Chronic diseases such as obesity, hypertension, and diabetes wreck our quality of life and cost a fortune. In recent years, a new and intriguing concept has emerged in the prevention and treatment of chronic illness: the health coach.
What is a Health Coach?
A Health Coach is a wellness authority and supportive mentor who motivates individuals to cultivate positive health choices. Health Coaches educate and support clients to achieve their health goals through lifestyle and behavior adjustments. Proper health coach training programs and health coach certifications ensure that Health Coaches know how to work with diverse groups of people and it equips them with the tools necessary to best fit the needs of their clients. The primary objectives of health coaching are to educate the patient regarding self health management and to encourage patients in taking a more proactive role in staying healthy.
As more and more awareness is given to preventative care, health coaching is seen as a vital aspect of creating healthy lifestyle changes. Health Coaches are becoming recognized as essential and integral parts of people’s health and well-being. Not only is there a shift to live healthier lives, people are finding that helping others become healthier makes their lives better too. Patients are learning that working with a Health Coach is one of the most effective ways to improve their health. Chronic diseases are the epidemic of our generation and people desperately need nutrition and lifestyle guidance to find their way back to health.
Health coaching, also referred to as wellness coaching, is a process that facilitates healthy, sustainable behavior change by challenging a client to develop their inner wisdom, identify their values, and transform their goals into action. Health coaching draws on the principles from positive psychology and appreciative inquiry, and the practices of motivational interviewing and goal setting.
Doctors and nutritionists are also fantastic resources for you in terms of health and wellness. Many doctors are starting to partner with health coaches for their patients who are obese, diabetic or need to change their behaviors in order to improve their health and keep lifestyle-related illnesses at bay. One of the best parts of most health coaching practices is that you can do all the mentoring from the comfort of your home via telephone or Skype.
It’s also important to know what a health coach is not. A health coach is not a doctor. Health coaches don’t diagnose conditions, prescribe medications or recommend lower or higher doses of your current medications. Many health coaches are not personal trainers, so it’s important to know what certifications yours holds if he or she is recommending specific exercises for you. A health coach is not a drill sergeant. They do not scream orders at you, or berate you for not meeting goals in a specified amount of time. Coaches understand that life happens, and work with you and support you in every way they can to achieve optimal wellness.
Health coaches are at the forefront of today’s health revolution. At a time when one in five people will die of lifestyle-related disease, as well as when diabetes and obesity are at an all-time high, health coaches provide the nutritional and lifestyle guidance society desperately needs to find its way back to health.
Establishing a Relationship
The process begins with engagement. Engagement and building trust with the client is established by building rapport. Many factors are included in this process. Essential traits to building rapport include: genuineness, eye contact, good energy, warmth, good quality of voice, a feeling of connectedness, being comfortable and relaxed in the exchange, mindful listening, being supportive and positive body language and physical gestures. Rapport is fundamental not only in the initial coaching session, but also in each coaching session thereafter. Although rapport is important, a coach may want to avoid becoming too close with the client. Becoming too close to a client can create a barrier for a successful coaching process by being too emotionally attached, having a personal agenda and falling into assumptions based on personal relationships or experience.
Once a coach has established rapport, building strong communication strategies is essential. An effective tool used in health and wellness coaching and other clinical work is motivational interviewing. Motivational interviewing is a process used in psychotherapy, social work, medicine, addiction and other fields. It aims to raise clients’ awareness of problems and possibilities while reducing their ambivalence about change.
Motivational interviewing is also characterized by a focus on the present rather than the past. The emphasis is on the communication that is conducted with clients, concentrating on internal motivating factors and an exploration into individual core values and goals. This allows the client to express their desire to change their lifestyle and identify it themselves rather than having it come from the health coach.[
A wellness vision is a creative statement by the client that reveals his/her highest potential and can include physical, emotional, social, spiritual and financial realms of their life. A new life vision empowers one to see new possibilities along with a specific and clear direction. It allows a client to activate their imagination and then think, feel, speak and ultimately see the manifestation of their highest potential. A wellness vision is a tool a health coach uses to help the client move to new levels of wellbeing by connecting the client to their own truth and wisdom that is held within.
The manifestation of a wellness vision is done through the process of goal setting. Goal setting is a collaborative behavior change technique used between the coach and the client. During the motivational interviewing process, after strengths, values and desires are determined and the client’s vision is set in place, specific goals are set so the client is able to move in the direction of his/her newly formed desires.
Goals promote behavior change through a collaborative process, which includes the coach making a plan to track and evaluate progress. The coach can help the client focus on the success the client has had, even if goal is not yet achieved. Evaluating strengths and what is successful helps the client move forward. Positive feedback helps the client progress and move through any negative self-talk, ambivalence, resistance and other hurdles. Although self-regulation is a powerful behavior change tool, the client may lapse. When the coach promotes the principles of positive psychology and goal setting through the motivational interviewing process, the coach helps the client continue to improve self-efficacy, which supports behavior change.
Intersection with related disciplines
Several Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) are now using health coaches as a selling point for their health care services. Healthcare professionals that are entering the field of health coaching may include counselors, social workers, health education specialists, nutritionists, psychologists, nurses, respiratory therapists, physical therapists, pharmacists, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nursing case managers, occupational therapists, and oriental medicine practitioners.
Today, some therapists are now coaches or are concurrently practicing both disciplines. Health coaching and psychotherapy can take place in individual and group sessions, and both use similar methods of inquiry. Psychotherapy tends to focus on past emotional injuries in order to promote healing, whereas coaching tends to focus on untapped present possibilities for action.
Social workers are skilled in the field of helping individuals overcome obstacles that inhibit their growth potential. Both coaching and social work fall under some areas of the mental health field. Coaching and social work have similar elements. Both practices rely on motivational interviewing. Both are focused on the client being the expert, and both work with the client without judgment, allowing the client to be in control. The essential difference between social work and coaching is that social work is more oriented to the client’s relationship to community life and social ethics, whereas coaching is focused on an individual’s personal dreams, desires and goals butwith medically related issues at the forefront of the counselling.
The traditional approach to patient teaching and education is one that directs information “at” the patient. In essence, the goal is to have the patient do the things prescribed for them to do. Healthcare professionals have the knowledge about disease processes, exercise guidelines, special diets, and medications that must be imparted to the patient and caregivers in many forms: booklets, pamphlets, audio CDs, and the like.
Many formal health coaching programs are now being offered through institutions of higher learning such as Duke Integrative Medicine, Georgetown University and the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.
Several studies have shown health coaching to be effective in improving various aspects of health. Coaching had a positive effect on patients’ knowledge, skill, self-efficacy and behavior change while a non-coached control group did not show any improvement. Additionally, coached participants with a hemoglobin A1C over 7% showed significant improvement in A1C.
A study on coronary heart disease indicated that patients in a coaching program achieved a significantly greater change in total cholesterol of 14 mg/dl than the non-coached patients, with a considerable reduction in LDL-C. Those involved in the coaching program showed improvements in secondary outcomes such as weight loss, increased exercise, improved quality of life, less anxiety, and improvement in overall health and mood.
Another study shows that telephonic coaching is an effective program for assisting individuals with self-efficacy and weight loss. Confidence to lose weight increased from a baseline of 60% to 71% at three months, 76% at 6 months and 79% at 12 months. The average body mass index significantly decreased during this interactive coaching study. Average baseline was 32.1%.
A study on tobacco cessation concluded that after 12 months, the coached participants had a 32% quit rate compared to 18% for nonparticipants. Those that participated in the program, who acknowledged that they were ready for change, had the highest rate of quitting at 44%. Additionally, 11% of participants who did not quit reported reduction in tobacco use. This is considered a positive outcome, because other studies have shown that when individuals reduced their tobacco usage, they find increased motivation to quit entirely in the future.
To be effective, coaches must wear a lot of hats. Effective proffessionals in any profession must stay up with advancing technology. They must have the ability to listen and develop raport, have motivational skills, have appropriate education, experience, availability, a holistic approach, endorsements, technology of natural health approaches, and a good natural health oriented doctor connection
Choosing the right health coach is extremely important in order to achieve significant results.