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What exactly does a health coach do?

‘Health coaches’ seem to be everywhere right now, but what do they actually do that’s different to a trainer or nutritionist? Health Coach and founder of WellHealth Integrative Health Coaching & Consulting Amanda Richardson explains 

If you’ve ever googled the term ‘health coach’ you’ve probably seen a dizzying area of services from fitness buffs selling supplements to those promising to raid your pantry and replace those Doritos with boxes of quinoa and dried kale.

But here’s the thing – those aren’t health coaches.

According to the U.S. National Consortium for Credentialing Health & Wellness Coaches, health coaches ‘partner with clients seeking self-directed, lasting changes, aligned with their values, which promote health and wellness and, thereby, enhance well-being.’

In other words, we’re here to help you be the best you can be.

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Sure, we address your physical health, but also so much more. We explore relationships, career, community, home, finances, spirituality and emotional health. It’s an integrative approach, based on the belief that everything in our lives is interconnected. You improve one area, and it creates a beautiful ripple effect through the rest.

We explore relationships, career, community, home, finances, spirituality and emotional health. It’s an integrative approach, based on the belief that everything in our lives is interconnected

Here’s an example from one of my clients – Rose*, 52 years of age. She initially reached out because she wanted to lose weight. Through our discussions, however, it became apparent that her problem was stress. Stress made her eat; it interfered with her workouts, and it put a major damper on her relationships and life. During one of our discussions, she had a ‘light bulb moment’ that so many coaches will describe – a time when clients suddenly realize what is standing in the way between them and their goals.

To address Rose’s stress, we developed a set of detailed and manageable goals that she was ready to embark on and confident that she could achieve. We learned what worked and what didn’t work and revised the goals accordingly.

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Over time, things started to change. In Rose’s words, health coaching ‘turned everything around for me. I always thought about my weight but didn’t connect the dots to stress. Figuring out how to deal with it has made a huge difference. I feel so much better and I’ve finally started to lose weight.’

The best thing about this was that I didn’t tell Rose what to do. Instead, I helped her discover what she needed to do to succeed.

Sometimes the most valuable outcome of our work is simply to change perspective. Jenny*, 48 years of age, said that coaching ‘helped me change my focus from negatives to positives, made me aware of my strengths and by using them to come up with a goal oriented plan.’

Sometimes the most valuable outcome of our work is simply to change perspective.

Self-doubt and negativity can jeopardize our efforts to get healthy. Helping clients recognize and capitalize on their strengths and the resources they have in their lives – such as supportive relationships or a flexible job – can have a profound influence on well-being. In this way, health coaching is about enhancing self-awareness so that clients can move confidently into the future and make better choices as a result.

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And boy, do we need this. Because this is the cold, hard truth: according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, chronic diseases account for approximately 70% of deaths in the U.S. and 85% in the U.K., according to the World Health Organization. Healthcare costs are rising, and we have an obesity epidemic that threatens future generations. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone that isn’t dealing with illness, stress, depression or that feeling that life just isn’t what they hoped it would be.

Unlike therapy, health coaching isn’t focused on looking backward to heal old wounds

This is where health coaching comes in. Unlike therapy, it isn’t focused on looking backward to heal old wounds. Rather, it’s a forward-focused approach, designed to help clients navigate challenges and make long-lasting changes in their behavior.

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Health coaching is both preventive and a tool to help manage chronic conditions. Even though this is a relatively new field, science is emerging of its benefits both in isolation as well as an adjunct to traditional medical care in those who are ill. This may be why Duke University calls it the ‘missing link’ in healthcare, and venture capitalists are investing big-time (as in $millions) in health coaching apps and programs.

I’m not going to lie – change takes time. This is why we work with clients for three to six months on average, and maybe longer. Coaching is a partnership, and clients aren’t just a passive voice in the process. They must be willing to be honest, accountable to their goals, and open to trying new strategies to improve their health. But if they are, the benefits can be tremendous.

I can’t speak for other coaches, but I’ve learned so much from my clients. And I feel lucky to be a witness to their transformation and to know that change is possible.

*Names are pseudonyms to protect the confidentiality of clients.

Amanda Richardson, What exactly does a health coach do? by

Amanda Richardson is a health coach, consultant, researcher, and writer. As the founder of WellHealth Integrative Health Coaching & Consulting, she helps individuals, small groups, and organizations change behavior and improve their health. Amanda draws on her 15+years of experience in the health sector to deliver personalized evidence-based solutions. To learn more, visit her website. Follow Amanda on Twitter @WellHealthIHC

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