Author: Doug Nau
Since switching careers in 2005 I've found it absolutely astonishing the amount of questions I continually get from people interested in becoming a wellness coach. Back when I was in the environmental software industry I can't remember one time that a person had asked me to provide an informational interview! Now it seems that I get a request for this at least monthly - and I love sharing what I do.
With all these requests in mind, I thought it would be a good idea to share my experience with wellness coaching, provide some background on what exactly coaching is, and give those of you with interest in learning more a foundation for making decisions as to how you might want to move forward.
What is a Wellness Coach?
This is an excellent question and a good starting point for these discussions. 'Wellness' has become a popular word as of late - and it carries with it a vast array of meanings based on who you talk to. Wellness coaches support their clients in creating lifestyle change such that they get more of their definition of wellness into their lives. You notice that I emphasize a key element of coaching is to listen to and understand how the client defines wellness as that is really what is important to improve their life.
How does a Wellness Coach differ from a Nutritionist or Trainer?
There are many Wellness Coaches that are nutritionists and personal trainers, however not all trainers and nutritionists are Wellness Coaches (and vice versa). The biggest difference is the approach that is taken towards achieving goals. A personal trainer is typically hired to provide guidance, motivation, education, hands on support and to tell you how to achieve your goals. This support is very appropriate in many cases. A nutritionist has a similar function, they are trained to provide information, guidance and design a recipe for success when someone has very specific dietary needs and goals. Again, they serve a fantastic role in supporting their clients through the questions they have.
A Wellness Coach takes a much different approach when working with clients. Fundamentally a coach assumes that you have your own answers. Certainly there are opportunities for education and sharing information when appropriate (and this information should be shared only in the coaches areas of expertise), however the focus of a wellness coach is one of empowering the client to clearly see for themselves the most appropriate path forward such that they can make sustainable, long term lifestyle changes. This is much different than telling them what they need to do today. It involves discussing goals, a vision, and designing a plan together.
A wellness coach will ask empowering questions to the client that re-enforce their compelling reasons to make healthy lifestyle decisions rather than telling them the reason why they should make change. A coach will provide tools for motivation, goal setting, self discovery and embrace the fact that no two clients will need to have the same approach in making lifestyle change. As you can see the quality and depth of conversation that a wellness coach and a trainer will be very different.
Corporate and Private opportunities for Wellness Coaching?
10 years ago, there were very few people operating under the title of 'Wellness Coach'. For that matter the term 'Life Coach' was extremely rare to come by as well - both are careers that have been recognized in the mainstream today. Many Wellness Coaches operate their own business. They draw from their background, market themselves, and present a coaching offering to clients that benefit from their services. Typically a wellness coach will work with clients in the area of nutrition, exercise, weight control, stress management, and some coach on areas of relationships, sleep quality, disease management, and life balance. If you are interested in knowing the specific areas that a coach focuses on - refer to his/her biography, as the topics can vary. Generally speaking, unless the coach is branching out into other talents/markets, they tend to focus on these primary areas.
With the growing trends towards increased longevity and increased waist size - it seems that the market for these talents would be huge. The truth is that there is a huge need - however as a new occupation just gaining recognition in the mainstream society you still see relatively few wellness coaches in relation to conventional healthcare practitioners, nutritionists, trainers etc. This is often why you see many coaches wear multiple hats.
Many more opportunities are beginning to arise in the corporate environment. A number of progressive companies (including Sutter Health in Northern California) are recognizing the value of designing healthy lifestyle's as a preventative measure such to curb escalating health care costs. A handful of employers are offering wellness coaching programs as an employee incentive. Its simply good business to show this commitment to their employees. Implementing Wellness Coaching programs creates a corporate culture of health and wellness, it facilitates learning, and most importantly is welcomed by employees looking for the key to making sustainable lifestyle changes.
For those wondering if they can get a job with a company offering these services, you may find that these corporate jobs at the moment are few and far between (but there are always opportunities if you create them). I personally expect a number of new wellness initiatives to explode in corporate America within the next decade. A large part of this will be varieties of wellness coaching programs.
What kind of training do you need to be a Wellness Coach?
A good question to ask is what differentiates a wellness coach from a nutritionist or trainer. The fact of the matter is that there are no 'requirements' for an individual to label their business as 'coaching'. We see this trend in executive coaching, life coaching, business coaching, and real estate coaching. There are no laws that require a certain certification to call yourself a coach in any field! So go ahead and call yourself a coach - but be ready to explain why you are a coach and not a trainer etc. when someone asks (obviously this is not my recommendation).
So that is interesting - then what kind of training do I typically need. Well a strong foundation in nutrition, exercise physiology, stress management, or combination of these will be a great starting point. To truly master coaching, I would recommend going through an accredited coach training program to learn the keys to communicating as a coach and supporting people in finding their own answers. Typically one of these courses takes 12 months to 3 years as they require a number of practical application hours as well. There are a variety of programs with different emphasis, so my suggestion is to find one that fits well with you.
There are programs specifically tailored for wellness coaches to learn the fundamentals of coaching in relation to health and wellness. These tend to be shorter courses (on the range of 3-6 months) and are not accredited by the major credentialing organizations. The most popular example is wellcoaches - an online/on phone training program that gives you the basics and foundation of becoming a coach. This is a great start - my personal preference is a full life coach training program as it goes into great depth for developing listening schools and understanding client perspectives and I found the program I attended to be absolutely fantastic.
As a side note - I strongly believe that within the next 10 years we will also see a change in the coaching industry. The International Coach Federation and other credentialing agencies are pushing strongly to honor and recognize the title of 'Coach' or- similar to that of RDA, MFT etc. The current credentials available through the ICF are ACC (associate certified coach), PCC (professional certified coach) and MCC (master certified coach).
The Future of Wellness Coaching
Having a private business and working in the corporate environment I've seen huge changes in the past couple years alone. I have no reason to believe that wellness coaching will slow its pace of growth. As I introduced this article, I mentioned how often I am asked the question of what it is that I do and how can I get involved. This is exciting to me as it shows me how much interest and concern there is in changing our countries wellness perspective. This is exciting to me and seeing the shift in our mentality and lifestyle to one of prevention rather than treatment is a huge step in the right direction.
Doug Nau, MBA, is a Certified Life Coach and professional Wellness Coach currently working in a corporate setting with a healthcare system in Northern California. Doug also maintains a personal growth and development blog/website http://i-grow.net with many related articles.