Choosing a Health and Wellness Coach 

 June 4, 2021

By  Marianne Gernetzke

Today, coaching is a rapidly growing field in the area of health and wellness. Health coaches help clients to change unhealthy habits and seek empowerment to create authentic wellness.  But the field of health and wellness coaching currently remains unregulated.

With this knowledge, how does one recognize a good health coach?  As the profession of coaching explodes, a growing number of coaches are wanting to serve you.  But how can you find the right one?

How can you as an informed consumer know if you are choosing wisely?

You might wonder about how to recognize an imposter. Or what about the coach that claims to be an expert?  Is it OK if a coach claims to offer expert nutrition advice?  Are they qualified to tell you what to do?

This article will help you to consider these questions. It will also explain elements of ethical and appropriate coaching services. Information shared here is based on the Scope of Practice for health and wellness coaches from the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaches as well as the ethical guidelines from the International Coaching Federation.

This information is offered as a resource for your educational purposes only. What you decide is ultimately your decision and your responsibility. You are the expert in your life!

Chemistry

Your first contact with the coach is an opportunity to collect important information.  Consider your “chemistry” with the person.  What are the emotions you feel?  Do you feel safe or listened to?  Is the coach empathetic? How professional are they?  Do they keep your focus on your needs or talk about themselves?

If you notice any red flags, this might not be the coach for you.  Coaching is a vulnerable process and you should feel safe and connected with your coach. 

However, it takes a lot more than charming demeanor or rapport to provide quality, effective, and ethical coaching!  You’ll want a coach that understands scope of practice, protects your confidentiality, and acts with integrity. 

So, what else might you consider in evaluating the qualifications of your coach?

Coaching Education

When I was considering a career as a health and wellness coach, I surveyed a wide variety of coaching programs.  Programs differed in quality of education and commitment required. Here are some points of consideration:

  • Time commitment to complete program
  • Prerequisites for program
  • University-based program or program offered by private organization
  • Qualifications of coaching educators
  • Program emphasis (i.e. nutrition, fitness, effective coaching, or all of the above)
  • Program approval by the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaches
  • Program accreditation by the International Coaching Federation

Depending on the program, your health and wellness coach could have a wide range of skills or background knowledge. What knowledge and skills might matter most to you as a client?  Don’t be afraid to ask your coach about how they prepared to be in their coaching role.

National Board Certification

The National Board for Health and Wellness Coaches (NBHWC) rigorously reviews coaching programs before giving approval.  If your health and wellness coach attended an NBHWC-approved program, they have likely received a quality, comprehensive health coaching education.

National Board-Certified Health and Wellness Coaches have had to pass a challenging board exam.  The NBHWC has combined efforts with the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) to offer this exam. In fact, the NBME is the same entity that oversees medical doctor exams.  The NBHWC exam takes months to prepare for and requires a coach to thoroughly know coaching techniques, ethics and boundaries, as well as key details of specific medical concerns.

In order to retain the title of NBC-HWC, a coach must also maintain professional continuing education requirements similar to the requirements of other professional organizations.

How do you know if a coach is nationally board-certified? They will hold the title “National Board-Certified Health and Wellness Coach” or NBC-HWC. 

While NBC-HWC status is valuable, the NBHWC has only been around since 2016 and is still growing in recognition. Let’s consider one other example of a certification that will signal that your coach has quality coaching skills.

International Coach Federation

The International Coach Federation (ICF) is recognized world-wide and was established in 1995. It is the leading global organization dedicated to advancing the coaching profession. ICF sets high standards for skills, integrity and ethics in coaching. 

Certification as a professional ICF coach is considered to be the gold standard in the field. An ICF-certified coach will have the designation Associate Certified Coach (ACC), Professional Certified Coach (PCC), or Master Certified Coach (MCC).   

To become ICF-certified, a coach must complete hundreds or thousands of hours of coaching and pass a thorough assessment of coaching skills.  ICF-credentialed coaches also must maintain approved continuing education to retain their credential.

However, ICF-credentialed coaches don’t necessarily have specific training in topics relevant to health and wellness.  If you are considering working with an ICF-credentialed coach, you may want to ask about their knowledge relating to your specific area(s) of concern.

There are other certifying bodies out there for health or fitness coaching, therefore this discussion doesn’t include a comprehensive list. 

Experience in Other Health Care Fields

One does NOT have to hold a license in a health care field to be a good health and wellness coach.  Excellent health coaches can come from many backgrounds. 

With that said, many health and wellness coaches do hold licenses in other fields.  For example, some health coaches have backgrounds in nursing, nutrition, or counseling. Other coaches may have backgrounds in alternative health care fields like acupuncture.

Why would a consumer prioritize a coach’s additional background experience?

This comes down to a client’s need and preferences. Consider, for example, the client who wants help changing habits due to severe/complex diabetes. This client might benefit from a health coach who is also a nurse. Or, if this client needs detailed nutrition advice, they may want a coach that is also a credentialed nutritionist or dietitian.

If your health coach is also trained as a licensed health care professional, you could benefit from their in-depth understanding of specific medical or mental health issues.  This is important because this means they might be qualified to act as an expert in your problem and offer you advice.

It is important to understand that advice-giving is not otherwise appropriate in the context of coaching.   Next we’ll learn more about coaching and advice giving.

Advice-Giving versus Resource-Sharing

Many coaches advertise programs that will tell clients exactly how to solve their problems.  This seems like good marketing because many clients seek easy and effective health solutions. Unfortunately, the expert role may not be an appropriate role for a coach to assume. Coaches and experts have distinctly different roles.

The giving of advice is problematic for a few reasons. 1) Coach education may not be sufficient for a coach to act as an authority in your health, 2) several states specifically prohibit coaches from prescribing diets or representing themselves as nutrition experts, 3) telling people what to do often creates resistance to change.

Before proceeding, let’s consider an important distinction: the difference between advice-giving and resource sharing.

Resource-Sharing

Sharing of resources is distinctly different from advice-giving.

Resource-sharing is a valuable aspect of all coaching.  Any quality coach should ask your permission before sharing resources or information with you. Additionally, they should allow you to choose whether or not you will apply that information.  They should not tell you what to do.

Why is this different from advice-giving? Because you always have freedom to choose whether or not to utilize a coaching resource. In contrast, advice is typically offered with an expectation that you will follow instructions.

Therefore, if a coach shares an optional medical study and then invites you consult with your provider, the study is merely a resource.  If, however, a coach tells you to read a medical study and then do what it recommends, the coach is giving advice.

About Advice-Giving

Ethical coaches know that their job is to be your partner, not your boss.  You should feel like each coaching conversation is about collaboration. This means that you should feel your coach allows you to act as the expert in your own life.

The moment a coach gives you advice, your relationship ceases to be a partnership and the coach has assumed a role of power. Additionally, advice-giving may be inappropriate because the coach may not be qualified to act as an authority in your health.

Many coaching education programs can be completed in three to twelve months, sometimes less.  This amount of education is insufficient for a coach to be qualified to act as expert in your health or life. Be wary of the coach that claims to have all of the answers.

In contrast, consider the intensive, supervised training medical and mental health providers receive to accurately assess your needs and make medical recommendations.  Health and wellness coaches do not receive clinical training. Therefore, the typical coach is not qualified to use clinical reasoning to determine what you need in your care.  Coaching should never be utilized as a substitute for medical or mental health treatment.

Coaches cannot diagnose, prescribe, treat, interpret medical results, or write food plans. They can educate, offer resources, explore new ideas, offer new perspectives, create new awareness, and refer you to outside resources.

Advice Through Coach-Expert Collaboration

If you want health advice AND coaching, consider finding a health coach that will work in collaboration with your doctor, therapist, nutritionist, or other provider.  In a coach-provider collaboration, a client can seek advice from a qualified, licensed professional AND get the support of an empathetic, collaborative coach. Win-win!

As you may have guessed, there are some exceptions in advice-giving. Here are some situations where it is appropriate for a coach to offer advice:

  • If the coach is working in collaboration with a medical provider like a doctor or dietitian AND the advice was originally determined by the medical provider based on medical assessment that the medical provider is qualified to give you.
  • If the coach also has a relevant license in another health care field AND they are working under the umbrella of that license while coaching you, they may be qualified to offer you advice as a licensed professional.

Why am I Qualified to Coach You as a Health and Wellbeing Coach?

  • National Board-Certified Health and Wellness Coach.  The NBC-HWC credential represents the profession’s highest standard and is based on extensive research and the training, education, and assessment of coaches who attended an NBHWC-approved school.  I worked hard for this credential!
  • Graduate of the ADAPT Functional Health Coach Training program, a robust and comprehensive one-year program created by Chris Kresser, M.S., L.Ac.  Chris is a New York Times best-selling author and a well-respected Functional Medicine clinician and leader. The ADAPT Functional Health Coach Training Program is approved by NBHWC as well as the Health Coach Alliance.
  • Credentialed by the International Coaching Federation (ICF): I currently hold the Associate Certified Coach credential from the ICF, and am working to continually advance my standard of coaching. 
  • Experience: I have many years experience in another health profession, although I choose not to combine it with my coaching practice at this time. I have also coached hundreds of individuals seeking greater mind and/or body wellness as a health coach.
  • Education: I have a master’s degree in Psychology as well as two undergrad degrees from the University of Wisconsin in Madison.  I am a life-long learner and get excited about sharing knowledge and resources in coaching!

Am I the coach for you?

To be fair, I might not be the coach for you if you want me to give you specific nutrition advice or advice of any kind. You also might prefer another coach if you are seeking help in a specific life area that is not in my wheelhouse, for example, running a marathon. 

However, I might be a good match for you if you:

  • seek coaching that creates deep personal change
  • are making a life transition
  • want to shift your attitude about yourself
  • are working to change thinking or behavior habits
  • face special challenges in a current life role
  • seek a coach that is open to collaborating with your medical or mental health provider.

Regardless, I’d be happy to talk to you about what you need in a free consultation. There is no obligation to work with me after our initial meeting.

I hope this article was helpful! If so, let me know! Do any questions remain for you about how to seek a qualified health and wellness coach? I’d love to hear about them. 

Marianne Gernetzke


Marianne is a National Board-Certified Health and Wellness Coach and ADAPT-Certified Functional Health Coach as well as the owner of Marianne Gernetzke Coaching LLC. Marianne works with clients who are passionate about personal growth but struggle with negative thinking, helping them to develop new habits to create improved health and wellbeing.

Marianne Gernetzke

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Shifting Focus from Darkness to Light


The Paradoxical Gifts of Hardship and Struggle


Attuned Eating: Making Empowered Choices about Our Bodies and Our Food

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