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  • Catherine Benfield

A Chat about Unethical and Unqualified OCD Coaches

Updated: Jul 9

Olivia talking to a character in a chair with a cat on his lap. It's the archetypal villain scene.

Hey Everyone!

I'd like to start this post by talking about my motivation for writing it.

I've been an OCD advocate for a long time and during that time I've received emails and messages from people telling me about the awful experiences they've had with a variety of unqualified OCD coaches using unethical practices. The number of these emails have increased significantly recently, different names are coming up, and OCD coaching is an area that seems to be growing quite rapidly and so I decided to write about it. Whilst many OCD coaches are qualified and amazing - some aren't and are doing a lot of damage. I'm hoping this post will help me prevent harm coming to people before it happens, as opposed to only helping people get support after the damage has been done.

I hope you understand why I can't name names, I wish I could, but I have hopefully done the next best thing. I have written in such detail about red flags that you should be able to avoid them even without knowing any names.

I set up Taming Olivia as a place to have bright, engaging and positive conversations about mental health and well-being but every so often a topic comes up that is relevant, serious and cause for concern and this blog is one of those.

So let's get going!

In this blog we’ll talk about:

What is OCD coaching?

Green and red flags for OCD coaches. 

How to protect yourself from unqualified OCD coaches. 

How to get support if you have had unethical treatment.

What is OCD coaching?

Coaching has recently taken the world by storm. People can be coaches for pretty much anything - want to learn to handle your workload, how to decorate your home, how to support your children in school, or organise your wardrobe…… there are coaches for it. Coaching basically involves paying for the services of someone else who acts as your guide. They can be role models, specialists and/or consultants who direct and motivate. 

Whilst many people spend years training to be coaches and take their role very seriously, a big problem with coaching is that it's largely unregulated. There are a load of courses online to train people to become a coach and a few of these organisations have their own set of regulations but sadly many don’t. You can call yourself a coach with zero training and zero qualifications -  there isn’t a legal framework to act as a guide, or shockingly, to hold coaches to account if something goes wrong. 

As soon as we enter the world of mental health coaching, we enter extremely an complicated area. If a life coach gets it wrong, it's annoying and maybe expensive, but the consequences might not be that serious. If a mental health coach attempts therapy and gets it wrong, or gives the wrong information or advice, it can cause untold damage. 

OCD Coaches

Let’s look specifically at OCD coaching. There are many specialists working within the world of OCD advocacy and treatment. Most of them have trained for years to hold their qualifications and belong to governing and regulatory bodies that oversee their work and hold them accountable. E.g., if they make a mistake, an investigation takes place, questions are asked, they are not free to repeat the mistakes over and over again.

Some people working as OCD coaches have spent years in training as peer support specialists - they too, belong to regulatory boards. These people will help you get the most out of your therapy, treatment and recovery but they will NOT DO THERAPY. OCD coaches should be transparent and maintain high ethical standards. They will be honest with you about what they can and can’t do.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for all OCD coaches. There are coaches working within our community who have caused untold damage. They have charged people a fortune only to criticise the work of trained OCD professionals and have treated vulnerable people terribly. One was even the focus of a BBC documentary. So please be really careful.

OCD Coaches Red and Green Flags

There are a few ways of telling the difference between ethical/qualified OCD coaches and those that really should not be responsible for the well-being of others. Some examples are:

Green flags

Have peer support qualifications

Are transparent with experience and qualifications

Charge a reasonable fee

Put your well-being first

Do not do therapy

Works alongside specialist

Often work as OCD advocates and do OCD charity voluntary work

Will respect your boundaries

Red Flags

Will do therapy

May criticise the work of professionals

No qualifications

Are unkind/inconsiderate

Pressure you/give you the hard sell

Shame/blame you

Promise to heal you

Charge a fortune

Grandiose ideas/self importance

May refer to themselves as experts, exaggerate how many people they’ve helped, claim to be solving a problem for you.

They may appear more like pushy business people than compassionate professionals. 

Feed off your insecurities

Lack transparency

Claims they've totally cured their own OCD

Services/communication may decline in quality once payment is received

May push through your boundaries

Use fear to market products to you May pressure you into appearing on their social media channels or to give references

May refer to themselves as a therapist or psychotherapist*

* It’s important to note that the term ‘therapist’ and ‘psychotherapist’ are not protected titles in the UK so anyone could call themselves a therapist and put themselves in a position to guide you through recovery - there will be no follow up if they cause you damage and they will be free to do it over and over again.  

How to Spot a Possible Unethical/Unqualified OCD Coach on Social Media/Online

Unqualified/unethical OCD coaches very often promote themselves in the same way. They are business minded, full of exaggerated claims and exclude details about qualifications.

I momentarily changed my own Instagram profile for this picture so I could show how easy it is to exaggerate and fabricate information about myself. Here it is...

An example of an overexaggerated Instagram profile claiming things that re untrue about my experience and qualifications.

... it was ridiculously easy to do.

How to protect yourself from unqualified OCD coaches 

Using the above criteria will help you begin to work out whether someone is an unqualified/unethical OCD coach. Another great defense is to do you research. Also ask to see qualifications of someone you might be thinking of working with - ask about experience, ask for references from respectable sources, ask if you’ll be locked into a payment scheme, ask as much as you can and get it in writing! If you are unsure, always make sure you contact one of the OCD charities as they may be able to advise you. Details of these are below. 

If you suspect that you are being ‘coached’ by someone who does not have your best interests at heart, please step away. 

How to get Support if you have Received Unethical ‘Treatment’ and are Struggling.

If you are really struggling, your first port of call could be crisis care. I know that can sound scary but many of us have used crisis care, including me, and it has really helped. 

In the UK your options are:

• contact Samaritans on 116 123.

• phone 111 or attend your local a and e department where you can get the correct support.

• You can text SHOUT to 85258 for 24/7 text-messaging support for anyone in the UK. Text YM if you are under 19.

• Please see this additional information from the NHS about additional crisis care.  

• You can also contact the wonderful charities, OCD Action, OCD UK or the IOCDF.

For US/international support please contact the IOCDF.

If you are not in crisis, still contact the charities, they may be able to support you and offer alternative suggestions. Also speak to your GP, they will be able to talk to you about alternatives too. 

There is a Facebook group for people who have been hurt by the actions of exploitative OCD coaches - please email me if you would like the details. 

Specialist OCD Therapists

I’ve spoken a lot about unethical OCD coaches on social media recently and people have written to me to say they’ve also had problems with actual qualified therapists saying they know how to treat OCD when in fact they don’t. So just as a reminder, the gold standard for OCD treatment is currently cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) with exposure and response prevention (ERP). And this is either with or without medication.*

We have some excellent OCD specialist therapist in our community - but if you feel you are being treated by someone who doesn't understand OCD you can get around this by asking questions about their experience with treating people with OCD, what therapies they would use and what training they’ve had. 

You can also make sure that mental health professionals are accredited with the correct boards... 

OCD-UK recommends seeking qualified therapists that meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • BABCP accredited (not to be confused with BACP) – for therapists

  • HCPC registered – for clinical psychologists

  • GMC registered – for psychiatrists

You can search the databases using the following links and email OCD UK if you need any advice. 

  • To check a therapist name on the BABCP register use this

  • To check if a therapist is HCPC registered visit here (select practitioner psychologist)

  • To search for a psychiatrist you can check here

The above information is taken from this wonderful article from OCD UK written by CEO Ashley Fulwood. You can read the rest of the article here.

* Inference Based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (I-CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) have been helpful to many both as a supplement to additional treatment and instead of CBT and ERP if they haven't helped.

Take aways:

Therapist and  psychotherapist are not protected titles, anyone can call themselves one. 

Believe it or not it is not illegal to claim to be a therapist and carry out therapy. The focus is very much on us to make sure the people we are working with are qualified. I still find this staggering. Choose wisely using the points above. 

There are ways of checking that someone is who they say they are. Remember to ask questions and to look for either red or green flags. 

If you have found yourself in the presence of an unqualified OCD coach please don’t worry, there are steps you can take and advice you can get to support you.

Having many testimonials and support posts on social media DOES NOT mean someone is good at what they do, it can mean they are pressuring people to share their stories and testimonials. 

Okay, I think that's it for now! I hope you have found this post helpful. And please try not to feel too worried about this. Their are thousands of wonderful, kind and supportive people in the OCD community, it's just important that we understand how to spot anyone who may be trying to exploit any vulnerability.

Sending you all so much love,

Cat xx

Further reading

Read a BBC News article about the damage Coaches can do to our OCD community here.

There is a difference between OCD coaches and OCD advocates - find out more including how to use OCD advocates safely here? Please read this blog.

If you would like to know more about me and my qualifications please check out our transparency statement.

Want to know why some obsessions feel like urges? Read my most read blog here

Taming Olivia Newsletter 

We send out a fun community newsletter each month which includes:

  • Loads of information about up-coming OCD community events

  • Updates about Taming Olivia and Waving, a film about OCD and Intrusive thoughts that was recently released.

  • A free, fun and accessible well-being pack which includes ways in which to practice self-care and recovery skills (I try really hard to follow my own advice and have a full transparency statement that covers the qualifications I have relevant to this work. You can access it here).

Come and join us by signing up at  

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