First published on 28th September 2021, updated February 2023.

Need a health coaching training provider? Dr Andrew McDowell has some key suggestions to help you make the right choice.

Let’s start with what might look to be a really obvious question: aren’t all coaching trainers the same? It may sound obvious, but the answer is critical, particularly in the area of health and wellbeing coaching. Because while it may require and use some of the same skillsets as wider business coaching, it’s the way that these skills need to be applied that really matter – and make the crucial difference. For it to be fully effective, health coaching trainers really need to have a clinical or lived experience to enable them to help you – the trainee – to understand how those techniques can be used in a real life health or social care context. There is, after all, an awful lot more at stake as a health and wellbeing coach if you don’t get it right. 

Why understanding matters

In coaching within a clinical or social care setting, there are far more elements at play compared with coaching within a business organisation. For this reason, a health coach trainer really needs to have a deep understanding of the complexities of the clinical and social landscape. Only then can they impart the necessary learning to a trainee health and wellbeing coach, which takes into account the pressures and difficulties faced on a daily basis. They need to know what it is like to manage risk, make tough decisions and cope with pressure. Equally important is an understanding of the courage, bravery and commitment it takes to work in health and social care, and the rewards this kind of work delivers. 

Only when you’ve worked in this kind of environment yourself, and felt those pressures, will a coach really have the empathy needed to understand just how the people being coached feel and the unique pressures they face on a day-to-day basis. For example, as a health coach I work with people who find it really tough to negotiate all the complexities of life while also managing their own long-term health conditions. They operate from a place where they don’t necessarily know the importance of managing and prioritising their own health. “Health”, they often think, “is something that happens to me. It’s just too bad if I’m sick myself.” 

Only a trainer who understands just what makes people feel like this, who is truly ‘tuned in’ to these ways of seeing the world, possesses the empathy and the delicacy of approach to coach and engage them successfully. Yes, there are many excellent executive coaches in the business world, but without the experience of coaching people for whom this type of outlook is not unique, then no amount of technique can overcome the very real life issues they will face. Unless they have the skills to engage their audience in a way which allows them to feel they can open up, disclose information and be honest about their experiences, in short to build both rapport and trust, things could go wrong very quickly.   

Connecting with the disconnected

Clinicians, health and wellbeing coaches, social prescribers, care coordinators, all these people undertake enormously difficult tasks. They are often working with people who feel completely disenfranchised and disconnected from their own communities, or who feel unable to change, or unable to access or have their health and care needs met appropriately. It takes great skill to work with those people and find out what truly matters to them.  You can’t just apply a single model or technique to “coach them better”. It’s much more about building rapport, developing trust, and the importance of understanding the circumstances people are in, appreciating how difficult it is to change and the social and cultural pressures to not change. We’ve consistently seen evidence that the best people to train people to work in those areas have also worked in those situations themselves.

I’ve seen too many examples where the coach is far too directive, or insensitive to the complexity a person is experiencing. Where an intervention is designed around a system which the person being coached has to fit into. It should, of course, be the other way around. Rigid and directive approaches can often result in the person feeling much worse, reluctant to change, and feeling undervalued and unsupported. Only when you ‘walk alongside someone’ can a health coach have an appreciation of where the people they are coaching is coming from, and establish a therapeutic alliance to support them appropriately.     

The questions to ask

So what, you may well ask, are the vital questions you need to ask any health coaching training organisation? 

Here are some: 

    • Does the provider use coach trainers with knowledge and skills based on clinical or lived experience? 
    • Do they use principles and models centred in evidence-based health psychology and behavioural change science? 
    • Are the techniques they use and the mind set they adopt appropriate for the people who are the intended beneficiaries of the health coaching? 
    • Are their coaching principles soundly supported by a deep empathy for people who may well be facing really challenging health and lifestyle issues? 

As I made clear at the start, not all health coaching training is the same. Yes, there can be an overlap with the wider skill sets of business or leadership coaching. But for a health coach there is much more at stake, which is why a combination of coaching skills together with a clinical background and/or genuine experience of the issues faced by those they are coaching is so vital. That’s why asking the questions above are so important when you are selecting a health coaching training provider. The answers really are vital to ensuring that the training delivered, and the coaches being trained, can effectively meet the multiple and complex needs of those who are being coached.       

If you think you have what it takes to be a successful health coaching trainer, we’d love to hear from you. Contact us today.