Trend: The Certified Health & Wellness Coach Is Rising…FINALLY

Coaches trained in the art and science of motivating healthy changes have been the missing link in both healthcare and wellness. The future? They’ll work with more doctors, insurers, employers, physical therapists, fitness trainers, wellness resorts and people independently 

The world spends $8.3 trillion a year on healthcare, and $4.4 trillion on wellness, and we still can’t stem the tide of chronic diseases. Behavior change is the toughest nut to crack. That’s why the most puzzling thing in both healthcare and wellness is that coaches trained specifically in helping people make healthy behavior changes haven’t been at the center of everything. They’re a no-brainer, they’ve been absent, but the certified health and wellness coach (HWC) is finally here. And their rise is a key trend in our The Future of Wellness 2022 report.  

It's a Wild West of wellness coaching out there: fitness, lifestyle and career coaches are long-established—and now there are even spiritual and “burnout” coaches. “Wellness coach” may be the most over-used noun on earth, especially now that any TikTok influencer can boldly hang up a digital shingle without any credentials. This trend predicts that the future will offer new coaching distinctions, because what a certified health and wellness coach does is something utterly unique; nobody has their skillset.  

What do they do? This coach is a healthcare professional trained in evidence-based communication techniques such as motivational interviewing. The coaching experience is a nuanced conversational process that gets people developing the intrinsic motivation and confidence to hit realistic weekly wellbeing goals. And unlike the 15 minutes a doctor gives you, they spend real time with you: around 50 minutes a week for at least 3 months. The science shows that’s when new habits start to stick.  

This coaching approach is radically different from the “prescriptive” model that rules both medicine and wellness. Doctors say exercise; wellness gurus say follow me on this exact path to weight loss or enlightenment. These coaches check all advice-dispensing and the guru mentality at the door because the evidence is overwhelming that prescriptive models have failed spectacularly. And the wellness world does need to interrogate its impact on long-term behavior change: Why are wellness devotees always chasing the next diet or influencer? 

Health and wellness coaching is grounded in this evidence-based principle: Behavior change gets switched on–and stays on–when it’s motivated from within. And the evidence for this coaching’s impact is growing: one metareview found that it reduces risk factors for heart disease and diabetes and boosts exercise and healthy eating–and that the body of evidence “provides substantial evidence for a coaching clinical intervention.” 

Our 14-page trend analysis explains the many ways these coaches are poised to explode–and details the medical organizations, primary care startups, public health initiatives, insurers, and tech and wellness companies pioneering the use of these coaches.  

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The Trend in the News

We could all use a health coach– The New York Times, June 7, 2021

This article by just-retired, influential New York Times health columnist, Jane Brody, really helped put certified health and wellness coaches on the map. She argues that they’re a woefully underutilized weapon in fighting chronic disease, and that everyone really needs one, because “health happens in the 99.9% of your life when you’re not in the doctor’s office.” Brody challenges the medical world, health insurers and governments to decide where they stand on behavioral coaching, because not making these coaches more accessible represents the “penny-wise, pound-foolish” approach of most healthcare.

4 things to know about health coaches and why they're so in demand right now– MindBodyGreen, March 23, 2022

This basic overview explains why certified health and wellness coaches are rising and in too-short supply; some basics on how they work with clients; and how health and wellness coaching requires a combination of rigorous education and hands-on practice. Read along with the companion article: “Health & Wellness Coaching: What It Is, How to Get Certified, and More.”

Diabetes support moves into the workplace – The Financial Times, March 13, 2022

With so many employees with costly chronic diseases—and failing to make healthy changes no matter how much advice they get from doctors or how many diets they try—more employers are now turning to digital chronic disease management platforms such as Virta, that have certified coaches at the center of their model. One interviewed employee explains how his coach turned his diabetes around (and “became his best friend”), and the most recent study of Virta’s platform shows impressive results. The article covers the new activity in the space: for instance, the UK’s Public Health Collaboration will launch a new service, The Lifestyle Club (TLC), an eight-week health coaching service focused on behavior change, first aimed at General Practitioner practices and then rolled out to employers.

Advanced Primary Care may be the ‘next big thing’ SHRM, January 7, 2022 

Advanced Primary Care is a major shift in how healthcare gets delivered: employers no longer pay for each medical service, but rather contract with primary care providers for a set per-member fee (which incentivizes keeping people well)—and they revolve around a patient-support team that includes a doctor but also certified wellness coaches and mental health counselors. This article explains how this coach-centric model now has the endorsement of some of the US’  largest employers and policy experts—and how 2021 was the year that big corporate names put some big chips on the table, including JP Morgan Chase launching Morgan Health with an initial $250 million investment.

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