What Is a Health Coach? Benefits, Salary, and How to Become One

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Health coaches help clients adopt habits and behaviors that can dramatically improve their health. Here’s what you need to know.

[Featured Image]:  A male health coach, wearing a blue denim shirt, is having a teleconference, sitting in front of his laptop. with his client

Just like sports coaches help athletes excel at soccer or swimming, health coaches help people excel at their health. Whether it is relieving a chronic medical condition or incorporating more vegetables into their diet, health coaching can be a game-changer in transforming a person’s life.

According to a recent study, coaching can dramatically improve a person’s cholesterol, blood pressure, body weight, and cardiorespiratory fitness “in diverse populations” [1]. Anecdotally, the results are generally very positive, in that those being coached feel empowered when they take control of their weight loss process or implement healthier eating [2]. 

Here’s all you need to know about health coaching and how to become a health coach.

What is a health coach?

A health coach is a professional who uses evidence-based conversation and strategies to engage patients (also known as clients) in behavior change that improves their health. As experts on human behavior and motivation, health coaches help clients achieve their health goals and empower them to integrate healthy habits into their lifestyles. 

In health coaching, the coach and the client talk about health issues. Together, they devise goals and strategies for achieving them. A health coach might help a client with:

  • Chronic disease or illness management

  • Nutrition (diet and exercise)

  • Stress reduction

  • Sleep

  • Time management

  • Weight loss

  • Smoking

  • Addiction

  • Dealing with after-effects of a traumatic health condition, such as a heart attack or accident

Through cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and motivational interviewing techniques, health coaches help their clients process their mental blocks, make time in their schedules for exercise or sleep, and more. A client-centered approach of talk therapy, questions, and positive psychology empowers them to make incremental decisions that benefit their health.

To become a health coach, you’ll need to gain some experience. A certification, though not necessary, can give you credibility and a strong foundation as you embark on this journey. Salary can vary depending on where you decide to work.

What is the difference between a health coach and a personal trainer?

A health coach is a professional who partners with clients to map out their health goals and plan. They may use psychological techniques like motivational interviewing or CBT when coaching. Their focus can range from letting go of smoking or alcohol, to addressing obesity or diabetes as part of a physician’s orders.

A personal trainer focuses on creating safe, effective exercise and fitness programs for healthy individuals. They work on weight loss, strength training, muscle toning, and more.

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Benefits of working with a health coach

A health coach can help patients create plans for a healthy lifestyle. Alongside physicians, they fill in the gaps in care and provide the support that some patients need to fulfill their goals. For example, a doctor can tell a person to eat more vegetables and exercise regularly, but what does it take for the average person to actually change their behavior? Health coaches can:

  • Provide the tools a patient needs to improve their own care, well-being, and overall health

  • Empower the patient to take control of their life and health

  • Give accountability and support to the patient as they navigate their health goals

  • Deliver action-based advice like how to make healthier choices at the grocery store or ways to integrate meditation

  • Modify behaviors that lead to long-term improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol, body weight and body mass index, fitness, and chronic medical conditions such as obesity, arthritis, diabetes, and cancer [1]

What does a health coach actually do?

These are the typical tasks and responsibilities of a health coach:

  • Meet with clients (in person or online) to discuss and create actionable health goals

  • Offer a supportive, safe space for clients to discuss their intentions, fears, limitations, and aspirations

  • Understand their client’s motivations and create behavioral change

  • Empower their clients to guide their own health journey

  • Support their clients in developing customized, sustainable plans for diet, exercise, wellness, sleep, recovery, or rehabilitation

  • Conduct seminars for individuals, groups, or employees

Where do health coaches work?

A health coach can work in several different locations. They can be self-employed with their own coaching practice, meaning they’ve built their own business and roster of clients. These health coaches must spend some time attracting clients, either through self-promotion or being listed in a coaching directory.

Health coaches can also work in clinics. Working alongside physicians, health coaches help support and facilitate the physicians’ orders for the patients. A health coach can also work for a company assisting with corporate wellness programs to develop employee well-being and health programs.

Skills needed to be a health coach

To become a successful health coach, you’ll need to have the following skills:

  • Knowledge of health care developments and practices

  • Understanding of psychology and coaching techniques

  • Training in fitness, nutrition, and other good health practices

  • Experience working with clients

  • Compassion and a positive demeanor

  • Conflict resolution skills

  • Effective communication skills

  • Active listening skills

If you are building your own health coaching practice, you’ll likely want to brush up on your entrepreneurial skills. Here are a few articles to get you started:

Free courses on well-being and psychology

Coursera offers these free (and popular) courses that you might be interested in, including The Science of Well-Being and Introduction to Psychology from Yale University, and Positive Psychiatry and Mental Health from the University of Sydney.

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Salary and job outlook

According to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, health education specialists and community health workers in the US can make a median annual salary of $48,860 [3]. These occupations also have an expected job growth rate of 17 percent between 2020 and 2030, which is much faster than average [3]. Another source lists a higher US median salary of $62,160 [4]. Salaries will depend on where the coach decides to work, which can also vary broadly. 

Health coaching is currently emerging as a $7 billion market with a very strong growth outlook [5]. More and more, studies have shown that this is a largely underserved market. People need assistance, motivation, and education to eliminate bad habits and manage chronic conditions. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for empowerment and support in improving one’s health has become top of mind.

How to become a health coach

Becoming a health coach means becoming an agent of change for people who cannot shift their mindsets or behaviors themselves. Here are four steps to becoming one.

1. Develop your skills.

You will want to develop your coaching skills, alongside your knowledge of good health practices and health conditions. Whether that means enrolling in a certificate program in health coaching, or a fitness training program, or learning mindfulness techniques, there are plenty of options for developing your skills to become a successful health coach.

2. Brush up on professional development. 

As a health coach, you’ll benefit from brushing up on professional development. Health coaches tend to need to advocate for themselves, as they are a profession that can be considered superfluous. If you start your own coaching practice, you’ll want to know how to market yourself and your business, as well as engage in networking to find and attract clients. 

3. Get certified.

According to the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching (NBHWC), there are many institutions that offer health coaching certifications, from private corporations to academic programs. This directory can help you get started. These programs meet the NBHWC’s published standards for the number of instructional hours, practical skill development, and faculty qualifications [6].

In these programs, you’ll learn about nutrition, behavioral change techniques and approaches, lifestyle science, and more, all to become a change agent to positively impact people’s health. Training programs can take between three to 24 months, after which graduates can apply for the NBHWC examination to earn the designation of National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC). 

While certification is optional, it certainly will help you lift your practice off the ground and get you hired more quickly.

4. Gain some practice.

Once you’ve done your research, gone through training, and (maybe) received your certification, it’s time to practice. You can gain experience by being mentored by another health coach. You can also start with a small batch of clients at a discounted rate, so you can gain credibility, practice, and positive reviews (recommendations). 

Some health coaches choose to go through a website or directory to find clients, where users can identify their needs and ideal approaches and contact you.

No matter which way you choose to operate, health coaching can be a rewarding career in sparking behavioral change that has a lasting impact on a person and the world at large.

Get started with Coursera

If you’re not completely sure you want to become a health coach, this course might interest you: Health Coaching Conversations from Imperial College London. You’ll learn how to have more empowering conversations with patients and be able to apply key principles in your own health

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Health Coaching Conversations

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Article sources

1. National Library of Medicine. “Clinical Effectiveness of Lifestyle Health Coaching, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6125027/.” Accessed August 5, 2022.

2. Harvard Health Publishing. “Health coaching is effective. Should you try it?, https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/health-coaching-is-effective-should-you-try-it-2020040819444.” Accessed August 5, 2022.

3. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Health Education Specialists and Community Health Workers, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/health-educators.htm.” Accessed August 5, 2022.

4. Salary.com. “Health And Wellness Coach Salary in the United States, https://www.salary.com/research/salary/posting/health-and-wellness-coach-salary.” Accessed August 5, 2022.

5. Research and Markets. “The U.S. Health Coaching Market, https://www.researchandmarkets.com/reports/5235830/the-u-s-health-coaching-market?w=4.” Accessed August 5, 2022.

6. NBHWC. “NBHWC Approved Training Program, https://nbhwc.org/find-an-approved-training-program/#!directory/ord=rnd.” Accessed August 5, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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