Health coaches criticized

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Medica, a Minnetonka -based health insurance company, is now offering health coaches to their customers and are implementing the University’s own training techniques, but the occupation has recently been criticized.

Critics agree that a health coach — a personal guide helping people lead a healthier lifestyle — imposes on a client’s life and way of living.

Coaches need data about patients in order to help them, which can invade personal privacy.

According to Medica spokesperson Greg Bury , the company partnered with the University’s Center for Spirituality and Healing to develop their health coaching training program.

Bury and the CSH health coaching program director Karen Lawson , however, said the critiques are false because health coaching is voluntary and requires consent, so patients know what they are getting themselves into.

“It’s very much a client-driven, client-chosen, and client-controlled interaction,” Lawson said.

How health coaching is handled through Boynton Health Services has also been brought into question.

Boynton offers a more clinical and specialized approach, offering coaches only for nutrition, physical activity and nicotine dependence. The coaches are not subject to the 360 contact hours that the CSH requires in their training.

“That’s really not our model of health coaching and we’re actually working with Boynton to try and get them to consider moving into a more open-ended model that’s really defined by what the client needs, rather than what you are deciding up front you need to market,” Lawson said.

Boynton’s health coaches are only offered to faculty and staff through employee benefits and use a different philosophy from what the CSH teaches.

Lawson said she was upset that the CSH was not contacted when Boynton started offering health coaching since they have been training coaches for the last five years, and is located across the street.

“I’m not saying that one is better than the other by any means,” Maria Rudie, spokesperson for Boynton, said. “We are taking more of a clinical aspect and combining it directly.”

The CSH has offered health coaching training since fall 2005, but since it is a four-semester intensive post-graduate course, it is currently only in its second class.

Unlike a therapist or a counselor, a health coach approaches a patient from a wellness and holistic standpoint, instead of a clinical one.

Coaches don’t diagnose, but rather help the patient optimize their resources to cope and make changes in their life, while saving money in the process.

The training the CSH provides is not offered to undergraduate students, but with professor approval, students can take fundamentals of health coaching as an undergraduate course. Current demand, however, has made it difficult for undergrads to enroll.

Cindy Schultz graduated in 2006 from the first program the center offered. Now, she teaches health coaching at Anoka-Ramsey Community College, while also working as a senior consultant for Roselle Leadership Strategies.

“I think as more people want more control over their health care, health coaching is a perfect vehicle to them to really take some ownership and see how they can access other integrated services that might be more helpful than traditional medicine,” Schultz said.

The application deadline for the spring session of the CSH training program is October 15th.