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Behavior Change

What Is a Wellness Coach? How They Help & How to Become One

Reading Time: 6 minutes

By: ISSA

Date: 2022-05-02


People can hire a coach to help them make improvements in almost any area of their lives. If they want to advance professionally, for instance, they may seek out a career coach. Or maybe they want to improve their sports performance. In this case, they might enlist the assistance of an athletic coach.

Another option is to reach out to a wellness coach for help. To better understand what wellness coaching entails and why someone would hire this type of coach, we must first define what wellness is.

Wellness Defined

Many times, the terms ‘health’ and ‘wellness’ are used interchangeably. However, they are two very different things.

Health is generally defined as “the state of being free from illness or injury.” Put another way, health is a lack of disease or bodily damage. You are considered healthy if you have no major health issues or concerns.

Conversely, wellness is “the active pursuit of activities, choices and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health” according to the Global Wellness Institute(GWI). So, while health is a state of being that is free from disease or injury, wellness is the active pursuit of this state. 

What Is a Wellness Coach?

If wellness is all about action, a wellness coach is a professional who helps clients take these actions. Sometimes this involves giving them the tools needed to make a positive behavior change. Other times, it requires stoking their motivation so they keep moving forward. 

Another important aspect of being a wellness coach is helping clients obtain holistic health. Holistic health is whole-body health. Sometimes referred to as integrative health, it requires looking at a person from several different viewpoints. It considers their physical health and their emotional health, spiritual health, and more.

This broad approach to health operates under the notion that people are complex and multifaceted. Thus, helping them achieve optimal health requires looking at all areas of their life because they are interrelated. One example is integrative nutrition.

Integrative nutrition isn’t just about eating foods that are high in nutrients. It is also about people’s food-related thoughts and beliefs. It even encompasses how they eat, where they eat, and other eating behaviors. So, integrative nutrition is much more in-depth than nutrition in general.

How a Wellness Coach Helps

A health and wellness coach works with clients to overcome some of their biggest health challenges. Maybe the client leads an overall healthy lifestyle but struggles with nutrition. In asking a few questions, you learn that they’ve been unsuccessful with weight loss in the past because they are an emotional eater.

In this instance, you might suggest making a lifestyle change to lower their stress levels. By reducing this emotion, they are less compelled to eat. This makes the weight loss process easier because it removes the power of this trigger.

But your responsibility as a wellness coach doesn’t stop there. Not only do you help clients come up with the actions they can take to improve their health, but you also help them institute them. 

In the example of stress eating, you would work with the client to come up with different actions they can take when they feel this emotion emerging. This could include going for a walk, calling a good friend, or sitting in nature and giving themselves time to process how they are feeling.

You also serve as an accountability partner. If the client knows you are going to ask whether they’re taking the actions they said they would, they are more likely to do them so they can tell you that they did.

A wellness coach is also tasked with keeping clients motivated. Behavior change is hard. Its difficulty can cause clients to want to give up. It’s your job to keep them going. With the proper encouragement and motivational cues, clients are more inclined to achieve their health goals.

Wellness Coaching vs Health Coaching vs Life Coaching

Sometimes clients are confused about what type of coach they want or need. Based on what they’re trying to achieve, is a life coach or a health coach best? Or maybe they need to hire a wellness coach for that specific goal? Figuring this out can feel incredibly overwhelming. If you’re feeling this way too, it helps to know how each type of coaching is different.

One difference is their area of focus. Whereas a wellness coach is focused on helping a variety of clients create an overall healthy lifestyle, a health coach often works primarily with clients who have a specific health condition. This could include those with high blood pressure, cancer, or diabetes.

Another difference is that a health coach may only provide guidance in a specific area. They might specialize only in nutrition or exercise, for instance. The same is generally true for life coaches. They might have expertise about how to improve your relationships or advance your career. So, they primarily help clients overcome obstacles in these areas. Coaching from a wellness perspective is typically much broader.

Wellness Coaching Process

The first step in the coaching process is to help the client identify areas of wellness where they struggle and could benefit from some help. These areas can fall into one or more wellness dimensions. Among them are:

  • Physical wellness: a person’s weight, physical activity level, sleep patterns, and more

  • Mental wellness: cognitive wellness, encompassing how they learn and how they problem-solve

  • Emotional wellness: how they recognize, understand, and accept their feelings; and whether they deal with their emotions in a healthy way

  • Spiritual wellness: a person’s connection to a higher purpose or finding the meaning in their life

  • Social wellness: relationships and interactions with others, from family members and friends to co-workers, social groups, communities, and the world at large

  • Environmental wellness: having a home, school, and work environment that supports optimal wellness

During the first coaching session, the wellness professional uses techniques to learn more about the client’s challenges. They also seek to understand how the client feels about the change process and their reasons for wanting to change. This involves using skills such as motivational interviewing.

After obtaining this information, the coach works with the client to set wellness goals and develop a plan of action. Subsequent sessions are used to monitor the client’s progress, making changes as needed to increase their levels of success. 

Reasons to Consider Becoming a Wellness Coach

Why become a wellness professional—especially if you’re already working as a personal trainer?

As a wellness coach, you get to help clients overcome challenges that extend outside the gym. In addition to teaching them about exercise and nutrition, you can also help them implement ways to improve their mental wellbeing or build stronger relationships.

Working as a wellness coach allows you to work with individuals or with businesses and organizations. The latter is sometimes called a corporate wellness coach. In this role, you might help develop and institute a corporate wellness program. Or you could be hired to work with employees or group members one on one.

Wellness coaching offers another income avenue. You broaden your client base to include people who want to improve wellness in multiple areas. Other health professionals may even reach out to you as a resource for their clients. The opportunities are endless.

How to Become a Certified Wellness Coach

While coach training isn’t required, taking a wellness coaching program helps you learn and build upon the skills required for success in this role. Having a wellness certification also increases your credibility. Potential clients equate certification with a higher level of expertise. It reassures them that you know how to provide results. 

If you plan to work for a coaching company, this employer may require certification to apply. Thus, earning your certification ensures that you meet their minimum requirements. (Always check with them first to learn whether they want certification from a specific agency. This keeps you from completing a course only to learn that it wasn’t the right one.)

Other tips for finding the right coach training for you include:

  • Choosing a nationally recognized coaching program so your certification is honored and respected

  • Reviewing the course syllabus to ensure that it teaches the information you want and need to be a successful wellness coach

  • Checking payment options so the training fits into your budget

  • Considering how the course is offered, such as online courses providing maximum convenience

The more research you do upfront, the happier you will likely be with the coach training you choose. 

Or maybe you’re more interested in becoming a Certified Health Coach instead. ISSA’s health coach training teaches fitness professionals how to promote positive behavior change in clients with unique health conditions. This helps them better reach their health goals.

Featured Course

Health Coach

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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