Health Education and Health Coaching, the Dynamic Duo!

Paula SzlobodaPaula Szloboda, RN, NI, MA, MBA, Therapeutic Chef

Health Education and Health Coaching, the Dynamic Duo!

 I’ve provided health education as an expert, in my position as a registered nurse, and also from the position of health educator/health coach and therapeutic chef specializing in nutrition. In this realm I find a combination of coaching and consulting to be most effective.

 The following story illustrates these concepts.

 I received a phone call from a client, calling from his hospital bed. “Help! I’m in the hospital and all they’ll feed me is green jello and hydrolyzed beef broth!” Larry (not his real name) was hospitalized after a medical procedure went awry and a hole was accidently poked in his bowel. Working as a multidisciplinary team, including the client, surgeon, physician, nurses, dietician, and health educator/coach, we were able to create a plan for using food to help the client’s bowel to heal. Larry was hospitalized for fifteen days, and after his discharge, he and I continued to work together. Using a combined coaching/consulting model, we were able to identify the information that would be most useful to him as he made the necessary changes to augment his body’s healing process.

 In this model, the client identifies his goals, and as the coach/consultant, I function as a “choice architect,” offering a selection of suggestions to the client and inquiring about his interest level in learning more about any of the approaches. He selects the topic that’s of most interest to him, and we co-create a plan. If he has no interest in the suggested topics, we move on to a new selection of possible approaches. After the client identifies his goals, I help him to identify all of the ways in which he’s already supporting his health, paying careful attention to the actions he’s taking currently to support the new goal that he’s identified. This enables the client to shift his perception and begin understanding that health ultimately comes from within. Beyond this initial realization, an ultimate goal of the work that we do together is to build response-ability so that as new health/life challenges emerge (as they inevitably do), the client can meet them and respond in ways that continue to build a healthy, joyful life.

Larry’s bowel healed and our work together was completed. A year later, he called me to work on another health issue. I inquired about how his past year had been, and he replied, “This has been the best year of my life!” I was astounded to hear this proclamation and asked him to tell me more. Although the nutrition information and practical skills he had garnered as a result of our previous work together were very helpful in both healing his bowel and also increasing his energy and vitality, the most profound change that Larry had experienced was related to the coaching experience we had around reconnecting to activities that bring him joy and a sense of meaning in his life.

 In a whole person model of health coaching, the psyche, soul, and spirit are addressed as well as the physical body. They need nourishing also! Part of the coaching work we had done in the previous year had to do with helping Larry to develop a plan for surviving fifteen days in a hospital environment. As a retired art teacher, Larry identified that he’d be much happier in his hospital room if he could create art. He asked family members to bring in his art supplies and transformed his hospital room into an art gallery. Noticing the positive impact that the impromptu art gallery had on all who entered the room, Larry decided to volunteer his services as an art teacher in a hospital environment, once he was well enough to do so. In the past year, he had begun a volunteer position at a local hospital, which had become a part time job that brought tremendous joy and meaning to his life.

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