Health and Wellness Coaching
The aim of health and wellness coaching is to help clients make progress on their health and wellness goals. Using basic goal-setting, motivational interviewing, and behavior change tools, coaches help their clients make the changes that the client chooses. Health and wellness coaching is entirely client-centered and client-driven. If you've ever struggled with sticking to your goals for fitness, weight loss, or a medical regimen suggested by a doctor, a health and wellness coach can help you get organized, explore your motivation, and trouble-shoot obstacles.
Health and wellness coaching is a relatively new profession, filled with providers from various backgrounds, including licensed medical professionals, licensed mental health professionals, nutritionists and some who have no other health-related training. Health coaching grew out of work in health psychology, which sought to improve the health outcomes of individuals whose health conditions were largely dependent on behavior changes (e.g., diabetes, heart conditions, weight loss, etc.). Health coaches with no other training cannot prescribe (recommend), diagnose (label), or treat (provide interventions). However, health coaches who are also licensed professionals can work within the scope of their licenses when proper consent is obtained. All health coaches are obligated to provide referrals to their clients present concerns that are outside the health coach's area of expertise.
This is one place where things can get tricky, particularly since health and wellness coaching techniques are also used in traditional therapeutic interventions by mental health professionals (e.g., Motivational Interviewing, Goal Setting, Behavior Modification). Generally, if it feels and looks like therapy, it probably is. If you find yourself bringing up emotions and emotional content (e.g., grief and loss, relationship conflict, self-esteem, negative thinking, personality, addiction), you're entering therapeutic territory. If your health and wellness coach isn't trained and licensed as a therapist, it's important that they refer you to a qualified, licensed therapist so that you can be at your best. Health and wellness coaches do not prescribe, treat, or diagnose. That means that if they are not also a licensed health provider, they cannot legally make recommendations about your diet, supplements, medications, exercise, or mental health. Licensed mental health providers are allowed to offer psychological prescriptions, which means they can recommend treatments and psychological techniques to help reduce your emotional suffering or prevent a psychological condition. Coaches cannot legally make suggestions or recommendations for those same purposes. If they do, they've engaged in the unlicensed practice of mental health services. If they're not also a licensed health provider, the scope of practice of a health and wellness coach is very small. However, health and wellness coaches can play a very important role because they can help you organize and prioritize your health behavior changes, included those recommended by your doctor, psychologist, or other health provider. A health and wellness coach cannot recommend a particular diet, as that would be a prescription or treatment, but they CAN help you sort out the steps you would like to take to engage in a diet that YOU have chosen! This is a very important role, as most people do better with an accountability partner when setting and pursuing goals, whether health-related or not.
How is health and wellness coaching different from therapy?
How does Dr. MacIntire offer her health and wellness coaching services if she's also a licensed psychologist?
Similar to how I provide sport psychology and career counseling services, I keep therapeutic content separate from health and wellness coaching services. If, during the course of health and wellness coaching sessions, a client expresses content better served by therapy, I will notify my client and make appropriate recommendations based on my professional training and licensure as a psychologist. I will help you to explore and prioritize your options so that you can be at your best.
Are there any advantages to hiring a health and wellness coach who is also a licensed psychologist?
This, of course, is a matter of perspective and it's ultimately your preference that matters most. Here are some points to consider.
Psychologists are experts in psychology and behavior change. Many health and wellness coaches are also licensed professionals (e.g., nurses, doctors, mental health professionals), who have expertise beyond goal-setting and motivational interviewing. Psychologists earn 4 year bachelor's degrees (usually in psychology, but not always) and doctoral degrees in Psychology, which takes 5-7 years on average and includes 6-9 years of at least part-time practice prior to licensure. Some psychologists also earn Master's degrees prior to their doctoral degrees, which may add an additional 2 years of training. Psychologists are experts in psychology., including the skills employed by coaches. Coaching Psychology is a branch of psychology that focuses on optimal human performance and has roots in Positive Psychology, Counseling Psychology, and Health Psychology.
Psychologists are mental health providers. Psychologists and other mental health professionals are uniquely suited to determine whether coaching or traditional therapy (aka psychotherapy) will be the best way to help you. Health and wellness coaches who are not licensed mental health providers (or a medical professional with mental health expertise) cannot tell whether you need more than coaching because ruling out mental health conditions requires the ability to diagnose. Not all clients who benefit from therapy suffer from mental health conditions. Some have relationship conflict, grief and loss, or difficulty adjusting to work or medical conditions. If your concerns would be better helped by therapy, a psychologist or other mental health professional is qualified to make that determination.
Psychologists are licensed. Licensed professionals are vetted and regulated by the states in which they are licensed. They must pass rigorous background checks, state ethics exams, national exams, and keep their training updated with continuing education. Health and wellness coaching currently requires no license and are not regulated.