Trend: The Certified Health & Wellness Coach Is Rising…FINALLY  

Coaches trained in the art and science of motivating healthy changes have been the missing link in both healthcare and wellness. The Future? They’ll work with more doctors, insurers, employers, physical therapists, fitness trainers, wellness resorts and people independently  

The world spends $8.3 trillion a year on healthcare, and $4.4 trillion on wellness, and we still can’t stem the tide of chronic diseases. Behavior change is the toughest nut to crack. That’s why the most puzzling thing in both healthcare and wellness is that coaches trained specifically in helping people make healthy behavior changes haven’t been at the center of everything. They’re a no-brainer, they’ve been absent, but the certified health and wellness coach (HWC) is finally here. And their rise is a key trend in our The Future of Wellness 2022 report.  

 It’s a Wild West of wellness coaching out there: fitness, lifestyle and career coaches are long-established—and now there are even spiritual and “burnout” coaches. “Wellness coach” may be the most over-used noun on earth, especially now that any TikTok influencer can boldly hang up a digital shingle without any credentials. This trend predicts that the future will offer new coaching distinctions, because what a certified health and wellness coach does is something utterly unique; nobody has their skillset.  

 What do they do? This coach is a healthcare professional trained in evidence-based communication techniques such as motivational interviewing. The coaching experience is a nuanced conversational process that gets people developing the intrinsic motivation and confidence to hit realistic weekly wellbeing goals. And unlike the 15 minutes a doctor gives you, they spend real time with you: around 50 minutes a week for at least 3 months. The science shows that’s when new habits start to stick.  

This coaching approach is radically different from the “prescriptive” model that rules both medicine and wellness. Doctors say exercise; wellness gurus say follow me on this exact path to weight loss or enlightenment. These coaches check all advice-dispensing and the guru mentality at the door because the evidence is overwhelming that prescriptive models have failed spectacularly. And the wellness world does need to interrogate its impact on long-term behavior change: Why are wellness devotees always chasing the next diet or influencer? 

Health and wellness coaching is grounded in this evidence-based principle: Behavior change gets switched on–and stays on–when it’s motivated from within. And the evidence for this coaching’s impact is growing: one metareview found that it reduces risk factors for heart disease and diabetes and boosts exercise and healthy eating–and that the body of evidence “provides substantial evidence for a coaching clinical intervention.” 

Our 14-page report explains the many ways these coaches are poised to explode–and details the medical organizations, primary care startups, public health initiatives, insurers, and tech and wellness companies pioneering the use of these coaches.  

Rigorous training and certification programs are in place and growing worldwide. The key organization in the United States (US)—and increasingly globally—is the National Board for Health & Wellness Coaching (NBHWC). They have created unified training standards (and certification is no cake-walk), so these coaches can be integrated into clinical settings. The 95 global training programs they have credentialed include high-profile medical institutions, such as Duke University and the Mayo Clinic; independent coaching organizations such as Singapore’s The Coach Partnership and Wellness Coaching Australia; insurance companies such as Aetna and UnitedHealth Group; and primary care companies such as One Medical and Vera Whole Health. With so much coaching demand, training programs are growing fast: for instance, the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (155,000 graduates from 175 countries) has just launched the next-gen of its training program, with new expert faculty, an expanded curriculum, and a new virtual learning platform. 

More insurance companies (from UnitedHealthcare to Aetna) are starting to cover coaching. In the US, the American Medical Association (AMA) has the coverage codes in place—they just need activation. The US Department of Veterans’ Affairs has been busily tracking the use of these codes to study how effective this coaching is, to provide evidence for reimbursement by insurance. The NBHWC and the University of California San Diego just announced a project to track HWC use data to support the application to the AMA for full insurance reimbursement. Coverage could be around the corner. Can you say anything about Europe or Asia? Curious as to what is happening there. 

New primary care start-ups and public health initiatives are making the coach as central as the doctor. More doctors now argue these coaches need to be central to all primary care, and the trend details how primary care start-ups such as Vera Whole Health, Parsley Health, Firefly Health, and Iora Healthand public health initiatives like the United Kingdom (UK) National Health Service’s ambitious new “Personalised Care” plan—are pioneering new “care team” models, where integrated teams of physicians, nurses, and HWCs deliver “whole-person” care. Read about just how central coaching is in Vera’s new Advanced Primary Care model, which is grabbing the attention of huge companies and policy experts (more below).  

The avalanche of new digital health platforms is putting “personalized health coaching” at the center. The trend explores how a storm of digital health platforms are now focused on behavior change: from virtual solutions aimed at managing chronic conditions, such as Lark Health or Virta; behavioral-psychology-based weight loss platforms, such as Noom and Optavia; and mental wellness and coaching apps for employees, such as BetterUp. These platforms want to revolutionize behavior change by automating some or all of the coaching process. We look at the promise in these new digital coaching tools—and some problems in these new worlds of coach-bots and algorithmic “nudges” that code the human coach out of the process.  

Wellness resorts have resisted these coaches – but there are signs of change. Wellness resorts, that have worked on the “hi-and-bye” and a “week-can-change-your-life” models (the latter isn’t quite scientific, as behavior change takes months to stick) have not adopted these coaches. We see some signs of change. Big players such as Six Senses and Canyon Ranch are opening urban wellness centers that can deliver more “everyday” coaching and extend all that transformation post-resort-stay. The cool Cartesiano Urban Wellness Center in Puebla, Mexico is about to hold the first retreat (April 6-11) that fully integrates the certified health and wellness coach: the coaching process starts pre-stay, people experiment with wellness approaches at the retreat, and the coaching journey then continues at home. 

Jamie Friend, program director at Mayo Clinic’s Wellness Coach Training Program, sums up the momentum for this trend: “Within the last few years, health and wellness coaching has been on the rise in response to rigorous training programs; the board-certification process; an increase in positive research; the potential for insurance coverage; and the dire need for preventative care. What really excites me about the future is just how much collaboration is underway: Coaches are increasingly working in tandem with doctors, primary care practices, and hospitals; with insurers; and with physical therapists and fitness/wellness trainers—who now see them as another very important piece of the health puzzle.”  

They really ARE the missing piece of the health and wellness puzzle and will rise in 2022 and beyond.  

This Trendium is based on “Health & Wellness Coaching Gets Certified” trend from the  2022 Global Wellness Trends Report. Learn more. 

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