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What to Expect From a Health Coach

What to Expect From a Health Coach

They listen, ask all the right questions and keep you accountable—but that's not all.

Are you considering working with a health coach? Good for you. Health coaches take a holistic approach to helping individuals like you make important lifestyle changes to improve their physical and emotional wellbeing.

A coaching relationship requires a commitment on your part and open communication between both parties. Knowing what to expect from your health coach will go a long way towards assuring you have a successful experience.

Health coaches are non-judgmental accountability partners. A health coach helps you create long- and short-term goals based on the changes you want to make in your life, explains Addie Spaller, a Sharecare coach manager in Ann Arbor, Michigan. However, goals are meaningless unless you take steps to reach them. “We’re here as accountability partners to really support clients and aid them in creating healthy lifestyle behaviors so they can reach their goals, but also maintain good health for the rest of their life,” she says.

Flavia Magoba, a Sharecare coach in Silver Spring, Maryland, says a common misconception of coaching is that a coach will tell you what to do and give you a specific plan. Not true. “We like to empower [clients],” she says. “Furthermore, we don’t judge. We start [every coaching session] with a clean slate. We’re here to be a support and another resource for individuals.”

Health coaches provide helpful resources. Coaches don’t direct clients, but they do offer resources, such as tips and recipes, to help them reach their goals. They also point clients to approved and vetted online sources of health information, such as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Diabetes Association or the American Heart Association, where they can learn more about their particular health challenges.

It's believed that people who have chronic conditions have better outcomes when they have disease-specific knowledge and skills. Furthermore, coaching encourages patients to take an active role in their own care.

Health coaches maintain a structured (but flexible) format. Whether your session is in-person or on the telephone, health coaches set an agenda for each appointment to respect each other’s time constraints. Generally, the first order of business is to follow up from the last appointment, to see where the client has done well and identify areas where they can continue to improve. Then, it’s on to discuss where the client wants to go next.

“We hone in on successful goal-setting at the end of the call,” says Sharecare coach Rachel Potter, based in Franklin, Tennessee. “This is the next step you want to take, so how can we make that happen? We help set clients up for success.”

At Sharecare, for example, most coaching calls take place about every four weeks. However, if a client needs more frequent contact (or less), that’s okay. If they need to adjust the length of a call, which averages about 15 minutes, that’s okay, too. Coaching should be flexible enough to accommodate clients’ specific needs.

Health coaches will listen. Coaches find that clients often want someone to vent to, says Kelsey Storey, another coaching manager at Sharecare in Franklin. She described a discouraged client who had several challenging circumstances in her life. When her coached asked her, “If your friends gave you a medal for something, what would it be?” the client reflected and then listed several of her strengths. That simple exercise gave her a new perspective and something to feel good about. Sometimes, a simple mindset change can be just as life changing—and good for your health—as a tangible goal, such as losing weight.

Health coaches ask the right questions. “When we talk about weight loss, healthy eating and such, we also talk about all the lifestyle factors that might be [roadblocks to] behavior change,” says Magoba. Often, clients are surprised to find that stress or lack of sleep (or both) is getting in the way of them achieving other goals. Coaches help you uncover obstacles you might not have been aware of. Once you’ve identified these road blocks, your coach can help you identify steps to overcome them.

“People just don’t know how much lack of sleep affects their physical and mental awareness,” Magoba says. It’s the same with stress. She adds that a little bit of stress is good, but if you have a lot of consistent stress, it can contribute to chronic illnesses, like heart disease and diabetes.

Health coaches have intangible benefits. Losing weight, eating right and quitting smoking are among coaching clients’ most common goals, and they can make a profound difference in your overall health. However, individuals get other, less tangible benefits as well.

“Having open communication with a coach is really important,” says Potter. “You can tune into the benefits from behavioral changes that aren’t visible, such as number on a scale. [We find that] clients become happier, they have more confidence, they’re more outgoing and willing to try new and different things. It can be life changing.”

Medically reviewed in June 2018.

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