It seems that everywhere I look these days, there is an article about the growing field of health coaching or an advertisement for someone who is selling coaching services of some sort. Health coaching is gaining popularity among health care providers and with employers and insurance companies as part of the solution to rising health care costs.
Most people want to improve their health in some way but many have difficulty making (and sustaining) those changes without support and guidance. This is where a skilled health coach can be a valuable addition to your health care team.
However, it’s important to know that health coaching is an emerging but completely unregulated field, so there is no standard exam or test of competency (unlike for doctors, nurses, therapists, and counselors), and no state or national license. This means that essentially, anyone can advertise themselves as a health coach, so it’s up to you to ask questions to find out about a potential health coach’s educational background and professional experience.
But do you need a health coach? Before choosing one (whether privately, through your medical insurance plan, or as part of your employer’s wellness program), it’s important to ask yourself these 4 questions:
1. What are my goals? Most of us have limited time and financial resources to spend on our health. An experienced coach will be skilled in helping you to set goals and will work with you to establish the steps to reach them, but you need to know what you want the health coach to help you achieve. Vague goals such as “I want to be healthier” or “I want to improve my health and well-being” aren’t specific enough to determine whether it’s worth your time and money to hire a health coach.
Examples of more focused goals could be:
- reaching a healthy weight (through changes to your eating habits and activity level) and learning how to maintain it long term
- finding ways to incorporate exercise into a busy schedule
- learning to cook simple and healthy meals so that you rely less on convenience foods
2. Is a health coach the right person to help me reach my goals? If you have clear goals and are motivated to achieve them, then hiring a health coach may be the right next step to help you improve your health. However, a health coach is not a substitute for a licensed health care provider. While some health coaches are also licensed health care providers, many are not.
Health coaches can help you implement lifestyle changes that your health care providers have advised you to make. But they are not trained or legally allowed to recommend medications or supplements, design diets or eating plans, or design exercise plans to treat injuries. These should only be done with the guidance of a licensed health care provider who is legally allowed to provide these services (like a medical doctor, dietician, or physical/occupational therapist).
Therefore, depending on the goals that you would like to reach, it may be appropriate to first consult a licensed health care provider for proper diagnosis and treatment of any significant physical or emotional symptoms. This is especially important if you suspect that your symptoms are the result of an illness, an injury, a mental health issue (such as depression), or an eating disorder.
3. Is it important to me to have a health coach who has overcome similar health issues? Some people are better able to relate to a coach who shares a common history; for example, someone who has dealt with obesity, struggles to enjoy exercise, or who has experienced pregnancy and childbirth. And for some health issues and goals, you may feel more comfortable with a female instead of a male health coach (or vice versa).
4. What structure or method of health coaching will be most effective in helping me meet my goals? Some health coaches meet with clients in person. Others conduct sessions over the phone, over email, or using Skype. Some provide services in person but provide support between sessions by email. It’s important to decide what method of coaching will be most effective and comfortable for you before choosing a health coach as not all coaches offer all options.
For clients who live in the Seattle area, I prefer to meet in person and then provide support between sessions through email. However, I work with each client to determine what form of support will be most helpful for him or her. For clients outside of the Seattle area, I offer sessions and support through a combination of phone, Skype, and email.
Now that you know what questions to ask yourself before hiring a health coach, it’s important to know how to select the right one. In my next post, I will outline the most important questions to ask a potential health coach, to ensure that you choose someone who is qualified to help you meet your goals!
You can find out more about my health coaching services here. And please feel free to contact me with any questions about health coaching or if you’d like to schedule an appointment. I'd be happy to help you reach your health goals!