By Tim Kelley, guest columnist

Recently, a participant in one of my teleseminars started making comments about being depressed and suicidal. This is a fear many coaches have, and most have no idea what to do about it. If this has happened to you, or you’re concerned that it might, read on.

This hasn’t happened to me often, but it does happen. (The more people you work with, the greater the odds, obviously, and I’ve been leading big workshops for a long time.) So, what do you do? Not being a trained or licensed therapist, I’ve been puzzled about how to figure out whether or not it’s serious and what to do when it is.

Well, coincidentally (is there such a thing?), my insurance company sent me a newsletter on precisely this topic at about the same time. It really cleared things up! Not only did it give me the danger signs a client gives, telling me whether I should be concerned, it also pointed me to a state-by-state map and listing of the laws governing when a therapist is required to notify someone about a client’s condition and potential to inflict harm on him/herself or others.

Here’s the newsletter:

Here’s the guide to the laws governing the duty to warn:

I found these extremely enlightening and useful, and I hope you do, too. Two important related notes:

First, the stuff they’re talking about in these laws pertains to licensed therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, etc. I have no idea how and how much it pertains to coaches and consultants, which are unregulated and unlicensed professions in most most countries, states and provinces. I’m pretty sure that coaches do NOT enjoy a legal right to refuse to disclose confidential client information, like therapists, lawyers and pastors do. You could still wind up in trouble for not notifying someone of a potential danger a client of yours poses, I imagine, even if these laws weren’t written with you in mind.

Second, the reason they sent me the newsletter is because they carry my professional liability insurance policy. If coaching and/or consulting is a true profession for you, rather than a hobby, you should carry professional liability insurance (also known as “errors and omissions” insurance). HPSO offers very inexpensive insurance for healthcare professionals, and “life coach counselor” is listed as one of the eligible professions. They also have an inexpensive add-on that covers teaching and consulting. (The ICF offers similar insurance through somebody called Westminster. I have no idea how much it costs or whether it’s any good.)

Here’s HPSO’s relevant page:

Think of it this way: if you don’t have professional liability insurance and one of your clients DOES commit suicide, all of your personal assets are available for a lawsuit by the surviving family members. If you have insurance, the company can provide legal counsel and/or pay the plaintiff. Lots of other things could go wrong; this is just one example. (Another would be that a client claims you “damaged” him/her, or that following your guidance ruined his/her job or marriage. You get the idea.) In our litigious culture, this is an unfortunate fact of life and something you just need to do for self-care, like brushing your teeth, buckling your seatbelt, and insuring your car and house.

I have no relationship with HPSO, other than as one of their insured customers. I’m telling you all of this because it think it’s important and might prove useful to you, should something unpleasant happen. Pray that it never does!


Tim Kelley

Tim KelleyTim Kelley is a global change agent and internationally renowned expert on higher purpose. He works with top leaders in many fields and countries to transform human institutions and evolve society to its new form. Tim’s methodology, True Purpose, has been featured internationally in magazines, newspapers and on television. Tim has trained over 1000 consultants, therapists and coaches in his methods. He has led Voice Dialogue trainings and is certified by Helen Palmer to teach the Enneagram. Tim has worked with hundreds of CEOs, including top leaders and executive teams from such companies as Nabisco, ING, Oracle, Lexmark and AOL. He formerly worked as a leader at Oracle, two levels below the CEO. He is also a retired Naval Reserve officer and holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from MIT. He is the author of True Purpose and the best-selling coauthor of three other books. He can be reached through his websites: Transcendent Solutions and Know Your Purpose.