Just as a sports coach can help an athlete develop and excel at a sport, a health and wellness coach can help anyone excel at living their life, even — or especially — if they have chronic medical conditions. The coaching process is similar to talk therapy in that it involves two people discussing ideas and issues, but it is different in that the person who is being coached is in the driver’s seat, creating their goals as well as the strategies on how to arrive at these goals.
People tend to hire health coaches to help them with a broad variety of health issues, such as weight loss, stress reduction, the management of chronic conditions, improving diet and exercise, tobacco cessation, addiction, and adjusting to a life-altering health event, like a heart attack. There is overlap between what a health coach does and what a life coach does, but a life coach’s domain is much broader, and includes career issues, executive coaching, and professional effectiveness.
A key technique utilised by coaches is motivational interviewing, in which a coach asks open-ended questions intended to help their client elicit his or her own reasons for change. Instead of the doctor saying, “You need to lose weight,” a coach might ask, “How might your life be different if you lost the weight that you’ve been trying to lose?”
The concept, which has been proven effective in many research studies, is that people who are changing for their own reasons, on their own terms, are far more likely to succeed when compared with someone telling them what to do — which is less motivating and is more likely to instill resistance to change.
Motivational interviewing has been creeping into the medical profession as well, with great success. With the intensive focus on it I received in my coaching training, I now put it in the forefront in my interactions with patients, trying to really hear what they are saying and to engage them as much as possible in coming up with solutions for the various health issues that arise. Patients seem to genuinely appreciate this, and while I haven’t conducted a study, this approach certainly seems successful in terms of both my relationships with patients and the results I am seeing.
Coaching is effective for people managing a variety of health conditions. According to a recent study, coaching “results in clinically relevant improvements in multiple biomarker risk factors (including systolic and diastolic blood pressure, total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, fasting glucose, body weight, body mass index, waist circumference, and cardiorespiratory fitness) in diverse populations.” Coaching has also helped improve health-related quality of life and reduced hospital admissions in patients with COPD. No wonder some doctors’ offices are offering it, some insurance companies are paying for it, and private companies are even starting to offer coaching to their employees in order to lower their healthcare costs.