Health coaches—or wellness coaches, are wellness professionals. The buzz words, "Health Coach", are heard almost daily now; from worksite wellness programs to health and fitness clubs, social media groups, and nutrition stores. Health coaches wear multiple hats and come from a broad spectrum of health and wellness backgrounds.
The one thing a health coach will not do is tell you what to do.
The role of a health coach is to assist their client through the stages of change by setting SMART goals with their client. Health coaches work with people to overcome barriers and help their clients celebrate small successes. Goal setting is the fundamental backbone of health coaching. When you set a goal with a health coach, the coach becomes your ally in your personal wellness journey. Health Coaches will help motivate you, keep you accountable, as well as provide feedback and ideas when needed. The one thing health coaching will not do is tell you what to do. Health coaching is not a “tell me my plan and what to do to meet my goal” kind of experience. It is specifically there to work with clients to find the goals that mean the most to them and work past the barriers that may come up along the way. Coaches are also there to be the clients' first source of accountability; eventually decreasing that need along the goal pathway.
Health coaches are there to help people create lifestyle changes by accomplishing goals that last. Through behavior change, the coach will help figure out what has made their client struggle in the past and plan to overcome that challenge in the future. The health coach can bring ideas to the table, but the client always has the floor as to what will—or won't—work for them.
Health coaches are more than just a trend in wellness, they are here to stay. Health coaches are wellness professionals who are trained in behavioral change, motivational interviewing, and working with people to achieve and celebrate personal goals. Many health coaches work in worksite wellness and business health career fields. They tend to come from different areas of expertise, such as clinical exercise physiologists, registered dietitians, personal trainers, and/or have college degrees in health, fitness, exercise science, or wellness promotion. Health coaches may also have other wellness credentials, such as the National Wellness Institute Certified Wellness Practitioners, CHES, Nutrition Specialists, and/or Personal Trainers. Health coaches have a wide span of expertise, which helps clients across a broad spectrum of wellness issues. This enables coaches to work with clients in various areas to create a plan that is individualized for each client.
Many employers now require that health coaches hold a certification to call themselves health coaches, but not all health coaches are certified. The science of wellness is still evolving, and as with many aspects of wellness, proceed with caution as a consumer. Most states will allow anyone to call themselves a health coach, whether they have been trained as a health coach or not. Some “health coaches” may not have a degree in health and wellness, let alone training in behavior change. As a health and wellness consumer, make sure your health coach has proper evidence-based training in behavior change, motivational interviewing, and wellness before you commit to their programming.
If you are an aspiring health coach, do your research and look for evidence-based certifications. The best health coaching certifications will contain a classroom component, case study review, written exam, and practical exams. The practical exam is an essential component to health coaching and learning to apply motivational interviewing skills to client sessions. Many wellness employers—especially in the health care setting, are looking for certified health coaches to add to their staff. To make yourself marketable as an emerging wellness professional, obtaining a health coaching certification is a new job skill requirement found in most wellness job descriptions. If you are passionate about exercise, nutrition, stress, mental health, etc., work toward finding accreditation for that passion. This will help you strive in coaching as well as make you an ideal candidate for future employers.
Samantha Diedrich, MS, CWP, is a Certified Wellness Practitioner and Health Coach with Aspirus Business Health - Wellness. She is passionate about engaging business partners and clients to improve their lives through health and happiness. She is a member of the National Wellness Institute's Emerging Wellness Professional task force.