Jackie’s Wellness Coaching Wednesday Weigh In- October 20th, 2010

Health Coaching: Q&A with Coach Meg
This article appeared in September 2010 Coaching World.

CW: We hear more and more about health and wellness coaching these days. Is it growing and, if so, why?

Coach Meg: As life expectancy grows, so does the desire to continue to live well in later years. Health and wellness coaching, which barely existed 10 years ago, is keenly focused on helping clients develop and sustain robust mental and physical health by engaging in healthy lifestyles. The next financial crisis will be around healthcare costs and will be even more devastating in scale than the recent financial crisis. People are spending their health rather than investing in it. Baby boomers are of an age where their bodies and minds are showing signs of wear and tear, which can lead to debilitating disease of even premature death. And most of their illnesses can be prevented by lifestyles that promote health and well-being.

People are awakening to their responsibility to do their part to take good care of personal health, not just finances. If we don’t collectively do this, the consequence will be extremely expensive-both personally and society-wide.

People are realizing that pharmaceutical companies aren’t going to cure obesity and diabetes, or stop strokes and heart disease any time soon. There are no quick fixes. The answer is to live a health-promoting lifestyle day in and day out. People are starting to say to themselves: “It’s up to me to make the necessary changes to live a more healthful, balanced life.”

CW: What role does a professional health coach play in today’s healthcare arena?

Coach Meg: Most physicians, nurses, and other healthcare providers do not have the skills or resources to support lifestyle change and have not received training and education in lifestyle interventions, including the use of exercise, diet, mind/body, or positive psychology interventions for disease prevention, or the use of behavior change techniques, strategies, and skills drawn from domains such as Self-Determination Theory, Motivational Interviewing, Positive Psychology, Social Cognitive Theory, the Transtheoretical Model of Change, and Constructive Development.

While we’ve never had more experts available to deliver a diverse range of training and educational interventions for losing weight, getting fit, eating well, fostering the mind-body connection, and increasing positive emotions and resilience, the formats are typically extensions of the medical model, designed to provide top-down authoritative prescriptions which hope to deliver compliance, rather than focused on “teaching people how to fish,” how to become responsible, autonomous, motivated, engaged, confident, competent, and resilient in directing personal health and well-being.

Health and wellness coaches help people fulfill the lifestyle “prescription” and improve their health and wellbeing, in an extremely personalized way. Usually people come to a coach because they are struggling with something that is hurting their well-being-the need to manage stress, weight loss, life balance, energy, or at worst, a health crisis.

Coaches have the skills and expertise to help people overcome their struggles, build self-motivation, self-awareness, mindfulness, confidence, self-regulation, and resilience, and make changes that are sustainable. Often people have tried quick fixes and find they don’t stick. Health and wellness coaches help people create lifestyles that become embedded into who they are.

CW: What is different about health and wellness coach training as opposed to general coach training?

Coach Meg: The best practices of well-trained professional health coaches and wellness coaches are based upon the translation and integration of evidence-based psychological processes of change combined with evidence-based lifestyle interventions into coaching models designed to enable people to outgrow their old ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving, and change lifestyles for good. So coaches need training and education in science-based coaching competencies as well as basics in lifestyle medicine.

CW: What future trends do you see in health and wellness coaching?

Coach Meg: I am co-chairing two teams in my role as codirector of the Institute of Coaching-one is to develop national standards and a certification for health and wellness coaches, and the second to implement a coaching research strategy to support reimbursement for health and wellness coaching for various lifestyle-related diseases including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and others. Over the next few years these activities will be critical in supporting the professionalization of coaches in healthcare, and acceptance by consumers and in mainstream medicine.

Health and wellness coaches will be an important force in transforming healthcare, expanding it from treatment of acute disease to supporting optimal health and well-being and preventing disease. There is a second important avenue for`the application of coaching skills in healthcare. On a small but growing scale, health professionals, including physicians, nurses, case managers, physical therapists, occupational therapists, psychotherapists, and exercise physiologists, are also being taught to integrate basic skills in coaching and motivational interviewing in current practices, a highly promising development. The goal is to improve health outcomes by helping patients get engaged in changing lifestyles to improve health, moving away from sole reliance on medicines and quick fix programs, and ultimately support the referral to health and wellness coaches.

CW: Is there anything else people should know about health and wellness coaching?

Coach Meg: Let’s start a trend and propose that all coaches become wellness role models (our coaches can coach life/executive coaches) and transform health in this country!

Founder and CEO of Wellcoaches Corporation, ICF member Margaret Moore,”Coach Meg,” is co-director of the Institute of Coaching at McLean Hospital, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, and co-director of the annual Harvard Medical School Coaching in Healthcare & Leadership Conference. She co-authored the first coaching textbook in healthcare.