As people age and continue to live active lives, their interest in living well becomes more important than living longer. After all, no one is too excited about longevity if all that it means is a couple of extra decades of decline. Meanwhile, as employers try to keep a lid on health care costs, they look to ways to support employees in remaining healthy and to help those who have chronic disease improve their well-being.
This is where wellness coaching fits in. Wellness coaching, which barely existed 10 years ago, has the promise of being an important new career path for those who want to help others develop and sustain robust mental and physical health. And according to Margaret Moore (aka “Coach Meg”), a leading figure in this emerging field, it’s ideally suited to people seeking encore careers. “The ability to coach is one thing that gets better as you age,” she likes to say.
Moore, a former high tech executive, is the founder of Wellcoaches Corp., which has trained more than 4,000 wellness coaches in 32 countries. And she is working with other leaders to create national standards and certification for wellness coaches. Because there are no national accreditation standards for wellness coaching training providers, certification programs vary in scope, intensity and cost. For a list of coaching programs and other resources, click here.I talked with Moore about why coaching makes a good encore career. The following is an edited version of our chat:
Q: What is a wellness coach?
A: At its simplest, wellness coaches help people improve their health and well-being, in an extremely personalized way. Usually people come to a wellness coach because they are struggling with something that is hurting their well-being – stress, weight loss, life balance or energy. Coaches help people overcome the struggle; build skills such as self-motivation, self-awareness, confidence and resilience; and make changes that are sustainable. Often, people have tried lots of quick fixes and find they don’t stick. Wellness coaches are skilled at getting people to a place where it sticks – where their new lifestyles become embedded into who they are. That said, the field is new and the qualifications and training standards for wellness coaches as well as the distinction between wellness coaches and health coaches is under debate. Hence the need for the national standards, which are underway.
Q: You’ve said that 75% of the coaches who have trained in your programs are women. Why do you think that is?
A: One reason is that many helping professions, such as nursing, nutrition, fitness, and social work, are heavily populated by women. Women are generally more proactive in empathy, self-discovery, reflection, and emotional intelligence – critical relational skills for coaches. All that said, men make great coaches so it is just a matter of time before more men get on board.
Q: Why is wellness coaching such a promising field?
A: We’ve just barely come through a major financial crisis. In part, consumers were not doing a great job of taking care of their finances. The next financial crisis will be around health and be even more devastating in scale.
With 70 percent of health care costs related to preventable diseases, each and every one of us has a responsibility to do our part to take good care of our health, not just our finances. If we don’t collectively do this, it’s going to get extremely expensive – both personally and societywide. People are awakening to realize that pharmaceutical companies aren’t going to cure overweight and diabetes anytime soon and what remains is to work on improving our lifestyles day in day out. They are saying to themselves: “It’s up to me. How am I going to do this? And who’s going to pay for my health care in the future?”
Q: Speaking of paying, is wellness coaching currently covered by insurance?
A: To date there are small scale experiments around reimbursing for the services of health coaches and wellness coaches. I co-founded the Institute of Coaching at McLean Hospital (a Harvard Medical School psychiatric facility) to pursue the research needed to support wide reimbursement for lifestyle-related diseases.
Q: So what kind of a living can you make as a wellness coach?
A: Today many employers, health plans and hospitals employ wellness coaches to work on-site or through vendors to enable access to their services by executives and employees. Physician practices are starting to employ health and wellness coaches to work with patients who have chronic diseases related to unhealthy lifestyles.
Major corporations such as Nike and Lands’ End employ wellness coaches, as do smaller companies, such as Aera Energy in California. Many coaches plan to eventually build private practices, once the field is more mature and the work of wellness coaches is widely understood. Many coaches combine wellness coaching services with other work, such as speaking, writing, group classes, therapy, personal training or other careers outside health.
Based on our discussions with hundreds of coaches in many settings, wellness coaches typically earn from $25 to $100 per coaching hour, or $50,000 to $100,000 a year depending on the setting.
Q: Do you need a background in nursing, medicine or other health-related field to become a wellness coach?
A: There are two paths. The most common is starting with a background in a health- or fitness-related area. The second is changing careers and building a background, not necessarily by getting a degree but by training in an area like personal training, yoga or another intensive program that provides knowledge in “lifestyle medicine.” The reality is that no wellness coach has expert credentials in all health and wellness areas. Most coaches come from one health and fitness field, and they don’t give advice where they don’t have credentials. So if there is a specific issue, the coach can help the consumer or patient find someone with expertise.
Q: Why is wellness coaching a good encore career?
A: You need a good level of maturity and breadth and depth of life experience to coach someone around his or her way of life. It’s just hard at age 27 to coach someone who is 50. As you age, you are more empathic, insightful, intuitive, creative, mindful, reflective and self-aware. You know more about what makes people tick. Once you get started in coaching, it is a career that you can do for a long, long time.
What do you think about wellness coaching as a career? Know anyone already working in the field? Click on COMMENT above to share your thoughts.
Marci Alboher, an internationally recognized expert on career issues and workplace trends, is a Vice President at Civic Ventures, a nonprofit think tank leading the call to engage millions of baby boomers in encore careers with social impact. A former blogger and columnist for The New York Times, she is the author of the book, One Person/Multiple Careers: A New Model for Work/Life Success.