While health coaches do not specialize in treating complex mental concerns or conditions, they are unique health professionals who encourage, motivate and teach their clients to enhance physical activity, choose healthy nutrition habits and manage emotional stress effectively (American Council on Exercise, 2013). However, hiring a health coach can do more for an individual than simply help him or her change health-related habits. Rooted in the science and psychology of behavior change, health coaching can directly and positively impact a client’s mental wellness.
What is Mental Wellness?
Mental wellness is a specific piece of the larger personal wellness puzzle; it is one of many aspects of health that make a person “well” or “whole.” The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental wellness as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”
The client-centered health coaching process allows clients to deeply examine the intricacies of their behaviors and determine whether these behaviors contribute to or detract from their overall state of wellness. As the process evolves, clients develop a greater sense of who they are, why they make certain choices and how their daily choices can lead to an improved state of mental and physical wellbeing. A client who engages with a health coach will experience greater fulfillment in all the dimensions that encompass his or her existence, including mental wellness.
Why Individuals Should Seek a Health Coach
Individuals often seek the service of a health coach after encountering a health-related concern. As a result, many clients have a singular focus: the health problem. A health coach provides an avenue for a client’s self-discovery and helps him or her shift the focus from the problem to the solution and holistic lifestyle change. In turn, clients build self-efficacy, confidence and self-reliance, which support their journey of change.
Mental Wellness Benefits
Solution and Strength-oriented Mind Shift
Lee Jordan, a wellness consultant, ACE Health Coach and Personal Trainer, educator and national presenter, cautions us about the downside of becoming too “problem-oriented.” He explains, “Clients arrive to us very focused on their health problem, and therefore we, naturally, are also focused on their health problem. This is a trap that can lead to us playing the ‘expert’ and launch our effort in a way that leads our client into an even deeper focus on the ‘problem.’ A cascade of potential counterproductive events is now set into motion, not the least of which is a client mindset that is hyper-problem/solution-focused. Additionally, ‘all-or-nothing’ thinking may take hold and clients may expect a linear path to change which does not occur and diminishes opportunities to build resilience. Resilience is critical to all behavior change.”
The purpose of health coaching is not to direct, but to guide clients toward their own solutions and help them recognize that they are the experts on their own lives. Jordan further illustrates this process by sharing that “experienced certified health coaches can partner with clients that seek us out due to a health-related problem in a way that enhances their mental wellness and their capacity to change through the principles of appreciative inquiry.” Appreciative inquiry is a strengths-based approach that facilitates strengths as a path forward, rather than focusing on a problem and sets the table for hope and optimism (Moore and Charvat, 2007). The classic analogy is one of a gardener who only pulls weeds (problems) rather than providing the needed nurturing for plants to grow. No weeds exist but there are no flourishing plants either. “Our client’s mental wellness is priority number one for positive change to grow,” argues Jordan.
In short, working with a health coach gives clients the ability to discover and develop their own inner strength to take control of their lives and engage fully in positive, sustainable and consistent lifestyle change.
Central to the health coaching process is the concept of self-efficacy, or the client’s perception of his or her ability to change or to perform specific behaviors (American Council on Exercise, 2013). As a client moves through the stages of change, the health coach actively works to help clients build self-efficacy. As self-efficacy increases, the client experiences enhanced self-confidence and self-esteem. Individuals with higher levels of self-efficacy often experience lower levels of anxiety and are at a reduced risk for developing depression (Singh and Bussey, 2010). There is a fundamental link between self-efficacy and mental wellness that we have come to understand.
Motivational Interviewing for Self-discovery
A third mental wellness benefit to health coaching is self-discovery and self-reliance through motivational interviewing (MI) techniques. Health coaches use MI to ignite behavior change efforts for their clients. A coaching process that is rooted in MI has been shown to improve both the physical and mental health status of individuals (Butterworth et al., 2006).
Motivational interviewing allows the client to explore his or her individual barriers to change and progress. When the health coach engages the client in motivational interviewing, the client gains a deeper understanding of what he or she needs to successfully change and how he or she will make those changes. Again, confidence grows and so, too, does the capacity to change.
While the primary emphasis in health coaching is health-related behavior change and clients often improve their physical fitness, learn to make sound nutritional choices, and employ effective stress-management techniques, enhanced mental wellness is a welcomed side effect. Health coaching, therefore, provides a pathway to a more fulfilling life.
Health coaching is a professional practice that specifically focuses on the psychology of health behavior change as it relates to an individual’s state of wellness and health-related behaviors. Health coaches understand the holistic nature of wellness and recognize a person’s behavior and choices are rooted in the complex interconnectedness of emotional, behavioral, physical, nutritional, exercise and lifestyle habits (American Council on Exercise, 2013).
Interested in becoming a Certified Health Coach? Check out our ACE Health Coach Certification.
American Council on Exercise. (2013). ACE Health Coach Manual. San Diego, CA: ACE
Butterworth, S. et al. (2006). Effect of motivational interviewing-based health coaching on employees' physical and mental health status. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 11, 4, 358–365.
Moore, S.M., and Charvat, J. (2007). Promoting health behavior change using appreciative inquiry: Moving from deficit models to affirmation models of care. Family and Community Health, 30, S64-S74.
Singh, P. and Bussey, K. (2011) Peer victimization and psychological maladjustment: The mediating role of coping self-efficacy. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 21, 2, 420–433.