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The word mishmash has been used as far back as the 1500s. Webster uses synonyms to define the word mishmash as hodgepodge, jumbled; and goes on to further describe mishmash with numerous other synonyms including mixed bag and alphabet soup (1).

woman sitting on floor and leaning on couch using laptop
woman sitting on floor and leaning on couch using laptop

Differing roles of health, wellness, and life coaches continue to abound from company to company…program to program… A mishmash of sorts? How can we gain consensus about these roles? ….
How did we get here? …Early adopters of “worksite health promotion” in the ’50s ushered in new approaches and new terms…“coaching” began to evolve…

How Did We Get Here?

In the early 50s, the automotive industry took a primary lead in offering worksite health promotion. Early efforts focused on recreation, physical fitness, and the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) which focused specifically in helping workers overcome alcohol problems. In the 70s, the EAP expanded to include other company offerings. Some of the tasks managed under the umbrella of health promotion and the EAP were (2):
    • flexible work scheduling
    • eldercare assistance
    • financial planning
    • family care spending
    • personal counseling, and
    • stress management

As wellness continued to evolve into the early 2000s, the term coaching found its place in health promotion circles. Even so, health care costs continued to climb. The incidence of chronic conditions needed heightened priority. This attention eventually spawned the term health coaching.

Generally, as new strategies begin to evolve and expand to meet a need, markets move ahead of research and regulation. This certainly was the case in health coaching. The rush has blurred the lines for coaching, with health coaching being a “catch-all” for all types of skills and skill levels, regardless of the services rendered.

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To Gain Consensus

The National Society of Health Coaches, led by clinicians, is taking the lead in differentiating these roles and clarifying definitions. Consider the differentiating attributes below.

Roles of Health Coaching

Health coaching is the use of evidence-based based skillful conversation, clinical strategies, and interventions to actively and safely engage patients/families/clients in health behavior change to better self-manage their health, health risk(s), and acute or chronic health conditions resulting in optimal wellness and recovery, improved health outcomes, lowered health risk and decreased health care costs”(3). 

By contrast, Wellness is defined as the quality or state of being healthy or the degree to which one feels positive and enthusiastic about life (4). Therefore, it can be reasoned that wellness coaching is the support of otherwise healthy individuals to maintain or improve their overall health status through self-determined behavior change and goal setting.

Life Coaching is guided by a professional who helps people make progress in their lives to attain greater fulfillment in social involvement, work satisfaction, and creativity in life to name a few. Life coaches can help clarify one’s goals, identify the obstacles holding someone back, and then come up with strategies for overcoming each obstacle (5). 

Give thought to the role you now have in coaching patients and clients in light of these health coaching constructs. 

(1) Mishmash. (2022). In Merriam-Webster.

(2) Chenoweth, D.H. (2007). Worksite Health Promotion. 2nd Ed. Human Kinetics. 

(3) Huffman, M. (September 2016). Advancing the practice of health coaching: Differentiation from wellness coaching. Journal of Workplace Health & Safety, 64(9), 400-403.

(4) Wellness. (2022). In Merriam-Webster.

(5) Life coaching. From:

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