The Survivor Coach: Kelley McElreath answers a few questions

Kelley McElreath is an ICF-certified life coach as well a certified Mindset Coach. Called the Survivor Coach, she was herself a child of divorce, and has since suffered through bereavement, divorce, personal tragedy and cancer to come out the far side.She shares tips and discusses life from a Manic Mondays segment on her youtube account. Subscribe to it today!

She answered some questions related to various topics that I put to her.

Current Affairs

In the developed world, we've had lots of mental health advocacy in recent years in the media, sometimes due to recession-inspired cutbacks in the healthcare systems, but just as often because we seem to becoming more aware of mental health. If you were in charge of funding in the US or in your home state, where would you like to see resources devoted? 

I believe I would start with more money going into finding a solution for sex addiction to be honest. I think it is a struggle that is one of the hardest for men to break and it changes them completely and makes them into people they do not want to be. It ruins marriages, lives, relationships with their children and a really big cause of mental illness in men. Most men secretly feel major shame about it and never talk about it. I say this because I fully believe that if we can help the men in this country and worldwide really, the world as a whole will improve significantly. Just my opinion on the matter. So many girls and women have major father wounds and are wounded greatly from the effects of being around or related to or married to a sex addict and that in turn plays a HUGE part on our mental health.


What do you tell people whose stories are so harrowing that it's difficult to see a solution, even for yourself? Has that ever happened?

First of all, I sympathize and show them great empathy. I focus a lot on the times I have successfully endured something. Such as being diagnosed with cancer. I handled that better than anything I have ever gone through. After much reflection, I realized the reason was because the entire time I was fighting it, going through chemo and surgeries, etc I ONLY watched comedies and/or comedians. At least 3 times a week. I had a positive attitude and I believed only good was going to come from the whole damn experience. I didn’t want cancer to have me. I wanted to grab it by the balls and show it who was boss. Now, when I think back and ponder on that, it diminishes in my own mind, the horrors, as you said, and makes them not seem so big and impossible to overcome.


The Shoah Foundation was collecting testimony from Holocaust survivors in the 90s. It's been suggested that some of these elderly people took their own lives after giving this testimony, as they had opened up something they had felt they'd never need to revisit. Some people feel that talking is a great form of burden-lifting, or dealing with things. Others don't.
Do you think that talking is a good form of dealing with things?

I think that it is good to talk it out. But you can’t do that to just anyone. The person needs to be completely safe when first talking about it. I had a client once that had endured so much loss…so much pain in her ENTIRE life. Another client had lost her father, months later she lost her mom, then right after found out her husband had been cheating on her for quite some time and he immediately divorced her and moved in with said woman. Several years later, she met a man who had been sober for a while. They hadn’t been together long before she started drinking again. She was a black out drunk. Her new husband would wait for her to black out and then shoot her up with Meth. She became a severe addict and has had multiple attempted suicides. How does someone possibly endure such things?

It is the human spirit. We have so much power that resides within us. Every single one of us. When we fully realize the ability our brains have and what we can accomplish in our thinking, we become unstoppable. Not to say it isn’t a ton of work and a long process but it works. I usually coach people about 9 months. In the beginning it is being the best listener possible and empathizing with the person. Once I have been privileged enough to gain their trust, we start the hard work of facing the things in their past that have broken them. Approaching these things rather than avoiding them is what brings healing. I don’t suggest doing something like this without an experienced life coach and sometimes therapy is needed along that 9 months as well. The advantage I have is that I myself have been through so much tragedy that I can personally relate to almost anything someone has gone through. Having someone like that to talk to is healing in and of itself.

What are the downsides to counselling?

The real question should be, “Can you think of ANY upside to counseling?” I have seen counselors, therapists, psychologist and psychiatrists. I have had nothing but terrible experiences. I mean really, you are talking about seeing a person who knows a whole hell of a lot about your brain and how it functions but has no fucking clue about the actual PERSON! How can any of us expect to have “real” talk with any therapist about any mental illness when they don’t have one themselves? How can we talk openly about suicide and during those times we are just moments away from taking our last breath when they have not been through such a thing?  If they have never attempted suicide themselves and have never been through a terrible war within themselves, how can they relate, understand or help in any way? So much therapy really to me just babysit people and enable them to stay unhealthy. I think because they don’t really have a clue what to do or say. What do you say to a 17-year-old girl whose 4-month old baby has just died? What do you say to someone who says that the only way to get away from their thoughts is to put a gun to their head and make the thoughts stop forever? It is vital to not treat these individuals like a number. We cannot treat them like they are just something to check off our lists for the day. They need to be heard. They need to be listened to. Sometimes saying nothing is doing everything.

Gender Dynamics

On the same subject of counselling, men - now shut up a minute till I explain - men have a tendency to interrupt women, statistically, far more often than they interrupt other men. Women are generally far better at the art of conversation. I've talked with brilliant women who let me speak, and then it turns out their stories are far, far better than mine!

I'd share a silly little hospital story, then I'd ask "Have you ever had an operation under general anaesthetic yourself?"
"Actually, I've had dozens; I had cancer as a teen. I should really be dead."

And half the time, they probably wouldn't even share these tales unless they're asked. If the tables were turned, I'd be saying "Well, just listen to this, now, before you continue - I've had fifty operations!"

What do you think of all this? Is it wrong to suggest that women are about feeling, tone and nuance while men just bluntly state things? Or could women be more explicit? Men have had it so good for so long. Do they need to listen more - in general, but particularly in therapy environments where they are counselling female patients?

That is a lot to contemplate. I have a very strong, assertive and direct personality. I think interrupting is extremely rude. What interrupting does is tell the other person without even saying so that they aren’t even listening to you in the first place because they are thinking about themselves and what they want to say. It says loud and clear…you really don’t mean shit to me. That is to just put it bluntly. I listened to a man giving a talk once and this lady kept interrupting him. 

It was so annoying it was getting on MY nerves. About the 4th time, he just said flat out, “Don’t interrupt me again. Write down your questions and ask me later.” I think interrupting is common as we all long to truly be heard and like to feel important. So, for myself, I can’t really give a great answer because interrupting is disrespectful and I don’t allow people to disrespect me. I guess a lot of women probably do, especially if the other party is a man. 

However, in light of all of that, when I became a life coach and after training many others to become life coaches, I have learned how to listen and the effect it has on someone’s life. It is really amazing. Think about how you yourself feel if you meet someone one time and the next time they see you they remember your name. Think about when you have had just normal conversations with someone and sometime in the future they get you a gift because they remember that you had mentioned once that you liked that thing. 

Listening….truly listening with ALL of your senses is one of the best types of medicine you can offer someone. It is the greatest gift that you can give to them. The greatest listener is the person who hears everything you are not saying.

You can follow Kelley McElreath on Twitter. Her website, The Survivor Coach, can be found here.