Are Health Coaches The New Shrinks?
Love talking about your issues, with the hope of getting your life—and your health—in sync? Weekly visits with a shrink used to be the popular strategy for getting a grip on your life. But these days, as the mind-body connection resonates more and more, health coaches are becoming the ally du jour for overhauling your body, your health, and your life.
In addition to being trained in health behavior change, health coaches have backgrounds in various wellness practices, from nutrition and yoga to weight loss and mediation—and they’re popping up everywhere, from local spas to doctor offices.
“A health coach is a new type of health professional who acts as the bridge between the medical recommendations that someone has received from a doctor or nutritionist and what’s actually necessary to make that happen,” explains Shelley Wroth, M.D., an integrative health coach and physician who teaches Duke’s Integrative Health Coaching program (which launched in 2008).
“Like having a therapist, a health coach will work with you as a partner,” explains Wroth. “What’s different is that health coaches will focus on helping you take stock of all the aspects of your wellbeing and develop a map of where you are now and where you want to be. We acknowledge the role of health in our lives as the foundation of a happy, full, interesting life.”
Rooted in Change
Health coaching has come into vogue in the past couple of years, and has, explains Wroth, naturally grown out of cognitive behavioral therapy and life coaching—all with one goal: to effect positive behavioral change.
But change is hard—something that health coaches know all too well. That’s one reason New Year’s Resolutions usually fall by the wayside by the end of January. But health coaches take that into account, helping you plan for setbacks and how you’re going to overcome them, no matter what time of year you’re putting them into play.
“A health coach will do more than just help you identify the bad habits you need to shift,” says Wroth. “We’ll help you create a plan that’s customized to your own health, life, and personal values. And along the way, we’ll help you get to the bottom of what’s really going on if you get stuck.”
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“Making the changes necessary to support your health can be challenging, but making them last can be even more difficult,” adds Laura Kraber, one of a team of health coaches enlisted and trained by integrative physician Frank Lipman, M.D., to work with him at his Eleven Eleven Wellness Center, in Manhattan. Dr. Lipman prescribes a variety of treatments for his patients, including dietary changes, stress management techniques and physical therapy. Not all are easy to put into effect on the spot. “A health coach can help you deal with quality-of-life issues, such as weight loss and stress management techniques (which are so often connected), to help you reach your goals. This in-depth support has empowered many of Dr. Lipman’s patients to make lasting changes,” says Kraber.
For example, if you’re trying to lose weight…yet again: “We’ll help you design a personalized plan—not one that focuses on calories, but rather one that helps you eat more nutrient-dense and less inflammatory foods,” explains Kraber, who is also a Certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner. Or, if you’re looking to support your health with supplements, Kraber explains, “we’ll tailor recommendations to your specific situation.”
“For some, it may focus on things like digestive disorders or other types of illnesses,” explains Kraber. “For others, it may be quality of life issues like sustaining weight loss or stress management techniques.”
But whatever your goal, health coaches’ primary reason for being is to make them stick.
What You Need to Know
There are no national standards or licensing—yet. That means there are no guidelines on how much training—or what kind of training—a health coach needs to have. “It’s somewhat of the Wild West out there right now,” explains Wroth, who notes that a team of experts is currently at work to create these standards. Until these are in place, look for health coaches affiliated with a top doctor like Dr. Lipman and/or certified by top programs like Duke, Maryland University of Integrative Health (which offers a Masters in Health & Wellness Coaching), and the University of Minnesota, which has a Master’s-level Integrative Health and Wellbeing Coaching program.
Related Read: Is Your Doctor Qualified?
You don’t need to meet with health coaches in person. While in-person training can be helpful—particularly for a first get-to-know-each-other visit—it’s not necessary, says Wroth. “Both in-person and long-distance training have been shown in research to be equally effective,” explains Wroth. “Many health coaches work by telephone or Skype.”
Each session is tailored to a person’s needs and schedule. “A first session could be 30 minutes or 90 minutes,” explains Wroth. But often a 12-week commitment—seeing a coach weekly or every other week—is recommended to start, followed by month-to-month renewals. “You want to give people enough time to take action and learn from it,” explains Wroth. Sessions range in price depending on where you go; Eleven Eleven Wellness charges $150 for a 50-minute session and $750 for six, 50-minute visits or calls. (It’s not typically covered by insurance.)
Bottom line, says Wroth: “Medicine has to evolve. We’ve got to become more efficient at helping people and meeting their needs for all aspects of their health,” she says. “This is where—and how—health coaches can help. Success in one area of someone’s life will have ripple effects in another.”
And, when it comes to getting your New Year’s Resolutions to stick, health coaches just may be the most effective way to ensure you stay on track—for the long haul.
WORDS: Valerie Latona