Health coach?

I wonder what it would be like to change our focus in pain management – what if we looked to promote wellbeing rather than ‘manage pain’? What would this look like?
Today’s post I want to dream a little – call it me an idealist, but I think if we start with a vision of what might be, and work towards it, we’ll go much further than if we look only to what can be. I’ve been thinking about the concept of health coaching for a while now – I think if I can do with one, I’m surely not the only person!

What I mean by a health coach is someone who spends time finding out what you want to create in your life, then helps you put the things in place to achieve it. I think it’s a bit different from ‘being a therapist’, or ‘treating’ someone, because the focus is on creating the positive rather than overcoming the negative.

I’m not the only person to have thought of this idea! In Australia there is ‘Health Coaching Australia’, and in New Zealand there are several practices where health coaches work – unfortunately, these ones are tied in with naturopathy and personal training rather than an evidence-based approach to living well.

So, what could something like this look like?
Well, coaching is about helping people define a goal and systematically work towards it. A coach can help resolve ambivalence, encourage, crack the whip and generally kick butt when needed. A coach doesn’t define the goal, the person usually knows what he or she wants to achieve, but acknowledges that getting there can be difficult on your own – a coach supplies that definition and urgency to persevere and stay honest!

I’d love to see people with chronic pain view their situation as an opportunity to learn to live well. To infuse their days with the good things that they can have despite chronic pain, and to see the limitations that chronic pain brings as a way to recognise the need to build resilience and flexibility. This doesn’t mean that having chronic pain is a walk in the park – it’s a truly frustrating experience. But the things we do to learn to live with chronic pain are not a lot different from the things we do to live well without chronic pain. We want time with family and friends, good sleep, paced energy through the day, a good diet, an exercise programme that fits our lifestyle, time alone, time to create, fulfilling jobs – sound strange? or sound like what a good life consists of?

It may simply be a change of perspective rather than a whole new approach, but I think I’d rather be cheering on the sidelines than being ‘a therapist’ in an office. I’d rather see people out in the world doing what they love than working out their ‘problems’ and ‘addressing issues’. Problems and issues certainly arise, but I wonder whether they would have that heaviness and emotional drag if we viewed them as obstacles to climb over or zigzag through on our pursuit of the good and healthy, rather than ‘issues’ that need to be dug through.

For some good reading on this idea of health coaching, there are lots of resources here at Health Coaching Australia. This is a paper from 2003 used as a briefing document for health practices in the UK. This document is a great dispeller of myths about men’s health.., and this is a nice summary assessment form if you were going to look at health in general with someone.

What’s different about the health coaching approach? I think it’s the view that the person being coached can decide whether or not to follow the coaching – a coach cares and encourages, but doesn’t actually run the race or play the game, that’s up to the person. What a nice way to view health management!


  1. Good for you, Bronwyn! I think this is an excellent idea and something more and more health professionals could move toward. I think health care would become more truly “health” care. All the best!

    1. Hi Bruce
      You’ll be pleased to hear that it’s quite a strong movement in the management of chronic conditions both in the US and UK – and now Australia and New Zealand. As we find more and more people living with chronic health conditions, it’s becoming increasingly important that individuals take responsibility for their own health, because in the end, most health is what you and I do with our own lives!

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