A Health Coach: Everything You Need to Know

You might have recently heard about health coaching, and you're curious about what a health coach is and what they do, but unfortunately, there's not a lot of information that gives you a clear understanding of the profession. This article will cover everything you need to know about a health coach to decide if working with one is right for you.

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Because health coaching is still relatively new, we'll keep this article up to date as the industry grows and more information on a health coach's job becomes available.

We'll start at the top and answer the question that everyone has:

What is a health coach?

In short, a health coach is a professional who helps people adopt healthy lifestyle changes. They are the missing link in the current healthcare system, where doctors oftentimes don't have the time to spend with their patients to help them implement the necessary lifestyle changes to improve their health. This dynamic has led to the health coaching industry developing over the years, and it seems to be the solution to enhance the doctor/patient experience.

Health coaches are highly trained professionals with a wealth of knowledge in behavior change, lifestyle medicine, health promotion, and the prevention of chronic diseases, to name a few. They serve as knowledgeable and supportive guides who can help you uncover what is standing in the way of achieving your ideal health goals. 

Definition of a health coach: A person who helps another person achieve health-related goals; typically focuses on behavior change.

What does a health coach do?

The skillsets of health coaches vary, depending on their training and experience. However, there are some core functions that all qualified, certified health coaches perform.

Some of the core functions include:

  • Assisting clients in goal setting
  • Help clients overcome barriers to health behavior change
  • Promote healthy lifestyle choices
  • Provide accountability and support
  • Motivate and encourage clients throughout their health journey

It is important to note that there is a fine line between what a health coach can do and what a health coach cannot do, and it's crucial to understand the difference. To give you a general understanding, we've listed some of the can's and cannot's:

A health coach can: 

  • Help you set realistic health goals
  • Develop a personalized health plan with you to help you reach your health goals
  • Teach you the skills you need to make lasting lifestyle changes
  • Hold you accountable for following through on your health plan
  • Provide emotional support to help you overcome any obstacles you may encounter

A health coach cannot: 

  • Diagnose or treat any health conditions
  • Write prescriptions
  • Give medical advice
  • Give you nutrition or supplement recommendations
If you're considering working with a health coach, it's important to understand that they are not a replacement for your primary care physician. Rather, health coaches complement the care you receive from your doctor by providing additional support outside of the traditional medical setting. Which can be very effective in helping you make lasting health changes.

A health coach's scope of practice

A health coach's scope of practice supports and guides individuals in achieving their optimum health and wellbeing. This can include working with clients to identify and reach their health and wellness goals, providing education on health and wellness topics, developing individualized action plans, and helping clients navigate behavioral patterns and health-related decision-making.

Health coaches may also support chronic disease management, weight loss, smoking cessation, stress management, and other health-related issues. A health coach is not a licensed healthcare provider and does not diagnose or treat illness. Instead, a health coach focuses on prevention and helping individuals develop healthy lifestyle habits that can improve overall wellbeing.

While the health coaching industry still doesn't have an official regulating body, an organization is working hard to establish official standards and doing a great job at it.

And that organization is:

The National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching (NBHWC)

The National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching is the gold standard for the health coaching industry. They have worked with the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) to create an industry-standard examination for the health coaching business.

To be certified by the NBHWC, health coaches must complete an accredited health coach training program and pass a rigorous exam. They've developed the scope of practicecode of ethics, and core competencies that all health coaches should aspire to.

This is good news if you are looking to work with a health coach because it means that health coaches certified by the NBHWC have met a high standard of training and practice.

Benefits of working with a health coach

When working with a health coach, there are truly an endless amount of benefits. But we've narrowed it down to the top five benefits that we think are the most impactful.

Benefit #1: Improve Your Overall Health

Working with a health coach will help you develop healthy habits and routines that will improve your overall health. This could be anything from eating more beneficial foods and exercising to getting better sleep and managing stress.

Benefit #2: Reach Your Health Goals

A health coach will help you set realistic health goals and create a personalized plan to help you reach those goals. They will also provide support and accountability to ensure you stay on track.

Benefit #3: Develop Healthy Lifestyle Habits

A health coach will teach you the skills to make lasting lifestyle changes long after you finish working with them. These habits could be anything from learning to cook healthy meals to developing a healthy sleep routine; the list goes on and on. 

Benefit #4: Reduce Stress

A health coach can help you healthily manage stress. They will teach you coping mechanisms and provide support when you're feeling overwhelmed.

Benefit #5: Improve Your Relationship with Food

A health coach can help you develop a healthy relationship with food. They will provide education on nutrition and help you make peace with your body.

The skills of a health coach

A health coach should have a wide range of skills to be effective. Here are just a few of the skills that a health coach should possess:

Motivational interviewing: This skill helps health coaches build rapport with their clients and explore what is important to them.

Active listening: This skill lets health coaches hear what their clients say and understand their needs.

Goal setting: This skill helps health coaches work with their clients to set realistic and achievable health goals.

Behavior change: This skill is essential for health coaches because it helps empower clients to make lasting lifestyle changes.

Positive Psychology: This skill helps health coaches focus on their client's strengths and build resilience.

Our article, "Health Coach Skills: How They Help You Achieve Your Health Goals," details each of these skills and how health coaches use them to help their clients.

Health coach pricing

While there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, the average cost of working with a health coach is somewhere between $50 and $200 per session. Of course, this price can vary depending on the individual coach's experience and qualifications, as well as the length and frequency of the sessions.

Some health coaches also offer package rates for multiple sessions, which can be a more economical option for those looking to commit to a long-term coaching relationship.

Ultimately, the best way to determine the cost of working with a particular health coach is to schedule a consultation so that you can discuss your goals and objectives. During this meeting, the coach will be able to provide you with a more specific price quote.

Do health coaches accept insurance?

At this time, health coaches are not generally covered by health insurance. However, some employers are beginning to offer health coaching to their employees.

Suppose you're interested in working with a health coach but worried about the cost. In that case, it never hurts to schedule a consultation with a health coach to see how they may be able to work with you. Most health coaches offer a free or discounted initial consultation, so take advantage of that. 

As the health coaching industry grows, insurance acceptance is likely to become more common.

Health coaches vs. other health professionals

There can be a lot of confusion when trying to discern the differences between health coaches and other health professionals, such as nutritionists, dietitians, personal trainers, and therapists.

The main difference between health coaches and other health professionals is that health coaches focus on behavior change. This means they will help you develop the skills to make lasting lifestyle changes rather than simply providing you with information or telling you what to do.

While health coaches possess a wealth of knowledge about health and wellness, their main focus is helping you develop the skills to make lasting change. This is what sets health coaches apart from other health professionals.

Here are some of the most common comparisons people make between health coaches and other health professionals:

Health coach vs nutritionist: Nutritionists focus on the science of food and nutrients, while health coaches focus on helping you develop healthy eating habits.

Health coach vs personal trainer: Personal trainers help you develop a workout routine, while health coaches help you develop healthy lifestyle habits.

Health coach vs therapist: Therapists focus on the many facets of the mind and mental health, while health coaches focus on helping you develop healthy coping mechanisms and stress management skills.

Health coach vs life coach: Life coaches help you achieve your personal or professional goals, while health coaches help you develop healthy habits.

Health coach vs wellness coach: These two are closely related and often interchangeable. However, health coaches tend to focus more on physical health. In contrast, wellness coaches may focus more on emotional and mental health and overall wellbeing.

Health coach specialties

Health coaches come from various backgrounds and have a wide range of specialties. Some may have a background in nutrition, while others may be certified personal trainers.

Some health coaches specialize in helping clients with chronic health conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease. Others may focus on assisting clients to achieve their weight loss goals. Still, others may work with clients dealing with stress or seeking to improve their overall wellness.

There is likely a health coach specializing in a particular area for every health need due to their unique combination of skills.

Health coaching credentials

There are a plethora of health coaching credentials available, which can make it challenging to know which ones hold weight.

When considering working with a health coach, the most important thing to understand is whether or not they have received formal training and are certified by a reputable organization. This will ensure they have the knowledge and skills necessary to help you reach your health goals.

The National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching accredits health coach training programs that uphold high standards, so working with a health coach from an accredited program is always a good bet.

We have a working glossary that breakdowns all of the acronyms you typically see placed by a health coach's name so you can learn what they mean.

Here are some examples of health coaching credentials you might have come across:

CHES: Certified Health Education Specialist

RDN: Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

CHC: Certified Health Coach

NBC-HWC: Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach

IIN: Institute for Integrative Nutrition

Another thing to note about health coaching credentials is that health coaches do not need to be licensed to practice. This is in contrast to health professionals like dietitians and therapists, who must be licensed in order to work with clients, and that is why we always recommend working with a health coach that has the NBC-HWC credential from the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching because they adhere to a strict code of ethics.

How to find a health coach

Finding the right health coach is important to have the best health coaching experience and reach your health goals.

The best way to find a health coach is to ask for recommendations from people you trust, such as your doctor or another health professional.

Find national board-certified health coaches

We always recommend working with a national board-certified health coach (NBC-HWC). The best way to do so is to visit the Be Healthful directory of certified health coaches or the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching's Find a Coach tool.

When considering working with a health coach, read reviews and check their website or social media to get a sense of their coaching style and approach. It's also vital to ensure they have the appropriate credentials (as discussed earlier).

Once you've found a health coach you're interested in working with, schedule a consultation call to see if they're a good fit for you.

What to expect from health coaching

Health coaching is a partnership between you and your coach in which they provide support and guidance as you work to achieve your health goals. You must understand that you need to invest time and effort into the health coaching relationship to see results.

Your health coach will help you develop healthy habits and make the necessary overall lifestyle change to improve your health. Depending on your health goals, health coaching can involve creating a healthy eating plan, starting an exercise routine, managing stress, or quitting smoking.

Health coaching is not a quick fix; it's a long-term approach to improving your health. So if you're looking for immediate results, health coaching may not suit you.

What health coaching is not

Health coaching is not personal training, therapy, or counseling. Health coaches do not give medical advice; they provide support and guidance to help you develop healthy habits and make necessary lifestyle changes.

If you have a health condition that requires medication or other treatment, health coaching can complement your health care plan, but it is not a substitute for medical advice.

Health coaching is also not a weight loss program. While health coaches can help you develop healthy eating habits and an exercise routine, they do not specify diet plans or tell you what to eat or how much to exercise.

Health coach session example

During health coaching sessions, your coach will ask questions to help you reflect on your health journey and identify areas where you want to make changes. They will also provide guidance and support as you work to implement those changes. Here's a health coach session example to give you an idea of what a session can look like.

Health coaches typically work with clients one-on-one, but they also work with groups. Health coaches can work in various settings, including hospitals, corporate wellness programs, community health centers, and private practices.

How to become a health coach

After reading this article, maybe you're interested in becoming a health coach yourself. Health coaching is a rapidly growing field, and there are many ways to get started.

The first step is to identify what type of health coach you want to be. There are various types of health coaches, including general health coaches, wellness coaches, disease-specific coaches, and more!

Once you've decided what type of coach you want to be, the next step is to get certified. Many health coaching certification programs are available, but not all are created equal. When choosing a health coaching program, look for one that is accredited by the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching (NBHWC), as they require health coaches to meet specific standards and complete ongoing education to maintain their certification.

Starting a health coaching career can be rewarding and allows you to help others improve their overall health and wellbeing. Health coaching may be the perfect career if you're passionate about health and helping others.

Final Thoughts

Health coaching is an evidence-based approach that has been shown to be effective in helping people make lasting changes to their health. With so many people struggling to make health changes, health coaches are in high demand, and as more and more health coaches join the field each year, there's never been a better time to find one that meets your needs.

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