Whatever your wellness goals—be it to lose weight, get ahead of developing a disease you may be genetically predisposed to, or figure out a game plan for clean eating, you may be interested in taking a more holistic and proactive approach to your health. If this is the case, it’s possible you’ve heard about or even considered hiring a health coach to help you along the way. But how do these health care providers differ from doctors, and what can you expect from working with one?
Health coaches aim to counsel you holistically.
If you’re looking for a practitioner who is focused on getting a bird’s eye view of your overall health, a health coach may be a wise choice. They aim to help their clients find resolution in health issues by sustainable and realistic means.
“Primarily, the intention of a health coach is to be holistic, or to focus on the whole person,” notes Jess Krauss, integrative health coach and owner of The Little Clementine in New York City. “Health coaches view a client’s goals as related to many aspects of one’s life and there is no one-size fits all solution.” In fact, Krauss says, they may focus on not just the client’s physical exercise, but their spirituality, relationships, environment, and nutrition, as well as how each aspect plays into each other.
Health coaches can help you get to the core issue.
“A health coach helps clients discover the root of their discomfort, without the use of Western medicine and with more of a focus on lifestyle improvements,” says Krauss.
For instance, Krauss explains that if she’s approached by a client who wants to lose weight, she works to get a full history of when or how the weight gain began. For instance: “If my client comes home from work late each night, to a dark and empty apartment, that may lead him/her to overeat due to stress from work, being too tired to cook, and feeling lonely. Immediately, I see a need for change in environment and relationships. I would ask, ‘What is losing weight going to help you with?’ The real goal may be to boost confidence or overcome a chronic illness.”
Sam Kelley, national board-certified health and wellness coach and owner of SunKissed Health in Minneapolis, Minnesota, explains, “We also learn behavioral change models and methods, such as motivational interviewing, which is used by counselors and psychologists.”
This motivating factor can be easily missed in the traditional healthcare model, so “if a person is not clear on why they personally want to change, they will be less inclined to implement and sustain these changes,” he says.
Health coaches establish a concrete game plan with their clients.
“A health coach will establish a plan to consistently meet with a client and set up small, realistic goals, with actionable steps,” Krauss explains. They will work with the advice you’ve been given by your medical practitioner. They also aim to work with clients in a supportive, consistent way, enabling them to stay accountable.
“A physician may make lifestyle recommendations and even write up a medication prescription to a patient, but the patient may not follow through with their care plan,” says Kelley. “Perhaps they are confused about their next steps, feel overwhelmed, or don’t understand the long-term benefits.” This is where consistent meetings and checks-in come in handy.
Health coaches may be able to help in areas where other practitioners might fall short.
“If you are a person who has visited many doctors, received many conflicting answers, and still see no resolution, you are someone who should be motivated to meet with a health coach,” Krauss notes.
One of the underlying rules a health coach will follow is this: “What works for one person may not work for another,” Krauss explains. In other words, working with a health coach is a way to get a tailor-made, individualized strategy that is focused on getting to the core of the issue.
The health coach-client relationship also tends to veer towards the collaborative. “There is also an emphasis on learning strategies to empower the client and cultivate a co-creative partnership,” says Kelley. “This philosophy style further enables those beautiful ‘a-ha!’ moments during coaching sessions, which may be quite transformational for the client and help steer their path towards self-efficacy, success, and optimal wellness.”
Health coaches aren’t substitutes for doctors.
“Health coaches are not a replacement for your primary care doctor, your therapist, or your nutritionist, Krauss says. “All of these professions are in place to improve the quality of patients’ lives. Health coaches simply provide a new and alternative perspective to health and wellness, when other methods have not been successful.”
It’s worth noting that there are no standardized requirements to become a health coach. Many health coaches may be certified in related areas, like personal training or nutrition.