Health Coaches Are NOT The Enemy ~ And Neither Are Doctors!

A doctor friend told me that that she knows some of her peers are afraid of health coaches. Why? Because they fear we will speak against them because of their lack of nutritional knowledge. Ever since, her comment has rooted in my mind until I finally felt compelled to write this post.

Though it makes me sad, I can see why her doctor peers may have this fear. Many health coaches chose this path BECAUSE they had a bad, or a series of bad experiences with western medical doctors who refused to listen and persisted in some I-am-Doctor-so-how-dare-you-question-my-knowledge solution or response…sometimes with harsh consequences. I am one of those people. I would be dead today if I hadn’t given myself permission to question my medical team’s authority and go against their advice and try a more holistic approach to my pregnancy-induced heart failure; and my children would not be thriving today had I not respectfully pushed back when I needed to with these sorts of doctors.

Because of these types of experiences, some people have decided that ALL doctors and ALL pharmaceutical medications are the enemy. Sadly, some of those people may be health coaches who may advise clients to not listen to their doctors or even consider pharma medications.

With that said, ALL professions are full of many people who are great at what they do AND some people who are the opposite of great (maybe they are burned out, maybe they enjoy exerting influence over people, or maybe they are just plain rude). Whether you consider teachers, customer service reps, or even holistic medical providers; you are likely to easily separate those you have encountered into three buckets: exceptional, capable, and incompetent.

A health coach is meant to supplement your medical providers: to bridge the gap between determining what you SHOULD do, and learning HOW to do it. Whereas a doctor only has time in today’s insurance-necessitated schedules to advise (e.g., “You need to lose weight to help control your blood sugar issues”),  and a nutritionist usually only has time to help you determine  what you should and should not eat based on the government’s mandated guidelines; a health coach is able to help you figure out HOW to integrate the needed changes over time, step-by-step, without feeling so overwhelmed and lost.

For example, we may help you learn HOW to cook without processed sugars and dairy. We can help you figure out which forms of exercise will work best for you so that you are more likely to stick with it. Most importantly, we are available to support and inspire you as you progress, until it is successfully integrated into your routine as a new healthy habit (rarely are you able to email back and forth with your medical providers between visits). In some cases, a health coach helps you brainstorm, research, and advocate for your needs so you can more effectively partner with your other medical providers.

In a perfect world, your primary doctor and specialists would welcome the addition of a health coach and take advantage of the benefits that come from combining differing knowledge and experiences. Since this world is less than perfect, a good health coach knows how to help reassure your physician by sending provider updates and opening the lines of communication. However, even if your physician does not see the value in our services, you still can benefit greatly from working with the right health coach. As with anything else, you just need to know what to avoid and what to look for so you can make the right decision for you.

BEFORE you talk to a health coach:

  • Read their website or pamphlet. They should describe their mission, services, and overall approach. Does what you read seem like a good fit?
  • Visit their Facebook, Twitter, or any other social sites. Review past posts and interactions with their community. Do you feel good about how s/he is answering questions and responding to concerns or requests for advice?
  • Google their name, checkout their LinkedIn profile and review their references, and/or contact people who seem like clients on their social pages to ask for honest feedback on their experiences. You can often message someone even if you are not connected (depending on their privacy settings).  Do you see any red-flags?

If you decide this may be the right Health Coach for you based on what you learn, be sure to complete the following steps:

1. Schedule an initial consultation

Most health coaches offer the first discussion for free, so that you can see if it is a good fit for you AND so s/he can ensure they are the right person to help you reach your goals. The exception is if you are trying to work with a celebrity coach. For most people, a non-celebrity coach will work just fine and cost a LOT less money.

2. Ask targeted questions to uncover their approach and beliefs.

  • “How do you feel about western medical doctors and pharmaceuticals medications?”  If the coach seems to have absolute beliefs (e.g., all pharmaceuticals are evil or you should never take antibiotics or see a doctor) then you should strongly consider running…far far away. You should be listening for responses like, “Your medical doctor or nutritionist is an important part of your overall medical team, and I will work with you to ensure you know what to ask for and how to advocate for what you need in order to successfully implement healthier habits.” Or, “Pharmaceutical medicines play an important role in medical care, yet all medications have potential side effects. For that reason, I will help you learn some natural methods of treating common ailments that may help you limit  your risks, and can help you think through any questions you may want answered to ensure your doctor helps you select the right medication when it IS necessary.”
  • “How do you determine the best recommendations for me?” If s/he has one program or detox plan that they want every client to follow without first determining whether you need to alter the program based on your history, then consider moving on. No one program is right for everyone. EVER. Although, some individual pieces of advice can be…such as drink plenty of water. However, if they explain that their job is to support you and help YOU determine the best approach by educating you and supporting you as you learn how to institute changes…then you may have found a winner. A good health coach merely educates and then supports you as you decide how to best incorporate that new knowledge or skill.
  • “Now that you have a feel for my concerns and goals, why do you feel you are the right health coach for me?” I feel this is an important one. This puts the responsibility on your potential coach to verbalize their reasons for feeling the two of you will be successful together. Be sure to ask any follow-up questions you need answered to make your decision. As with anything else, you want to be as sure as you can that you will get a positive return on your investment.
  • “What happens if we are a few sessions in and I am not satisfied?” If you are happy with the responses to the first three questions, this situation is unlikely. However, it is always best to know this up-front so there are no surprises later down the road.

3. Carefully consider your choice

The things to ask yourself when deciding whether to sign up:

  • Did s/he seem to actively LISTEN to me when I was speaking, and then respond with appropriate feedback based on what I asked for or shared?
  • Did I feel I could speak about my health concerns openly and honestly without being judged?
  • Did s/he communicate in a supportive style that made me feel supported?
  • Do I feel her or his experiences and focus is in alignment with my needs?
  • Am I satisfied with her or his coaching policies?

If for any reason you are not sure, you should ask for some time to make your decision. If s/he tries to pressure you by stating the cost will increase unless you sign up right away, then communicate your needs. Many are taught to do this as a way of trying to close the deal and improve our client base, so don’t assume that response means s/he is not a good coach (as long as all other answers and considerations are feeling right). Instead, just explain that you want to be really sure it is the right fit,  you are not prepared to make a decision on the spot, and that you would appreciate XX hours/days to consider your choice with the same pricing option.

The same is true in reverse!

When and if your insurance allows you to make your own choices, take advantage and take the same care in selecting your medical provider(s). Schedule an initial visit, and interview your potential doctors using the same suggested questions above (just revise question one to ask about holistic health practitioners and natural supplements instead). If you are not satisfied, then change your primary provider before your next visit. For me, if a doctor tells me he thinks holistic practitioners are all quacks and supplements are worthless, then s/he is not right for me. I look for the same balanced, open minded, and analytical responses from my doctors as I do for my holistic practitioners whenever possible.  I welcome and ask for their logical reasoning for doubting whether a holistic approach or supplement is right for a specific use, but I want someone open enough to realize they don’t know everything. If you find you are unhappy but unable to change medical doctors, then just stand strong in your beliefs, still communicate completely, and respectfully explain your reasons for disagreement (as many times as you need to).

What other things do you feel are important to consider before committing to a health coaching or medical provider relationship?

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To learn more about the cleanse options, supplements, or essential oils I recommend, contact me using the form below or at alicia@healthytangents.com to request information or to schedule a wellness consultation.

Disclaimer: I am not a Physician. I am a wife, a mom, a certified health coach, and someone who loves learning about natural wellness tools and sharing with others the incredible things I learn through my classes, research, personal experiences, and the experiences of friends and family. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease. Rather, they are intended to support your body in its efforts to restore balance and maintain health.

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