We polled our community to learn more about the type of support they’re needing and wanting. It was abundantly clear that feeling understood and like you can be yourself are some of your biggest needs (which made me happy that “understood” was one of the most common words you used to describe us).
That got me thinking about the support that does- and doesn’t- work for HSPs. After being an HSP therapist and coach for 16 years, I’ve gotten to hear a lot of people’s experiences with other helping professionals. And quite honestly, many of those experiences haven’t been great.
I’ve seen two problems in therapy and coaching over and over again. Here are 2 reasons that therapy and coaching may not work for HSPs:
1. The therapist isn’t highly sensitive or isn’t educated in HSP
I’d guess that over 50% of therapists are HSPs. But that means that many therapists aren’t HSP. Equally (if not more) important is that many therapists don’t know about or understand the trait. This means that when an HSP walks into a therapist’s office citing anxiety, overwhelm, and overstimulation, the therapist will naturally start looking at what’s “wrong” without context.
They may be asking themselves, “Is this person having all these complaints because they have an anxiety disorder? Are they codependent? Do they overthink or have obsessive qualities?”
Unfortunately the model therapists are trained in is a medical model which means we’re trained to look for “pathology”, or what’s “wrong” with a person.
Here’s why this is so damaging for HSPs. High sensitivity is not a disorder!! And it’s not a character flaw. It’s a genetic trait that impacts how we’re wired. It’s how 30% (yes, the research now shows 30%!) of us were born, which means there’s nothing to fix. And while yes, many of us are HSPs and have other mental health issues, bringing an understanding of high sensitivity to the picture is crucial.
Without this lens, HSPs are going to either feel misunderstood or like their therapist is reinforcing the negative beliefs they already have about themselves. Sadly many HSPs leave therapy feeling discouraged, ashamed, and confused.
It’s a tragedy that therapy, a place that could be a safe haven for HSPs, can sometimes perpetuate low self-esteem. And therapy isn’t the only problematic realm. Coaching has exploded in recent years, and it comes with its own problems:
2. Most HSP life coaches lack training in mental health, trauma-awareness, and sensitivity.
Ohhh where do I start with this one? With growing awareness of Highly Sensitive People over the last couple years, I’ve seen more people calling themselves “HSP coaches”.
I know a few wonderful HSP coaches, but here’s my problem with the coaching industry in general: it’s completely unregulated. That means that while a small percentage of coaches have relevant and legitimate training in mental health, trauma awareness and high sensitivity, many are only drawing on personal experience or they have training in coaching methodologies which don’t have enough of a foundation in psychology, trauma and sensitivity (all 3 of these are essential).
Gaining expertise in these areas takes time and commitment. They aren’t topics someone can be qualified to coach in just by reading a book or because they’ve been through hard things themselves. This is not me being judgmental; it’s simply a fact that mental health, trauma and sensitivity are highly complex and most people need years of training to become competent enough to coach in them.
Also, we’ve got to talk about trauma.
Many HSPs have trauma in their backgrounds (trauma is the experience of something being more overwhelming or upsetting than your nervous system can process in the moment).
While trauma work needs to be done in therapy with a trauma specialist, it’s important that an HSP coach is trauma-informed (something that requires training) so that they a. know how to support you appropriately if your trauma gets triggered in session and b. know how to coach in a way that doesn’t purposefully delve into your trauma.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard of coaches blatantly encouraging people to explore their trauma and then re-traumatizing the client in the process.
So what’s the antidote to these two problems?
- If you need therapy (here’s the difference between therapy and coaching), work with a therapist who understands high sensitivity. Here’s a list of HSP-knowledgeable therapists.
- If you’d like coaching, make sure that your HSP coach has a solid foundation in mental health and trauma awareness that includes training, not just personal experience (this could look like mental health and trauma-informed certifications). Our Intuitive Warrior Coaching offers effective and ethical coaching for HSPs. Not only am I a veteran therapist with expertise in trauma and sensitivity but all our coaches are trained in my unique Intuitive Warrior Methodology.
Want to hear about our client’s experiences with Intuitive Warrior Coaching?
” I first went to Brooke as an anxious, highly sensitive empath. A text-book worrier. The work I’ve done with Brooke has changed my life. She is warm, compassionate, and her intuition is spot-on. Since working with Brooke I no longer consider myself an anxious person or a worrier.”
“I experienced a sense of empowerment and pride in being an HSP and feeling more prepared to go through life with a new set of skills. With the name ‘Intuitive Warrior,’ Brooke highlights the strengths that we hold. I felt like I was given permission to be me.”