Coach’s Corner: What to Look for in a Health Coach

Jeni O'Neill

February 17, 2022


After learning about the benefits of health coaching, perhaps you’re curious about whether it would be helpful for you. How do you know if a health coach has the training and experience to be effective?  What should you look for in a health coach?
Health and wellness coaching is a relatively new and growing field. Because of this, there are not many regulations in the space and anyone can claim that they are a health coach – from someone who works the front desk at your local gym, to your social media friend who has started selling multilevel marketing weight-loss supplements.
While there aren’t any standards around who can use the term “health coach”, there is an organization in the U.S. that sets standards for health coach training and certification exams. The National Board of Health and Wellness Coaches (NBHWC) sets standards for health coaching certification programs and offers a certifying exam to those who have graduated from one of its approved programs.
So how can you know that a coach has legitimate training and experience? In this post, we’ll explore 5 ways to do just that.



1. Your coach is certified by an NBHWC-approved health coach training program.

A coach who has completed a training program approved by the NBHWC will have thorough training in various aspects of coaching from motivational interviewing and change theory to ethics and goal setting.
As an example, the Functional Medicine Coaching Academy (FMCA) is an NBHWC-approved coach training program.

2. Your coach has further certifications and/or training that are specific to your goals or your preferred medical approach.

It is important that your coach is on board with your medical philosophy. For example, the coaches at RIFM have all graduated from the Functional Medicine Coaching Academy, which is a collaboration with the Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM).
What does that mean to you? It means that their coaches are trained in the IFM’s methodology and food plans, sleep optimization, movement, stress management, motivational interviewing, goal theory, and change theory. It means that we share the core values with the physicians at RIFM that food, sleep, stress management, and movement are all vitally important to improving health outcomes.

3. Your coach is board certified by the NBHWC and/or has other certifications that will contribute to your goals.

In addition to approving coach training programs, the NBHWC also collaborates with the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) to establish a board certification exam. If your coach is an NBHWC board-certified coach, you know that he/she has been through an approved training program, has significant coaching experience, and has passed the National Board of Health and Wellness Coaches examination.
Bonus:  Other certifications such as a Certified Personal Trainer, if for example, you’re looking for physical fitness help, can add credibility as well.

4. Your coach has a relationship with your doctor.

Ideally, your coach would work as a part of your healthcare team and collaborate with your physician. Your doctor will work with you to create a personalized healthcare plan to meet your goals and determine the “what” of your health plan. Your coach would then help you to figure out the best way for you to implement that plan in your everyday life.
A recommendation from your doctor can help you to feel more confident, knowing that the doctor has vetted the coach and knows that he/she will stay within their appropriate scope of practice. A coach should never attempt to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Ideally, working closely with your doctor, a coach can help you implement your doctor’s lifestyle recommendations.

5. Your coach listens more than they talk.

Finally, a coaching session is a little bit like therapy, in which your coach will ask a lot of questions to help you think through what you’re ready to do, what you’re willing to do, and what you want to do. Just because your doctor has recommended that you switch to a paleo diet and sleep 8 hours a day doesn’t mean you’re ready to start today – or ever. A good coach will – without judgement – help you think through what changes like this will take, what your first steps might be, and what the benefits and drawbacks could be, so that you can make the best decisions for you.

The Coaches at RIFM

At Richmond Integrative and Functional Medicine, we are committed to helping our patients achieve the best health outcomes possible. To that end, we are integrating health coaching into our membership plan for all of our new patients. When selecting coaches for their practice, RIFM used these criteria and more to provide the most benefit to our patients.
Check out our coaching line up on social media! We look forward to meeting with you soon and walking with you on your path to greater health.
Since 2010, Richmond Integrative and Functional Medicine has been helping people to restore their health and hope with an integrative approach to conventional and alternative medicine that’s entirely science-backed. We at RIFM believe everyone is made for health. We offer a comprehensive, in-person patient membership program to ensure you get access to the care you need to thrive.


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