What Is a Behavioral Coach?

And how can working with one help you improve your mental health?
Medically Reviewed by
Dr Hamilton
A woman with glasses rests her chin on her hand, wondering what a behavioral coach is
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When you go looking for behavioral or mental health care, the sheer number of types of providers can be overwhelming. Psychiatrist, behavioral coach, life coach, psychologist, hypnotist, sound healer, executive coach — the list goes on, and some of these professionals are more, well, let’s say some of them use more structured or evidence-based techniques than others. 

In addition to the variations in licensing requirements for these different providers, there are also often different approaches to problem-solving and to helping you regulate your thoughts and emotions, and those differences can have an effect on your results.

That’s why we’re breaking down the differences between some of these mental health professionals for you, to demystify the process and help you figure out which one is best for you. Today, it’s all about behavioral coaching: what it is, what it isn’t, and how it differs from what we usually think of when we talk about therapy (or life coaching).

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A brunette woman holds up her phone and talks to a blond behavior coach over telehealth
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What is behavioral coaching?

Behavioral coaching is a form of mental health care that’s more accessible than traditional therapy. It involves a skilled professional who provides support and guidance to people struggling with mild to moderate mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

Each provider’s approach to coaching will differ slightly, but most behavioral coaching models have a few qualities in common: 

  • The behavioral coach (or behavior coach) provides emotional support and active listening
  • The focus is on present-day challenges more than past experiences
  • Coaches work with clients on identifying the behavioral patterns they want to change
  • Goal setting and clear action plans combine to result in positive changes 

One of the most successful kinds of coaching is cognitive behavioral coaching, which employs evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques to help clients reframe their negative thought patterns and literally rewire their brains to improve their lives.

With the right professional skills, a trained behavior coach can have a significant impact on a client’s experience of depression, anxiety, stress, or any other negative emotion they’re grappling with.

Is behavioral coaching the same as therapy?

While behavioral coaching and talk therapy share some of the same elements — and CBT coaching techniques are often similar to the techniques a licensed psychologist would use — they’re not the same. 

The most significant difference is that behavioral coaching doesn’t require a special degree or license and therefore can’t legally involve diagnosing or treating mental illnesses. Therapy is also broader-reaching than coaching, often including a deeper understanding of the patient’s past experiences and relationships, while coaching is more focused on making a change to the patient’s present emotional and behavioral challenges.

Many behavioral coaching models rely on a tiered process, where patients are funneled into a sort of pyramid of provider types according to need:

  • People who need clinical help see licensed providers such as psychiatrists or psychologists. These providers are significantly harder to access: in the U.S. there are only 34 licensed psychologists for every 100,000 people, and many psychologists don’t take insurance and are unaffordable out of pocket. Thus, it’s important not to overload licensed professionals with people who don’t need clinical support, to increase availability for those who do. 

  • Behavior coaches, on the other hand, are often less expensive and more available, likely due in part to the lower barrier of entry for those looking to develop professional coaching skills. This means that the next tier of patients, people struggling with mild to moderate symptoms of anxiety or depression, or simply looking for help gaining more control over everyday stressors and negative thoughts, can access the same positive outcomes with a coach that they’d get with a therapist. Plus, they can likely get help faster and at a more affordable price.

How can a behavioral coach help you?

A behavioral coach, especially one trained in CBT techniques, can help you improve almost any area of your life with evidence-based strategies and exercises to identify and change negative emotions and thought patterns. CBT has been proven to be the most effective therapy for anxiety and depression, and it’s also great for making positive changes in your daily habits.

At Youper, we provide access to licensed therapists and prescribers for patients who need clinical care, but we also offer a non-clinical care model that combines the thoughtful, expert guidance of trained behavior coaches with a 24/7 chat that supports you anytime you need it, day or night. 

We believe you can feel better and make positive changes in your life, and our providers are looking forward to helping you get there.

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