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What is a Health Coach: A Complete Guide to What Health Coaches Do

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Preventative, integrative, and holistic health fields have gained a lot of momentum in the past couple of decades. They’re leading more and more people to want a career in helping others change their lives. You might be one of those who found a love for nutritious food, living an active lifestyle, and finding ways to create more wellbeing. Your passion for health and wellness might be so strong that you’re ready to make a career of it.

But there are so many titles out there. How do you make sense of the health and wellness industry and the coaching industry? How do you choose a program that fits with your career goals, your budget, your lifestyle, and your personal health interests? And then how do you create a career that pays the bills and makes you feel fulfilled?

Let’s dive into these questions to help you better understand your options and how you can start a new career in a field that’s rapidly growing.

What is a Health Coach?

A health coach is a specific type of mentor, motivator, and guide that focuses on helping people improve their overall health. This includes coaching people through lifestyle changes, self-care, improving eating habits, working on weight loss, increasing physical activity in fun ways, teaching stress management skills, and navigating chronic disease/conditions.

What is a Certified Health Coach?

A certified health coach is often a licensed practitioner that works with people in health and wellness who have moderate to high health risks, chronic conditions, and disease, working with them to motivate a change in their behavior to improve their health.

Health coaching offers a unique perspective in the health field, as coaches use motivational interviewing and client-led methods to inspire healthy lifestyle changes. It’s related to life coaching in the methods and style of coaching, but focuses specifically on creating healthy changes in an individual’s life.

Health coaches aren’t always licensed healthcare professionals and they don’t diagnose or treat diseases.

They can complement medical care by coaching clients through lifestyle changes prescribed by a physician or dietician, or simply offer accountability and inspiration for those who are ready to feel more vibrant by improving their health behavior.

Licensed healthcare and public health professionals can also become health coaches in order to add another skill set to their healthcare toolkit to better serve patients.

What Do Health Coaches Do?

Health coaches provide health and wellness support as a mentor from a preventative and positive psychology perspective. Health coaches help clients improve their food and lifestyle choices to meet their individual health goals, prevent health conditions, and the worsening of any existing health conditions.

Health coaching isn’t a program that applies a one-size-fits-all to everyone. Health coaching is about catering things to the individual and their own unique dietary, lifestyle, emotional, and physical needs.

Health Coach vs. Trainer vs. Dietitian vs. Wellness Coach

Health coaching is a related field similar to other careers in the coaching, exercise, and nutrition fields. But it is a distinct profession and different from these other career paths. Health coaches focus on broad support that is customized for each clients’ goals. They don’t prescribe particular diets or get into the nitty-gritty of exercise routines. If clients need more support in any one of these specific areas that are out of the realm of health coaching, a health coach will refer their client to the professional that can help them.

Personal trainers are experts in exercise and teach clients specific movement routines that will help them achieve their fitness goals. Dietitians and nutritionists are certified and licensed health professionals who have extensive knowledge of nutrition and are able to safely create nutrition plans for patients with a range of diseases and specific issues.

Wellness coaches focus on an even broader range of support, opening up their coaching to include things like improving relationship happiness, career fulfillment, and lifelong well-being. While health coaches narrow in on the wellbeing of the physical body, wellness coaches support clients in changing their whole lives. Wellness coaches see every aspect of a person’s life as something that can impact their health.

For example, if your work environment is toxic, your stress levels will increase, you’re more likely to stress eat, and you might have trouble sleeping at night. These issues can all impact your physical health and your general sense of life fulfillment. A wellness coach gets to the root of issues instead of only focusing on food, exercise, and physical health.

A health coach is an amazing support person for individuals who need more accountability, access to resources, education on various options, and space to better understand themselves and their goals. Health coaches are a perfect first stop on the path toward better health and wellness.

What About Working as an Online or Holistic Health Coach?

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Due to the nature of health coaching, it is versatile and can bend to accommodate all kinds of situations. That means that you can work with clients in person, through videoconferencing, or by phone. You can build an entirely in-person coaching practice or offer support to individuals throughout the world. Depending on your focus, specialty, and niche, you have the ability to work with clients in the way that works best for your lifestyle and their preferences.

Being able to run your sessions through video and phone means that health coaching makes for an excellent remote job or business, as well. You’ll get to effectively help others change their lives for the better, while also structuring your days in whatever way works best for you and your family.

If you choose to become a holistic health coach, you’ll have the opportunity to further refine your approach to helping clients. You’ll work from a holistic perspective, focusing on whole foods, holistic perspectives, and wellness approaches that create wellbeing.

Job Description for Health Coaches

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If employment is more your dream, the job description for a health coach can vary, depending on the place you want to work. Generally, you’ll be working with clients individually and in groups to help them create healthier lifestyles.

  • You might talk them through their current health state and any relevant health conditions they may have.
  • You’ll then guide them through setting and working on health goals.
  • You might listen to a client’s struggles and frustration, help them better understand their motivations, and celebrate successes.
  • You’ll keep accurate notes to help guide the coaching sessions and to document changes and successes.
  • As a health coach, you’ll also screen clients for behavioral or physical health issues, then recommend relevant professionals as needed.

You might also teach health education, create inspiring wellness plans for a company, and have fun creating motivation in people who want to get healthy but aren’t sure how.

These same processes apply to working for yourself, though they can be more fluid and flexible depending on what style of business you dream up.

If you’re thinking about hiring a health coach or wellness coach to help you in your wellness journey, but aren’t sure of all the details about training, certifications and costs, you can read more here.

Who is Health Coaching Right For?

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Health coaching is a flexible career path with so many options. It’s best for people who are committed to doing work they love and compassionately helping others to feel good.

You’ll have the opportunity to design your career path in a way that works best for you. You might choose full-time or part-time work. You could work with clients online or in-person. As a health coach, you can even decide if you want to focus on group work or individual sessions.

If you decide that a job is a better fit for you, you’ll have the opportunity to work in a variety of settings. You’ll find jobs available at wellness centers, doctor’s offices, hospitals, corporate wellness program companies, yoga and fitness studios, spas and retreat centers, and so many other places.

You also might apply your health coaching certification to a variety of delivery methods. Choose to teach at a school, run your own online education program, write a book, create a popular health blog, or teach healthy living ideas to audiences around the world.

As a health coach, the sky’s the limit and you’ll get to find your perfect way of making a living doing work you love.

Education for Health Coaches

There are different educational opportunities that lead to becoming a health coach. It all depends on what you’d like to do once you graduate and get certified.

If you’re looking for a job after graduating from a health coaching program, you might want to start paying attention to common educational requirements from companies.

Some employers will want you to have a bachelor’s degree in addition to your certification and some will want your degree to be in a relevant field (like nutrition). Others might only ask that you’re certified as a health coach.

For those who are excited by the idea of running their own businesses after graduation, you’ll just need to make sure to pick a program that’s thorough in its training, is accredited, and offers the opportunity for a recognized certification.

If you’re still lacking in business skills after getting your certification, you might also consider some continuing education courses on business. These can be offered by your health coaching school or by a relevant organization.

Generally, once you’re certified you can start working with clients!

Health Coach Certification

Choosing a certification program is a very personal process. As mentioned above, it’s best to analyze all of your options carefully and decide on the program that’s the best fit for your values and goals. Different programs offer varying emphases and differing perspectives on health.

For example, at the IAWP, we certify coaches in Holistic Health and Wellness. This offers a more specialized approach to the coaching field, which allows our students to emphasize helping clients from a holistic, whole-life perspective.

Another factor to consider when looking at programs is how much they will cost. Program fees can vary depending on how long the program is, if you have to meet in person or online, whether the school is independent or part of an expensive university, and how much additional training is offered in addition to the basic certification. Generally, certifications run anywhere from $3,000 to $6,000 or more.

You’ll also need to consider the length of time to completion. For example, Duke University offers a quick 18-week program, whereas the Institute of Integrative Nutrition program can take as long as a year. The IAWP’s program is typically 6 months in length, which we find is a good length for most people.

Employment for Health Coaches

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics categorizes Health Coaching under Health Educators and Community Health Workers and they report that in 2018 there were 123,800 people working in this field in the US. They project that this field will grow by 11% annually, which is a very promising number and higher than most other professions.

An independent market survey report from Marketdata found that the health coaching market was worth $6.14 billion in 2017. As this career path grows at a rapid rate, health coaches will see more and more opportunities open up over time.

Hospitals, private practices, nonprofits, and corporations are all seeing the value of offering health coaching to their patients, clients, and employees. You’ll find most health coaching jobs available in these types of settings, as well as in wellness centers, natural food stores, fitness and yoga studios, and corporate wellness programs.

The clearest career path for health coaches is to open their own private practices after graduation. This is a really great option for so many people and allows you to build a business that works with your schedule and lifestyle. You can also get a job with a company offering similar one-on-one health coaching services.

The awesome thing about health coaching is how flexible it is. If private one-on-one coaching isn’t the best fit for you, there are so many other ways to apply your knowledge.

You can write books about health, open a natural foods restaurant or retail shop, create health-focused products and services, combine your certification with a compatible adjacent certification for a unique offering, join a wellness or healthcare practice, create educational programs, and so much more.

You could potentially…

  • Be a health coach at a corporate wellness firm
  • Work for a specialty health company
  • Be a care coordinator for a healthcare company
  • Work at a functional medicine practice or wellness center
  • Be a coach at a fitness facility or weight-loss center
  • Work at a digital medicine or telehealth company
  • Run group coaching programs or online memberships
  • Organize and lead wellness workshops and retreats
  • Work on an initiative to change food and health in a region
  • Open a wellness cafe or teach cooking classes
  • Become an author, writer, podcaster, or public speaker
  • Develop an innovative health product
  • Build on an existing healthcare career

At the end of the day, your goal will be to help more people have access to the knowledge and support necessary to make big changes with their health.

If you do decide to run your own independent coaching practice be sure to look out for the right insurance to keep you and your business protected.

No matter which way you choose to do this, you’ll know that you’re making a difference in your community and the world.

Salaries for Health Coaches

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that Health Educators and Community Health Workers earned an average of $46,910 in 2018. Marketdata reports that health coaches earn on average $56,370 per year.

The thing to keep in mind is that health coaching is a relatively new career field so that means that solid data can be hard to come by. The reports above don’t necessarily reflect the actual reality of making money as a health coach, though they might give a good reading on average salaries that companies are offering health coaches.

As health coaching is a rapidly growing field, it’s clear that it’s becoming more valued overall. Additionally, if you choose to have your own business, you’ll get to set your own prices, keeping in mind what your local market can bear combined with your expertise and specialization. Health coaches usually make anywhere from $25 to $100 per hour and it’s not unheard of for ambitious coaches to reach the coveted six figures annual income level in just a few years of business.

Flexibility is the underlying theme of health coaching. If you can dream it and are willing to stick around to build it, it’s likely possible.

Benefits of Being a Health Coach

There are a myriad of benefits to being a health coach. You can choose between being employed or becoming an entrepreneur — or both! You’ll know that your work is making a difference in the world and in your community. And you’ll get to witness the results, watching people’s lives change and transform for the better.

If you choose to be self-employed, you’ll have the flexibility of designing a business that works best for you and allows your personality and gifts to shine. The typical educational path means that you can be on your way to a whole new career in no time. This can support you in following your dreams and finally feeling like you’re doing meaningful work in the world.

Thoughts from IAWP Graduates on Coaching

“Starting and maintaining a business is one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences in your life. There are a lot of ups and downs that come from being an entrepreneur. It can provide you the opportunity to build resilience, learn to ask for help, trust in yourself, and be able to learn your boundaries and limitations. The most rewarding experience is seeing the impact you have on the world through your clients and how you grow as a coach. You have the ability to be a spokesperson for your health and others during this time, which is so powerful!”

Molly Sommerhalder, Certified Holistic Wellness Coach and Certified Yoga Teacher at Swan in the Lotus Yoga and Wellness, LLC

“Becoming a health (wellness) coach was THE best decision not only for my career, but for my health, my family, and the lives of those I’m blessed to impact every day. Having a career I’m passionate about, that offers flexibility, opportunities to travel and work remotely, and most importantly, build an entire business around helping others has been life-changing.


My 2 best tips: 1. Take consistent action despite fears a new career and/or business inevitably brings up; 2. Get a mentor or business coach as you’re starting so you have a strong foundation and the support, accountability, and encouragement.”

Laura Albers, Certified Holistic Wellness Coach and Mental Health Therapist at Albers Mind & Body Wellness

Conclusion: Is it Worth it to Become a Health Coach?

If you’ve made it this far, you likely have a sincere passion for health and wellness and you’d like to use that passion to help others. Health coaching isn’t for everyone, of course. But it’s a career path that can open doors to dreams that you might not have thought possible.

Learning how to coach people through behavior changes that stick and helping others get to the bottom of their core desires is a beautiful gift. You’ll find that health coaching is a rewarding field that can complement whatever lifestyle is best for your well-being.

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About the Author

Suzanne Monroe

Suzanne Monroe is the author of Live Well Dream Big: The Ultimate Guide to Becoming Your Best Self and Living Life on Your Own Terms. She has also written and published The Holistic Cookbook & Lifestyle Guide: 12 Weeks to a Healthier, Happier You, the co-author of 101 Ways to Improve Your Health and the host of the Live Well Dream Big Podcast. Suzanne was inspired to create the IAWP Wellness Coach Training & Certification Program in collaboration with other leading health experts in order to inspire people to create meaningful careers and spread the message of wellness.

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