What does a wellness coach do? (and what to look for when hiring a coach)


Regarding coaching, there are a lot of different expectations that come up when talking about what a wellness coach does. I thought I’d share some insights about what it is that I actually do as a coach, things that I don’t or won’t do, and some things that you should keep in mind when you are looking to invest in a coach.

What is wellness coaching?

First, I think it would be helpful to define wellness coaching. In his book, Wellness Coaching for Lasting Lifestyle Change, Dr. Michael Arloski writes the following-

…wellness coaching is the application of the principles and processes of professional life coaching to the goals of lifestyle improvement for higher levels of wellness. It is an alliance between a professional coach and a person (or persons) who, through the benefit of that relationship, seeks lasting lifestyle behavioral change.”

When people ask me what I do, I simple say that I support people (and sometimes groups) in making sustainable lifestyle and behavior changes. I take a holistic approach to health and wellness, which means taking into account the whole person. Some of the things I coach for include nutrition, physical activity, stress management, sleep, and smoking cessation.

The benefits of working with a certified coach

There are lots of benefits to working with a certified wellness coach, including the following-

  • Support- We all have different levels and avenues of support in our life, including friends, family, co-workers, and partners. Support is critical when making big lifestyle or behavior changes. A coach is someone who you know is going to be on your team and walking side by side with you as you navigate through your challenges and goals.

  • Accountability- At the beginning of a coaching relationship, I ask clients how they want to be held accountable. Being held accountable for your goals and commitments can really help people with building consistency. Something else I always encourage is working on self-accountability and what that would look like for a person outside of the coaching relationship.

  • Perspective- I think that when we feel stuck or overwhelmed we tend to develop blinders. A coach can be a great “second set of eyes” to help you in exploring opportunities that might be right behind those blinders.

  • Clarity- More often than not, most people are aware of what their challenges are and how they don’t want to feel. I often get a long pause when I ask “what are you good at?” or “what do you want for yourself?” Working with a coach can allow you to get clarity on your strengths, identify what is going well, and create a big picture vision for your well-being.

What happens during coaching sessions with me

I call the very first coaching meeting the “Foundation Session.” During this meeting, and with the use of a few coaching tools, we will explore the following important details-

  • What it’s like to be you- In co-creating a relationship, it’s helpful to explore what it’s like to be you. This allows you to (hopefully) feel heard and understand, and allows the coach to have an idea of where you are coming from.

  • The Coaching Agreement- This outlines my responsibilities to you as your coach, and your responsibilities as a participant in the process. We also review the financial investment and define what the communication process will be outside of coaching.

  • Your Present Lifestyle- It’s important for both coach and client to have a good understanding of the way things are in the present with regard to your behaviors in different holistic wellness areas.

  • Your Readiness for Change- Knowing what a client is ready for and not ready for is an important step in goal setting and creating a plan. During this first session we will explore what you are ready to tackle and where you may need some support in getting ready.

  • Creating a Well-Life Vision- What does “You 2.0” look like? How would your life be different if you could make the changes that you desire? These are the types of things we will dive into in order to build your well-life vision.

  • Taking action- Even though we’ve just begun, I will work with you to start on a small goal that we will come back to during the next visit.

During subsequent sessions, I work with clients on goal setting, address any challenges that came up between our meetings, and explore the next steps.

Throughout our time together, you may be surprised to find that it is you who is setting the agenda and deciding what is best for you. This is the coach approach, because a coach understands that you are the expert on your own life. I am always happen to provide tips, suggestions, and resources, but ONLY after receiving your permission to do so. No-one likes unsolicited advice!

Where a coach works and who they work with

A wellness coach can work with individuals 1-1, with groups, in a clinical setting with other providers, and in a corporate wellness setting, supporting employees as part of a wellness benefits package.

And some, like me, do both! I provide 1-1 and group coaching through Living Well and Wild and I also work with a company part-time as an on-site health and wellness coach for their employees.

Things that I can’t do as a coach

At the beginning of this post I mentioned that people sometimes have different expectations when it comes to what they think happens in coaching. Since I’ve covered what I do as a coach, I’d also like to share some of the things that are outside my scope of practice as a coach.

  • Meal planning- I am not a Registered Dietician (RD) so I don’t have the qualifications to create individual meal plans. In coaching for nutrition, we would look at your current nutrition behaviors, identify any habits/behaviors that you’d like to change in that area, and co-create a plan to create sustainable change. If meal planning is what someone is looking for, I would definitely refer out to an RD.

  • Workout plans- In the same vein as above, I do not have any personal training certifications so I do not create exercise plans. If a client were interested in a specific workout, or had questions about different types of physical activity, I would refer to a personal trainer, or other clinical provider.

  • Therapy/Counseling- Although some coaching tools and resources may also be used in therapy/counseling, they are two different spaces and operate under different models. While therapy and counseling can delve into past trauma, coaching is very forward looking. If I feel that we are venturing into therapy or counseling territory during a session, I would gently guide the client back to the present moment and refer to a qualified therapist or counselor.

I do want to also mention that there are some coaches who wear “two hats.” For example, it’s very common to have Registered Nurses or Registered Dieticians who are also certified wellness coaches. In this instance, it’s important that you let a client know which “hat” you are wearing when you’re speaking with them.

What to look for when hiring a coach

I think qualifications are really important when it comes to coaching, especially since it’s a term that’s not regulated (although I see that changing in the future!). You definitely want a coach that has gone through an International Coaching Federation (ICF) accredited program. My certification comes from Real Balance Global Wellness Services and there are continuing education requirements I have to meet every two years in order to remain certified. You can use this link to find out which training programs are ICF accredited. I think it’s worth mentioning that there is a movement towards standardization through the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching. You can now apply to sit for an exam to become a National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach. This will ensure that all coaches who bear that title have minimum training and education standards. (I am excited to be sitting for this board in June!)

Just like it’s any other provider, it’s also important to find someone who is a good fit for you! Usually most coaches will offer a complimentary introduction session so you can have the opportunity to meet them and ask any questions you might have.

Now I’m curious! Have you ever worked with a coach before? Whether that was life, business, wellness, or executive coaching, I’m interested to know what your experience was like!