Much of our wellbeing comes down to what we do and don’t do. We can’t control all aspects of our health, but we can manage our lifestyle and much of its impact on us (Normand & Bober, 2020).
Health and wellness coaching involves working with individuals and groups and empowering them to achieve self-determined goals centered around wellbeing (Moore et al., 2016).
Coaches encourage clients to increase wellbeing and wholeness and ensure their essential needs are met (Arloski, 2014).
This article explores health coaching and introduces templates and tools to assess and motivate clients on their path toward wellness.
Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Goal Achievement Exercises for free. These detailed, science-based exercises will help you or your clients create actionable goals and master techniques to create lasting behavior change.
This Article Contains:
- 8 Skills of Effective Health Coaches
- 3 Techniques for Your Sessions
- How to Use Motivational Interviewing
- 9 Health Coaching Templates, Forms, and Worksheets
- 10 Extra Tips to Become the Ultimate Health Coach
- 7 Helpful Assessment Tools You Can Use
- Most Fascinating Health Coaching Books
- Resources From PositivePsychology.com
- A Take-Home Message
8 Skills of Effective Health Coaches
Effective coaches support clients in maximizing their personal and professional potential. And yet, clients are not always ready or willing to make the changes needed to improve their health (Moore et al., 2016).
Moore et al. (2016) suggest that health coaches should go beyond improving diet and exercise to address the whole person and avoid ordering, providing solutions, shaming, or arguing with their clients.
Therefore, being successful requires a set of advanced and overlapping skills, including the following (Moore et al., 2016):
- Assisting clients in figuring out what they need and want
- Helping them find their way through nonjudgmental yet challenging and stimulating engagement
- Supporting the client as they “carve away life’s clutter to reveal their best selves” (Moore et al., 2016, p. 13)
- Helping foster the ideal conditions for the client’s brain to adapt, grow, and change
- Eliciting intrinsic motivation (rather than extrinsic self-motivation) in the client (for example, exercising because they want to rather than being told)
- Working with the client to build their confidence by fostering positive emotions
- Engaging authentic positivity and using it as a resource for recovering from obstacles and setbacks
- Coaching clients toward achieving health goals by structuring processes and tracking progress
When the client is reasonably confident and self-motivated, they will begin to make changes – even small ones – that will further improve their confidence and motivation (Moore et al., 2016).
3 Techniques for Your Sessions
Health coaches may find it helpful to begin with the following six foundational principles of coaching (modified from Rogers & Maini, 2016):
- Accept and respect that patients are resourceful.
- The coach is an enabler rather than an expert.
- Health coaching should take a whole-life approach.
- The client owns and brings the agenda to the session.
- Coach and clients are equals in the coaching process.
- Coaching is for change and action.
When combined, these principles assert the client’s ability and capacity to be resourceful and ultimately responsible for their health (Rogers & Maini, 2016).
Creating a wellness plan
Co-creating a wellness plan with the client is invaluable in providing a clear map for health-related change and coaching sessions. Rather than the coach telling the client what to do, the client must take “responsibility for their own health and wellness” (Arloski, 2014, p. 155).
Therefore, rather than being prescriptive, which is typically ineffective, the wellness plan becomes a tool to help clients (Arloski, 2014):
- Identify and capture ways they would like to work on improving their lifestyle
- Plan how to measure and track progress on their journey
- Secure the support needed
- Define target outcomes so they know when they’ve reached their destination
The wellness plan should also consider the client’s motivation, obstacles that may get in their way, and available support.
Create a wellness vision
Coaches and clients should work together to arrive at a vision of what wellness looks like to the client. The client creates a list of qualities they would like in their ‘best possible lives,’ such as (modified from Arloski, 2014):
- Healthy relationships with friends, partners, and coworkers
- A healthy body, ability to move effortlessly and vigorously, ability to enjoy sports and activities they love
- A sense of meaning and purpose
- Being free of tobacco or reducing unhealthy eating and alcohol intake (as appropriate)
The client can use the list to create a wellness vision statement, such as:
My vision is to become fit and active so that I can enjoy playing and engaging in activities with my young children while maintaining good health as I age.
The client uses their personal and specific statement to create a crystal-clear picture of what wellness and being healthy mean to them.
Determine and live client goals
The client chooses several areas of focus for wellness (for example, increasing variety in their diet, improving physical fitness, reducing reliance on alcohol, etc.) and arrives at goals that define success in each area.
The client and coach can break these goals down into a series of action steps, such as taking a vigorous walk with the dog each morning or increasing the number of vegetables they eat.
The following questions can help the client focus their attention (modified from Arloski, 2014):
- Desires – What do you want from each area of focus?
- Current location – Where are you now with this area?
- Destination – Where would you like to be?
- Committed course – What are you committing to do?
- Challenges – What are you up against?
- Strategies – How will you overcome the obstacles you meet?
- Support – Who can provide you with support along your journey?
SMART goal setting can ensure realistic, specific, achievable, challenging, and time-based goals.
How to Use Motivational Interviewing
“Motivational interviewing (MI) is used to evoke and reinforce individuals’ inner motivation to change their behavior toward better health” (Hagger et al., 2020, p. 661). It is non-confrontational and client centered yet discourages cognitive dissonance.
Practitioners using motivational interviewing must be proficient in the following (modified from Hagger et al., 2020):
- Relational skills and adopting the spirit of MI
- Applying MI-consistent techniques
- Increasing the frequency of client utterances about behavior change – known as change talk
- Reducing the frequency of talk that sustains problematic behaviors – known as sustain talk
MI can be a standalone intervention or a motivational prelude to other behavioral change techniques and includes the following (Hagger et al., 2020; Miller & Rollnick, 2013):
The coach clearly affirms the client’s actions and personal attributes. For example, “With your busy day and the bad weather, I really appreciate it that you made the appointment.”
The coach asks to talk about a subject then asks (elicits) what the client already knows.
- Identify strengths
The coach identifies strengths by what the client says, then repeats them back. For example, “You are great at following through on the promises you make.”
Questioning based on the DARN acronym (what is your desire, ability, reason, and need for change) can elicit the following change talk, such as:
- Desire – “I really want to stop drinking alcohol.”
- Ability – “I could cut down.”
- Reason – “I would be healthier.”
- Need – “I have to stop now.”
- Develop a change plan
Use the CAT acronym (commitment, activation, and taking steps) to plan behavioral change:
- How would you like to make a start? (commitment)
- What are you ready to do now? (activation)
- When and how will you take this step (taking steps)
9 Health Coaching Templates, Forms, and Worksheets
The following templates, forms, and worksheets help to structure and deliver health coaching sessions.
3 Best forms for your sessions
1. Focusing Health Choices
Clients often arrive at health coaching with some idea, consciously or unconsciously, of the lifestyle they seek.
Use the questions in the Focusing Health Choices worksheet to capture a complete list of the health and lifestyle choices the client would like in their lives.
2. Wellness Map
A wellness map focuses both client and health coach on planning and charting coaching success (Arloski, 2014).
Use the Wellness Map to capture desired changes, readiness for change, actions to be taken, and success indicators.
3. Health Coaching Foundations
The client is the expert regarding their health coaching needs and “comes from a unique place in their thinking and their interactions with their world around them” (Arloski, 2014, p. 293).
The Health Coaching Foundations worksheet supports the coach as they get to understand what the client wants and how best they can be helped. It lays the foundation on which to build the coaching plan.
Coaching agreement templates
- Use this free Instructor Feedback Form to organize and obtain feedback for clients to understand and agree on the intention and value of coaching sessions.
- The Behavior Contract identifies and captures behavior aligned with improved wellbeing and environments that offer support.
- Use and modify the free intake form to capture the reasons for seeking treatment and any indicators or triggers that require immediate action.
Crafting a session plan: 3 Examples
While session plans are specific to the needs of the client, the following general coaching tools will help.
The free Goal Planning and Achievement Tracker is a valuable tool for recording weekly goals, accomplishments, and successes and crafting session plans.
Try out the SMART+ Goals Worksheet for setting and delivering specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely goals.
The Session Feedback Form is highly effective for planning future coaching sessions that ensure the client’s needs are met.
10 Extra Tips to Become the Ultimate Health Coach
One of the most critical factors for a positive outcome from health coaching is to “create a powerful clinical consultation” where coach and client are partners (Rogers & Maini, 2016, p. 43). The following coaching skills can help (Rogers & Maini, 2016; Starr, 2021):
- Create the right first impression
You never get a second chance, so make sure that you are professional and friendly when meeting a client.
- Build rapport
The client is unlikely to take risks in sharing what is going on for them or engaging fully in coaching conversations without rapport.
- Create a relationship of equals
Coaching conversations require you to suspend judgment and recognize that the client is the expert in their consultation.
- Talking about yourself
Some judicious sharing of personal details may be acceptable and helpful but can easily lead to swapping roles.
- Effective goal setting is crucial
Goals should be co-created with the client and restricted in number.
- Keep language positive
Negative comments, even a throwaway remark, can have a lasting and harmful impact.
- Active listening
Pay attention to verbal and nonverbal cues – how the client sits, their tone, and their gestures – and take what they say seriously. Read more here about Active Listening techniques.
- Use intuition
Know where to take a conversation and when to redirect.
- Practicing effective questioning
“Remove barriers, unlock hidden information and surface potentially life-changing insights” (Starr, 2021, p. 88). The best coaching questions have a simple purpose yet open doors to a smooth flow of conversation.
- Giving constructive feedback
Support client self-awareness and learning.
7 Helpful Assessment Tools You Can Use
Assessments are valuable tools for helping health coaches understand their clients’ needs and how they are progressing through the coaching.
- Assessing clients’ Basic Needs Satisfaction is a powerful way to understand their intrinsic motivation for change.
- The Five A’s were created as a framework for assessing and intervening in clients’ unhealthy habits.
- The Decisional Balance worksheet offers a simple assessment tool for capturing the pros and cons of health-related change.
- Assessing Life Wants is an excellent way to better understand the health-related changes a client would like to see in their lives.
3 Questionnaires for health coaches
Health coaches need to form a clear understanding of their clients’ existing lifestyle and the changes they would like to see in their lives.
- SurveyMonkey’s Health Coaching Questionnaire provides a series of questions to capture which areas clients would like to work on.
- The WDEP (Wants, Doing, Evaluation, and Planning) Questionnaire is particularly helpful for understanding what the client wants from health-related changes, what have they tried so far, and what they plan to do
- Use the Abstraction Worksheet to capture in detail the goal of health behavior change and the steps needed to get there.
Most Fascinating Health Coaching Books
We have included three of our favorite books on health coaching below.
1. Masterful Health and Wellness Coaching: Deepening Your Craft – Michael Arloski
The book focuses on the theory and tools required to ensure the hoped-for lifestyle changes for the client and the opportunity for a successful future.
Find the book on Amazon.
2. Coaching for Health: Why It Works and How to Do It – Jenny Rogers and Arti Maini
This combined approach aims to provide a radical new message for health coaching that focuses on reducing the coach’s stress while ensuring the best outcomes for clients.
The authors provide clear explanations for working with virtually any client to ensure they gain the confidence required to manage their health.
Find the book on Amazon.
3. Motivational Interviewing in Nutrition and Fitness – Dawn Clifford and Laura Curtis
The authors discuss the value and power of motivational interviewing in regular interactions with clients and in working through ambivalence to create lasting and positive health behavior changes.
This helpful book shows the potential of moving from ‘sustaining’ behavior conversation to ‘changing’ behavior conversation.
Find the book on Amazon.
Resources From PositivePsychology.com
Health coaching techniques can help clients regain control of their health and lifestyles.
Why not download our free goal achievement pack and try out the powerful tools contained within? Some examples include:
- Realizing Long-Lasting Change by Setting Process Goals
Setting and working toward goals is a powerful technique for behavioral change.
- Goal Visualization
Visualizing the changes we wish to achieve can motivate changes and reduce the likelihood of relapse to unhealthy lifestyles.
Other free resources include:
- Self-Care Checkup
Practicing self-care and self-compassion can be the first steps toward adopting new, healthy behaviors.
- The 14-Day Commitment
Use this commitment tool to track healthy habits over two weeks.
More extensive versions of the following tools are available with a subscription to the Positive Psychology Toolkit©, but they are described briefly below:
- Wheel of Needs Assessment
This essential tool helps clients examine their wellbeing and identify opportunities to make positive changes in their lives.
- Step one – Begin by rating satisfaction levels across 10 categories.
- Step two – Identify low scoring areas and clarify what this need means to you.
- Step three – Identify the actions required to work toward getting those needs met.
The wheel provides a visual and intuitive way to track positive change.
- Preparing for Change
Motivation interviewing can enhance intrinsic motivation for encouraging health-related changes. Use the DARN acronym for a series of open-ended questions that uncover the client’s desire, ability, reasons, and need to make positive changes.
Besides mentioning all the skills a health coach has, you would find our article sharing 5 Best Wellness & Health Coaching Certification Programs equally useful.
17 Motivation & Goal Achievement Exercises
If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others reach their goals, check out this collection of 17 validated motivation & goal achievement tools for practitioners. Use them to help others turn their dreams into reality by applying the latest science-based behavioral change techniques.
A Take-Home Message
We often have more control over our health than we recognize. Even relatively straightforward changes in health-related behavior, such as drinking and smoking less, eating more healthily, and exercising more, can dramatically influence our wellbeing.
Health coaching involves the client partnering with a coach to make behavioral changes that encourage wellness and living according to their lifestyle goals.
Maximizing our potential is never easy. Coaches must help the client figure out what they want, create the ideal conditions for meeting their psychological and physical needs, and build confidence to transform their lives.
The coach and client co-create a plan and a vision for a new way of living that supports wellbeing. Techniques such as motivational interviewing can be particularly effective at engaging in more positive and helpful ways of looking after themselves.
This article introduces some of the skills needed to be a successful health coach, valuable tools to bring out the best in each session, and books for further reading. We hope you enjoyed it and that it will be instrumental in living healthier.
Don’t forget to download our three Goal Achievement Exercises for free.
- Arloski, M. (2014). Wellness coaching for lasting lifestyle change. Whole Person Associates.
- Arloski, M. (2021). Masterful health and wellness coaching: Deepening your craft. Whole Person Associates.
- Clifford, D., & Curtis, L. (2015). Motivational interviewing in nutrition and fitness. Guilford Press.
- Hagger, M. S., Cameron, L. D., Hamilton, K., Hankonen, N., & Lintunen, T. (2020). The handbook of behavior change. Cambridge University Press.
- Miller, W. R., & Rollnick, S. (2013). Motivational interviewing: Preparing people for change. Guilford Press.
- Moore, M., Jackson, E., & Tschannen-Moran, B. (2016). Coaching psychology manual. Wolters Kluwer.
- Normand, M. P., & Bober, J. (2020). Health coaching by behavior analysts in practice: How and why. Behavior Analysis: Research and Practice, 20(2), 108–119.
- Rogers, J., & Maini, A. (2016). Coaching for health: Why it works and how to do it. McGraw Hill Education.
- Starr, J. (2021). The coaching manual: The definitive guide to the process, principles and skills of personal coaching. Pearson Education.