One of the challenges in today's world is that many of the people trusted to guide Americans in regard to their health (medical professionals) typically have very little education in nutrition, wellness, behavior change, and physical activity. Although there are some medical professionals that do, there is a gap between the medical field and the ability to holistically help people with their personal health choices and understand how those choices play a role in health risks and health conditions. This is where health coaches come in.
Health coaches don't replace the need for medical professionals. Just like personal trainers, health coaches have a scope of practice that they must stay within. They should not diagnose or treat medical conditions. And, if they come across a concern that is outside of their scope of practice, they will refer out to the appropriate professional. That being said, a health coach's skillset fills in the gap with their wellness knowledge, behavior change strategies, and accountability to support long lasting positive impact on overall health.
Health coaches use a variety of different strategies to understand the client but also help the client reflect and understand themselves. Together, the client and coach determine realistic goals, barriers to those goals, and a plan of action to support success. The health coach is there to help hold the client accountable, motivate them, and provide guidance and education when needed. They truly are a coach who is guiding, teaching, and cheering their client on the whole way.
Health coaches can support clients with a variety of different health issues. They can help clients manage a chronic disease, support weight loss, manage stress, or even help them quit smoking. Whether they specialize in one area or become highly educated in several different health topics, they often try to take a holistic and collaborative approach to help clients live a healthier lifestyle. Taking a holistic approach means that they will try to look at the whole picture of health as opposed to an individual symptom or condition. The collaborative approach means the health coach understands that the client knows themselves best and that the client and coach must work together to accomplish their wellness goals.
Most people could benefit from some accountability, extra motivation, and support. However, there are a handful of client scenarios in which a health coach might just be the missing piece of the puzzle to the changes the client needs to make. The following are a few example clients that could benefit from a health coach.
According to the Transtheoretical Model, there are six stages of change:
Precontemplation: Unaware of the need for change
Contemplation: Awareness of unhealthy lifestyle choices or problematic behaviors
Preparation: Wanting to start making changes in the next month
Action: In the process of changing their problematic behaviors
Maintenance: Maintaining changed behavior for the last 6 months
Termination: Have accomplished their goals and are confident they can maintain the positive behaviors
Clients need to play an active role in their wellness goals and process of change. So, clients in stages 3-5 are most ideal for health coaching, although individuals in stage 2 may benefit as well.
A health coach's ability to help clients lay out a plan of action and hold them accountable to their commitments are two of the strongest components of the coaching process. Typically, the client will determine what changes they are confident they can to commit to. It could be as simple as a commitment to wake up five minutes earlier each day with the intention of eventually waking up 30 minutes earlier to exercise! But, once the client has adopted a healthier behavior, they can set a new goal.
Knowing that someone is there is to check in with them on their goals can help reinforce the commitment to stick with it. Step by step, one small change at a time, the client will work toward better health.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of misleading information available today. It is often hard for clients to determine what is false and what is factual. Health coaches should be educated on a variety of health topics and should have a solid base knowledge of credible resources. They can help clients debunk myths, guide clients to accurate information, and potentially even understand research.
Say goodbye to the "cookie cutter" diet and exercise plan. There is not a one-size-fit-all approach to wellness for everyone. Each client has their own challenges, beliefs, resources, and goals. A health coach can take the time to understand the challenges and behaviors that are standing in the way of a client's goals and support them in making better lifestyle choices.
One example of how a health coach can individualize their approach with a client is the way that they follow-up with the client. Some clients may only need a weekly or monthly check-in whereas others may need a daily check-in to start breaking down their barriers to change.
Everyone has obstacles. There can be people, thoughts, beliefs, or other constraints that get in the way of what clients want to achieve. Using effect listening skills, a health coach can help identify a client's barriers. Once the client is aware of their barriers to change, they can start to identify the root cause of those barriers and focus on ways to overcome them. A health coach may even be able to provide a different perspective on how to tackle them.
Although health coaches can help with short term goals, they are typically most interested in helping clients recognize and modify their behavior for life. Good health coaches understand that consistency is key. So, to help support change around the root causes of health issues, they know that the body and mind must adopt new behaviors to support improved well-being. That is the ultimate goal, helping a client recognize, change, and sustain new healthy behaviors.
Just like many other professions, there are lots of different personalities and styles when it comes to health and wellness coaching. Finding the right health coach is all about finding the right fit for the client. Here are a few qualities to look for when trying to find a health coach:
Great listening skills: Before they can be a source of support, a health coach needs to connect with and understand the client. They do this by taking their time with each client and using motivational interviewing and active listening skills.
Practice what they preach: As with most health and fitness professions, it's important that health coaches approach their own lives with the same principles they communicate to their clients.
Organization: From paperwork, to scheduling, to boundaries, a good health coach should be organized so there isn't any confusion for the client.
Invested in their education: Health coaches should be continually learning and growing. There is so much to learn about different health topics, approaches, and a plethora of valuable research out there today. All this information can't be consumed all at once, so, it's important that health coaches value and prioritize this for themselves.
The health coach should challenge the client to move outside of their comfort zone, which can be uncomfortable. But, ultimately, the coach should feel like a good fit for the client, motivate them, and be an incredible source of support for positive change towards a healthy lifestyle.
Health coaching skills are valuable for personal trainers. And, personal trainer knowledge is valuable for health coaches. So, whether you refer your clients to a health coach or add health coaching to your skillset, accountability and support for long-last behavior change is something that many people can benefit from.
Are you passionate about behavior change? What to help clients make healthy choices to better their overall health and wellness? If so, check out ISSA's Health Coach Certification and become a specialist from the comfort of your own home.
ISSA's Health Coach certification is for personal trainers and other health professionals who want to help clients overcome physical and mental health barriers to achieve their optimal wellness.
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