More Than an
Encouraging Word

People turn to health coaches for help in making lifestyle changes stick.

July/August 2018

By Michele Wojciechowski

 

On the field, sports coaches help athletes perform at peak levels.

In a similar manner, various types of coaches help everyday people navigate problems or issues in different areas of life—including ways to make lasting lifestyle changes designed to promote better health and well-being.

Nowadays, there seem to be coaches for everything: Life coaches who help people set and achieve goals in their professional and personal lives; business coaches who help people set and achieve the vision for growing or improving their businesses; and financial coaches who help people learn to change their behaviors regarding money to save more and reduce their debt. This explains why the estimated market value for personal coaching was $1.02 billion in 2016, compared with $707 million in 2011.

What do the letters mean?

ACC: Associate Certified Coach
BS: Bachelor of Science
BSN: Bachelor of Science in
Nursing
CCNS: Cardiovascular Clinical Nurse Specialist
CHC: Certified Health Coach
CINHC: Certified Integrative
Nutrition Health Coach
CMT: Certified Massage Therapist
CSBC: Certified Small Business Coach
CWP: Certified Wellness
Professional
FDN-P: Certified Functional
Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner
FNLP: Certified Functional
Nutrition and Lifestyle Practitioner
MA: Master of Arts
MSN: Master of Science in Nursing
NBC-HWC: National Board
Certified Health & Wellness Coach
RN: Registered Nurse

One fast-growing area of coaching involves helping people implement the types of lifestyle changes that promote better health.

Part of this growth is being driven by an increasing emphasis on preventative measures as a way to hold down healthcare costs. Changing demographics also plays a role: There are now more than 70 million Baby Boomers in the US, people who have reached the age when trying to stay healthy becomes an increasingly important priority.

If you’re thinking about using a health coach, it’s important to know what they provide and what they don’t, what credentials they should have and how to find someone who meets your needs.

 

What Health Coaching Is—And Isn’t

Health coaching isn’t the same as wellness or life coaching.

“Wellness coaching is guidance and inspiration provided to otherwise ‘healthy’ individuals who desire to maintain or improve their overall general health status, which often includes smoking cessation, increased physical activity, eating well, and general weight management,” says health coach Melinda Huffman, BSN, MS, CCNS, CHC, who practices in the Chattanooga area.

Huffman and Colleen Miller, RN, BS, CSBC, CHC, cofounded the National Society of Health Coaches (NSHC), which developed this definition of health coaching in 2015: “Health coaching is the use of evidence-based skillful conversation, clinical strategies and interventions to actively and safely engage clients in health behavior change to better self-manage their health, health risk(s) and acute or chronic health conditions resulting in optimal wellness, improved health outcomes, lowered health risk and decreased health care costs.”

Offering Encouragement

Helping clients focus on the positive aspects of change is crucial.

Part of the definition of health coaching formulated by the International Consortium for Health & Wellness Coaching (ICHWC) says that such coaches “display unconditional positive regard for their clients and a belief in their capacity for change and honoring that each client is an expert on his or her life, while ensuring that all interactions are respectful and nonjudgmental.”

Health and wellness coaches are needed more than ever. More than three-quarters of all clinic and hospital visits are attributed to unrelenting stress and the impact of poor lifestyle choices, according to Meg Jordan, PhD, RN, CWP, ACC, NBC-HWC, who chairs the Integrative Health Studies program at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco.

Jordan adds that people who desire to make healthy changes in their lives are those who most often seek the advice of health coaches. “This includes anyone along the entire wellness- illness continuum,” she says, “from people who are undergoing sick care treatment such as cancer treatment or learning to live with cardiovascular disease or hypertension or recover from a stroke, to individuals who have one or two risk factors for chronic disease and wish to begin preventive and health-enhancing measures in line with their core values.”

Coaches and the Healthcare System

Healthcare costs in the US and worldwide are skyrocketing due to the prevalence of chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Huffman believes that in response, the healthcare system is transitioning from a focus on the treatment of illness to an increasing emphasis on wellness and prevention.

This need to pare costs also drives the use of health coaches in workplace settings. As Huffman puts it, the need to rein in costs and keep employees healthy are the primary drivers for companies to use health coaching as an employee benefit “that can also positively affect presenteeism (working while sick), absenteeism and employee satisfaction.”

In addition, Huffman says that a growing number of hospitals, accountable care organizations, home care agencies, outpatient clinics, physicians’ offices and even hospice facilities are using health coaching to “engage their patients and families as a 50/50 ‘partner’ to achieve better health outcomes while also cutting costs.”

Besides such settings in which healthcare practitioners dominate, Jordan says that health coaches are also working in private practice, wellness centers, nonprofit community centers, digital health platforms, insurance companies, chronic care management firms and senior centers, as well as in educational and training programs.

What to Look For

While a governing body that oversees health coaching certification doesn’t currently exist, the ICHWC aims to hold the profession to a standard.

“At this time, anyone can call themselves a health coach, although not all health coaches have been certified,” notes Leigh-Ann Webster, NBC-HWC, the ICHWC’s executive director.

Jordan adds, “ICHWC provides the national board certification—the first ever for health and wellness coaching—launched in September 2017. The certification is voluntary—there is no state mandate for certification or licensure at this point.”

When looking for a health coach, Huffman advises consumers to ask about the person’s qualifications. “A certified health coach should have a license to practice in the clinical setting and should practice within their own ‘State Practice Act.’ Health coach certification should be received from a credible organization. People with chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, heart failure, heart disease, diabetes, lung disease, chronic pain and the like should refrain from independently seeking health coaching services of an individual who is not in clinical practice.”

Webster says to make sure you have rapport with the coach. And beware: “There are plenty of people who call themselves ‘health coaches’ with no training. It’s also very important that people don’t confuse health coaching with health education or personal training—they are very different. Health coaching is nonjudgmental, client-centered, client-driven behavior change. This is what ultimately helps lead to success.”

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