National Board Certification for Health & Wellness Coaches

I’m taking a brief detour from my journey around the Wheel of Health to share some exciting news! I found out yesterday that I passed the new national certification exam for health and wellness coaches. I am now officially a National Board Certified Health & Wellness Coach (or NBC-HWC, for short). I am very proud to be one of the inaugural coaches to hold this distinction – and I want to share a few thoughts on why this national certification is so important.

Until now, anyone could essentially hang a shingle and call themselves a health coach regardless of whether they have had any education, training or experience as a coach. There are many individuals who are passionate about health and wellness, and long to share that passion with others based on their own experience and self-study. I think that passion is wonderful and that’s where I started back as a young adult in high school and college, taking ownership of my health and wellbeing for the first time.  However, I quickly realized that there was a lot that I did not know when it came to health and the science of behavior change, so I chose to pursue formal education and training in that profession.

I earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in Public Health, with a concentration in Health Behavior and Health Education, and I have held the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES®) credential since 1998. I have always identified as a health educator even when my official title may not have reflected that role. A few years ago, I decided to pursue additional training as a health coach. I have to admit that before I completed my coach training at Duke Integrative Medicine, I thought a health coach was essentially the same thing as a health educator. I would advise people about how to improve their health. I would share resources and essentially tell them what changes they needed to make around their diet, exercise, sleep and so on to be healthy. Boy, was I wrong.

My health coach training was eye-opening, even for someone who has been in the healthcare field for 20 years. I learned that coaching is a client-centered process – that the client is the expert on his or her own health, not me. As a coach, I am the expert in the process of health behavior change, but I am here as a partner and a guide for my clients. I help them define their personal vision of optimal health, create goals and action steps to achieve that vision, and provide support and encouragement as they incorporate new health behaviors into their lives. I don’t tell them what to do to be healthy, I empower them to find the answers within themselves. And I do this mostly by listening carefully and asking key questions to help reveal those answers. Simple, yet so powerful.

I share all this to help you understand that there is still great variability among health coaches right now, as these new national certification standards are just starting to be implemented. For this reason, I encourage you to do your homework and review the credentials of any coach with whom you may consider working. Although this is not medical care, where you could be harmed if treated by a professional that does not meet minimum professional standards, it is in your best interest to work with a coach who has had adequate training. After all, you want to achieve the best outcome possible – to be in your best health – especially if you are paying out of pocket for your coaching experience.

The International Consortium for Health & Wellness Coaching (ICHWC) has been working since 2010 to create these national standards for health and wellness coaches. In 2016, they partnered with the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) to establish a national certification for individual health and wellness coaches. The NBME  has been credentialing medical professionals for 100 years, and they applied the same rigor to the health and wellness coach exam as they have for other medical professional credentialing exams. Therefore, this national certification will allow proficient coaches to stand apart from coaches who have not received adequate coach training or assessment of their coaching skills and knowledge.

You can learn more about the Consortium and the National Board Certification of Health & Wellness Coaches here. The Consortium will soon be creating an online registry to include all health and wellness coaches who are National Board Certified, making it easier to find a qualified coach to assist you on your journey to optimal health. After all, if you are going to invest in your health, why not choose a partner who can best help you succeed?