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What is a wellness coach?

1:1 coaching with Michelle MacLeanI’ve received some questions recently about what a wellness coach is. Today, I dedicate this post to clarifying this fairly new profession.

The need for wellness coaching

Health and wellness coaching grew out of a need or gap in the traditional health care system around preventative and lifestyle medicine. Most physicians don’t have time to help patients build healthy habits and change their lifestyle on a daily basis. With 30 million preventable deaths each year, health and wellness coaches can help to fill in this gap.

Mounting evidence and research support the benefits of health and wellness coaching for helping patients make behaviour modifications that can prevent or manage chronic conditions such as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular and chronic respiratory diseases.

Defining “wellness coach”

One of the schools I graduated from, the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, the largest nutrition school in the world, defines a health coach as:

“A mentor who works with clients to achieve their wellness goals. By addressing all the facets of health in addition to eating – relationships, exercise, career, and spirituality – health coaches help people become healthier and happier in all areas of their lives.”

The other coaching school I trained through, Real Balance Global Wellness, describes wellness coaches as:

“Professionals from diverse backgrounds and education who work with individuals and groups in a client-centered process to facilitate and empower the client to achieve self-determined goals related to health and wellness.”

Wellness coaching today

A number of fields have influenced health and wellness coaching. It combines the best practices, philosophies, and processes from life coaching and the behavioural sciences with expertise and knowledge from the areas of wellness and health promotion.

We are typically either coaches or individuals who are drawn to wellness, or wellness professionals who are drawn to coaching. We work in conjunction with physicians, nurses, dieticians and other health practitioners to bring about the best outcome for our clients.

We can be found in hospitals, clinical practices, company wellness programs, retreat centres and spas. Many of us work in private practices directly with clients.

You can call us by a number of interchangeable titles like health coach, wellness coach, holistic health counsellor, or integrative nutrition coach to name a few.

The main tools we use are: helping the client develop a compelling vision for change; goal setting; accountability; wellness assessments; tracking and support. The approach is tailored to an individual’s needs using compassion, motivation and self-efficacy. We help to identify strengths, barriers, strategies, and motivators to help make lasting behaviour change.

What to look for in a wellness coach

Professional credentials. Coaches are a dime a dozen these days and many get their training through weekend workshops. Ask about their training and credentials. Look for 60-80 hours of formal training and what other professional development they’ve done. Does the coach belong to a coaching association or credentialing body such as the International Coach Federation (ICF)?

Client experience. You many want to ask how many previous clients the coach has worked with, review clients successes, stories and testimonials, and ask for references. A good rule of thumb is 100 hours (75 paid) of coaching experience with at least eight clients.

A good fit. There are so many different types of coaches out there today, you want to find one that fits with your personality. Generally coaches tend to be naturally warm, caring, empathetic, genuine, honest and real.

A non-expert attitude. A good coach let’s go of the need to be the expert and meets you where you are. They believe you are the only expert of your life. While the coach provides structure and guidance, things like the road map, accountabilities, and action plans are co-created together. It’s not about the coaches agenda. It’s about being a guide on the side, a trusted ally and an advocate to help you reach your health and wellness goals.

I truly hope this has helped shed some light on this innovative, exciting, rewarding helping profession. I do this work because I’m passionate about my health, your health, and my community’s health. Being able to make a difference, inspire healthy change, and help people live their best lives is the absolute best job in the world. You can read more about my credentials and background here. 

This post originally appeared in the Halifax Citizen on April 21, 2015. View the column here.

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