Dr. Erin Nitschke by Dr. Erin Nitschke

The year 2020 is one most of us are unlikely to forget. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the health and fitness industry has had to adapt and reimagine the ways in which professionals deliver services to their clients. More specifically, health coaching is experiencing a faster-than-average professional evolution to meet the rising demands of the field, while swiftly adapting to a new “virtual world.” But this chaos and rapid change is uncovering some interesting trends that are likely to affect the field of health coaching in the near future. Here’s what to consider to respond to the changing landscape of this valuable practice.    

Virtual health coaching will be considered an accepted and valued method of delivery

The presence of virtual health coaching is not new, but we can expect exponential growth in this method of delivery in the next year. As professionals have been forced to move their services online to sustain their practice and client progress, many are beginning to incorporate virtual health coaching as a permanent feature in their business models.

Virtual health coaching may not be the right fit for every health coach or every client, but there are benefits to considering an online and/or hybrid model. Offering virtual services allows the professional to expand their geographical reach and, thus, generate more clients. Further, virtual coaching allows the health coach to focus directly on improving best practices. As coaching sessions are recorded, the health coach has a unique opportunity to reflect on those sessions.

“Virtual coaching may just improve the profession by allowing health coaches to engage in self-critique and build a level of awareness they didn’t have before,” says Chris Gagliardi, ACE’s Scientific Education Content Manager and an ACE Certified Health Coach.

Gagliardi also believes virtual coaching may help remove common barriers, such as time and distance, for existing and potential clients. “A foundational aspect of health coaching is meeting clients where they are at. A virtual approach allows us to meet clients where they are—wherever they are—without the worry of travel or time being or becoming an issue.”

Group health coaching will increase in popularity

Another trend to be watchful of is the rise in group health coaching efforts. “I receive a large number of inquiries about group health coaching and how existing coaches can incorporate this as a standing feature,” Gagliardi observes. Social support is a significant component of a client’s success and many clients do not have a strong social support network.

Lee Jordan, ACE Certified Health Coach, national speaker and adjunct professor in Integrative wellness, agrees with Gagliardi that group coaching is growing in popularity. “Across the various domains in which I work—academic, corporate, mobile health, educational content and private practice—a common theme is on the horizon: group coaching.” Jordan cites the economics of group coaching, which is more affordable to participants and more profitable to the coach. “As with all health coaching, it's very transferable to virtual delivery,” explains Jordan, “which is especially beneficial as a time saver and during our current times of social distancing practices.”

In addition to the guidance and professional insight offered by the health coach, group-coaching sessions allows clients on similar journeys of change to support, communicate and encourage each other. Group health coaching fosters and deepens interpersonal connections that are often absent or less emphasized in one-on-one coaching sessions.

New apps and platforms specific to health coaching will be created

Over time, we’ve seen the creation of business-management apps specific to health coaching and personal training. Each app and/or platform offers a range of features. However, as virtual coaching continues to grow, we will likely see the creation of additional apps and virtual platforms specifically designed to cater to health coaches offering a variety of delivery methods (face-to-face, hybrid and online). Further, we can expect modifications to existing apps that will result in additional features or refined systems based on changes the industry is currently experiencing.

Researchers will continue exploring the validity and effectiveness of coaching in a virtual setting

The current body of literature offers a variety of insights about the validity and effectiveness of health coaching as a profession, practice and field of study. We can expect research to take a turn and begin to ask deeper questions about health coaching in the virtual space.

There will be a greater emphasis on taking a “team approach” to health coaching

While virtual health coaching may not have occurred to you until recent events made it necessary, it has made the valued “team approach” to health coaching stronger. As with removing the barrier of time and travel virtual sessions offer, it’s also become easier to connect with other allied healthcare members of a client’s team. “These times have allowed for a deeper and more intentional collaboration with other professionals related to person-centered care and integrated health services,” notes Gagliardi.

Continuing education for health coaches will highlight best practices of virtual coaching

As technology becomes a more valued tool in the practice of health coaching, new continuing education offerings will undoubtedly emphasize the use of technology within the profession. For example, future continuing education opportunities might cover how to set up a remote health-coaching office (everything from lighting and microphones to backgrounds), structuring a virtual or hybrid coaching session using specific platforms, the best apps for managing your health-coaching business and client files, and creating online mini-courses for your clients. The list is endless. You, as the health and exercise professional, can help drive future education offerings by engaging with your certifying agency and suggesting topics you would like to see.

Existing health coaches will obtain additional credentials to expand their practice and scope

More health coaches (and personal trainers) will start to seek other credentials in an effort to enhance their existing skill set, elevate their professional presence and facilitate greater behavior changes with their clients. For example, a health coach would be well served to obtain a personal trainer certification or become a fitness nutrition specialist. Not only does an additional certification or two provide continuing education credits, it sharpens your edge as a professional. The more you have to offer, the better it is for the clients seeking your services.

Health and exercise professionals are learning to embrace the “new normal” as a result of these unprecedented times, which have affected the way we do business and care for our clients. The best way for us to continue to be client-centered and effective agents of change is to remain abreast of the shifting trends within the industry and make mindful attempts to respond accordingly. We have the opportunity, perhaps now more than ever, to shape the industry in such a way that it holds a more prominent and influential position in the healthcare continuum.

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