The wellness coach position represents an exciting growth area in the health and fitness professions. In some facilities this position has replaced that of the fitness instructor or health and fitness specialist. In others, it has led to the creation of a new category of employee. The wellness coach provides guidance to a diverse population on a broad range of health and fitness topics. Many of these jobs are full-time, salaried positions and include benefits.
Wellness coaches have job descriptions that are consistent with O’Donnell’s (1989) definition of health promotion: “the art and science of helping people change their lifestyle to move toward a state of optimal health” (p. 5). As a result, job duties are broad and include working with clients on behavior change, stress management, relaxation techniques, time management, smoking cessation, and weight management, besides prescription of exercise programs.
Health screening and health and fitness assessment are important skills for a wellness coach, but coaches view these only as tools to assist them in working with clients. Coaches do not apply these techniques universally to all clients during an initial appointment, instead, wellness coaches assess clients’ readiness for change (Prochaska & DiClemente 1986), help them set short- and long-term goals, and assist them in moving at an appropriate pace toward a state of optimal health. In addition to having job opportunities in commercial fitness facilities, wellness coaches may be hired by health insurance providers or worksites as a strategy to improve employee health and decrease medical expenditures.
Sutter Health Partners, a division of the Sutter Health network, runs an extensive Live Well for Life program in which wellness coaches develop lifestyle solutions for clients, patients, and employees who have specific risk factors such as diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, hypertension, and obesity. Sutter Health’s wellness coaches have a myriad of undergraduate and graduate backgrounds in fields such as applied behavioral science, exercise and sport science, leisure and recreation, nutrition, gerontology, health education, business, sports medicine, health science, industrial and organizational psychology, and human development. Many have career training as nurse practitioners, registered dietitians, certified personal trainers, and group exercise instructors. With an emphasis on optimal health, the customized programs they design promote physical, emotional, intellectual, social, and spiritual health. As such, wellness coaches have an array of counseling skills to inform clients about their personal behavior and health risk factors, discuss obstacles, review lifelong habits, and provide personal guidance and unwavering encouragement to make lifelong changes.
Although educational credentials and certifications, along with constant continuing education, are essential for the wellness coach, equally important is the ability to provide counseling on a broad range of health topics. Wellness coaches need to be organized, understand principles of behavior change, have excellent communication skills, and be effective in marketing and promoting programs and services. Most importantly, they must know how to effectively engage people. Several training programs and certifications are available for wellness coaching. The American College of Sports Medicine has endorsed the Wellcoaches Certified Health and Wellness Coach certification. Additionally, the National Wellness Institute offers the Certified Wellness Practitioner certification.