Clearing's Chronic Pain Blog

What Is A Health Coach and What Do They Do (About Pain)?

The Clearing Team
The Clearing Team

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We’re familiar with coaches in sports, and life coaching has taken off. What about health and wellness coaches though, or, more specifically, health coaches who coach people on chronic pain management? 

While pain-centric coaching may be a relatively new concept, Clearing believes that adding health coaches to the overall pain management process could help our patients build happier, more pain-free lives.

What is a health coach?

A coach uses proven techniques to help people achieve measurable improvements, whether that’s in academics, athletics, the workplace or overall wellness. As people realize how fundamental health is to overall performance and happiness, health and wellness coaching is becoming more in demand. 

A health coach is a coach who often adopts an overall, “big picture” view of their clients’ unique situations and challenges to collaboratively help them improve sleeping, eating and stress management, among many other lifestyle habits. Health coaches are experienced in behavioral change techniques, and can address many broad lifestyle-related topics, like blood pressure management, that often are not discussed in depth at a typical doctor’s office visit. 

Some health coaches even specialize in certain disease conditions. Others are experts in helping people stop smoking or in reaching certain fitness goals. The unifying theme is health coaches’ ability to meet people where they are at, identify their health-related goals and problem-solve different ways to actively achieve these goals.

Health coaches take a very personalized approach, using what’s known as the Four Pillars of Health Coaching

  • Mindful Presence: being fully, non-judgmentally present for each client
  • Authentic Communication: using approved practices for optimal communication, including moments of silence, reflecting client statements, expressing curiosity and listening deeply 
  • Self-Awareness: maintaining consciousness of what they themselves are experiencing and feeling so coaches can be grounded and honest with their clients
  • Safe and Sacred Place: using respect and awareness to help clients feel safe and supported throughout the coaching process

Credentialing options exist for health and wellness coaches, such as through the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching, which partners with the National Board of Medical Examiners, the same organization that board certifies medical doctors. Though not all health coaches have credentials or are certified (have earned training program certificates), it’s a good idea to ask any coach you’re considering working with about their credentials. After all, some coaches aren’t certified at all, some are certified, and some are both certified and board-certified, so it’s important to choose a coach whose training matches your goals and where you’re at.

According to the NBHWC Code of Ethics, five topic areas lay out expectations for how health coaches should relate to clients:

  • General professional conduct 
  • Avoiding or acknowledging conflicts of interest
  • Professional conduct with clients
  • Confidentiality and privacy
  • Continuing development

It’s also important to realize what health coaches do NOT do, which includes but is not limited to:

  • Offering diagnoses or prescribing medication
  • Offering counseling or therapy
  • Creating specific health plans (diets, exercise regimens, etc.)
  • Offering advice related to medical scans, prescriptions, or other medical data
  • Telling clients exactly what to do (instead, health coaches support clients in coming up with their own solutions)

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Learn more about our approach to whole-body pain relief.

What is a pain-specific health coach?

A pain management coach is a health coach who specifically helps people meet their pain-related goals.

For example, this kind of coach can help clients: 

  • Identify how to reduce stress that may be worsening pain
  • Learn how to communicate effectively with their care team
  • Practice healthy sleeping techniques
  • Connect with reasons to exercise more
  • Master certain mind-body pain management strategies  

These are only a few examples; the possibilities are quite wide-ranging. 

What might working with a health coach on pain involve?

Working with a health coach on pain relief is a relational process — you and your coach form a trust-based bond as you collaborate to reach your pain management goals. Health coaching is a part of an integrative medicine approach that employs an entire care team’s expertise to help you succeed.

A health coach uses empathic listening, which is an accepting, supportive listening style aimed at making you feel truly heard and understood. The health coaching process often follows three initial phases: 

Understanding your pain journey

The health coach may begin by listening to where you’re coming from and where you’re currently at, including your internal motivators and goals. That helps create an overall vision for what your life could be like without pain, or with appropriately managed pain. 

Recognizing your underlying beliefs and patterns

To make progress toward your vision, it’s important to understand your beliefs and personal pain management patterns. Using motivational interviewing, deep listening and other conversational techniques, your health coach helps you identify potential answers to your particular pain management challenges. 

This process also helps locate where you are, both literally in terms of pain management and motivationally in terms of how ready you feel to make behavior changes related to your pain management. It can include highlighting personal challenges as well as your personal strengths.

Your coach may use one or more behavior change frameworks to guide this process: 

  • The Stages of Change (Transtheoretical) Model, which divides behavior change into five main stages, helping people pinpoint where they’re at and where they’d like to be
  • The Health Belief Model, which focuses on how clients’ assumptions, beliefs, attitudes or psychological stances could affect their progress and outcomes

Setting SMART goals

Your health coach and you then work through how behavior changes might look for you. In this phase, you break your overall vision into small, doable steps. This process is called SMART goal setting. 

A SMART goal is:

  • Specific: clearly defined, not vague or broad
  • Measurable: trackable and quantifiable, in other words
  • Achievable: something you can do (neither too tiny nor too lofty)
  • Relevant: meaningful to your health and wellness goals (something you can articulate clearly that will move you closer to your overall vision for how you would like to change)
  • Time-bound: a goal with a deadline you can aim for

SMART goals link to your life vision and are rooted in truthfulness and self-awareness. They take your particular strengths, challenges, desires and abilities into account.

As your pain journey progresses, you’ll be making strides towards achieving your SMART goals. You’ll practice skills in resiliency and habit formation, and your coach will be there to offer reinforcement and encouragement along the way. During this phase it’s natural to experience some bumps in the road, which the resiliency skills you’ll be practicing can help you overcome. 

What should I expect from a health coach at Clearing?

Your Clearing health coach will follow the steps above, listening to your pain journey, assisting you in understanding your particular strengths and obstacles, and supporting you as you set goals to reach your vision. 

For example, instead of saying ‘I’d like to feel less pain,’ you and your coach may help you articulate: 

  • A personal relief vision that details how you would feel, what you would be able to do and what your life would be like if you were pain-free or had greatly reduced levels of pain
  • A series of SMART goals to help you take step-by-step action towards your relief vision
  • A plan to stay accountable to your SMART goals and action steps going forward

Your sessions will be personal, online and with the same coach. They will involve both education and practice. The coaching program starts with a personal online visit with your coach, followed by weekly check-ins. 

Clearing’s health coaching program is currently open for enrollment. Clearing’s coaching dovetails with our overall program, which also offers personalized home exercises, prescription compound cream for pain relief, nutraceuticals, CBD cream and access to clinical pain specialists. You can get started today.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your individual needs and medical conditions.