September 8, 2015
By Dr. Joel Kreisberg, DC, ACC
The National Consortium for Credentialing Health and Wellness Coaches’ (NCCHWC) definition of coaching is that “health and wellness coaches partner with clients seeking self-directed, lasting changes, aligned with their values, which promote health and wellness and, thereby, enhance well-being.” With the emergence of the new professional certification by NCCHWC set for early 2016, a few key distinctions will help new health professionals who seek the rich rewards of a meaningful future, coaching clients and gaining success in the marketplace.
For one, there is a considerable distinction between stand-alone health coaching and health coaching in a clinical practice or clinical health coaching. In a recent
article published in the Global Advances in Health and Medicine, May and Russell note that “The majority of employment opportunities for healthcare professionals as health coaches are found in locations similar to the public health field—healthcare entities (physician offices, clinics, hospitals, etc.), employer-sponsored wellness programs, and specialty vendors providing services to employer-sponsored wellness programs.” While the field of coaching emerged in three key areas – executive coaching, life coaching and health and wellness coaching, (with the largest professional accreditation body the International Coaching Federation (ICF) having certified close to 16,000 coaches) the promise of the NCCHWC is in a certification solely for health and wellness coaches. The value of this specific certification is that health care providers will be more likely to hire certified coaches.
NCCHWC certified coaches will be required to document 50 coaching sessions of at least 20 minutes. Yet this number of hours of coaching is minimal for certification. The ICF currently offers three levels of certification, associate – 100 coaching hours, professional – 750 hours, and master – 2,500 hours. Given that health coaches working in healthcare can and will engage in developing the art of healing, it’s the type and quality of hours spent coaching that help shape the ongoing success of the coach. Once certified, the question becomes more about developing and maturing one’s art and skill.
What do I mean by clinical health coaching? First, I distinguish between health coaching and wellness coaching. Health coaches work with persons who are struggling with health issues that are often chronic. Wellness coaches orient more to prevention and continued wellness. In the medical marketplace, it’s health, not wellness, coaches, who are being hired by Legacy Health Systems, Omada Health, or Brown & Toland Physicians, just to name a few. The marketplace also seeks coaches who feel comfortable engaging clinical medicine. This suggests that working with medical conditions in a clinical setting is essential for deepening a coach’s ability to be present for the entire client, not just lifestyle. Working with the whole person includes illness and disabilities. To learn to work skillfully with clients with chronic conditions requires the supervision and mentorship of a skilled health professional.
Wolever, et al, in their research entitled A Systematic Review of the Literature on Health and Wellness Coaching: Defining a Key Behavioral Intervention in Healthcare, provide some key findings for emerging young coaches: 53% of the coaches with professional training were medically trained and 51% had degrees in allied health professions. In terms of types of content reported in training, of the 212 articles reviewed, disease or conditions-based information was the most frequently mentioned area of content found in over 40% of all articles. General lifestyle and health education was second at 21%.
If one considers working with physicians or within health systems, what’s the best way to get clinical working experience? Clinical experience requires working directly with individuals suffering with physical or mental challenges – illness or disability. In the 21st-century healthcare system, this is likely to occur in settings that have some kind of medical supervision, whether that be conventional, or more integrative, primary care.
Having spent close to three decades training health professionals, initially in chiropractic, then homeopathy, nutritional medicine and now health coaching, I have trained several hundred health professionals who continue to be of service today in the healthcare system. I believe that the skills of a healer mature over time and require repeated and regular contact with clinical situations and ongoing feedback from a mentor. Thus, clinical health coaching offers a way to refine and deepen competencies far beyond the ICF core competencies. Rather, clinical health coaching engages the whole coach as healer. This training is not just in skill development, but requires knowledge of illness and healing that can only be gained by directly experiencing the nature of human suffering and the potential for transformation that healing and coaching can access.