Health Coaching is a relatively new field, but with newness comes ambiguity. What is it that a health coach does? Are there expectations and limitations in regard to your role as a certified health coach?
The National Consortium for Credentialing Health & Wellness Coaches beautifully summarizes the role of a health coach:
“Health and Wellness Coaches partner with clients seeking self-directed, lasting changes, aligned with their values, which promote health and wellness and, thereby, enhance well-being. Health and wellness coaches display unconditional positive regard for their clients and a belief in their capacity for change, and honoring that each client is an expert on his or her life, while ensuring that all interactions are respectful and non-judgmental.”
It’s common to assume that a health coach’s primary responsibilities are to instruct clients on the subject of nutrition and/or exercise. But that familiar presumption overlooks the core specialties of a health coach—which are to support, empower, and encourage clients—and in some cases, the assumed responsibilities are outside of a coach’s scope of practice (more on that at the end this article).
Let’s break down 10 of the primary duties expected of a certified health coach:
1. Clarify Client Needs and Desires
Listening is an important skill. There’s a technique called active listening that’s especially useful because the coach reflects back to the client (what was just expressed) in order to reassure, clarify, and confirm an understanding. Active listening makes space for openness, nudging a client to dig deep and come up with their own goals and solutions. Whenever necessary, the coach asks open-ended questions that start with “what” or “how” to further reveal the client’s own inner guidance.
2. Assist in Goal-Setting
A person seeks out coaching with a certain goal in mind. It’s quite common for this goal to be about establishing better habits to achieve weight loss. A health coach assists by asking questions that allow them to collaboratively define the goal so that it is client-driven, and articulated in a clear, reasonable, and actionable way. Together, they must revisit the goal and reflect on progress regularly.
3. Create Accountability
One of the greatest benefits of hiring a health coach is the external accountability provided by the coach. Accountability comes in many forms. It can be as straightforward as sending the coach weekly food logs, or as informal as a quick text from the coach, “Just checking in. How’s it going?”
There’s even accountability that doesn’t involve the coach. For instance, you might ask your client to register for a workout class in advance so they feel more accountable. Accountability goes a long way, and many clients will say that just having a coach makes them feel more accountable.
4. Foster Increased Self-Awareness
One-on-one health coaching is so effective thanks to counseling-style interactions between coach and client, which help clients recognize and identify patterns of thoughts or behaviors that may prevent them from reaching a goal. With coaching skills like active listening, you begin to increase your client’s self-awareness. Once you help them recognize recurring scenarios, they become more aware of their tendencies and become better able to interrupt patterns to induce lasting change.
5. Build Self-Efficacy for Positive Change
It is a coach’s ultimate goal to conclude a coaching relationship with certainty so that the client is able to sustain the positive changes they’ve achieved. This is entirely possible when the coach helps build the client’s self-efficacy—their belief about their own ability to meet and solve their own challenges.
When your client learns better self-awareness, and they gradually acquire new skills to navigate the journey of change, they begin to see themselves as more dependable and confident. This is a key factor in one’s ability to sustain healthy lifestyle changes.
6. Provide Educational Resources
It’s our job as health coaches to provide resources and tools that make behavior adjustments easier for clients. A health coach supplements their own knowledge and skills by sharing trusted resources and educational materials that relate to the client’s areas of interest. These supportive materials can provide answers to their questions and more clarity on a certain topic or diet.
7. Master Non-Judgmental Communication
The degree of success that’s expected for a certain client is quickly predetermined by the level of trust and rapport established early on in the coach-client relationship. To build rapport and trust, a coach must interact and reciprocate with similar energy to the client’s. The coach must display empathy, use nonjudgmental language and responses, and use positive psychology that focuses on client strengths rather than weaknesses. Together, these communication styles strengthen the client-coach bond, and long-lasting change is more probable.
8. Connect Behavior Change With Deep Motivations
Aiding in behavior change is one of the most essential duties of a health coach, and it is also one of the most defining differences between a health coach and other health-focused professionals. By means of effective communication, coaches help clients connect their lifestyle behavior choices to deeper values and identity-driven motivations.
A great health coach uses questions and communication techniques, such as motivational interviewing, that help clients discover their own motivation for change. The goal is to use the right thought-provoking questions and reflective listening skills to take a conversation beyond the surface and into the root of a client’s issues and goals.
9. Help Prevent and Overcome Environmental Obstacles
More often than not, people resist behavior change or fall back into their old ways because they regress in the face of obstacles. Obstacles occur in a variety of areas, like a client’s schedule, coworkers, finances, family life, social pressures, etc. Health coaches work with clients to optimize their environment for the greatest odds of wellness success.
Helping your client to better navigate and predict these challenges ensures that you’re instilling solution-based thinking and self-efficacy characteristics in them.
10. Collaborate for Comprehensive Support
A health coach not only collaborates with the client but also with other wellness experts. It is wise to build you own network of trusted and licensed health care professionals, such as a registered dietitian, chiropractor, etc. When an issue arises outside of your function as a health coach, refer your client to the appropriate licensed professional.
You may also find yourself collaborating with a client’s existing physician or nutritionist. In this case, you practice nonjudgmental listening and communication so that you remain accepting of the ideas and suggestions made by these licensed professionals. Ultimately, you serve as your client’s health advocate, supporting them as they seek and discover better solutions/resources for healthy living.
To better understand the expectations, and illusive limitations, of a health coach, let’s answer the following question:
What Is a Health Coach’s Scope of Practice?
“Scope of practice describes the procedures, actions, and processes that a healthcare practitioner is permitted to undertake in keeping with the terms of their professional license.”
Although health coaches are not licensed, there are practice laws and regulations in place to help differentiate what a health coach can do versus what other licensed health-care professionals can do.
To further specify a health coach’s scope of practice, each state in the U.S. has varying degrees of regulations in place (which are continuously being challenged and updated). Visit The American Nutrition Association to start learning the regulations of your state. International licensing works in much the same way, with rules varying country to country.
“While it’s important to have a solid foundation of understanding around diet and fitness and the like, it is not the health coach’s role to diagnose an illness, treat an illness, offer medical advice, provide an assessment of nutritional needs, or create a customized nutrition plan to help mitigate the symptoms of an illness.” – The Primal Health Coach Institute
A health coach’s primary responsibility is to learn what changes a client is interested in and ready to make, and then encourage them to create and sustain those changes.