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  • Writer's picturePeak Health Coaching

What is Health Coaching and Why is it so Important?

A penny drop moment

Tim and I are doctors with over 50 years of experience between us, both mostly working as GPs. We met each other working in the Sheffield Pain Clinic as GPs with a special interest in pain management. Through our years of experience of listening and learning from patients, seeing thousands of people get ill, recover (or not), and manage their physical and mental health, we developed a career changing understanding. Health and wellbeing had very little to do with us as doctors. The health of individual people is mostly determined by what they think and do for themselves, in the communities they live amongst.


Having undergone more than 10 years of training each to be GPs, this realisation came with a degree of disappointment. Our training had led us to believe that acquiring the scientific knowledge and practical skills of medicine would equip us to treat people’s problems and be the rescuers of good health. We would be the saviours of people’s distress, the heroes of the healing story.


Flipping the support health care professionals offer

We have subsequently realised how important that turning point was for us. It has led us to a far more fulfilling point in our careers. It flipped our approach. If people’s health depends most on their own thoughts and actions, and their social context, how can how we work professionally to offer the best support. How can deliver in a way most likely to help them achieve their maximum potential?

It set our professional roles in a different direction. Instead of mastering what we need to do to or for people, we focused on how our support could best help patients do the best things for themselves. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach, everyone is different, driven by what matters most to them. But there is a mindset, and set of skills and tools that we think work really well, with this end in mind. We have come to know this as Health Coaching.


Believing people are resourceful

Coaching starts with a central belief that people are resourceful. This means it becomes our challenge, as supporting professionals, to discover what support people need, and unlock the right assets. We recognise this will be different depending on their current reality….physical, social, emotional…..However, a coaching approach starts with the person and offers a partnership approach to imagine and design solutions together. Applying Coaching to Health means considering all the medical, social and individual factors that contribute to overall health and wellbeing.


This may involve emphasising the assets people have already, growing their confidence in their own abilities to be happy and well, in effect getting out of the way and cheering them on. For others, it might involve an initial rescue plan to help them out of deep crisis, before stepping back, when they are more settled. Coaching support evolves with people, and often changes as they learn and adapt. Many aspects of their physical and social situation maybe out of their control, but how they respond and adapt to these can be positively influenced by coaching.



What this means in practice

Thinking back to our pain clinic experience, Tim and I learnt that sometimes strong medicine or injections would allow people enough relief to regain control, but very rarely were they useful in long-term  pain management. The people that did best learnt to understand their condition, reframe, and adapt to how they dealt with challenges, to re-establish a life that had meaning for them. It often involved new skills in pacing activities, moving and eating differently, managing emotions and tools to down-regulate a high alert pain system. Not easy, but we got good at methods of joint planning, that developed people’s skills, knowledge and confidence, at their pace, in the right style for them. We coached them.


Considering who is best in control

We have seen that this coaching culture and approach is crucial across all health and social care roles. There will be emergencies and critical situations where very directive professional-led action is needed. In these situations, professionals need to be in control often making quick decisions. However, outside these ‘crisis points’, amid the business of creating sustainable, good, safe health and wellbeing, it is most productive for people to be in control themselves.


This is why we set up Peak Health Coaching.  We are focusing on growing the mindset, skills and systems to create a coaching culture in the NHS and beyond. We have designed our training and support to meet the NHS where it is (after all we work in it), but to take people and systems on manageable steps towards this coaching culture and practice. We believe this creates meaningful and manageable work for staff, and will sustain the sort of NHS that we all want.


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