When I was growing up, coaches led sports teams. I had a swim coach, and my brother had a baseball coach. Friends who participated in athletics had coaches dedicated to helping them improve performance in their chosen sport.
In the last decade or so, the word ''coach'' has gained an alternate definition in mainstream vocabulary, and it doesn’t have anything to do with sports or athletics. There is a crop of folks coaching people in other areas: life coaches, career coaches, executive coaches, relationship coaches, parenting coaches, retirement coaches, and of course, health and weight-loss coaches.
These days, if you want to make a change in any area of your life, there's a coach for that. As a wellness coach for the past ten years, I've learned that most people have absolutely no idea what a health coach does, or what the coaching process is really like.
Most people think a health coach is part counselor, part motivator, part teacher, part advisor and even part nagging mother. At times, coaches will play all of those roles, but they are secondary to what a health coach actually does.
Although health coaching is not a licensed industry (anyone can call himself or herself a health, wellness or weight-loss ''coach''), it is a distinct profession. Trained and certified health coaches are taught specific strategies, techniques, methodologies and tools to help clients in the process of lifestyle transformation.
Certified health and wellness coaches are taught to apply core competencies of coaching psychology drawn from evidence-based behavioral psychology, counseling, motivational interviewing, positive psychology, adult learning theory, and solution-oriented therapy. We help clients identify the areas in their lives that they want to change or improve and help them create a plan to get there. We then provide structure, accountability, expertise and inspiration to enable clients to grow, increase self-awareness, commitment and confidence beyond what they can achieve on their own.
So, are you a good candidate to work with a health coach? What might you expect? Let me answer some of the most common questions I've heard over my past decade of experience.
What’s the difference between coaching and therapy?
It is important to understand that wellness coaching is not therapy. Coaching recommendations are not intended to replace the advice of medical professionals. Individuals come to coaching when they are eager to make changes in their lives that they believe will lead to higher functioning, health and/or happiness. They are asking how to learn new skills and behaviors that they can incorporate into their routines to better their lives.
Therapy, on the other hand, begins with the premise that the patient is in need of healing. It is often a result of a clinical diagnosis such as depression, severe anxiety, phobia, etc. People who choose therapy generally feel that they are not functioning well, and are seeking greater self-understanding by exploring the reasons why they feel this way. Often, the therapeutic conversation is exploring old issues, past emotional pain and discomfort with a desire to find resolution and healing from the past.
Coaches never diagnosis a client, and the coaching conversation is present and future-oriented. As a coach, I believe the only reason to spend time looking back is to learn from the experience and to take that knowledge to help you move forward. It is imperative that the coach knows when to refer a potential or current client to a therapist. Occasionally, clients might be working with a therapist and coach at the same time.
What’s the difference between a life coach and a health or wellness coach?
Coaches come from all kinds of backgrounds and careers. The common thread amongst them all is a deep and burning desire to help people live lives of meaning and purpose so they can reach their greatest potential.
There is a core difference between a life coach and a health coach. Life coaches may come from any field of education or experience, and they often help people make broader changes in their lives (relationships, parenting, organization, careers, etc.) rather than zoning in on health-related goals. The certified health or wellness coach has a background specifically in a health-related field (fitness, nutrition, medicine, psychology, etc.). Many have worked in the health field for several years before adding coaching to their services. For most, wellness coaching is an extension of the work that they have already been doing.
Health coaches also believe that wellness is the foundation of all growth and development. So, no matter why someone hires a coach, we begin with a concentration on self-care. Change is difficult, and when working to reach your greatest potential in any area of your life, the wellness coach believes you must begin with a healthy body and mind.
Why would someone choose to work with a health coach rather than a personal trainer or dietitian?
Many of my clients have worked with trainers or dietitians, both of whom are qualified to help people within their subject-matter expertise, but may not always have the knowledge or skills to help people make changes they can sustain for the long-term (once their prescribed plan ends).
The flaw in these approaches is that most people know exactly what they need to do to develop healthy lifestyle habits. It's taking action on this knowledge that is the challenge. Coaches are trained to ask the tough questions that will have you exploring your deepest motivations for change, finally connecting your heart and head so that acting on what you know you need to do becomes second nature.
What can you expect when hiring a wellness coach?
Expect a powerful relationship between you and your coach! Together, you will explore your greatest health concerns and goals and examine the barriers to achieving those goals. Most importantly, your wellness coach will work with you to create your unique lifestyle plan that targets the strategies to overcome your obstacles.
Your health coach will help you create your personal wellness vision: a picture of what your life would look like and feel like if you were at your optimal level of health and wellness. You'll explore why it truly matters to you, digging deep to uncover your deepest motivators for change. You will discuss the actions you would need to take to achieve this vision. Those actions become the foundation of long-term and short-term weekly goals that you create for yourself.
During weekly coaching conversations, which can take place on the phone, in person, online or even via video chat, you'll celebrate successes of the past week, review any difficulties encountered, strategize around roadblocks, and set action goals for the upcoming week. Because the health coach does have the expertise, part of the activities outlined for you may include a balanced wellness program of exercise, nutrition, and health management based in health science. However, that information and suggestions are only given to you once you are ready, committed and confident that you can implement them successfully.
The average coaching relationship lasts anywhere from three months to several years—it all depends on you and your goals. Occasionally, a month or even a single coaching conversation can have a powerful impact. Although most coaches have a standard package for first-time clients, many are willing to create a package based on the client’s ultimate goal, time constraints and budget. You can expect a single meeting with your coach to last between 30 and 55 minutes.
How do you choose a wellness coach to work with?
When you set out to find a coach, there are several very important factors to consider:
Decide What Kind of Coaching You Need
If your priority is making healthy lifestyle changes, work with a certified health or wellness coach rather than a life coach. There will be times when you need expert advice concerning exercise, food, medical issues, etc. A healthcare professional trained as a coach has the combined clinical expertise and behavioral coaching skills needed to help you incorporate the science into actions that make sense for your unique personality and circumstances.
Look for a Certified Professional
I strongly believe that you should only talk with individuals who have training and certifications from reputable coaching programs (see some resources below). Since there is no state licensing, it is not illegal for anyone to call himself or herself a coach.
Shop Around before You Commit
A great place to start is with a referral from a friend. Explore the websites of potential coaches. There, you should find lots of information about a coach’s background, training and style. Most offer a complimentary session or consultation. Take advantage of it, and partake in conversations with several coaches before making a decision. Since most wellness coaching relationships can take place on the telephone, you can work with a coach from anywhere in the country!
Choose a Coach You Connect With
The coach-to-client relationship is very personal, so it is important that you connect with your coach emotionally. There should be a strong sense that this is someone you like, can trust, and has your best interests in mind. If you sense that you are being judged, or told what to do, run the other way. Listen to your gut; it will tell you when you have found a good match.
Consider Your Budget
Budget is another key factor. Many coaches offer an initial coaching package that includes the actual coaching sessions, email support in between sessions, worksheets and educational information, record-keeping and follow-ups. That said, most health coaches charge between $200 and $1,000 per month for 3-4 sessions (usually with the aforementioned support in between meetings). The more training and experience the coach offers, the higher the fees, and there are surely exceptions to these averages.
Investing the time and budget into coaching is a big decision! If you decide to give it a try, go into it with the confident feeling that you are about to improve and enhance your life physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally. Good luck!
The Coaches Training Institute. "Co-Active," accessed May 2014. http://www.thecoaches.com/.
Duke Integrative Medicine. "Integrative Health Coaching," accessed May 2014. http://www.dukeintegrativemedicine.org/.
Hayden, C.J., Whitworth, Laura. (1998). "Distinctions between Coaching and Therapy," International Association of Personal & Professional Coaches. http://energcoaching.com.
International Coach Federation. "ICF Home," accessed May 2014. http://www.coachfederation.org.
National Consortium for Credentialing of Health and Wellness Coaches (NCCHWC). "A Call to Action," accessed May 2014. http://ncchwc.org/.
Wellcoaches School of Coaching. ''Welcome to Wellcoaches," accessed May 2014. http://www.wellcoachesschool.com.
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