Transforming Health through Coaching: Insights and Advice from a Health Coach
By Karen Florence
Establishing and growing a successful coaching practice is like any other endeavor in life. It is a journey, a process, and a roller coaster. It requires effort, patience, urgency, and intestinal fortitude. It also requires keeping your finger on the pulse of what is happening in the world. Always looking for opportunities, “natural openings” as a coach would say, where our skills as coaches could be inserted into the challenges of the day to bring clarity and resolution.
One of these “natural openings” is health coaching. There is a huge amount of opportunity for coaches in the health sector. I received my accreditation as a Certified Professional Recovery to Wellness Coach (CPRWC). Through this niche, I have expanded my coaching skills to work with people who have chronic lifestyle challenges that they must change. I use the word “must” because most of my clients have chronic diseases.
So what do I mean by chronic disease and what is it that I do for my clients?
I invite you to take a look around you. The percentages of people with chronic disease is staggering. Obesity, high blood pressure, pre- diabetes, type II diabetes, and heart disease are everywhere. It is a global epidemic. Add to that addictions of every kind. As coaches, we have skills to support people in adopting a better lifestyle filled with better choices.
So what is the difference between transformational coaching and health and wellness coaching?
Only one thing…To put it simply, a client with chronic illness is literally standing on the edge of the cliff. If they don’t do something to change what they are doing it may cost them their lives.
As my own physician tells me, “I tell them what they need to do, but they just can’t do it”. No kidding… They can try. They can force themselves to do anything for a short time. Then the old habits and default behaviors creep back in. What needs to happen is real change. Internal change. No one makes any progress until they deal with their issues. The need to go deeper cannot be ignored. That is where the change is made. Doctors and insurance companies do not have the resources or the skills to do this work. Coaches do.
What can we do to help clients make this change?
I am going to use my own practice as an example. I work 1 on 1 with clients and also in e-workshops that include 1 on 1 coaching, focusing on lifestyle and weight loss. The emphasis is on lifestyle. When habits change the weight falls off. The big question is how do we change those habits?
I use the technical and the adaptive approach. Technical change is something we can learn from a book or someone can teach us. We learn how to drive a car “technically.” Learning how to drive defensively, always being aware of what is going on around us is adaptive. That requires growth and learning. Going from not knowing how to drive to knowing what to do when you are in a dangerous situation while driving your car is a transformational journey. Once learned, it becomes the default behavior. That is what we do in health coaching. We adaptively reset new default behavior.
Goal setting, structure, and accountability are important components of the coaching process. Non-judgment and understanding is key to successful outcomes. The coach creates an environment of trust so that the client is at ease to express his or her needs comfortably. This is intimate work. To change behavior one must understand the driver of the behavior. This is accomplished by looking at all aspects of life. Often lifelong habits must shift. Adjusting belief systems to allow change to occur are part of the process of long-term sustainable change.
I find it so interesting that for my clients it is not what food they put in their mouths that make them gain weight. It is the drivers that make them put the food there that cause the weight gain, making it nearly impossible for them to lose the weight sustainably. Once they see what they are doing and the motivation behind those behaviors they are more able to make a shift that leads to their goal.
It is important to say what coaches do not do.
They do not give advice, diagnose, prescribe treatment, or make decisions for clients. The client’s doctor provides diagnosis and treatment. The coach works with the client to achieve the health goals the doctor has suggested. Often clients seek out a health coach on their own without a diagnosis, wanting to make changes in eating habits, weight loss, and other lifestyle changes. This is fine. Coaches do not diagnose these clients or suggest a course of treatment. Rather, they assist the client in exploring options and making choices that fit for the client. It is the client that makes the decision. The coach assists the client to move into action in a supportive manner.
There are new skills to be learned when you make the leap into health and wellness coaching. One of them is to understand that when it comes to behavioral change, especially around lifestyle, our life behaviors are deeply rooted in us from family and culture. Most of these behaviors developed in childhood. We are not aware of them.
The hidden client method.
I teach the method of finding the “hidden client.” This is that part of your client that exists only to keep the unwanted behavior going. You have the part of your client who says he wants to lose the weight while the hidden part of him is eating chocolate cake. We have all experienced this.
It’s evening time. The cake is in the fridge… The part of you that wants to eat the cake starts to justify and reason with the part of you that wants to resist. It finds a way to convince you that having the cake is okay. That part has lots of good reasons. That part is taking control. Soon you are looking at the cake. Next you are eating the cake. It is so good. You are savoring every bite. But as soon as the cake is finished, the guilt and shame sets in. The part of you that wants to lose the weight takes control again and it’s not pretty.
The part that exists only to maintain the behavior is an expert at turning your attention from what you want to do. It is a master of excuses and justifications. The day the client can recognize for himself/herself their hidden part is a beautiful day.
There are always conflicting agendas present when we want to change. To quote Robert Kegan, the Harvard professor who developed the methodology I use for behavioral change with clients called Immunity To Change, “It is as though the client has one foot on the gas and one foot on the brake. They are stuck. Helping them get unstuck is the challenge”. It takes skill, education and experience. Who better to do that work than certified coaches?
Where do you find clients?
With more that 50% of the world population desiring to make health and lifestyle change, your clients are everywhere you go.
The numbers around profit loss for companies because of the poor health of their employees is in the billions. Healthcare costs, sick time and low productivity are just a few of the reasons companies are beginning to recognize a need for programs to bring employees out of the danger zone of poor health and back to wellness. It actually pays them to do so.
Doctors are being crunched by insurance companies and are looking for avenues to provide what is called Root Cause Resolution. They no longer want sick care. They want to provide wellness care. Coaches are working side by side with the medical community to provide a new kind of health care model. And it is working!
Even within your own practice, I am willing to bet there are health issues present in the family. If not your client, then your client’s spouse, child or other family member. Literally, clients are everywhere. With a little bit of education and business building, you can have a thriving health coaching practice.
I invite you to step into the arena of health coaching. It is not about the condition. It is about the person. The person is always at the center of coaching. Coaches know this. And that makes coaches uniquely qualified to do this work in the world.
About the Author:
Karen Florence, CPC, CPRWC, is the founder of Tabula Rasa Coaching, an international coaching firm working with individuals, organizations, and governments in the US, Europe, and the Middle East. Karen’s specialty is change. Using brain based coaching she works with her clients to create sustainable change thru 1 on 1 coaching , workshops and seminars . Karen is a graduate of Coaching for Transformation.
As the creator of Transvolution, a coaching program that creates sustainable change used for weight loss and lifestyle change, organizational change and behavioral change, Karen opens the door for clients to make the shifts they need to make.