Health coaching helps people change their behaviour, adopt a healthy lifestyle and self-manage their chronic conditions and medications.1
What is health coaching?
Health coaching is an approach that is used in chronic disease management and healthcare in general. It involves working in partnership with consumers to guide, empower and motivate them to change their behaviour.
Health coaching uses the principles and practices of health behaviour change to encourage goal setting, active learning and self-management. It differs from traditional approaches, where the consumer is provided with information and instructed to do things that the clinician decides is best.
Health coaching can be delivered face-to-face (individually or in groups) or remotely by phone, email, online platforms or mobile apps. It can be provided as part of routine consultations, or as a standalone activity.
Why is it important?
Health coaching is an effective technique for helping people self-manage chronic conditions, particularly in vulnerable groups who have difficulty accessing services, as it can be delivered remotely.
It helps people think about what is important to them, identify an outcome and get the support and education to achieve it. This means they are more invested in their goals and are more likely to succeed. The more health coaching they receive, the more likely they are to achieve positive and lasting changes to their health.
Just like sports coaching, health coaching is based on a partnership. Both the coach and consumer contribute different skills, knowledge and talents to achieve a positive outcome. Health coaching can help people:
- find motivation to make changes
- identify and articulate their health goals
- develop action plans to achieve goals which:
- identify and draw on their strengths
- identify and plan for potential barriers and challenges
- increase self-efficacy and knowledge
- stay motivated.
How to practice health coaching
Health coaching can be effective for most people however it should be tailored to the individual context, complexity of conditions and other factors contributing to the person’s overall enablement.2 3
It works best when you:
- have completed training to develop the required skills and techniques
- are supported by your workplace to deliver coaching
- engage in regular reflective practice and have peer supervision
- have experience delivering coaching interventions
- set clear boundaries to make sure you provide coaching, not counselling.
Coaching people with low enablement
People with lower levels of enablement (such as those who are vulnerable due to socioeconomic static, low health literacy or cultural needs) usually benefit from planned, unscripted coaching.
For example, regular phone coaching can provide the consistent contact that people need to stay on track with their goals. Unscripted calls help you stay responsive and tailor the coaching session to the person’s needs.4
Coaching people with high enablement
People with higher levels of enablement can also benefit from health coaching. It can be particularly helpful for people who just need some help staying motivated and overcoming setbacks.
Shorter, scripted coaching sessions are often sufficient for their needs. Apps and online coaching are also popular and suitable for people with a high level of enablement who are comfortable using technology.
What skills do you need?
With the right training, health coaching can be delivered by anyone. It is usually delivered by health professionals, but it can also be delivered by non-health professionals such as peer workers or those in community services.
To deliver health coaching, you should complete formal training with a trusted organisation. This will help you learn how to:
- conduct a needs assessment
- set goals that are important to the person and will motivate them
- structure conversations to increase personal accountability
- address barriers through motivational interviewing
- ask the right questions to challenge and support people
- provide social and emotional support
- understand how to access local resources
- use active listening to build trust and rapport
- focus on strengths and positive emotions.
- Gale G, Skouteris H. Health Coaching - Facilitating health behavior change for chronic condition prevention and self- management. In: Caltabiano ML, Ricciardelli LA, editors. Applied topics in health psychology. New York: Wiley; 2013.
- Centre for Primary Health Care and Equity UoNSW. Rapid Review: Integrated Care Interventions: Final report. Prepared for the NSW Ministry of Health. 2017.
- Dennis SM, Harris M, Lloyd J, Davies GP, Faruqi N, Zwar N. Do people with existing chronic conditions benefit from telephone coaching?: A rapid review. Australian Health Review. 2013;37(3):381-8.
- Batterham R, Osborne R, McPhee C, et al. Consumer enablement: an Evidence Check rapid review brokered by the Sax Institute for the Agency for Clinical Innovation. 2016.
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