The last post explored the role of coaching in eating disorder treatment but left one question unanswered: how can untrained paraprofessionals safely participate in treating a severe mental illness?
There are parallels in other fields where less extensively trained people treat illness: optometrists vs. ophthalmologists or chiropractors vs. orthopedists, to name a few. These options generally reflect a cheaper form of care when the patient seeks help for more basic problems. But the increase in coaching as a viable alternative or addition to traditional eating disorder treatment reflects something different.
Eating disorder treatment is often successful, but the underlying reason for improvement is elusive. Although different types of therapy can give a patient the choice to find the right fit for them, even seeking the supposed best care doesn't guarantee full recovery. Finding the motivation or reason why one person can take steps in recovery is typically very individualized. Progress depends less on education or training and more on the nature of the therapeutic relationship and the ability to tap into a desire for wellness otherwise unknown to a patient. If successful treatment depends largely on the relationship, then it's possible that the best person for someone may not be a professional.
Coaching offers a new way for people who have experienced their own struggle with food and body, or even their own eating disorder, to help others without seeking formal training. The risks of seeing someone less trained are clear: a lack of complete understanding of the power of the therapeutic relationship and the nature of recovery can be damaging. However, exposure to the right person can be exactly what someone needs to find their own path to recovery.
Due to the risks of seeing someone less trained, I would suggest a patient see an experienced therapist as the foundation of treatment, but seeking guidance from a coach whose writing and messages are meaningful can augment recovery in significant ways. In the end, the goal is recovery in any way one can find it.