Professionalisation of the Industry

Opinion piece, Fiona Cosgrove

As Health and Wellness Coaching becomes better known, we are seeing developments that provide optimism for the growing professionalisation of our industry. These include:

NBHWC Board certification

– although a US-based initiative, it is still the highest standard for a HEALTH AND WELLNESS COACH to achieve and receive international recognition. Over 4000 coaches have the letters NBW-HWC after their name, including a growing number from Australia.

HCANZA – the formation of an Association that offers a membership to coaches who meet certain standards in their training and background has gone a long way to giving Health and Wellness Coaches a presence, a voice and a community in Australia and New Zealand.  

Global Wellness Institute – this large international and influential organisation covers all aspects of wellness and has given recent attention to the value of Health and Wellness Coaching and created an initiative with a White Paper to be released shortly. 

These are a few of the encouraging signs that our industry is growing in reputation and credibility but there is work ahead and some things that need to be recognised.

Government regulation?

Firstly, the lack of regulation in the field by government is something that needs to remain as is to prevent onerous restrictions being set by uneducated administrators who do not fully understand the role we play. People who wish to work as Health and Wellness Coaches are best advised to gain the highest training by a private organisation that they trust to teach the skills and principles of coaching and not attempt to train people who may wish to work as nutritionists, dietitians or practice “medicine” in any way.  A recent interview by Michael Arloski and Meg Jordan reinforced this viewpoint that HWC support and facilitate behaviour change and our scope of practice is limited to doing just that.  

That does not prevent nutritionists or lifestyle medicine practitioners from learning and using coaching skills. But we need to be very clear what a Health and Wellness Coach is, and that the public understands what we do and do not do.  We are not licensed medical or mental health practitioners or healers. We do not resolve past issues. We may “facilitate learning” but we are not educators. 

Maintaining the essence of Health and Wellness Coaching

Secondly, with the advent of standards, competencies and credentialing we must be careful that the essence or spirit of coaching does not get lost in highly structured models, and instead remains the flexible, open and intuitive practice that it is. Training programmes need to include a strong emphasis on the personal as well as the professional development of the coach to allow them to gain the complex abilities that coaching at a high level requires.  

To maintain true integrity and authenticity in our work we need to accept that we are on a lifelong journey in the same way as our clients are and that as coaches we need to “passionately pursue” health and wellness for ourselves while allowing our clients to discover and follow their own goals.

What does the future hold?

  • HWC will appear in many different arenas to support varied populations in their health and wellness journeys.  
  • The concept of person-centred care will assist in the medical field recognising the value of a coach to support more traditional expert-led treatment plans.
  • Credentials will continue to grow and training programmes will have to keep pace with the high standards set by the NBHWC who spent ten years in their creation.  These may vary from country to country but the basic principle will remain the same.  Coaching cannot be learnt from a book.
  • Ongoing professional development will include the essential practice of self-reflection by which means new and more mature coaches can continue to question and improve their coaching practice.
  • Conversations with existing organisations that are starting to embrace the niche field of health and wellness coaching will be taken further so collaboration with bodies such as the International Coaching Federation will result in the growth of our field.
  • Supervision of HWC will become a necessary and sought after service with more experienced coaches training and providing support to those who are beginning their journey or who simply need the resources and restorative experience that supervision can bring.

Further reading: April 28, 2021 Quarterly Connect: Diving into the NBC-HWC Scope of Practice with Michael Arloski and Meg Jordan
ICF  (2019) – The State of Coaching Supervision Research. 
Jepson, Z. (2016) An Investigation and Analysis of the continuous professional development and coaching supervision needs of newly qualified and experienced coaches:  a small-scale practitioner-based study