A good friend and colleague of mine posted an article on Facebook recently about how exercise can help to treat chronic disease. (You can check it out here). I took an apprehensive step up onto my soap box to highlight the important role that Wellness Coaching can play in that process too. My buddy wanted to know my thoughts on the issue but I decided my response would be far too lengthy to write in the comments section (not to mention the frustrating grammatical limitations of not being able to put in paragraph breaks. Here’s hoping one day Mr Zuckerberg creates an “essay” button to neighbour “like”, “comment” and “share”).
Hence, I have taken it upon myself to respond by way of a blog post.
To begin with, let’s start with what Wellness Coach actually is.
The godfather of the current coaching movement, W Timothy Gallwey (who authored a number of books about improving sports and business performance) concisely defines coaching as “the art of creating an environment, through conversation and a way of being, that facilitates the process by which a person can move toward desired goals in a fulfilling manner.” (M. Moore et al. Coaching Psychology Manual 2010, p3).
In Wellness Coaching the clients’ visions and goals, obstacles and apprehensions are listened to, without judgement. The definition of their ideal personal wellbeing is constructed, and plans, completely created by the client themselves, are put into place.
If we consider the article that my friend posted, let’s presume “Sue” is told by her doctor she is overweight and at risk of developing diabetes, a chronic illness. Appreciating the benefits that exercise can have on that condition the doctor refers Sue to an exercise facility to work with a trainer to get her more active. The trainer writes up a program for Sue that involves some light resistance work, some light cardio work and suggests that Sue attends the gym three times a week and tries to do a 30 minute walk around home on the other days of the week.
The doctor has done a great job in trying to reduce Sue’s likelihood of developing diabetes through physical activity. The trainer has done a great job in prescribing exercises suitable for Sue’s presentation.
But has anyone really asked Sue?
Sue works 5 days a week. She has a sick husband at home. Sue also has a small hobby farm that she needs to attend to and she has grandchildren that she babysits on the weekend. She knows her health needs attention, but she can’t possibly do what the experts have told her to do.
Enter the Wellness Coach.
If Sue was my client I’d be asking her how important her health is to her and why it is important to her. What areas of her life would change if her health was better? What wouldn’t change if she stayed the same? What does she imagine life to be like as a healthier version of herself; how would she feel; what would she do; how would she behave; how would she walk, talk, work? What can she do to create that life? I’d be asking her how confident she is about making lifestyle changes that can improve her health. I’d ask her to tell me what she wants her results to look like in 12 months’ time and 12 weeks’ time. I’d ask her to tell me what she could so this week that might work towards that 12 week goal.
As a result of “creating the environment, through conversation and way of being” Sue may tell me that as a healthier version of herself she has more patience and understanding when caring for her husband. She might tell me that with less weight, she feels confident enough to attend some of the local community events and that means she feels more connected to people and has more support around her. She might tell me that with more patience, less weight, more self-confidence and more community support she has the time and energy to play with the grandkids on the weekend and can take them to special outings because she isn’t worried that she is embarrassing them. She might tell me that this week she can take the long walk around the paddock to feed the sheep.
The numbers that the doctor sees are intangible to Sue. The imminent risk of diabetes doesn’t actually mean that much to Sue. The plan to go to the gym and start walking regularly is unrealistic and unattractive to Sue at the moment. She has no connection to this prescription.
Wellness Coaching however, has unlocked that the relationship with her husband is important to Sue; that feeling confident is important; that feeling connected to and supported by her community is important; that being more present with her grandchildren is important. Changing Sue’s health is now anchored by her values and a vision of herself – that is far more relevant than “numbers” or “risks”.
Sue’s plan to walk the long way around the paddock is her plan towards better health. It fits in with her lifestyle, her time, her interests and her priorities. Not the Doctor’s. Not that trainer’s. It may not produce results as quickly, but it is more likely to be something that she can do indefinitely.
With regular coaching (until Sue reaches a state of "self-efficacy" - where she can manage her wellbeing independently) we’d layer more actions on top of the ones she has already established and feels confident about continuing. And ta-dah! Sue has made changes to her health so the Doctor is happy. Sue may eventually even feel enthused enough about joining the gym, so the trainer is happy. But most importantly, Sue is happy.
So in summary, of course I support the article that suggests exercise is a great prescription for chronic illness.
But it doesn’t matter what I think. The person with the chronic illness needs to think it’s a good idea too. And Wellness Coaching can help initiate that thinking and nurture the change that comes from it.
Yeh, there’s no way that was going to fit in the comments section.
PS: If you're a visual kind of person, this clip is a great way to summarize coaching.