Whatever prefix you place on it (life/ holistic/ health/ quantum), coaching can assist people looking to improve their overall wellness or reach their next goal in life. Some have used social media to promote guides and services as a Skin Picking Coach to assist you with what the average psychologist is not trained to- help you stop picking your skin. Are there any out there who are actually qualified to help you manage such a complex compulsion?
This is personal for me, and not just because I’ve recently had one try to manipulate me and another message multiple members of my facebook group Skin Picking Support to sell her guide. I will later refer to each as COACH ONE and COACH TWO, respectively.
As an eighteen year old who lived in an area that still has very little awareness for body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs), I felt like a freak. Past traumas and co-morbid mental health issues affected my daily life, fuelling my dermatillomania. Anytime I frantically made attempts to stop, I felt like a failure and even more alienated from society. After barely looking at the logging homework I completed for Dr. A (who I discuss in my memoir, FOREVER MARKED: A Dermatillomania Diary), she discharged me because I just wasn’t getting it. I felt like I was thrown to the wolves to suffer alone, and continued to live with extreme shame and distress over my appearance.
I was in university and working long hours at a call center to pay tuition while providing financial support at home. Coming from a low-income situation after my father’s brain injury, my mother and I would have saved every penny for me to get any form of help to save me from my mental spiral.
With no media exposure or support groups for skin picking in the early 2000s, I may have jumped on the opportunity to connect with a life coach claiming to give me freedom from my picking so I could feel “normal”. I would have been skeptical, but my desperation could have led me to talk to anyone willing to try harder than my cruel psychologist had.
Skin picking coaches do not have the credentials or experience to deal with the several mental health issues I had, which contributed to my severe picking- issues which linger and still affect my own recovery today.
The Differences between a Therapist and BFRB Coach
Online coaches and mental health professionals offer similar services on paper, but it can be hard to discern who is capable of providing you with the help you’re looking for. The differences between education, practices, and regulatory bodies in each profession are important to consider when choosing who to see for your dermatillomania:
Education & Training
The requirements to practice as a therapist (counsellor, social worker, psychologist) is rigorous, while there are no legal prerequisites in becoming a coach.
To be a therapist or social worker, prospective practitioners must complete an undergraduate degree, along with a graduate degree, for a minimum of five years of schooling. Students also undergo practicums to complete a set number of hours in the field upon before they graduate. Coaches can receive their certification through websites that take as little as a month to obtain, with no work terms required.
Therapy Vs. Goal-Setting
Therapists (counselors, social workers, psychologists) help you explore and process the past through proven methods like Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectal Behavioral Therapy (DBT), and Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) while utilizing several techniques to help you manage your mental illness. Coaches work from a baseline assumption of general wellness, helping clients achieve goals through an action plan rather than rehabilitating a complex disorder.
Regulatory Bodies & Accountability
While several governing boards across the world have a range of qualifications in becoming a therapist, there are none for life coaches. Whether it’s registering with an association or requiring additional certifications (ie Suicide Intervention, Mental Health First Aid), therapists need to be registered to practice in a specific area due to regulations and for insurance/ billing purposes. Legally, life coaches have free reign with no professional oversight to hold them accountable for irresponsible or dangerous practices.
Steps to Protect Yourself
Search Their Credentials
If someone is offering to help you with a mental health disorder, they must be a trustworthy resource. Their full name, professional information, relevant education, and additional credentials should be easy to access through their social media pages and a Google search. Also consider:
- How many years of post-secondary schooling do they have in a relevant health field?
- Where did they graduate from?
- What certifications do they have, and from where?
- Where have they practiced in the past?
Know Their History
- How long have they been offering their services for?
- What are the specific services they provide?
- How much experience do they have in the field of mental health?
- Do they have professional references?
While it isn’t necessary to be in recovery to be a coach, if they claim to help from personal experience you have the right to research their story. Questions to consider include:
- How long did they have it for?
- How do they define their recovery?
- Was it a lifelong struggle or a brief bout?
- Have they shared images of their skin before recovery?
Be Skeptical of Advertising
When I was on The DRs, Karen Pickett, LMFT, was asked if I can stop this behavior. As an educated and experienced therapist, she didn’t promise a miracle because she understands that there could be underlying issues that needed to be clinically assessed (and addressed) before addressing my excoriation disorder. Voicing high expectations of miracles for therapy could have set me up for failure.
Another warning sign to look out for is when people offer their resources only upon signing up or purchasing a product. Your e-mail can be sold to third-parties or used to spam you with products or services instead of what you originally signed up for.
Search for past or current clients for their experiences with a coach you are seeking more information about.
- Look for testimonials from real people (with first/ last name, non-bot social media handles, etc.) who back up the validity of the services.
- Were clients satisfied or disappointed, and with what part[s]?
- Would they see the coach again, or recommend them to other skin pickers?
What are they promising with their services? Are they using polarizing language to sell their services like cure, stop, eliminate, break free or get rid of?
There is no scientific evidence behind claims urges can go away forever. A picker whose skin was as bad as mine, starting in a developmental stage during childhood, will likely never stop 100% forever. Not only is skin picking a natural grooming behavior for everyone, it’s a part of my neurobiology. During stressful times, those in recovery are likely to revert back to old patterns (to various degrees) because the neural pathways in the brain that self-soothe our BFRBs have already been created through years of enforcement.
Social Media Accounts
Be careful who you follow. While some may post motivating content, they may also serve as advertisements meant to direct you to their services. If they are transparent about their practice and provide realistic expectations for their coaching, they have the ability as motivating figures to alleviate some everyday wellness issues or help you set goals, but their background does not involve any BFRB education or treatment. They are not qualified- or equipped- to act as a mental health professional in treating any disorder, let alone a suicidal 18 year old who would have felt like a failure in not succeeding in becoming “pick free” and guilty for wasting money my family needed to stay afloat.
BFRB recovery is not linear. Similar to PickFix and Amy Foxwell’s oils, every book/ guide, device, oil, and product deserves your skepticism. Question what you see online, especially when it’s connected to a dollar sign. Be thorough in your research before placing your faith in a self-proclaimed coach who may be out for your wallet.
If you’re looking for professional help with excoriation disorder or another BFRB, these providers are listed in the TLC Foundation for BFRB’s database, with many having completed the certification program in Clinical Training in CBT-Based Treatment for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors through the Professional Training Institute program.
Life coaches who specialize in skin picking may be great at encouragement or knowledgeable about helpful tools, but they are not equipped to work with people who have complex mental health issues. Whether it comes from the belief that they’re genuinely helping someone or the drive to prey on the desperation of an under-represented and highly-stigmatized mental health community, they risk seriously harming a vulnerable client if they don’t outline appropriate expectations or know how to handle a mental health crisis.
Since most people seek help when their picking becomes psychologically distressing, my recommendation is to stick with a trained professional who is certified to treat BFRBs.
If you have been the victim of a scam, you can file a complaint internationally or in your country:
- Why do we fall for scams?
- Money and Mental Health
- Are you a Fraud Coach?
- 7 Ways to Know if a Business or Life Coach is Legit
- How to Tell if the Health Coach You Hired is Legit
If you’ve been unsatisfied with services from a skin picking or BFRB coach, do not let this deter you from seeking proper therapies and tools or utilizing online supports for your skin picking. It is not a reflection of your inability to get better; it’s a sign that they are not equipped to handle mental health conditions. Always remember that there is hope for recovery.