What is Health Coaching?
The US National Board of Health and Wellness Coaches (NBHWC) defines the role of health coaching as:
“Health and wellness coaches engage individuals and groups in evidence-based, client-centered processes that facilitate and empower clients to develop and achieve self-determined, health and wellness goals.
Coaches assist clients to use their own insight, personal strengths, and resources to set goals, commit to action steps, and establish accountability in building an envisioned healthy lifestyle. In this way, coaches empower clients through encouragement, exploration, the mobilization of internal strengths, the identification and utilization of external resources, and through the support and development of self-management strategies for executing sustainable, healthy lifestyle changes.”
Health coaching is shown to be effective in clinical and non-clinical settings to address a broad range of whole person health conditions, from physical to mental and social wellbeing.
A Global Perspective
While health coaching is relatively new compared to other fields in allied healthcare, it is now well established. The USA, UK, Australia and New Zealand all have formal bodies that provide a framework for the practice of health coaching, the certification and continuing education of their members.
In the USA there is the NBHWC, in the UK the 'Health Coaches Association' and in Australia and New Zealand the 'Health Coaches Australia and New Zealand Association'.
In Singapore, the government is adopting health coaching in its upcoming national 'Healthier SG plan' and transformation of the healthcare system. The definition of health coaching locally and any potential regulatory framework have yet to be formalised. The Whole Health Practice, based in Singapore, is NBHWC certified.
The Health Coaching Process
Different coaches offer different programmes; some coaches specialise in specific areas, others not. Coaching based programmes typically involve 8 to 12 sessions over 3 to 4 months, or longer. Clients ideally will have the skills and confidence to finish with their coaching by the end of the programme. Thereafter some clients may engage with their coaches on an ad hoc basis.
Session normally last up to 45 minutes or an hour although. Some coaches offer ‘micro-sessions’ (30 minutes or so) to support their clients with specific issues.
Before engaging the services of a health coach spend time with them to ask questions and gain a level of comfort. Whilst coaches should be objective and remain neutral in their engagement with the client it can sometimes be preferable that your outlook or worldview are in alignment.
Coaching and Chronic Illness
Health coaching effective at supporting its clients to make lifestyle change to improve or reverse chronic health conditions. From a clinical perspective coaching “results in clinically relevant improvements in multiple biomarker risk factors (including systolic and diastolic blood pressure, total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, fasting glucose, body weight, body mass index, waist circumference, and cardiorespiratory fitness) in diverse populations.” according to just one recent study.*
What does this mean for long-term health? Key medical conditions that are addressed by coaching, include:
Chronic Obstructive Lung / Pulmonary Disease (COLD/ COPD)
Hypertension, high blood pressure
Obesity & Weight Loss
Peripheral Artery Disease
Key Areas that Coaching Addresses
Coaching supports the adoption and implementation of key healthy behaviours that many people struggle with by themselves in the long-term. As coaching is a process its strength lies in being able to address modifiable behaviours to improve physical, mental and social wellbeing. For example:
the uptake of healthy diets and eating practices
regular physical activity
improved weight management
risk avoidance (alcohol, smoking)
mental and emotional health, self-confidence
Coaching & Integrative Health
Health coaches can work alongside medical doctors, as part of an integrative healthcare system, or independently.
A health coach does not replace a primary health practitioner, doctor or therapist. Coaching can, however, serve as a bridge between medical recommendations and the creation or management of healthy lifestyle behaviours. It addresses the root causes of ill health rather than, as the current the medical system operates, supplying patients with medications to treat the symptoms of lifestyle related chronic conditions.
When Coaching is not Effective
Coaching is only effective when the client is ready to make change, and not everyone is. Clients have to come to their own understanding of when they need support to take steps to improve their health. For many this might come after several attempts at making change or a progressive decline in their long-term health.
Coaching’s focus is on creating healthy habits that last a lifetime. Habits that become lifestyle, to allow the client to live life to the fullest. For us this does not have to mean mean long-term restriction or avoidance of the things that we love, living in constant denial. It means regaining health and finding balance.
For further information please see our health coaching articles.
*Gordon NF, Salmon RD, Wright BS, Faircloth GC, Reid KS, Gordon TL. Clinical Effectiveness of Lifestyle Health Coaching: Case Study of an Evidence-Based Program. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2016 Jul 7;11(2):153-166. doi: 10.1177/1559827615592351. PMID: 30202328; PMCID: PMC6125027.