Jennifer Johnson, ND: Report on the Summit on Standards and Credentialing of Health Coaches


Prior Integrator article on this topic:
Standards in the Works, Is it Time to Claim, and Certify, the Health Coach Within?


Co-sponsor of the Summit

An invitational Health and Wellness Coaching Summit was held outside Boston on September 26-27, 2010 with the goal of developing a plan of action for national standards and certification. The meeting had instant credibility: sponsors were Harvard University’s Coaching in Medicine and Leadership  program and the coaching program at the University of Minnesota Center for Spirituality and Healing.

The two-day Summit was described as a kick-off for what is anticipated to be a months-long process. Would coaching be a new profession? Would coaching be a certification that professionals from diverse fields could access? Might it be a unifying, shared, standardized modality across diverse professions? Might it be an agent of real change in healthcare practice toward health creation?

I explored my initial thoughts with Standards in the Works, Is it Time to Claim, and Certify, the Health Coach Within? I was able to attend the first day, but not the all important second day when directions were to be clarified and set.


U Minnesota program: Summit co-sponsor

A formal report is not yet out. I will report on it when it is public. Meantime, here is a look at the substance of the meeting from Jennifer Johnson, ND. Johnson is a clinical faculty member at the University of Bridgeport program in naturopathic medicine. She was tabbed for the Summit by Guru Sandesh Khalsa, ND, dean of the Bridgeport program, chair of the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges and board member of the Academic Consortium for Complementary and Alternative Health Care (ACCAHC), with which I am involved. Johnson has a counseling, wellness and empowerment focus in her practice and an interest in the formal coaching field. Khalsa recognized a good fit.

Johnson, the sole member of her profession at the Summit, filed this report for ACCAHC. She answered affirmatively when I asked if I could share it in the Integrator.


The Health Coaching Summit on Standards & Credentialing

– Jennifer Johnson, ND

University of Bridgeport
Dr. Johnson’s Blog

The Summit


Johnson: Reporting the Summit

The recent Summit  on Standards & Credentialing of
Professional Coaches in Healthcare & Wellness
brought experts from very
far and wide to help define an entire profession in 2 days, a seemingly
insurmountable task. Through group work, brainstorming sessions, fun and
creative performance pieces and an overwhelmingly positive attitude the group
made significant headway in creating a real plan for change. And a plan that
paves the way for Health Coaching to become a unique field of expertise through
certification processes and the development of a national licensing

Coaching & the American healthcare dysfunction

Health coaching sees itself as primed to solve the American
healthcare dysfunction, namely the overwhelming issue of abbreviated office
visits and lack of time one on one. Healthcare providers frankly do not have
enough time to properly treat and educate/empower their patients and lack to
training to offer proper motivation. 
Health coaches offer real solutions by acting as both a liaison who
works with patients in conjunction with other healthcare providers  and/or as an independently sought after
professional working one on one with their client.  Expanding these providers to be part of a
treatment team would increase access to their skills and therefore bring about
health, wellness and prevention.

What is a health coach?

To be coached is to be supported, listened to and respected.
Clients are encouraged to create a goal and the coach facilitates the process
of attaining this goal. The summit participants, although focused on healthcare
outcomes and potential measurements of these outcomes, did not spend time
identifying these goals. Clients create
the goal in concert with their own life, their own story.

Participants used
terminology of “following the story” to further refine the role of a coach.
Patients are often too aware of their doctor’s goals (orders), yet these do not
necessarily match those of the individual patient. Therefore shifting the focus
to the patient’s story and allowing the patient to really explore how they will
see themselves in better health brings about an important paradigm shift.
Patients are not always interested in watching the numbers (ie total
cholesterol, weight, BMI, HA1c),
they just want to enjoy life and be able to play with their grandchild or take
a long walk or be able fit into those skinny jeans. These are the client-centered
goals of true importance.

Grappling with competencies for coaches

Another large concept that participants grappled with was
the issue of competency.

  • Should health coaches create competencies that can be
    shared with other healthcare educators, ie nursing and medical schools or used
    exclusively for their own field?

  • Is there one set of competencies for all coaches
    and a subset for health coaches?
  • Is there still a need or a place for the
    independent health coach if all healthcare providers are taught the basics of
    coaching as a core of their curriculum?

Defining competencies truly is an
integral aspect of creating the new profession of health coach. The group did
come up with agreed upon competencies that will be further refined and
developed, paving the way for national standards and certification.

Role of research

Changing the current healthcare paradigm requires solid
reproduceable research. The current disease model of care needs to pull itself
out of the rut it has become. Doctors are deprived of the time they need to
properly educate their patients. Patients often leave without feeling that they
were heard or cared for on a holistic level. Very few if any healthcare providers
have the time or training to create a therapeutic relationship that allows the
patient to effectively make the health changes they need to make.

If coaching
can show their services will reduce healthcare costs and improve health
(through measurements of biomarkers or other trackable tools) they can prove
the necessity of their interventions. Areas that would benefit from study and
already overwhelm the healthcare system because of overinflated costs related
to management and prescriptions include: coronary arterial disease or
cardiometabolic syndrome/pre-diabetes and or low back pain.  Additionally, if these studies can show a time
savings what a huge splash coaching can make into healthcare at large.

Time, and lack there-of

The issue of time is what continues to plague the current
disease-care model. Providers are not reimbursed properly to allow them to
provide optimal care including patient education. Why then not focus on
changing that paradigm?  Why create
another band-aid to fix the broken system? If all providers were fully
reimbursed for time to allow for patient education this alone could make a
significant shift in the disease care model towards a prevention model. What if
these providers were also trained in the basics of coaching and helped to
facilitate patient directed goals? Wouldn’t this not only turn healthcare on
its ear, but also negate the need for health coaches. The reality is that the
system is not set up to consider this option. The reality is that there is room
to create a new area of expertise and that patients need personalized
attention. Patients need to be empowered and they deserve to have a vehicle to
allow for their own health evolution.


Can coaching be an agent of change for resolving the healthcare crisis?

Who can fix our broken health care system? Yes this is the
question of the millennium. Many health professions believe they have the
answer, from holistic nursing to naturopathic care to integrative medical care
they all have the potential to solve the current healthcare crisis. And yet
none of these groups have succeeded in shifting the current model from disease
centric to prevention and wellness oriented.

The new field of Health Coaching
is positioning itself to become the agent of change, to bridge the ever
widening gap between provider orders and patient non-compliance.  The summit provided concrete tools in the
creation of health coaching. Patching up a broken system by coaching significant changes in people’s choices may be a long lasting answer and one that has much energy and strength
behind it.

My view of optimal integrative practice is that it doesn’t
live up to its preferred profile if it is not deeply involved
in coaching people toward health. My view is that, in fact, one can frequently find more talk than commitment to this depth relationship of the coaching process. It’s not educating them, exactly. It’s not counseling them, exactly. It’s both of these, and more. Empowerment
is key. I wonder what would happen if a fraction of the cash thrown at the genome project were directed toward what this under-funded but exciting summit on health and wellness coaching is attempting to accomplish. Jennifer, thanks for your very thoughtful report.

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Written by John Weeks

Explore Wellness in 2021