Communication Skills
  • Stronger relationships with friends & family

But what exactly is the impact of working with life coaches? Why should you opt for a life coach, instead of receiving therapy from a licensed practitioner?

A study found that ‘Life Coaching’ was helpful in reducing procrastination amongst individuals, and it also improved goal attainment. Another study found that ‘Health & Wellness’ Coaching improved self-empowerment.

As a formal field, however, Coaching in Pakistan is relatively young. It does have roots in leadership training, adult education, personal development and areas of psychology, though. For this reason, it is now gaining momentum amongst those who do not want to go for more serious avenues.

  • People who should opt for Life Coaches:
  • Those who have high levels of stress or anxiety
  • People who cannot seem to break bad habits
  • Those who lack a social life & find ways to make it better
  • People who are dissatisfied at work
  • Those who feel like they have a ‘creative block’

Pakistani Life Coaches are focusing on an overall strategy for the theme in general, but in countries globally, Life Coaching is segregated according to the issues people face. Some of these segregations include:

  • Addiction Coaching
  • Relationship Coaching
  • Career & Business Coaching
  • Fitness & Mental Health Coaching

Let’s talk about Psychotherapy now, and the way it is still not being utilized in its full capacity in our country. In Pakistan, for starters, people don’t want to talk about mental health issues openly. A person experiencing anxiety or depression would rather seclude themselves than tell family and friends. There is a social stigma in Asian countries (not entirely, but it still exists) with regards to seeking therapy for our ‘mind’.

Dr. Sana Yasir, an Inter-sex Educator and NLP Master Coach/Life Coach, tells us about some of her own experiences.

“From what I have learned from Tony Robbins and experienced in the past 3 years is that life coaching is truly its own unique service designed to help ambitious achievers meet the outcomes that will bring them success and fulfillment in any and all areas of life. A coach can be a motivational speaker too, although both can be different. A coach will customize the sessions according to the clients’ needs and motivational speaker may address more than one person and address general needs-so I think it differs a little in that aspect.”

Dr. Yasir further went on to describe that self-help books are not a replacement for life coaching, as they do not hold us accountable to make a positive shift. She was of the opinion that people should stop blaming and focusing on the past, and work towards the issues at hand.

“I have chosen to become a life coach, despite being an MBBS doctor; because I feel that having a growth mindset is more important than psychotherapy.”

Dr. Yasir was of the opinion that a coach would be able to improve the quality of life 10 times faster than a psychotherapist, who would require multiple sessions to produce results.

“If as a life coach, I find that the client’s condition is deteriorating, I recommend seeing the concerned specialist. My goal is always aligned with the client’s goal; and I help them overcome their daily problems to achieve maximum success.”

Zain Rehman, a Psychodynamic therapist, had different views on the situation in Pakistan.

“Psychotherapy revolves a great deal around becoming aware of personal traumas, blind spots, habitual patterns and relational stances. There is usually never a time when a therapist would tell you what you should do. The idea is to make you aware of what your true self desires authentically, getting you to a point where you experience the agency to choose it for yourself and be comfortable in feeling accountable for the consequences of your choices. I’m not sure what life coaches do and I’m not sure what makes them eligible to coach anyone on how to lead their lives.”

Rehman was of the opinion that psychodynamic therapy, which helped his clients find patterns in their emotions, thoughts and beliefs, was always an on-going process to discover deeper parts of every individual.

When asked about his opinion on Life Coaches and why they’re celebrated more, he stated, “Why do sports personalities earn more than medical professionals? I believe it is because they’re celebrated more, and seen more in the public eye. A doctor rejecting an energy drink won’t have the same impact as an NBA player endorsing it.”

Rehman further believed that ‘transference/countertransference’ and ‘poor parenting’ were common problems that his clients were experiencing in Pakistan.

The last person we interviewed was Dr. AenaPatel, a Life Coach hailing from Karachi, Pakistan.

“All of us life coaches in Karachi meet up about once every two months or so, to share ideas, stories and perspectives.”

Dr. Patel, a major in Psychology, became an NLP Life Coach because of her belief that ‘unlocking the unconscious part of our brains unleashes one’s true potential’. She had different techniques, such as the ‘hour of power’ and ‘gratitude power breaths’ to make her clients experience the beauty and inspiration in their lives.

“People abroad are more self-aware, and know about the problems they face. People in Pakistan are still struggling to know themselves and their emotions, and we come from a very negativity-centric society. From ‘you look fat’ to ‘you look dark’, we have heard it all and it changes us in our childhood. This is where the damage starts, you see.”

Dr. Patel believed that the way therapists and life coaches ask their clients questions also matters.

“Re-phrasing a direct question helps people open up a great deal; and at the same time, if you’re enforcing something on them, people seem reluctant to open up. I believe that Life Coaching is really helpful-but only for those who know that they don’t have symptoms of more serious brain/mood disorders. We don’t work with clients who say they’re depressed or suicidal, we recommend them to therapists and psychiatrists.”

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