We love discovering those working to propel the field of health coaching! We were excited to speak to Leigh-Ann Webster, National Board Certified Health & Wellness Coach and Executive Director of the ICHWC.
The International Consortium for Health & Wellness Coaching (ICHWC) is a non-profit organization created to establish a standard for the field of health and wellness coaching. We sat down with Leigh-Ann to understand how she’s working to change the future of health coaching.
Healthie: Tell us about yourself and what influenced your decision to become a health coach.
Leigh-Ann: My previous career was in marketing communications. I owned a company in Chicago called Communications 360, and worked with a lot of health organizations, including the natural food industry, which is how I first became involved in the health and wellness space.
Then, fast-forward to 2005 when I had my son. I was so busy with my job and honestly felt burnt out. I became a stay-at-home mom, but after about a year, I felt like I wanted more.
I could see that health and wellness were becoming more mainstream, so I started my journey to become a health coach. I chose to get certified through Wellcoaches, became a personal trainer, and started my health coaching business, 52 Healthy Weeks – which still exists today!
In 2015, I learned about a new position created by the NCCHWC (now known as the ICHWC). I always thought there should be a standard in the health coaching field and that there is such public misunderstanding about health and wellness coaching. So I wanted to get involved to create a national standard.
I still work with several clients each year, staying up to date on my credentials, but now my full-time role is with the ICHWC.
Healthie: What is the biggest misconception that people have about health coaching?
Leigh-Ann: I think people believe health coaches will direct them as to how to change. In reality, health coaches help people better understand their own behavior so they can embrace their behaviors, own them, and lead their own changes.
Health coaches are trained to help their clients make realizations as the experts of their own lives, and lead them to the right place to make changes themselves.
Healthie: What is the International Consortium for Health & Wellness Coaching (ICHWC; pronounced “ick-wick”)?
Leigh-Ann: ICHWC is a non-profit organization created to establish a national standard for the field of health and wellness coaching.
The idea for the organization came about in 2010 after Margaret Moore, founder of Wellcoaches, and Karen Lawson from the University of Minnesota, discussed the need for national standards and a national certification to professionalize the filed of health & wellness coaching. There was no standard in place for what a health coach should know or do to practice safely and effectively. At that time, and even today, anyone can call themselves a health coach, even without any education.
In 2012, what was known as the National Consortium for Credentialing Health and Wellness Coaches was formed as a board of volunteers, with the goal of creating a national standard.
In 2014, more than 50 people in the health and wellness coaching field created a job task analysis to identify more than 20 different knowledge points, tasks, and skills that health and wellness coaches should have. This job task analysis was then presented to 1,300 practicing health and wellness coaches to validate. Then, it became a living, breathing document that was used to evaluate organizations that teach health and wellness coaching.
Then, in 2016, we partnered with the National Board of Medical Examiners to develop and launch a credentialing exam so graduates can become national board certified in health and wellness coaching. After one year of development, our first exam launched in September 2017, and we now have more than 1,100 National Board Certified Health & Wellness Coaches in the US.
Healthie: What is your role within the organization?
Leigh-Ann: As Executive Director, I oversee many moving parts within the ICHWC, including the coordination of exam creation and content, marketing, outreach and social media, relationship-building between the ICHWC and board-certified coaches, and communication with the programs that are approved.
Healthie: Tell us about the ICHWC exam and credential. Why is it a must-have for coaches in the health and wellness field?
Leigh-Ann: From the coach’s standpoint, becoming a National Board Certified Health & Wellness Coach is significant because it shows potential clients or employers that a health coach has met a minimum standard in education and training, and has qualified to sit for and pass a national board certification exam, differentiating them from someone who did not complete an approved program or has no training in health coaching at all.
For employers considering hiring a health and wellness coach, it is advantageous to hire someone who has passed a certifying exam and achieved a certain level of education in health and wellness coaching.
Similarly, for someone looking to work with a health and wellness coach, it’s beneficial to choose someone who is nationally board-certified, to ensure they are reputable, have the educational background, and practice hours required to sit for the exam. We are excited to be releasing the NBC-HWC Directory in early 2018, so the public can easily find board-certified coaches.
Healthie: How is the field of health coaching changing with more certifications, like that from ICHWC?
Leigh-Ann: The field of health and wellness coaching is exploding! Since the field is growing so much, there’s a real need for more research to be done in and around the field, so coaches can formally back up everything that they say. The Compendium is a great start, but the more research we gather, the better for coaches to provide truly validated information.
Healthie: What role does technology play in health coach practices?
Leigh-Ann: This is such a great question! Technology can be a real asset for health coaches and to their clients.
Wearables help clients better articulate what they accomplish on a weekly and daily basis. This helps guide the health coach to better direct sessions to provide superior care. Many times clients can overestimate how much they are moving, but wearables and many technology pieces can quantify what clients are actually doing to close the gap between perceived and actual activities. It can be really motivating for clients to see comparisons from one week to another, since we always want to be improving. Data really backs that up!
Technology also makes everything accessible. Unfortunately, there’s still a gap between accessibility and behavior change, but health coaches using technology can help close this gap!
Healthie: What do you think is the best way for health coaches to grow their practices?
Leigh-Ann: By authentically connecting with as many people as possible! I specifically use the word authentic because I think that a lot of times coaches think that just because they have a really well-followed Instagram or Facebook account that this should be enough. I don’t think it is. You have to really connect with people. Ask questions about your followers, get to know their interests, and learn about what they want and need.