Melissa Colton is a licensed mental health counselor, psychotherapist, and life coach whose favorite quote is that of Carl Jung’s: "You are not what happened to you. You are what you choose to become!" It seems that Melissa herself embodies this quote. Though a lot may have happened to her, she has chosen to re-invent herself each step of the way.
Reminiscing, Melissa recalls dreaming of becoming be a go-go dancer, flight attendant, and a member of the Peace Corps all before the age of 15. Interestingly enough, none of these things happened. Instead, she went to college, fell in love, married, moved to Florida, had two children, and lived a pretty normal, low key life… yet, always with an itch to do more!
At age 40, Melissa reinvented herself by going back to graduate school. She eventually became a licensed mental health professional, specializing in treating high-risk individuals, which included being on-call holidays, weekend, and in the middle of the night for crisis calls from actively suicidal and/or self-harming clients. As challenging and demanding as the working conditions had been, the rewards were those you measured in intangible ways– self-satisfaction, living a mission-driven life, and finding deep personal purpose in serving others.
Life was good— until it wasn’t. Sadly, the agency Melissa had dedicated 11 years of service to closed unexpectedly. After the initial shock wore off, she realized it was time to reinvent herself again. In retrospect, Melissa philosophizes: “Reinventing oneself is a kind of metamorphosis, like the butterfly who emerges from the cocoon. During the long, dark time in my cocoon, I experienced cognitive dissonance– that mental discomfort when something feels out of balance, off center, out of alignment… yet you know things will get better because you’ve been through disappointment and change before.”
And reinvent herself she did! Melissa moved to Arizona, moved away from the “disease model” typical of many mental health positions and enrolled into the Transformational Life Coaching offered at SWIHA. Upon graduation from the 100-hour Certificate of Excellence in Life Coaching, Melissa reports, “My butterfly emerged from its cocoon!”
Continuing enthusiastically, Melissa explains: “Finally I found a way to help people that was positive and forward moving— that didn’t dwell on ancient history or past mistakes in order to affect change. Life coaching is both spiritual and practical– it was truly a way to reinvent my passion for working with people and their overall mental wellness.”
After Melissa graduated from SWIHA, her next iteration of herself was to move back to Florida and combine the best of both worlds– the life coaching and mental health fields—while being careful to not blur the scope of practice of the two.
As clarification, both life coaches and mental health counselors help a client move forward, support personal growth and evolution by being goal focused, work on problem solving, and are client-centered in their approach— all of which result in empowering people.
When presenting herself as a psychotherapist or mental health professional, Melissa has been trained to handle psychological emergencies, is able to explore a client’s history, can work with complicated psychological issues, including trauma and pathologies, is able to creates a treatment plan, and, when needed, can offer a diagnosis for someone she is working with.
Some of the differences when working with a life coach are that a coach does not diagnose and does not work with psychological issues or pathologies; rather, they engage clients in the present moment, guide them to leave the past behind, strive to be action-oriented, focus on a singular goal, and cultivate positive results. An important distinction is that a life coach works with clients to bring full awareness and presence in the moment –in the NOW–which is the definition of mindfulness.
Based on Melissa’s experience, mindfulness is the tapestry that weaves positive mental health and life coaching. She explains, “Using mindfulness in therapy or coaching helps the client learn to stay in the present moment in a world where multitasking has become a value.”
Working for a non-profit agency where the population is predominately on Medicaid, Melissa’s clients struggle day-to-day for survival— for the basic needs that most of us take for granted. She explains her approach with this demographic: “After sharing a basic description of mindfulness, I key on their particular interests. Do they love music? If they do, I offer a mindfulness exercise that is based on that. For example, I might ask them to practice mindfulness by picking their favorite song and listening to it, focusing on only one instrument in the piece and trying to follow that instrument through the entire song.”
Continuing, this therapist-coach teaches: “If someone I am working with finds themselves drifting to another thought like, ‘I have to remember to buy milk today,’ I tell them that it’s ok… just acknowledge the thought by saying to themselves, ‘Oh, isn’t that interesting, I’m thinking about buying milk,’ and then go right back to following the instrument they chose. I reassure them that there’s nothing wrong about having other thoughts creep in— again, just acknowledge the thought and go back to listening to the instrument. If they have to do that a dozen times before the end of the song, that is OKAY! I find that by giving them a mindfulness exercise based on their interests, they are more likely to actually do the mindfulness exercise and are then more open to trying it again with something like mindful eating or mindful walking.”
With a sweet smile of satisfaction, Melissa beams, “My goal is to always shine a light in the darkness when someone feels ‘stuck,’ to help them remember what they already know, yet may have temporarily forgotten, to hold sacred space for them, and to be ‘present’ with them as they work to move forward and achieve their goals– as they seek to reinvent themselves.”
When asked what her greatest joy is, Melissa assures us: “My joy is reminding people they have all the answers they need inside of themselves. They always did. They still do. I ultimately know that my truest opportunity is to help people reinvented themselves over and over again—just the way I have always done!”