The term “health coach” has spread like wildfire through the health and wellness scene recently.
This sudden popularity of health coaching has probably left you with a few questions. Like, what exactly is health coaching? And how does health coaching work?
A health coach is a professional who works in partnership with a client, providing compassionate support, education, and accountability around nutrition and lifestyle changes. They empower the client to connect to their values and strengths in order to create lasting behavior change so they can not only achieve their unique health goals and enhance their well-being, but have the skills to maintain their success for a lifetime.
Whether you’re simply curious or actually considering working with a health coach, read on to find out what you need to know about health coaching.
WHAT IS A HEALTH COACH?
First and foremost, like licensed medical practitioners, health coaches abide by the Hippocratic oath to do no harm, physically, mentally, or emotionally.
As such, health coaching is a completely client-centered process with the goal of meeting you, the client, exactly where you are in your health journey – without judgment or a personal agenda – and supporting you with unconditional empathy and respect. No matter what your maladies or life circumstances, in a coaching relationship you are entering into a safe, nurturing space, where the health coach will always view you as a capable, whole person.
In this partnership, the client is regarded as an expert, just as much as the health coach is. You’re the expert of your own life. You alone know what will work for you and what won’t, what resources are available to you, and ultimately, what feels best to you. A health coach shouldn’t give advice, but instead, ask powerful questions to help you tap into your own strengths and previous successes in order to determine your best path forward.
The coach is there to help you connect to your values, develop your motivations, discover the resources that will help you achieve success, and offer “expert” information, which you can choose to take or leave.
Smartphone-based coaching programs were successful in reducing blood sugar in diabetes.
– From the Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare
Coaching is not therapy. It’s not about figuring out what happened in your past in order to fix everything. It’s about looking toward the future, finding solutions, and moving forward so you can be the best you possible!
Ultimately, the goal of health coaching is to help you let go of bad habits and replace them with new, healthy behaviors that will reverse or manage chronic disease and enhance your mental, emotional, and physical well-being – for a lifetime.
So now that you have a broad overview of what a health coach is, let’s break this down a further, and unpack what the ‘health’ in health coach means.
HOW A HEALTH COACH TAKES A HOLISTIC APPROACH TO HEALTH
Health doesn’t just mean the absence of disease. And it doesn’t just boil down to diet and exercise.
Instead, optimal health is a holistic combination of diet, exercise, rest, stress, spirituality and/or purpose, community, time in nature, toxic load, etc. When one or more of these components is out of whack, that’s when health plummets and conditions like chronic disease manifest.
As the title suggests, health coaches are trained to help you correct the imbalances in each of these areas. They’re not limited to just one area of health like diet or movement. Instead, health coaches take a holistic approach and help you identify and address the areas that need attention. And often, a client will discover they have an imbalance in an area that they didn’t even realize!
Then, based on your unique goals, you’ll work with the coach to create a plan to implement new habits that bring these essential areas of your health back into balance.
CONDITIONS HEALTH COACHES CAN SUPPORT
Coaches usually have a specific niche or health condition they specialize in, but there is a health coach out there for every health issue including, but not limited to:
- Heart Disease
- Thyroid Conditions
- Weight Loss
- HPA Axis Dysregulation (“adrenal fatigue”)
- Autoimmune Disease
- Depression and Anxiety
- Chronic Fatigue
- and of course, “when something just isn’t right.”
It is important to note that, by law, a health coach does not diagnose, prescribe, treat, or cure. However, a health coach may work in collaboration with licensed medical practitioners and can refer clients to the appropriate medical professional should tests or medical treatment be necessary.
Many health coaches work directly with doctors to provide you with an allied care team. The doctor will prescribe treatment and the health coach will work with you to implement the treatment. Some health coaches work directly in doctors’ offices and others work remotely as part of a referral network.
Participants that were coached with habit formation techniques lost seven times as much weight as those that weren’t coached.
– From the International Journal of Obesity
HOW DOES A HEALTH COACH HELP?
By helping clients overcome ambivalence about change, decide on new, healthy behaviors they want to put into practice, and then supporting them as they turn these behaviors into automatic, sustainable habits.
Some of the common health behaviors a health coach can help you implement include (but aren’t limited to):
- Implementing a new diet
- Eliminating cravings
- Creating and sticking to a movement or exercise program
- Developing a stress management practice
- Building a meditation practice
- Implementing a care plan from their doctor
- Breaking bad habits
- Reprogramming negative self-talk
- and so much more!
HOW A HEALTH COACH MAKES BEHAVIOR CHANGE EASY
What’s one thing you could be doing to improve your health? So why aren’t you doing it?!
Coaching is where the magic of behavior change happens.
EMPOWERING THE CLIENT
Health coaching is not about telling the client what to do. In fact, coaches try to avoid “advice-giving” as much as possible. That’s because it’s their job to ask the right questions that empower you to figure out what’s going to work best for you.
There’s a reason for this. When you create your own plan based on what you already know and whatever information you choose to take from the health coach, it puts you in the driver’s seat. No longer are you being told what to do. You’re in control of your own destiny. And that’s a lot more motivating and pleasurable, which are key components in creating behavior change.
Health coaching reduced rehospitalizations by 91 percent in the first month. Also, disease-specific quality of life improved significantly in the health coaching group.
– From the American Journal of Respiratory Critical Care Medicine
FACILITATING SELF DISCOVERY
I’ve mentioned a lot about “asking questions.” About 75% of a typical session is comprised of the coach asking questions that help you identify your strengths, explore valuable contributors from previous successes, discover your support system, and then turn all of these into action steps for you to complete between sessions to help further your goal.
You might be asked questions like:
- I know what you don’t want; what do you want?
- What resources are at your disposal that might help you?
- How important is this to you?
- When faced with something similar in the past, how did you handle it? What was the result? What would you do differently (or the same) here?
- How ready are you to make a change?
And you may be wondering if a coach just asks questions, isn’t that a super easy job?
The answer is no. You’d be surprised at how challenging it is to ask powerful questions, questions that are followed by silence because you’re forced to dig deeper than you have before to examine your values and what’s truly important to you.
Most coaches have extensive training in academic methods like:
- Positive Psychology
- Non-Violent Communication
- Motivational Interviewing
- Solutions-based Coaching
- Character Strengths
- Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change
Not only do these, techniques provide the foundation for questions posed by a coach, but they also inform the entire structure of the coaching process.
As mentioned above, sessions generally conclude by creating action steps that you’ll complete before your next session. The coach will help you flesh out a plan, identify obstacles that might prevent you from following through, and then set up accountability to increase your motivation and chance of success. Because how much more likely are you to do something that someone is expecting versus just do it on your own?
All of these coaching techniques interweave to help you drastically increase your odds of “making things different this time” and achieving lasting behavior change!
HEALTH COACHES ARE THE FUTURE OF THE MEDICAL SYSTEM
Health coaches are not going anywhere soon. In fact, you’re going to hear the term even more frequently.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of health educators and community health workers is projected to grow 16 percent from 2016 to 2026, which is much faster than the average for all occupations.
And there’s a good reason for this: because health coaching works!
These days, one in two people suffer from a chronic disease and research shows that 85% of disease risk comes down to behavioral and environmental factors, not genetics. This 85% is exactly what health coaching addresses.
Every health coach is different and has their own unique coaching style, but at its foundation, health coaching is a partnership that empowers you to create lifelong healthy habits to prevent and manage chronic disease so you can live your life to the fullest!
If you’re thinking about working with a health coach, check out my article 6 Reasons a Health Coach Could Be Right For You.