Health and wellness coaching is a relatively new profession originating in the late 1990's. It has roots in evidence-based methods such as positive psychology or motivational interviewing and is distinctly different from the current medical experience. We wait to see a medical doctor who may only have 5-15 minutes to speak with us about any given topic. We are trained to expect very little conversation and to simply accept a diagnosis, which may or may not come with a prescription.
The experience of simply accepting medical advice and carrying on with our day has long-term, detrimental effects to our health. We never learn how to ask questions about our health. We are never encouraged to read about our diagnosis, the potential outcomes and alternatives beyond a pharmaceutical. While Dr. Google has its faults, researching what ails us at well known medical sites, such as Mayo Clinic or Harvard Health, can help us have productive conversations with our physicians.
Health Coaching is a complementary therapy that provides substantial benefits to help others achieve their health goals. How do you describe health coaching? Health coaching is a personalized and interactive approach that taps into a person's unique experiences and strengths to achieve specific goals. It is very different from sitting in a doctor's office for just a few minutes.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM A HEALTH COACH
Health coaches have a wide variety of experience and specializations but in general, the training we receive in positive psychology results in a core philosophy of: The Client Comes First. In fact, health coaches do a lot of listening, not a lot of talking. Since health coaching is new and most people have not experienced a session with a health coach, it may seem odd that the coach won't be talking that much.
Usually the expectation is that the coach will have a list of activities to follow in order to solve the health concern of the client. If this actually happens to you, RUN! That's right, RUN! You will not successfully achieve your health goals if the coach does all the talking. The sessions will have direction and focus based on the specific goals you want to achieve.
Health coaches rely a lot on exercises where you are an active participant. I don't mean physical exercises! Exercises such as defining your wellness vision, setting long-term goals, exploring your values and how the values support your wellness vision and stress-management exercises to help you focus on what you truly want to achieve. These exercises uncover the areas that are the most important for you to focus on and help avoid self sabotage.
What always surprises a client is when the health topic they thought was most important to solve, uncovers a deeper concern that requires attention. That is the beauty of health coaching! It is a dance, like a waltz, with both the coach and the client participating in a give and take towards the clients optimal health.
Another tool used in health coaching are SMART goals. What does SMART goals stand for? The SMART goals acronym means the goal is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-Bound. Let's take a look at each.
Specific: simple, sensible, significant
Measurable: meaningful, motivating
Attainable: agreed, attainable
Realistic: reasonable, results-based
Time-Bound: time-based, start and end date
Below are SMART goal examples:
I will lose 3-5 pounds per month by eating more vegetables, reducing how much soda I drink and exercising Monday, Wednesday and Friday for 30 minutes starting today until next Spring.
I will get 8 hours of sleep, Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday night by going to bed at 9:30 PM and waking up at 5:30 AM starting November 1 until March 1.
I will drink 8 glasses of water per day by setting a reminder in my watch once every 2 hours Sunday through Saturday, starting April1 until the end of the year.
Each of the SMART goals above have the S, M, T parts of SMART. Attainable and realistic are not part of the goal but are assessed after the goal is written.
Attainable: using the goal of losing 3-5 pounds per month, the person writing the goal has to ask themself, "How confident am I that I can achieve this goal?"
On a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is not at all confident and 10 is very confident, the number selected tells if the goal is attainable.
If the number is a 7 or higher, then the person has a pretty high confidence level that even when faced with relapses or set-backs, they can achieve the goal.
If the number is lower than 7, a red flag goes up because there is something that is blocking the persons confidence to achieve the goal. Maybe the goal is being set right before a holiday season where lots of temptations will be available. When confidence is low, figuring out the roadblock and revising the goal is critical for success.
Realistic: Using the drinking water goal, its important that the goal can be achieved as written.
This goal may be very difficult to achieve if the person is traveling a lot for work. Planes, trains and automobiles don't always have water readily accessible. That means the goal would need to be revised.
One solution could be to always carry a reusable water bottle that can be filled from public sources. The revision must be suitable for the person to easily execute the goal. This is when brainstorming potential solutions with both the coach and client is used.
One of the best parts of working with a health coach is finding out that relapses or not achieving a SMART goal are learning experiences. Not a reason to be ashamed. Life is going to get in the way of our goals. Stress, managing a family, taking care of a sick loved one and work all play a role in potentially interfering with our ability to achieve a goal.
Believe it or not, this situation provides an opportunity for both the coach and the client to understand what can get in the way and how to design strategies to stay on track next time. I believe relapses are one of the most beneficial ways of learning about ourselves.
No other time in our life do we ever take such a positive perspective of learning from our relapses. Instead we take a negative view and tell ourselves we will never be able to achieve our goals. This is the easy way out! Taking time to really understand our habits and why they are so ingrained in our lives is how we can truly change.
MAINTAINING GOALS (AKA YOUR NEW NORMAL)
There is no right or wrong length of time for a goal to become our new normal. Some goals may be very easy because we've done it before, we've fallen off the wagon and need help to get back on the wagon. Other goals may be very difficult and can take years before becoming simply how we live. Sometimes a goal is an activity we do for awhile, it is abandoned for awhile and then started again without any help. Life changes, our situations change and that means our habits change.
The good news is the exercises and tools a health coach uses are yours to keep and learn from. Tools such as the wellness vision are recommended to do once a year since priorities change. Also, staying accountable has never been easier with social networks.
There are so many social groups focused on specific topics such as following a plant-based lifestyle or quitting sugar, that anyone can join for additional motivation on maintaining a goal. Finally, when you find a health coach you connect with, it may simply be a few sessions with that person to get back on track. The end result is when you find something that works for you, keep doing it!
FAQ's ABOUT FINDING AND WORKING WITH A HEALTH COACH
Below are the most common questions I get about working with a health coach. If you have one that isn't addressed here, leave me the question below and I will get back to you!
How do I find a health coach? A simple Google search in your area should result in a variety of options. Most coaches have a free introductory meeting to make sure their services and your needs are a match. You can also ask your friends, family and social network for referrals. Some health coaches will be local to your community but don't discount a virtual experience. Working virtually can be just as effective as talking in person.
Is a health coach worth it? Since this is a new concept for most people it can seem odd that by talking to someone you can achieve your health goals. But the process works! Accountability is a big part of why health coaching is so successful. Once you've defined what you want to change and commit to it, regular follow-ups with the coach will increase your accountability to achieve your goal.
Do health coaches take insurance? Some can when they work in a practice with a medical doctor. Right now, there is an effort underway with insurance companies that will allow health coaches to take insurance. Once that happens, the industry will explode as medical professionals will refer patients to health coaches or employ health coaches as part of their practice.
Health coaching is an exciting opportunity for making meaningful change in your life. Trained in evidence-based techniques such as positive psychology and motivational interviewing, health coaches offer a personalized experience that is tailored to your unique situation. A few tools that a health coach may introduce to you is a wellness wheel, long-term goal setting and creating SMART goals. Accountability is a key part of health coaching success. Finding a health coach is as easy as an internet search or asking people you know.
About The Author
Heather L Donahue is a Master Certified Health Coach and Certified Holistic Nutritionist. A self-proclaimed wellness geek, Heather has personally overcome hypothyroidism, a lifetime of struggles with her weight, constipation and the transition to menopause holistically. She is passionate about helping others achieve their wellness goals so they can live a life they love. When she is not helping others, Heather loves to read, cook, garden, go to the beach, practice mediation and yoga.