In the News: Health Coaching

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For those (like me) who are relatively new to the concept, it may be helpful to define coaching partly by what it is not: it is not therapy.

Via our friend George Jacobs of the Davidson Clergy Center:
A Massachusetts pilot study is assessing the effectiveness of health coaching.

Health coaches are a major component of our Clergy Health Initiative pilot program, currently underway in the Goldsboro and Northeast Districts of North Carolina. For those (like me) who are relatively new to the concept, it may be helpful to define coaching partly by what it is not: it is not therapy. Coaching is less intensive, and can be conducted over the phone; an embodied presence is less crucial. Coaching is a forward-looking process that “revolves around strengths and potential, rather than feelings of pathology or pain.”

Our colleague David Odom likes to say that if a client is wrestling with her calendar, that’s an issue for a coach; if the client is talking about her family album, that’s an issue for a therapist.

From the linked article, here is a person battling cancer, who had plenty of medical information and resources, but needed help from a coach in coping, in discerning how to live with her diagnosis.

Susan DiGiovanni of Reading says coaching saved her life. Thunderstruck by a July recurrence of breast cancer, she turned to a wellness coach to navigate her way through a new life in which just getting out of bed to make a cup of tea was a struggle. She had superb medical care, but was emotionally, physically, spiritually, and mentally devastated by her Stage 4 diagnosis.

“I needed to find someone who could not only navigate the hospital system, but help me reach out to other opportunities, based on my own individual needs,’’ she said.
[...] When they began working together, [coach Margaret] Moore asked DiGiovanni to write down 10 things that make her feel alive or give her purpose. Faith was her first one, so Moore suggested she start each day with 15 minutes of prayer and meditation. Family was next, followed by friends and being in nature. Going down the list, they found ways to connect with what helped her.
“We totally focused on her future and achieving her dream. I’m not talking about her cancer treatment, unless she wants to tell me about it,’’ Moore said. “We are working on how she’s building a new career, how she’s working with her teenage kids, how she’s moving into a new house.’’
DiGiovanni says the process gave her inner healing. “Most people think of wellness coaching as, ‘Jog three miles, eat a lot of salad, take your vitamins, and do a yoga class.’ It’s so much deeper.’’


To be clear, all of our pilot participants are assigned to a health coach. A major life-altering illness is not a requirement! Our hypothesis is that the services of a coach can have measurable, ongoing benefits to any pastor seeking to maintain or improve health.

A good clinician gives us needed information: the Who, What, and Where of improved health. A good coach helps us refine information into knowledge -- the How of behavior change.

Shalom y'all,


John James, M.A.
Research Coordinator
Clergy Health Initiative

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