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How to Become a Health Coach: 5 Programs for Certification

Last updated: October 22, 2019
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Wellness isn’t just about dieting and exercise anymore. It’s now about a more holistic approach to your health and mental wellbeing. Health coaching programs can help a client establish healthy habits with meal planning or make more general lifestyle changes, like limiting the toxic effects of social media and improving mental health.

Health coaching is also an exciting career path more and more people are embracing as a way to stay fit, work one-on-one with clients, and start their own business.

In this article, we’ll look at what a health coach is, what a health coach does, and answer: Why would you take a health coach program to get certified? Finally, we’ll walk you through the certification process and highlight some good health coach training programs to get you started on your journey.

What is a Health Coach?

Health coaching, or wellness coaching, is the act of working with people to facilitate a more healthy lifestyle.

This can take many forms but usually starts with interviews with someone to understand their desired outcomes, then goal setting with regards to fitness, nutrition, and general wellness. Finally, health or wellness coaching will involve measuring progress and providing motivation along the way.

It’s tempting to think of health coaching as merely helping someone with meal planning and designing an exercise regimen for him or her. That can certainly be a part of it, but more and more health coaches are embracing a more all-encompassing approach to wellness.

The CDC defines wellness in part as “the degree to which one feels positive and enthusiastic about life.” Wellness coaches are now often looking to develop entire wellness programs, which help people not just with getting in shape but also creating sustainable, healthy behaviors that lead to a happier, more fulfilled life. This can be through helping a client identify core values or establish good routines, either mental or physical.

Health coaches can help with generalized meal plans and recommend some foods, but they are not allowed to prescribe diets, as that is the work of certified nutritionists and dietitians.

Wellness coaches do not need licensing to operate in the United States, but becoming a certified health coach through health coach training is recommended to do the best job for clients.

What a Health Coach Does

two women smiling with one holding a tablet

“That all sounds great,” you might be saying. “But what does a health coach actually do?” Wellness coaches usually work in one-on-one coaching sessions where they get to understand clients, establish goals, and monitor progress. While some health coaches are also trained as nutritionists or personal trainers, those are different things, and not necessary to be a health coach.

Here’s an example process for a health coach might go through with a client:

Interviewing

Sometimes called “motivational interviewing,” this is the first step in the coach-client relationship. An interview allows a coach to more deeply connect with a client, establish trust, and begin to understand exactly why the client is seeking health coaching.

Wellness Planning and Goal Setting

While the interviewing process never really stops and should be maintained throughout to keep understanding how the client is progressing, a coach will usually at this point start setting goals. These goals can be tangible (e.g., start preparing three meals a week at home instead of ordering out for lunch) or slightly more intangible (e.g., stop focusing on things in the mirror you don’t like about yourself).

Methodology Coaching

Leading a healthy life isn’t just about hitting a goal and then stopping. (This is often a problem with things like fad diets.) Good wellness coaches won’t give a target goal that can be met and then ignored. They instead will focus on process and methodology, about establishing good routines and maintaining them moving forward.

They will do this through positive feedback and by focusing on a more holistic approach to well-being in each coaching session.

Why Become Certified?

Health coaches don’t legally require certification to operate in the United States, but there are plenty of great reasons why you’d want to become certified.

For one, many insurance companies and private employers won’t work with wellness coaches unless they are certified. For clients who want insurance or employer help paying for wellness coaching, not having certification could be a non-starter for them and may severely limit your potential client-pool. Similarly, wellness centers might not hire you unless you are certified, no matter how much experience you have.

Health coaching certifications will also help you be the best possible wellness coach you can be. Programs offer guidance on the latest studies in wellness and teach you a process-based methodology that you can then use to get the most out of your clients. Many certification programs also offer certifications in personal training as well.

Cost and Time Commitment

These certification programs run the gamut in terms of pricing. If you work in HR and want to develop a wellness program for your business, you can take a basic workplace wellness certification course for under $400 (and your employer will often foot the bill). More comprehensive health coaching certifications can run from $500 up to $2000, depending on the extent of the program.

These programs can run anywhere from three months to a year and often conclude with an exam that you must pass for certification.

How to Become Certified

how to become a health coach: man and woman sitting outside

You’ve decided you want to become certified as a health coach. Fantastic. Luckily, there are multiple ways to go about getting that certification. Let’s get into some of them.

Earn an Undergraduate Degree

One way to get certified is to earn an undergraduate degree in the field. Some schools offer associate’s degrees and even bachelor’s degrees in health wellness coaching, health sciences, or health management. Most of these schools will provide certification as part of your program.

Complete a Certification Program

We’ll outline different certification programs in the next section, but we do recommend that any program you take be from an accredited organization. Agencies that accredit programs include the National Commission for Certifying Agencies and the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools.

Gain Work Experience and Maintain Certification

Once you’ve been certified, it’s time to get to work. Many certification programs have relationships with local wellness centers and can help you get placed to earn work experience. This work experience will let you develop your own personal philosophy, and help you build a portfolio of client work.

After that, many health professionals will keep up with coursework to maintain certification and keep up to date with the latest clinical findings in the field.

5 Health Coach Certification Programs

There are many certification programs out there from a variety of institutions. The five listed below are accredited and have had good feedback from past students, and several offer courses that can be taken online.

1. National Wellness Institute

One of the most established programs in the field, the National Wellness Institute has been operating since 1977. It focuses on getting the best — and most current — educational resources available to its students and encourages professionals to keep learning through the program even after certification.

2. Wellness Council of America

The Wellness Council of America has over 5,000 professional members and is focused on HR professionals and employers who want to create a more healthy workforce. Their program is built around creating healthy work cultures to better improve the lives of employees.

3. Chapman Institute

The Chapman Institute’s wellness program has four levels, each of which comes with its own certification. The courses take 25-30 hours to complete and can be taken online.

4. American College of Healthcare Sciences

The American College of Healthcare Sciences runs a wellness consulting program that teaches you how to bring wellness ethics into your real-world workplace or how to design a more holistic health regimen for a client. Since this course is taught at an actual college, students won’t just get a certification — they’ll receive college credits as well.

5. American Fitness Professionals & Associates

American Fitness Professionals & Associates is a large organization that offers certifications in wellness, nutrition, and personal training, among others. AFPA has over 25 certification programs available, in everything from yoga instruction to senior fitness to general wellness.

Find a New Career as a Health Coach

Working as a wellness coach isn’t just about helping people achieve weight loss. It’s about understanding a client deeply, encouraging healthy behavior change and setting health goals that make sense for the individual. These goals can help prevent or manage chronic disease, promote a positive psychology, help with stress management, and offset healthcare costs through preventative treatment.

It’s important work, a great way to help improve people’s lives, and a fun way to start your own business. Getting certified as a health coach can help you get there.

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