Science & Medicine

The Empowered Patient – Health Coaching

Health Coaching – A Road to Empowerment

Michael G. Goldstein

You may have noticed that health coaching is spreading. Perhaps your health insurance carrier invited you to participate in online wellness or health coaching. Or, you may have seen an advertisement in the health section of your newspaper. Perhaps your friend raved about their fitness coach over coffee.

Health coaching has become widespread as health insurance companies, employers and health care delivery systems have realized that helping people make positive changes in health behaviors has many benefits.

For example, addressing the big 3 health behaviors (smoking, diet and physical activity) produces huge health benefits, as these 3 behaviors are responsible for causing over 800,000 deaths a year in the United States alone. Insurance carriers benefit from lower claims, employers benefit when workers are healthier and more productive, and health systems benefit from improved outcomes. Most importantly, people benefit when changes in health behaviors prevent illness and enhance functioning and wellbeing.

My insurance plan offered me free access to an online wellness coach after I completed a health risk appraisal survey that assessed my weight, eating, physical activity and stress levels.Though I did not take advantage of this service, I’ve been working with Jeremy, a personal trainer, who is helping me to strengthen my core so I don’t injure myself as I continue to train for the 2013 National Senior Games.

When I first started working with Jeremy in January, I thought I would need just a handful of sessions. More than a dozen sessions later, I can foresee continuing for several more weeks as I value not only the workouts, but also the support, feedback and skill development that have been key elements of Jeremy’s coaching. Jeremy is a great motivator. He encourages and affirms and points out my successes. He helps me to set goals that are achievable, so I see continued improvement over time. My balance and strength have improved, especially in those core muscles we are focusing on. And, I am throwing the shot and discus further, too!

Like all good coaches, Jeremy has empowered me by helping me to learn the skills and techniques I need to continue to perform well. These key empowerment skills include self-monitoring, self-assessment and self-correction skills that allow me continue to improve, or at least maintain my gains, long after completing my coaching sessions with Jeremy.

Jeremy has helped me to pay attention to my technique and posture so I know when I am engaging the core muscles we are trying to strengthen. Yes, Jeremy, I do feel those abs and glutes firing! Jeremy has helped me to identify and address muscle trigger points or “knots” that cause pain or keep me from utilizing good technique.

So, effective coaching requires more than just subject matter knowledge and expertise. Effective coaching empower learners. So, if you are thinking about engaging a coach to help you to meet your health goals, what might you look for in a coach? See the list below for my thoughts about the qualities of a great coach:

  • Great coaches have great observational skills. They know how assess performance.
  • Great coaches are great communicators. They listen well and share information in ways we can understand.
  • Great coaches take time to get to know us. They often begin by asking us lots of questions (e.g., “What are you trying to accomplish?” “What makes that important to you?” “What are your strengths?”, “What do you need to be successful?” “What has worked in the past?”).
  • Great coaches are great motivators. By asking about our reasons for improving, they help us to set goals that matter to us. They also know how to affirm our effort and reward our successes.
  • Great coaches know their subject matter. They have knowledge about the content area and know what it takes to be successful.
  • Great coaches can demonstrate or model key skills.
  • Great coaches provide effective feedback, both positive feedback to boost our confidence, and corrective feedback to help us improve our performance.
  • Great coaches empower us by helping us to build the self-monitoring, self-assessment and problem-solving skills that we need to maintain gains and overcome barriers to long term success.

Please share your experiences with effective coaching here. It would be great to hear your thoughts about the qualities of great coaches or your plans for engaging a coach to empower you to meet your health or lifestyle goals.

Take me back to the Contents

© Michael Goldstein and, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Goldstein and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Comments on: "The Empowered Patient – Health Coaching" (4)

  1. Nathalie Cook said:

    Hi Michael, thanks for another inspiring column on “The Empowered Patient”. As a Dietitian I am also a great advocate of self-management principles and believe the best way to help clients/patients achieve successful health/fitness outcomes is by assisting them to identify their own goals and strategies for success. As health professionals, we can offer our expert knowledge and advice but ultimately successful outcomes are determined by the client’s motivation and our ability to work collaboratively with them, using a client-centred approach….Best Nathalie

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Nathalie. I fully agree….the best outcome we can have is an empowered client who can successfully manage their own health!

  2. Arch,

    Thanks for kind note, and also for comment about Lori. I am glad she go the coaching and support she needed to make a good transition. As you point out, coaching can help us with our emotional health and wellbeing, as well as our physical wellbeing. Best wishes, Michael

  3. Mike your readable and instructive artlcle sure resonates with me.Your professional and experienced enthusiasm is infectious. After her surgery for a fractured hip and a day or two to get INR, glucose and BP under control Lori was transferred to rehab. There she was assigned to an incredible medical coach. This physical therapist embodied all the attributes you listed for greatness in a coach. In just a few days she underwent a satisfying transition from a depressing inability to get out of bed to traipsing down the halls with a walker or even a short walk with a cane under close observation. Most important for me was her brightened mood and renewed outlook for the future. Many thanks, Mike. A.

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