What is a Holistic Health Coach?
A holistic health coach knows that everything you do each day affects your well-being, and takes this into account. Your thoughts, beliefs, habits, actions and relationships.
Let's first explore what a health coach is, before considering the holistic aspects...
So what exactly is a health coach?
The role of a health coach is exactly as implied - a professional healthcare provider who helps people to improve their health and well-being.
There is a growing awareness around the importance of lifestyle factors in the successful management of chronic health conditions. This is now recognised to the extent where the NHS are integrating health coaching into mainstream healthcare, as outlined on the NHS website, and also in more detail in this document about the future of health coaching.
What does a health coach do?
Well, health coaches often come from diverse professional and educational backgrounds. These can range from areas including stress reduction, health promotion, behaviour change, or management of specific illnesses.
What reputable coaches have in common is an understanding about the fundamental components of well-being, an ability to facilitate successful behaviour change, and to promote long term health.
Since there are multiple dimensions to well-being, there are a range of different approaches on how to improve health. So, often you find that coaches specialise in certain areas. Some coaches may focus on diet, others on certain conditions, like heart disease, chronic fatigue, or diabetes. Generally, health coaches provide learning and support about: dietary advice, mental or emotional health, personal development, exercise or physiology, and stress reduction.
Typically, coaching can include a range of techniques:
- Discussion to find the underlying beliefs and patterns which are affecting your health
- Education to help develop insight into a particular condition, and find new ways of managing it successfully
- Practical exercises to help change your current habits, and create a healthier lifestyle
- Support for integrating new patterns of thought and behaviour into your life
How is holistic health coaching different?
The term 'holistic' refers to wholeness. When used in a health-related context, it usually means that the entire experiences of a person are taken into consideration. In other words, it is recognised that all aspects of life have the potential to either enhance or diminish your levels of well-being, and also contain the potential to affect your long term health.
In practical terms, this means that your relationships, work, stress levels, diet, exercise habits, levels of self-awareness, coping skills, resilience, spiritual connection, and the very purpose of your life - all contribute to your long-term health, and influence chronic health conditions.
Physical, spiritual, and holistic approaches
One important thing to note here is that mainstream healthcare fits into a materialist model of health which is based on dualism - mind and body are viewed as different things. This is reflected in the division of healthcare into areas of mental and physical health. These are then subdivided into categories or systems of the body. So if you have a complex chronic health condition, you may see many different consultants who each treat specific areas of the body. In this instance, individual parts of body or mind are prioritised over you as a whole being.
Holistic approaches do not divide the body in this way. In contrast, they are based on the fundamental principle that a person is a unified being, and holistic therapies take into consideration this unified wholeness of being.
Holistic coaches, or practitioners, work on the basis that you cannot treat one aspect of a person without it influencing, and being influenced by, other areas of that person, and the environment in which they live. So, rather than focusing on one single aspect of functioning, a holistic view usually incorporates a wider perspective of health.
Another way in which the term holistic is often used is within a spiritual context. In this model, the term refers to the non-dual nature of existence, and is often based on a model of idealism. This is a fundamentally different life view than that used in mainstream Western healthcare, and it is useful to recognise this if you wish to avoid unnecessary confusion. Also, contrary to popular belief, this model often exists independently of any religious beliefs or practices. It is simply based on a different understanding of the nature of life.
How can a health coach help you?
So, now that you are more familiar with the concept of a health coach, what can a coach help you with?
As we have already mentioned, some coaches are specialists in certain aspects of health - for example I am a specialist in the relationship between the mind, emotions, and chronic illness. Here are some of the things that a health coach can typically help you with:
- Reducing your levels of stress or anxiety
- Developing self-insight into thoughts, beliefs and habits which affect your health
- Learning about your health condition and how to manage it effectively
- Making lifestyle changes - diet, exercise patterns, reactions to stress, ability to relax
- Supporting you with your ling-term health, or the impact of living with a chronic health condition
How to find the right coach for you...
All coaches are not equal. There is a diverse range of qualifications, knowledge, quality and experience. Beware of people who have no real training and just have a good sales pitch. Ensure that you find someone who is highly qualified, conscientious, and professional.
So, if you are considering working with a health coach, here are a few things to keep in mind...
- Check the qualifications that your coach has. Don't be afraid to ask how long their education lasted, and where they completed their training.
- Find out how much experience they have in helping people with similar situations to your own.
- Do they have professional indemnity insurance?
- Are they a good role model? Do they 'walk the talk' or are they just repeating things they have learnt from a text book without any real practical understanding of it?
- Does their approach to health align well with your own views?
So, now that you know what a health coach does, and you understand the differences between holistic, specialist, and other types of coaches, why not tackle those well-being issues that you have been struggling with, and get the support you need to improve your quality of life...