Health Coaches – Anyone Can Become One, Right?
I hate to immediately ruin the ending, but the answer to the above question is a definite no! Health coaching is not simple, although if you jump on Facebook or Instagram, you might get a different impression. At some point, the title of health coach (or wellness coach) became something anyone could call themselves. Unfortunately, it can be really difficult as an average consumer to know who is really qualified and who is not. One of the growing challenges in the health and wellness industry is it’s fairly unregulated. This means there is A TON of incorrect information and pseudoscience floating around. I cannot stress the importance of taking the time to make sure you are working with or getting information from a qualified professional.
Let’s look at some of the benefits of working with a health or wellness coach:
1. They are a trusted resource for health and wellness information or able to refer you to appropriate resources based on their scope of practice
2. They help guide you through making lifestyle changes
3. They collaborate on goal-setting
4. They provide accountability and motivation when making lifestyle changes
So, what should you be looking for in order to find a qualified health or wellness coach? Consider the following:
1. They should hold a Bachelor’s and/or Master’s degree in health promotion, exercise science, nutrition, kinesiology, or similar field. This qualification holds a lot of weight. Having a degree in any of these fields demonstrates the education and background they have with the human body. You can be assured they have learned the anatomy and/or physiology necessary to be working in their field. Many programs also include education on behavior change, how to manage chronic diseases, and psychology. Likewise, they will have completed a practicum or internship before graduating, demonstrating they have a solid understanding of the core principles.
2. Training in motivational interviewing. A qualified coach will primarily be asking you open-ended questions in order to elicit "change talk". This will ultimately show them what areas are important to you and will help them further guide you to where you eventually determine your own goals. Health and wellness coaching is about behavior change. Health coaching is not sitting in a session with the coach giving you facts or telling you what you should or shouldn’t do or what has worked for them. It’s about you discovering behaviors that you need to change that would lead to lifestyle improvements and overall better well-being. Health coaching is NOT the same as personal training. The terms are not interchangeable.
3. They completed a health coach or wellness coach training program. A coach who has a certification will not only have gone through training on motivational interviewing, but will also have learned how to safeguard private information, keep confidentiality and stay within their scope of practice. Something to keep in mind, however, is not every certification program is created equally. Likewise, just because someone completed a wellness coach certification, it does not mean they have any background in health, nutrition, exercise, etc. Some programs have very loose requirements on who can enroll. When putting your overall health and well-being into the hands of someone, it is imperative there is education and practical experience.
4. They are not just trying to sell you supplements, tea, detox drinks or workout programs not designed by them. Holy moly, where do I start with this one? This is perhaps one of the most frustrating aspects of the health and wellness field these days. So many of the people calling themselves health and wellness coaches are, for the most part, simply trying to sell a product for which they get a kickback from. For those of us who spent years studying the human body- the mechanics, the physiological processes, the psychological processes, this makes us want to slam our heads against a wall. Selling products is fine. It would be great if you could give yourself the title of “product coach” or something instead. Because again, if you have not had extensive education on the human body, you are not in a position to be giving anything that can be considered health or wellness advice to the masses.
5. They should not be giving nutrition advice or meal plans. The only coaches who are able to do this are those who are also registered dietitians. Nobody else. Seriously, legally, nobody else can be giving this to you. A lot of people are and a lot of people are playing with fire. The only nutrition advice someone who is not a registered dietitian can be giving is very general guidelines like “meat is a great source of protein” or “try to make at least half of your grains come from whole grain sources.” Why? Because nutrition is very individual and a person’s health and medical history factor into what is right for them. A person who does have the appropriate educational background would not have the knowledge to take into account things like how certain supplements can interact with medications and cause serious harm, heck, they may not have even gathered the necessary information to know the person was even taking any medications. These are not things to take lightly!
In short, the human body is complex. It takes years of schooling and hands-on experience to understand it. I know the majority of people who are trying to dive into health and wellness coaching have good intentions one way or another or feel really passionate about something, but keep in mind, passion doesn’t always equal expertise. Ask a coach about their educational background or any certifications they have. This will help make certain you are working with a qualified and trusted professional!
+A huge thank you to Caleigh Eriksen for submitting a guest post! Caleigh is a health and wellness professional with more than ten years of experience. Her background includes working in the areas of exercise physiology, employee wellness, behavior change, educational programming and more. She holds a Masters Degree in Exercise Physiology from The University of Akron, where she began her career working in both the Athletic Department and Sport Science and Wellness Department. She has a passion for health promotion and discovering ways for every individual, no matter their situation, to achieve their highest level of quality of life. Originally from a small island in Lake Erie, Caleigh loves to be by the water in her free time!+