Health coaching

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Health coaching is the use of evidence-based skillful conversation, clinical interventions and strategies to actively and safely engage client/patients in health behavior change. Health coaches are certified or credentialed to safely guide clients and patients who may have chronic conditions or those at moderate to high risk for chronic conditions.[1]


Health coaching is based on evidence-based clinical interventions such as motivational interviewing to facilitate behavior change, the transtheoretical model of change, goal setting, active listening, aggregation and trending of health outcome metrics, and prevention.[1]

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define wellness as "the degree to which one feels positive and enthusiastic about life".[2] Wellness coaching is a process that facilitates healthy, sustainable behavior change by challenging a client to develop their inner wisdom,[citation needed] identify their values, and transform their goals into action. Wellness coaching draws on the principles from positive psychology and appreciative inquiry, and the practices of motivational interviewing and goal setting.[3][4][page needed]

Health coaches are not licensed to prescribe diets.  In the US Dietitians are the only nutrition professionals to be regulated by law, and are governed by an ethical code to ensure that they always work to the highest standard. Minimum requirement is a BSc Hons in Dietetics, or a related science degree with a postgraduate diploma or higher degree in Dietetics.[5]

In 13 US states, it is illegal to perform individualized nutrition counseling unless licensed or exempt. Effectively only RDs are eligible for licensure.[6] However, around the world legislation varies depending upon the country.


The health coaching model follows a process:

Establish relationship[edit]

The process begins with engagement. Engagement and building trust with the client is established by building rapport. Many factors are included in this process. Essential traits to building rapport include: genuineness, eye contact, good energy, warmth, good quality of voice, a feeling of connectedness, being comfortable and relaxed in the exchange, mindful listening, being supportive and positive body language and physical gestures. Rapport is fundamental not only in the initial coaching session, but also in each coaching session thereafter. Although rapport is important, a coach may want to avoid becoming too close with client. Becoming too close to a client can create a barrier for a successful coaching process by being too emotionally attached, having a personal agenda and falling into assumptions based on personal relationships or experience.[7][page needed]

Motivational interviewing[edit]

Once a coach has established rapport, building strong communication strategies is essential. An effective tool used in health and wellness coaching and other clinical work is motivational interviewing. Motivational interviewing is a process used in psychotherapy, social work, medicine, addiction and other fields. It aims to raise clients' awareness of problems and possibilities while reducing their ambivalence about change.[8][9]

Motivational interviewing is also characterized by a focus on the present rather than the past. The emphasis is on the communication that is conducted with clients, concentrating on internal motivating factors and an exploration into individual core values and goals. This allows the client to express their desire to change their lifestyle and identify it themselves rather than having it come from the health coach.[10]

Wellness vision[edit]

A wellness vision is a creative statement by the client that reveals his/her highest potential and can include physical, emotional, social, spiritual and financial realms of their life. A new life vision empowers one to see new possibilities along with a specific and clear direction. It allows a client to activate their imagination and then think, feel, speak and ultimately see the manifestation of their highest potential. A wellness vision is a tool a health coach uses to help the client move to new levels of wellbeing by connecting the client to their own truth and wisdom that is held within.[7][page needed]

Guiding the agenda and goal setting[edit]

Guiding the agenda and goal setting is a collaborative behavior change technique used between the coach and the client. During the motivational interviewing process, after strengths, values and desires are determined and the client's vision is set in place, specific goals are safely set so the client is able to move in the direction of his/her newly formed desires.[11]

Goals promote behavior change through a collaborative process, which includes the coach making a plan to track and evaluate progress. The coach can help the client focus on the success the client has had, even if goal is not yet achieved. Evaluating strengths and what is successful helps the client move forward. Positive feedback helps the client progress and move through any negative self-talk, ambivalence, resistance and other hurdles. Although self-regulation is a powerful behavior change tool, the client may lapse. When the coach promotes the principles of positive psychology and goal setting through the motivational interviewing process, the coach helps the client continue to improve self-efficacy, which supports behavior change.[10][12]

Intersection with related disciplines[edit]

There is no evidence that health maintenance organizations (HMOs) are using health coaches for their health care services.

Social work[edit]

Social workers are skilled in the field of helping individuals overcome obstacles that inhibit their growth potential.[13] Both coaching and social work fall under the mental health field. Coaching and social work have similar elements. Both practices rely on motivational interviewing. Both are focused on the client being the expert, and both work with the client without judgment, allowing the client to be in control. The essential difference between social work and coaching is that social work is more oriented to the client's relationship to community life and social ethics, whereas coaching is focused on an individual's personal dreams, desires and goals.[8][14]

Patient education[edit]

The traditional approach to patient teaching and education is one that directs information "at" the patient. In essence, the goal is to have the patient do the things prescribed for them to do. Healthcare professionals have the knowledge about disease processes, exercise guidelines, special diets, and medications that must be imparted to the patient and caregivers in many forms: booklets, pamphlets, audio CDs, and the like.[15]

Many formal health coaching programs are now being offered through institutions of higher learning such as Duke Integrative Medicine,[16] Georgetown University[17] and the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.[18]


Several studies have shown health coaching to be effective in improving various aspects of health. One study on type 2 diabetes concludes that after six months, individuals who were coached showed improvement in medication adherence. Coaching had a positive effect on patients' knowledge, skill, self-efficacy and behavior change while a non-coached control group did not show any improvement. Additionally, coached participants with a hemoglobin A1C over 7% showed significant improvement in A1C.[19]

A study on coronary heart disease indicated that patients in a coaching program achieved a significantly greater change in total cholesterol of 14 mg/dl than the non-coached patients, with a considerable reduction in LDL-C. Those involved in the coaching program showed improvements in secondary outcomes such as weight loss, increased exercise, improved quality of life, less anxiety, and improvement in overall health and mood.[20]

Another study shows that telephonic coaching is an effective program for assisting individuals with self-efficacy and weight loss. Confidence to lose weight increased from a baseline of 60% to 71% at three months, 76% at 6 months and 79% at 12 months. The average body mass index significantly decreased during this interactive coaching study. Average baseline was 32.1%, and then documented at 3 months (31.4%), 6 months (31.0%), and 12 months (30.6%).[21]

A study on tobacco cessation concluded that after 12 months, the coached participants had a 32% quit rate compared to 18% for nonparticipants. Those that participated in the program, who acknowledged that they were ready for change, had the highest rate of quitting at 44%. Additionally, 11% of participants who did not quit reported reduction in tobacco use. This is considered a positive outcome, because other studies have shown that when individuals reduced their tobacco usage, they find increased motivation to quit entirely in the future.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Huffman, Melinda H. (12 May 2016). "Advancing the Practice of Health Coaching". Workplace Health & Safety. 64 (9): 400–403. doi:10.1177/2165079916645351. PMID 27174131.
  2. ^ Manderscheid, Ronald W.; Ryff, Carol D.; Freeman, Elsie J.; McKnight-Eily, Lela R.; Dhingra, Satvinder; Strine, Tara W. (1 January 2010). "Evolving definitions of mental illness and wellness". Preventing Chronic Disease. 7 (1): A19. ISSN 1545-1151. PMC 2811514. PMID 20040234.
  3. ^ Engel, Reed Jordan (August 2011). An examination of wellness coaches and their impact on client behavioral outcomes (Ph.D. thesis). Purdue University. pp. 7–9. OCLC 809632287.
  4. ^ Moore, Margaret; Tschannen-Moran, Bob (2010). Coaching psychology manual. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. ISBN 9780781772624. OCLC 269433020.
  5. ^ "College of dietitians". Retrieved 19 May 2017.
  6. ^ "Center for Nutrition Advocacy | Empowering Professionals To Transform Health Through Nutrition". Retrieved 19 May 2017.
  7. ^ a b Starr, Julie (2008). The coaching manual: the definitive guide to the process, principles, and skills of personal coaching (2nd ed.). Harlow, England: Pearson Prentice Hall. ISBN 978-0273713524. OCLC 172521676.
  8. ^ a b Hohman, Melinda (2012). Motivational interviewing in social work practice. Applications of motivational interviewing. New York: Guilford Press. ISBN 9781609189693. OCLC 714725319.
  9. ^ Lundahl, Brad; Burke, Brian L. (November 2009). "The effectiveness and applicability of motivational interviewing: a practice-friendly review of four meta-analyses" (PDF). Journal of Clinical Psychology. 65 (11): 1232–1245. doi:10.1002/jclp.20638. PMID 19739205.
  10. ^ a b Miller, William R.; Rollnick, Stephen (2013) [1991]. Motivational interviewing: helping people change. Applications of motivational interviewing (3rd ed.). New York: Guilford Press. ISBN 9781609182274. OCLC 788281018.
  11. ^ Bodenheimer, T; Handley, MA (August 2009). "Goal-setting for behavior change in primary care: an exploration and status report". Patient Education and Counseling. 76 (2): 174–80. doi:10.1016/j.pec.2009.06.001. PMID 19560895.
  12. ^ Prochaska, James O.; Norcross, John C.; DiClemente, Carlo C. (1994). Changing for good: the revolutionary program that explains the six stages of change and teaches you how to free yourself from bad habits (1st ed.). New York: Morrow. ISBN 978-0688112639. OCLC 29429279.
  13. ^ Caspi, Jonathan (October 2005). "Coaching and social work: challenges and concerns". Social Work. 50 (4): 359–62. doi:10.1093/sw/50.4.359. JSTOR 23721316. PMID 17892246.
  14. ^ Shafer, Kathryn C.; Kiebzak, Lisa; Dwoskin, Jacquelyn; Zelvin, Elizabeth (1 March 2003). "Coaching: new role for addictions social workers?". Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions. 3 (2): 105–112. doi:10.1300/J160v03n02_07.
  15. ^ Huffman, Melinda (April 2007), "Health coaching: a new and exciting technique to enhance patient self-management and improve outcomes", Home Healthcare Nurse, 25 (4): 271–276, doi:10.1097/01.NHH.0000267287.84952.8f, ISSN 0884-741X, OCLC 729640500, PMID 17426499
  16. ^ "Duke Integrative Medicine".
  17. ^ "School of Continuing Studies".
  18. ^ "Health Coach Certificate". Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Retrieved 19 April 2016.
  19. ^ Wolever, R. Q.; Dreusicke, M.; Fikkan, J.; Hawkins, T. V.; Yeung, S.; Wakefield, J.; Duda, L.; Flowers, P.; Cook, C.; Skinner, E. (9 June 2010). "Integrative health coaching for patients with type 2 diabetes: a randomized clinical trial" (PDF). The Diabetes Educator. 36 (4): 629–639. doi:10.1177/0145721710371523. PMID 20534872.
  20. ^ Vale, Margarite J. (8 December 2003). "Coaching patients on achieving cardiovascular health (COACH): a multicenter randomized trial in patients with coronary heart disease". Archives of Internal Medicine. 163 (22): 2775–2783. doi:10.1001/archinte.163.22.2775. PMID 14662633.
  21. ^ Merrill, R. M.; Aldana, S. G.; Bowden, D. E. (March – June 2010). "Employee weight management through health coaching". Eating and Weight Disorders: Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity. 15 (1–2): 52–59. doi:10.1007/BF03325280. PMID 20571321.
  22. ^ Terry, Paul E.; Seaverson, Erin L. D.; Staufacker, Michael J.; Tanaka, Akiko (June 2011). "The effectiveness of a telephone-based tobacco cessation program offered as part of a worksite health promotion program". Population Health Management. 14 (3): 117–125. doi:10.1089/pop.2010.0026. PMID 21323463.