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Key points​

  • Health coaching is useful if you are working with someone who has ongoing health issues or complex health needs.

  • Its goal is to improve their long-term outcomes.

  • It can include whānau members, so they can also support your client in achieving their health goals.

  • Read about training to become a health coach.

What is the idea behind health coaching?

Health coaching is based on the saying that if you give a person a fish, they will eat for a day, but if you teach them to fish, they will eat for a lifetime.


It’s not about one person rescuing another; it’s about giving someone the resources to help themselves. Rescuing is appropriate for acute care when doctors need to take over and do something or tell someone what to do. But if someone has an ongoing health issue, rather than telling them what to do, a health coach works alongside them so they can manage their condition well and achieve the goals that they set.

What does a health coach do?

Just like sports coaches, the role of a health coach is to inspire confidence in you, share knowledge with you and find ways to motivate you to achieve your goals.

They might help someone manage their appointments or medication, answer questions about their condition, or explain more fully why the doctor recommended they take certain actions. They will help them work out what they want to achieve and will help them find the support to do that.

Health coaches have five roles, which are to:

  1. provide support for their client to manage their condition themselves

  2. bridge the gap between their client and their doctor

  3. help their client find their way around the healthcare system

  4. offer their client emotional support

  5. be their client's ongoing first person to contact if they have a question.

(Image source: American Academy of Family Physicians, Fam Pract Mgt, 2010)


Health coaching training modules



  1. Bennett HD, Coleman EA, Parry C, Bodenheimer T, Chen EH. Health coaching for patients with chronic illness Family Practice Management. 2010 Sept/Oct:24–29.

  2. Main J, Anstis O, O’Brien J. Transform patient outcomes through patient journey mapping Ko Awatea. 2016 August; 492. 

  3. Bodenheimer T, Lorig K, Holman H, Grumbach K. Patient self-management of chronic disease in primary care JAMA, 2002;288(19):2469–2475. 

  4. The Care Transitions Program

Non-health professionals are ideal for the role of health coach, as they can provide a bridge between an over-stretched clinician and a patient needing the input of time and information to help them best manage their condition. When practices maximize the use of lay people, it frees clinicians to focus on aspects of patient care that require their expertise.


Health coaches use evidence-based practice and improvement science methodology to support patients, unlike wellness coaching, which may not draw on best practice.


Health coaching is based on a collaborative approach rather than a directive one, so as well as requiring some technical skills that can

be taught, a health coach needs certain personality traits.


It would therefore suit someone who:

  • can match the cultural and language needs of the population being served

  • has excellent communication skills, including listening skills

  • has an encouraging, supportive and motivating attitude and approach

  • can connect with a wide range of people

  • is empathetic, caring and nurturing.

  • To view a range of health coach training resources, view the Training section.

  • For support implementing Health Coaching and delivering this training, contact us.

Existing skills are likely to come from completing one or more of the following courses:

  • Stanford Patient Education Research Centre Training for Self-Management Programs 

  • Flinders University Chronic Condition Management Program (The Flinders Program) to give health coaches a strong understanding of self-management support and a structured approach to care planning for any patient with any combination of health, social and mental health issues 

  • Health coach training by East Tamaki Healthcare. See case studies tab for more information.


Then, depending on a potential health coach's previous skills and background, one or more of the following training programmes could be useful to fill out any gaps:

  • Motivational interviewing training  BPAC, Best Practice Journal, 2008 Oct; 17:42-43.

  • Brief intervention training Matuaraki, New Zealand

  • FACT (Focussed Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) training by Bruce Arroll 

  • Nutrition training Heart Foundation, New Zealand

  • Smoking cessation training Ministry of Health, New Zealand

As part of its Kia Kaha project, Manage Better Together, Ko Awatea runs training in health coaching. The project is part of its Manaaki Hauora – Supporting Wellness campaign, which aims to help people with long-term conditions manage their own health for a better life.


The original Kia Kaha was developed as a model of care in the primary care setting for people living with two or more long-term conditions who require significant levels of hospital-based care. It has now expanded the original team to include options for self-management education, health psychology, peer support and care co-ordination.


This has led to running two-day health coaching workshops, which have been attended by primary and secondary care health workers,

including diabetes specialists, pharmacists, nutritionists, psychologists, peer workers and volunteers.


Organiser and health psychologist Leona Didsbury says, “We’re very encouraged about the value of health coaching skills as an enhancement of practice for anyone working with patients as it is very patient-centred. We are especially excited about the possibilities of health coaching ‘teamlets’ working together in primary care. Our feedback to date indicates people find this training relevant and useful for their setting.”

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