Health Coach Training: Your Questions Answered: Andrew McDowell, founder of TPC Health, answers some of your all important questions about health and wellbeing coaching.

At TPC Health we like to think we know a thing or two about health and wellbeing coaching. We have worked in the health and social care sector since 2000, and since then have trained over 8,000 practitioners in health coaching. As a result we’re one of the most experienced coach training providers in the UK health and care sectors. We’ve delivered coaching skills development programmes to thousands of clinical and management staff in both primary and secondary care. We’ve even contributed to national policy and delivered training and coaching services on a very large scale.  

That’s enough trumpet blowing. But you get the idea. I’d like to think we’re also happy to share that knowledge. So in this blog I’m going to answer some really important questions which you’ve set us. 

Q1. Why does health coach training need to be bespoke?

While there are core principles which any good healthcare coach training needs to address, no two training situations are ever the same. There are different working systems, different healthcare challenges, and unique challenges to be addressed. These need to be understood in order to really deliver a programme which will deliver something meaningful for the practitioners attending. People will engage much more deeply and appreciate training material which has been well thought out and prepared specifically for their context. 

Q2. What is ‘co-production’ and why does it matter?

Just as you need to ensure the training is bespoke to the specific needs and challenges of the practitioners, involving them from the very start should ensure that the training is designed from the start to address these unique practice issues. Co-production is especially important in health coaching, when the aim is to help practitioners learn the skills and techniques and mind-set needed to help people learn to be activated to self-manage.  It’s also a key way to understand the kinds of people that the practitioners are going to be working with, so that the training modality and skills can train them adequately to work with those people.

Q3. Should trainers have first-hand knowledge? 

It’s vitally important that people training others on health coaching skills have a deep understanding and experience of the kind of work that participants do with people, patients and communities. Training people in health coaching is not the same as training people in general coaching skills. Trainers need to have a real understanding of the complexity and sensitivity needed to work with people who may have been disenfranchised or have very low levels of activation. Behaviour change is a sensitive and delicate activity. It’s not the same as training someone to be a leadership coach.   

Health and social care practitioners also value learning health coaching skills from people who have health and social care backgrounds.  When I’m training, I can draw on real life examples from my own practice; that’s invaluable in being able to demonstrate that I really do understand the issues they face, and that the training is not just an academic exercise, but built around real-life situations they face every working day.  

Q4. What are the critical parts of a health coach training programme?

To learn how to do health coaching, you have to do health coaching, and receive feedback on what you’re doing. Training needs to involve real time, practical experience of trying out skills, recognising one’s own limitations and getting feedback from expert observers and recipients of the coaching. To be effective, it needs to be a developmental learning loop. We know some people try to shortcut the process by offering online asynchronous learning sessions. While that may give some content knowledge, with health coaching skills it’s not a mere question of understanding the theory; you must have real time learning, with opportunities to practice.

Q5. What importance do you place on understanding peoples’ values? 

Changing mind-sets means asking people to consider what’s important to them. You need to get to the heart of their motivations for wanting to be of service to others through the kind of interventions they can deliver. It’s not just cognitive learning, it’s experiential learning which involves people considering what’s important to them in the training group. This is especially important when working with people in health and social care or people from the voluntary sector. The training needs to emphasise people’s values and most people involved in the health, social care and voluntary sectors have a high focus on justice, equity and access to services, and better outcomes for people in communities.

Q6. Can the training be shortened?

Training people in health coaching and personalisation is complex. Nearly everyone already thinks that they work in a personalised way, that they are already great at listening and finding out what matters to people.  It takes skilful facilitation and time to support people to recognise that we all have opportunities for improvement and growth.  You can’t cut corners – trying to speed up the process or shorten it simply does not work. If you are going to invest in the process of training people in health coaching skills, it has to be experiential, it has to be challenging, and it has to give people the opportunity to learn from their mistakes.  We strongly advise you to choose your training partner carefully, so that your investment will really create a shift in practice that will continue to be a resource.

I hope you’ve found those answers useful. There is no way in an article of this length that I can address every question you might have about coaching, so if you have others, please do feel free to get in touch. We’re only too happy to share our experience.