What is Health and Wellness Coaching?

I had such a relaxing weekend this last weekend…

I spent a lot of time in the garden, outside, walking on the beach and doing a few chores.
The weather is warming up here finally and although it was really windy, it was so pleasant to be outside.  
One of the things I did was to reflect on how I was spending my weekend in my mind.
You see, I have my own coach and a self-coaching practice of actively working through the challenges, or anxieties or issues that come up. I am so much better at this than I used to be.
So now when I have a weekend, it’s like I immediately enter the cone of silence, like Maxwell Smart used to have, where nothing touches me except the joy of what I am doing and how relaxed I am feeling.

This is only possible for me now because of the coaching I’ve gone through.

That’s what I want to share in this episode – to answer the question ‘what is coaching?’ and how does it work? And at the end, if you’re thinking about getting a coach, I’ve included some tips on how to find the right sort of coach for you.

What is coaching and why do we need it?

We humans live 95% of lives on autopilot – driven by a brain that craves efficiency and automaticity.
Our unconscious thinking and doing habits therefore define who we are, how we live, what we do and our state of heatlh.
Over time, first world nations have shifted away from the simple things. We have more negative influence than ever before that affect our health and wellbeing – a new era of processed fake food, alcohol, drugs, soft drink, rapid technology, greater expectations and technology…. As a result we suffer from stress, insomnia, emotional reactions and anxiety, and a litany of health issues and chronic diseases, not in the least, overweight and obesity.
In short, hundreds of different Stressors have been woven into our automatic habits and they’re making us progressively sicker and unhappier.
As a result, we have an emerging industry that tackles these things head on – coaching.
There are lots of different types of coaching and they operate differently in different countries. But their common goal is to get people to change their habits so they can be healthier, happier and live better quality lives.
On the surface it sounds simple but It’s a topic worth exploring for those of you who are shopping around for a coach, or, looking for the right coach for you.
I will explain where health coaching and health and wellness originated, the different types of coaches and how they differ between countries, and what to look for in a coach.

Health Coaching and it’s counterpart health and wellness coaching, have been longest established in the mainstream in the US at over 20 years, more recently in Australia, around 10 years, and most recently in the UK around 5 years.

As you can see, the different  terminology and definitions can make things confusing and they vary between countries.

But let’s start very simply and say that there are two perspectives on coaching.

There is the kind of coach who is an expert in a specific area, like gut health or nutrition, and who tells you how to do make a change in their specific area. The training courses usually teach nutrition principles (about 85% of the course) with a little bit of coaching methodology – say 15% of the course – and that’s the current state.
So, this type of coaching is pretty much teaching. In the US it’s known as Health Coaching and it’s quite mainstream. They may indoctrinate you into their method or style of doing things, they teach you how to fix a specific problem in a certain way.
Health coaching in the US at least typically involves teaching people way of eating or exercise, or to buy into certain products. This is not always the case, but it’s the common theme.
Then there is the kind of coach who works more with the principles of psychology, who assumes the client is the expert, and makes no suggestions or offers no opinions or judgement at all. 

There is no advice or teaching in this setting, and the method is evidence based (theories and models from psychology, coaching psych, sports psych, positive psych, psychotherapy and life coaching, such as the transtheoretical model of change, CBT, Motivational Interviewing, Appreciative Enquiry).

This second type of coach, assuming the client has all the answers, simply holds the space, asks thought provoking questions and reflects what they hear in a non judgemental way. We support the client to step up and learn to take responsibility for their own thinking and doing habits. We achieve this by inviting the client to examine their own habits, thoughts and beliefs openly and completely, and craft their own experiments around a series of new habits before finally settling on the healthier routine – physical or mental –  that works best for them.
This is commonly called Health and Wellness coaching and it operates similarly in both Australia and the US.
Schools like WellCoaches and Wellness Coaching Australia are at the forefront. And they offer a fairly aligned curriculum that is at least 95% coaching psychology. I liken the philosophy of HWC to Zen Buddhism!

Just to muddy the waters, in Australia there are  people who are trained as health coaches. They have either done the first kind of training base around advice, or, they have done more like the second type of training and work in the medical or nursing sector bringing people up to baseline health. Health Coaching Australia is a reputable organisation that teaches evidence based coaching curriculum in the medical arena.
As you can see, on title alone they sound the same, but as you can hear the roles are very different.

Are you still with me?

One reason for all these differences is that there’s not much in the way of regulation in our industry. That’s set to change. In 2018, an ICHWC formed in the US to create a credentialling system for HWC who must now sit an exam to prove the adequacy of their evidence-based training. A line is being drawn in the sand.
In the US at least, the HWC industry will move toward a having a prerequisite health science or related degree if you want to be a coach.
Australia is not far behind.

What does this mean for someone looking to choose a coach?

If you want someone to tell you what to do, what to eat, how to fix your gut or get any sort of advice or opinion, then a health coach is the better choice.
A good health coach will ask you to make most of the decisions; usually it will be a decision based on their recommendations or choices they offer. They accept your decisions and goals without judgement and with full support.
A less skilled health coach will try to tell you how you should do things and may tell you off or get irritated if you don’t do things the right way.
If you hate being told what to do and wish simply to have an objective observer to facilitate you making your own discoveries and habit changes, a health and wellness coach is the better choice. Look for someone trained by Wellcoaches US or WCA. Full disclosure, I contract to WCA, and I did my training with both schools. They’re the longest established and industry leaders and therefore the logical choice.
If you are in Australia and have a diagnosed disease that requires behaviour change in order to regain baseilne heatlh, look for a health coach qualified by HCA. As the longest standing industry leader they’re the logical choice.
A good health and wellness coach will have a conversation with you basically to help you make up your own mind about what you want, why and how you’ll get it, They accept what you decide without judgement and with full support. They may offer ideas or choices only if asked by the client and with their full permission.
Often a person’s thinking and confidence need to shift before they’re willing and able to stick to their new habits, so goals aren’t necessarily always discussed in a coaching session. A full exploration of strengths and values often comes first, so you can become clear on what’s authentic and most important to you.

A less skilled health and wellness coach will find it hard to resist slipping in a few unsolicited suggestions or recommendations and may try to focus on getting clients to achieve goals (habits) without getting their client to do enough thinking work. It takes time to move past this after all, we all come from a place of being told or taught.

One of the biggest challenges with coaching is that marketing tells us we need to focus on actions – like meal planning, exercise, drinking water etc, yet we don’t have enough motivational buy in or values alignment to do these things ourselves. So we may make change according to what we’re told but it often doesn’t stick.

That comes from psychological theories that we all want to be our own boss and that we are wired to be suspicious of others, so we resist being told what to do. 

This is included in the evidence-based part of HW coaching which suggests that long term change is more likely when you are 100% in charge of it.
There is a fantastic saying that I love which sums this up.
The thing people love most is telling others what to do. The thing people hate most is being told what to do.
To succeed with changing habits, you must be willing to override the inherent wiring of your brain; which is to seek pleasure and avoid pain or discomfort. When you discover your values, reasons and desire to be the best version of yourself and to pursue that no matter what, you will find the more fulfilling, satisfying and authentic life you truly want.
In other words, coaching is for people who have a strong desire to be a better version of themselves and are willing to invest in qualified support to help them get there.
Examples – people who want to swap excess weight for a healthy body and body image. People who want to build a business that’s successful. People who want to manage their minds and emotions to find true happiness. People who want to swap stress for resilience and calm. People who want to feel confident in relationships. People who want to make money, people who want to feel better.
I’ve coached around most of these areas and have seen clients make massive shifts, have some backslides, and move forward again.

Coaching isn’t a magic bullet. 

Yes The results can be great, but I think more valuable is the coaching process That you learn that helps you get back on the wagon quickly and more easily. Life will always throw curve balls which shift you off course. The secret is having the skills to get back on track again. Being told what to do doesn’t necessarily give you those skills.

Interested in being coached?

If you need help with this process, or to learn how to self-coach, click here for more information on my self-coaching membership.

See you there!