What is a Health Coach and why do I need one?

Our current health care crisis shows that despite the top dollar spent on health care and technological advances, chronic diseases are on a steep rise.  The rate of diabetes rose by 50% in the last 30 years and will double again by 2050.  Heart disease kills 1 American every 37 seconds;  and 1 of every 3 Americans is obese.  These are related to unhealthy lifestyle choices.  We know how hard it is to make and keep healthy behaviors, and our health system is not set up to help them address the complex factors impacting these lifestyle choices.  Physicians have under 10 minutes to talk to their patients, only enough time for crucial medical recommendations.  Recommendations or information alone is insufficient incentive or resource for actual behavior change.  Physicians also are not trained to engage patients in health behavior change and patients often do not expect to participate in their own care.  This phenomenon of people not feeling motivated or empowered to direct their own care is called low patient engagement and activation.  Our healthcare system is missing a healthcare professional available with expertise in health behavior change and the skills and the time necessary to provide patients with the opportunity to discover their own direction, motivation, and support in reaching their goals.  To help meet this need, health coaches are trained to help people develop their individualized care plans focused on healthily lifestyle changes. 

Why would I ever need a Health Coach?

Health Coaches can understand your story.  Each of us has a unique story about our personal journey through life; we might also have a mission or purpose, a dream to fulfill.  Somewhere along the way, you or your loved one (or patient) was derailed off the path, disrupting the balance in your life.  This might have been due to an accident, stressor or life-changing event, or just bad luck.  Such events might not manifest initially, but may over time fester into maladaptive coping skills (i.e. smoking, drinking, overeating, or other addictive behaviors), discouragement, a sense of loss of control and possibly even a dependency on others.  Regardless of the specific cause or effect, you are where you are now…And now, you might be suffering from a chronic condition that has you and your loved ones overwhelmed. You might feel at a loss of where to turn for help.  Hospitals and rehab facilities treat your problem when it flares — but this feels just too little, too late. Your primary care doctor sees you for check ups, tests, and referrals for specific problems— but might not be able to take the time to probe deeper into all the challenges you face and why those things became challenging in the first place.  Who is there to see you through the time spent at home between visits, when you are resorting to the usual remedies that aren’t the type of cure you need?

What is a Health Coach?

 An Integrative Health Coach works in a dynamic partnership with clients to help them achieve and sustain optimal health and vitality. Our clients are living with conditions like cancer, heart and lung disease, cancer and diabetes.  Since most of these conditions are affected by lifestyle choices, research has shown that health coaches help such clients with lifestyle behavior change within a holistic framework of health. Significant improvements in dietary, exercise and weight management, and medication compliance behaviors were found in these studies.  The key elements to success were goal setting, motivational interviewing (which is part of health coaching), and collaboration with health care providers (Olsen JM, Nesbitt BJ).  


Integrative health coaches work with the Wheel of Health, developed by Duke Integrative Medicine, to examine the areas that influence their health.  The areas include: relationships, personal/professional development, exercise, environment, spirituality, nutrition, and mind-body connection.  Health coaches empower clients by building on their strengths in any of these areas so they can achieve the change they desire.  Together, they design a care plan that allows the client to work at their own pace.  The process takes time, sometimes up to six months with weekly face-to-face meetings or teleconferencing.  Regardless, your health coach will see you through the day-to-day, when you are home, to gently guide you back on track to the healthiest YOU!

 Olsen JM, Nesbitt BJ. Am J Health Promot. 2010 Sep-Oct; 25(1)e1-e12. doi: 10.4278/ajhp.090313-LIT-101.