How a health coach can help manage wellness issues Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2010

The concept of health coaching is evolving and becoming more and more a part of mainstream health care. While health coaching once may have been viewed as something designed to help individuals address specific health risk behaviors — quitting smoking or losing weight, for example — it is now seen as an effective method to manage wellness concerns across the full spectrum of health care, from prevention to managing chronic conditions such as diabetes or asthma.

Not only will your employees benefit from improved health, but employers can benefit from health coaching, as well, says Sally Stephens, president of Spectrum Health Systems.

“Studies show that individual coaching may be the key to implementing successful worksite health promotion programs,” Stephens says, which can help improve the health of your employees, reduce absenteeism and boost productivity.

Smart Business spoke with Stephens about the role health coaching plays in health risk management, and how your company can find its own health coach.

What is health coaching, and why should companies include it in their health risk management programs?

It is much easier to prevent most diseases than to cure them. Today, more and more employers are discovering that if they can help their employees better manage their own health, they can save on future medical expenses.

Health coaching is becoming recognized as a new way to help individuals manage their lifestyles, as well as manage any chronic conditions they may have. In fact, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control indicate that ‘individual coaching may be the critical component for effective worksite health promotion programs.’

What do health coaches do?

As with traditional coaching, health coaches utilize goal-setting, identification of obstacles and use of personal support systems. Health coaches work with participants, evaluate their personal health risks and help them develop a personalized health plan, with direct involvement in reaching their goals.

Dedicated health coaches also develop a relationship of trust with the individual employee to help them work through issues that are often very personal.

How does working with a health coach benefit employees?

Most people desire optimal health but may have multiple barriers for effectively managing their chronic conditions or maintaining healthy behaviors. These barriers can include finances, family, work and issues with children. In the coach/participant relationship, the reason for health behavior change comes from the participant, which increases the likelihood that any ambivalence toward making a change will be replaced with a readiness for change.

The coaching process provides motivation, encouragement and health education in an atmosphere where full attention is given to the participant and where the way to self-discovery is paved.

What are the different ways to work with a health coach?

The most traditional way to work with a coach is face to face. But telephonic coaching has increased in popularity, as well, as it is often prohibitive to physically meet in person. Often, telephonic coaching is ideal, as participants might be more willing to share honestly when they are not face to face with the coach. Other avenues include e-mail and Web-based coaching. Ideally, the participant is able to choose the method that works best for that individual.

Whatever the method, it is critical that the coach can guide participants to talk about what is most troubling to them about their conditions, what they most want to change, what support they have to foster change and what obstacles or difficulties must be removed or minimized to promote healthy behaviors. Health coaching focuses on the special issues and concerns unique to each individual that fit into the context of his or her life.

What qualifications are needed to become a health coach?

Health coaches often come from health care or health-related fields. Typically, individuals who value people and who enjoy healing and relationships make excellent health coaches. Health educators, health practitioners, fitness instructors, massage and body work practitioners, yoga and movement teachers, nurses and doctors can become health coaches.

An ideal coach is someone who is seeking to learn how to listen, connect with his or her intuition, help people change and master their emotional wellness. People seeking a high level of wellness for themselves and others, who enjoy self-development, who are proactive planners and evaluators in the service of others also make excellent health coaches.

A health coach:

  • Is a facilitator for physical, mental, emotional and spiritual growth
  • Helps guide the individual to achieve a balance between doing and being
  • Is an aide in encouraging aspects of the person that are filled with wisdom
  • Is a resource for learning about self-care and natural health practices
  • Listens for choice-making and truth-seeking
  • Is a teacher who promotes higher energy and improved success in the coaching relationship

The health coach helps participants develop a plan for change and provides the support and resources to move toward a more vital, purposeful, enjoyable and satisfying life.

Sally Stephens is president of Spectrum Health Systems. Reach her at (317) 573-7600 or