What Is a Certified Health Coach? Responsibilities & Impact
What Is a Health Coach and Do I Need One?
We don’t need to tell you that taking care of your physical and mental health is key to living a long and prosperous life. However, caring for your health goes deeper than exercising and eating healthy. There are other aspects of your life that can be improved by adopting healthy practices, such as better sleep, higher productivity, and a fuller life in general.
Yet despite this common knowledge, the U.S. has a serious problem with the general health of its population. According to an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) study, the U.S. spent the most on healthcare, had the lowest life expectancy, and had a chronic disease rate twice that of the 11 countries in the study.
While these numbers can feel discouraging, there are steps you can take to improve your health. Taking a proactive approach to your well-being by enlisting the help of a trained professional enables you to improve your mental, physical and emotional health long-term. Sometimes we just need a helping hand to guide us, so why not let that be the hand of a professionally trained health coach?
What is a Health Coach?
So, what is a health coach and what exactly is it they do? There is no one-size-fits-all health coaching definition, as the role of a health coach is wide-ranging and will vary based on your needs. So what is health coaching on a broad level? A health coach can be a multi-faceted professional with the experience to help you across all areas of your health, acting as anything from your weekly workout accountability partner to your personal health guide. Alternatively, some health coaches are trained in specific areas like behavioral health or nutrition.
Have you ever tried asking Google questions about your health, like how often you should do cardio or how to improve your sleep? If you have, you know the answers vary wildly and chances are you’ve gotten frustrated with the lack of definitive solutions. One of the main benefits of a health coach is that they provide you with a dedicated and personalized program tailored to your specific needs.
In fact, many doctors recommend health coaching to their patients who have chronic conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. They are available via corporate wellness programs, on a private individual basis, and via your primary care physician.
According to Harvard, the health coach definition is a relatively new one. Coaches don’t need to be certified to practice; however, many companies providing these services require their coaches to get certified. What is a certified health coach? A certified health coach is simply someone who has completed training programs that qualify them to manage someone else’s health. These programs can be completed in-person and online at popular institutions like Duke University, The National Society of Health Coaches, Dr. Sears Wellness Institute, and Wellcoaches School of Coaching. There are also scholarship programs that aim to break down racial and ethnic barriers in the field, like Hinge Health’s Advancing Diversity in Health & Well-Being Coaching Award.
What Does a Health Coach Do?
So what do health coaches do that is so beneficial? Because health coaches differ so drastically in what they offer, it can be difficult to understand exactly what services they provide. However, what every health coach has in common is that their programs will be customized to help you achieve your goals.
Generally, experts have categorized health coaching into two broad areas: preventative coaching and disease/symptom management. These can include things like:
- Smoking Cessation
- Physical activity/fitness
- Stress management
- Time management
- Sleep Management
The chances are if one area is out of balance, so are the other areas. Someone who lacks regular physical activity may be stressed, suffer from poor dietary practices, and struggle to get enough sleep at night. When all these factors are combined, it can quickly become overwhelming. This is where health coaching comes into play.
Health coaches aren’t looking to turn your life upside down or put you on restrictive schedules. They help you get over the initial hump to starting a new healthy lifestyle, while empowering you to make small yet impactful changes over time.
Health coaches create goals based on where you are in your journey. They will lead you to a healthier lifestyle rather than forcing it on you. So to summarize, what is a health coach? The short answer is someone who helps you overcome obstacles to a better, healthier life.
The Goal of Health Coaching – Overcoming Challenges
Many people who become overwhelmed feel stuck and are often unable to figure out what is preventing them from reaching their goals. Health coaches are helpful as they come in with a fresh set of eyes and can help you identify barriers in your life that you’re too close to see. The ultimate goal of health coaching is to remove obstacles and overcome challenges.
The approach of each health coach will differ based on a variety of factors. For example, some health coaches will focus solely on exercise or nutrition, while others will take a more holistic approach. But what is a holistic health coach and what does a holistic health coach do?
A holistic health coach is someone who looks at the bigger picture, rather than focusing on one aspect of someone’s health (like food). They’ll often work with you through various areas in your life, such as stress, time management, and more. Holistic coaches take your physical and mental health into consideration.
This is why so many health coaches have certifications in cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational interviewing. They work through people’s thoughts to unblock them.
For example, let’s say that you want to increase your fitness levels. Your holistic health coach may begin by asking the following questions:
- On a scale of one to ten, how important is it to you to get fitter?
- What do you believe is a reasonable goal?
- What’s stopping you from following through?
- What’s your schedule like?
- What’s an ideal plan we can work on to get you to work out more often?
The most common misconception is that hiring a health coach is hiring somebody to tell you what to do. Health coaches are there to provide support, not force you into strict diet and exercise regimes. The simplest way to view the role of a health coach is as someone who gives you that push, triggering a journey of self-discovery and improved health.
The Benefits of Health Coaching
As you can probably tell by this point, health coaching comes with a myriad of benefits. They’re not only a valuable source of knowledge, they’re also a compass that points you in the right direction. Some of the benefits of health coaching include:
- Accountability – Providing you with somebody you can check in with to update you on your progress. Your coach will gently give you the push you need to achieve your goals.
- Encouragement – Every health journey is going to have super highs and super lows. Health coaches are there to pick you up when you’re deep down in one of those lows.
- Unconditional Support – No good health coach will ever judge you on your current and previous actions. Their only goal is to help you and they will do everything they can do to support you in your health journey.
- Healthy Behavioral Change – Not all behaviors in the pursuit of health are necessarily healthy. For example, those who are concerned about their weight may adopt unhealthy eating or exercise habits. Health coaches are familiar with the signs of unhealthy behaviors, and they know how to navigate them.
Do I Need a Health Coach?
Clearly, hiring a health coach can benefit pretty much anyone — but do you need one? Let’s examine some of the indicators that health coaching could be right for you. Ask yourself the following questions, and take the time to really think about your answers:
- Are you struggling to find what is causing you stress?
- Do you struggle to stick to your goals?
- Do you regularly feel depressed, discouraged or apathetic?
- What’s stopping you from starting your health journey?
- Do you have anyone to support you?
There are many reasons why someone may enlist the help of a certified health coach, but there’s really only one indicator that you need one: you need guidance overcoming the obstacles to achieving your best health.
4 Things That Make a Great Health Coach
Remember, there is always a lot of variation in the quality of health coaches. Knowing what makes a good health coach is crucial, as you need the right partner to stand by you on your journey to better health. Here’s what makes a great health coach:
Certification is not necessary to work as a health coach, and there are plenty of health coaches online without any qualifications. Always be wary about working with somebody who has not taken the time to complete a basic health coaching certification.
Online certification programs are available in abundance, but not all of them are necessarily worthwhile. Ideally, you want someone who went through formal training from an accredited institution. Some coaches may have college degrees, such as those who studied nutrition. Others may specialize in psychology or sports fitness. What matters is that they have the experience and are invested in helping people lead better lives.
Many coaches choose to specialize in one of the key areas outlined above. While most experienced coaches can help in working toward any goal, there are some that help specific clients.
For example, there are health coaches that market themselves to people who want to quit smoking. There are also those who work specifically with employees who need to adopt a better work-life balance. If you have a specific challenge you need to overcome, searching for a coach that specializes is the best place to start.
Always ask yourself: how long has this coach worked in the industry? Experience is not always a marker of quality service, but there is a correlation between expertise and experience. Ask your potential coach how long they have worked in the industry, and whether they have any customer testimonials they’d be willing to share. Someone who has many years under their belt with an arsenal of success stories is a far less risky choice than a newcomer with no happy customers to speak of.
Everyone has different needs, and each coach will have different communication styles. Some people require regular daily online meetings to keep them motivated, while others can rely on a weekly call or a few text exchanges here and there. Determine what level of communication you want from your coach and find one that matches your style.
Communication is the key to a successful partnership. Find out how your health coach typically communicated with clients and decide whether their method will work for you.
How to Make the Most of Health Coaching
A great rule to remember while working with a health coach is that you get out what you put in. You need to be committed to improving your health and taking the necessary steps to do so, even when it becomes difficult. While having a professionally trained health coach is important, your success depends on you just as much as your coach.
So how can you set yourself up for success and get the most out of this process?
1. Set Clear Goals
It’s important that you decide on specific and actionable outcomes before you even attend an initial consultation. Ask yourself: What are you hoping to change? How can you measure your success? Why is this important to you? It’s crucial that you set clear (yet realistic) goals, which means the more specific you can be, the better. Don’t show up to your consultation meeting empty-handed. After all, it’s not up to your coach to decide what changes you need to make. Spend time reflecting before your call and be prepared to discuss specifics about your life, your motivation style, and more. After all, you’re the one who’s making the changes – shouldn’t you be in charge of what they are?
2. Be Honest
Your health coach is here to support you, and your coaching sessions are a judgment-free zone. This means that you need to be as honest as possible about not just what you want to change, but why you want to change. Being honest about your motivations helps you set clear goals and helps your coach find ways to help you achieve them.
This honesty needs to be consistent throughout the process. Be honest during your first session about the changes you want to make and be honest about the progress you’ve made six months down the line. Tell your coach about the challenges you’re facing and they can help you find ways to overcome them. Remember, you partnered with this person to help you on your journey — so let them help you by being open and honest about your experience.
3. Stay in Touch
One of the easiest ways to stall (or even halt) progress in a health coaching program is to stop communicating with your coach. By staying in contact, your coach will help you stay motivated by celebrating your wins and identifying obstacles so you can more easily overcome challenges that pop up along the way.
Health coaches are typically available via text, phone, video calls and email. You don’t need to schedule video calls every day or even every week (unless you want to!). Simply sending just a quick text update is enough to remind you of your progress and keep you accountable and motivated. You and your coach should work together to create a system that works for you.
4. Start Your Journey with Hinge Health
The right health coach can guide you on your journey to better health, whether it be stress management or help with chronic back or joint pain. Hinge Health is the only digital musculoskeletal clinic offering end-to-end online support for chronic musculoskeletal disorders.
Our digital physical therapy solution gives you access to health coaching and physical therapists through an all-in-one app. Hinge Health enables individuals to take a more holistic approach to conquering chronic back and joint pain.
To learn more, contact Hinge Health today.