Here at the-Coaching Blog-run by Gerard O’Donovan, our aim is to constantly bring value to those seeking to improve their lives. Therefore we have a policy of publishing articles and materials by guest authors whom we value and appreciate. Today’s guest author is Natasha Old (Australia).

‘Subjective well-being, as measured by optimism and other positive emotions, protects one from physical illness’

Introduction

Positive Psychology Health Coaching focuses on identifying health assets, building health promotion strategies and developing a positive mind-set around health and wellness. Furthermore these interventions assist in reframing the traditional sickness role into a wellness model and shift clients towards optimal health.

Health and wellness coaches can be found in the fitness industry, to large corporations and now in mainstream medicine. Indeed, these agents for change are making their mark and assisting people to transform unhealthy thoughts and behaviours into life changing results.

With new research pointing to the effects of stress on our physical and mental functioning, it is fair to say that the terms ‘health’ and ‘quality of life’ are becoming synonymous. The worldwide incidence of chronic disease is rising rapidly and is projected to exceed communicable, maternal, perinatal, and nutritional diseases as the most common causes of death by 2030.

Although there have been numerous efforts to battle the progression of chronic Disease worldwide the incidence continues to grow with no solution in sight. There is evidence that education alone is insufficient for people to change their health behaviours. There is a need for innovative creative solutions for the progression of chronic disease internationally. There is strong support to advance the science of health prevention and the most proactive version of positive health is the promotion of optimal health and sustaining supportive environments.

Health and wellness coaches utilise effective behavioural psychology principles to assist people to make lifestyle changes and become masters of their wellness. They are a perfect vehicle for change, trained or experienced in assisting people to transform their lives and exceed their goals in health and wellness. Adapting a varied approach, coaches shift the power to the client and encourage them to take responsibility for their health.

In 2009, leaders in health policy along with the Samueli Institute created a Wellness Initiative for the United States nation. They proposed creating thousands of Health and Wellness coaches to work in the communities to promote a ‘self-caring society’ to increase community wellness. Through supporting clients to initiate change, health and wellness coaches directly have an impact on the health industry, potentially effecting hospital turn over times and the recurrence of chronic illness.

Positive Health spawned from the Positive psychology movement

In 1998 Martin Seligman president of the American Psychological Association put forward a new innovative theory focused on harnessing the good qualities about people and looking specifically about what in life brings us happiness. Positive psychology, as it was termed, has now been divided into distinct fields including Positive Health. Coaching and positive psychology informs one another and has many similarities.  Positive psychology coaches have an in-depth knowledge of the research literature, assessments and interventions specific to this field of practice. Coaching provides a vehicle through which clients can explore the meaning, accomplishment and contribution in their lives.

Positive psychologists deemed the term ‘PERMA’ which means the presence of positive emotion, the presence of engagement, the presence of meaning, the presence of good relationships, and the presence of accomplishment in one’s life.

Even prior to the emergence of the Positive psychology generation individuals were writing about the impacts of positive psychological states in physical health. Edwards and Cooper (1998) describe a positive psychological state as ’any condition where the individual’s perceived state exceeds his or her desired state’.

There is a need to reframe this mindset through investigating what activities create higher levels of functioning and increased levels of health satisfaction. Research contests that our social relationships, our environment, and our concepts of personal meaning all directly influence on our health status.

Various studies have outlined the effectiveness of positive emotion on both lymphatic functioning and cardiovascular health. Scientists consider harmonious or smooth heart rhythms, which are indicative of positive emotions, to be indicators of cardiovascular efficiency and nervous-system balance. Meaning in life has also predicted successful aging, greater well-being, and less psychopathology. .

The Angle – Coaching Methodology

It is impossible to foresee or predict how a coaching session will progress in any given situation and  the best one can do is consider an approach that is steadfast and evidenced as effective in one’s own experience.

Positive Psychology Health Coaching is almost solely about enabling our clients to focus on the positive meaning of the experience and focusing on what they are doing right for their health. This method is used in order to supersede doubt and create a world of possibilities. The power of this method of coaching lies in consistently focusing on the client’s successes, their enabling behaviours and acknowledging continuous improvement. This includes persisting with those activities in life that have a positive influence on the client’s wellbeing versus those activities the client deems damaging or disempowering.

The Process

It is imperative that the coach do some groundwork with the client during the first session to ensure they both have a clear understanding of the health goal and expectations from both parties. Assisting a client to recall past achievements reinforces a positive mindset. Likewise viewing previous failures as learning experiences builds resilience and demonstrates the ability to persevere in the face of difficulties. It is necessary to ascertain what a client believes is holding them back from already having the outcome they say they want coaches can assist clients to challenge internal and external perceived barriers such as attitudes, fears and limiting beliefs about themselves. Through coaching clients can gain insight about which belief patterns are at work and where else is this turning up in their lives. Through reframing these beliefs and initiating the start of a new mindset, clients experience hope and renewed confidence in the ability to create a more empowering process.

The Goal

When a client does the work on their beliefs around their achievement orientation they can gain insight into successes and failures from the past. Then the coach is in a position to investigate the client’s mindset and to further investigate thought processes they may be more empowering and consistent with goal success. It is important that the client is clear about their goal motivation and that the goal is made clear and measurable in order for it to be successful Diener and Dean (2007) describe intrinsic goals as “those that are inherently satisfying…and extrinsic goals are those that are in anticipation of an external reward”.  For example a client may want to lose weight so they feel socially accepted by a group of peers, this is an extrinsic goal versus a client who wants to lose weight so they can feel good about themselves and move more freely.  It is powerful to have the client consider what the life would be like and who they would be if they had that goal met.  Our brains cannot decipher the difference between thoughts and reality and we can reproduce the same emotions though visualisation. Have the client authentically consider this goal and ensure that there is clarity and rationalisation behind their choice.

The Client’s work – what happens in between?

One of the biggest challenges for a client is compliance and taking full responsibility for their health. Moving into a new way of being certainly can create anxiety for clients as they become unsure about new roles they will have to play.  It is paramount that the client understands that a steadfast level of commitment will be compulsory and that work will be required in order to meet their goals.  It is likely that this will include the learning of new skills the client may not have previously been exposed to.  A coach can use any number of positive psychology coaching interventions to help the client build self-confidence including positive acknowledgement, gratitude journal, and the Best Self Exercise. Have the client consider healthy interventions that bring about positive emotional states. Encourage the client to consider which strengths may need to be adapted in order to move confidently toward their goal.  Suggest readings, movies, activities that will inform the client about the strength they wish to build.  Strength work enables a client to consider those attributes of self that help them manage situations and work to their best ability.  Early in the piece the coach may wish to teach the client to self -acknowledge and practice this skill on a daily basis. Some may not have considered the skill of reflection and journaling, have the client consider any given situation from a positive learning perspective only.

One of the biggest concerns for people achieving goals is positive goal reinforcement and persevering. Neuroscientists have shown there is a clear link between low dopamine and perseverance. Likewise other studies have illustrated that positive emotions increased dopamine levels in the brain. Through having our clients focus on positive emotions there is a possibility that their perseverance may be strengthened.

The Coach’s work – coaching considerations

Besides being present during sessions there are tools that could assist a coach to understand their client’s motivations and strengths. The VIA strengths test enables coaches to see which strengths a client can tap into and employ these when working on goals. For example a client who is strong in humour may choose a goal based around fun and playfulness or a highly creative client may choose a creative way to meet a goal in order to stay engaged.

Being curious allows coach to delve into areas the client may not have considered applicable.  There are two methods a coach may consider so that short term goals are realistic and measurable for the client.  Firstly suggests client starts small and work their way up eventually meeting their goal from gradual but consistent progress. Another suggestion based on a Health Promotion Campaign in Australia states ‘Swop it, don’t stop it’ whereby the client swops the disempowering thought or behaviour for an empowering option.

Self-awareness is paramount to the coach’s method and the continuous focus on the client progressing in a forward manner.  It is vital that the coach is aware of their own opinions and attitudes and that these do not bias or affect the relationship. It is imperative that if the coach has doubts in their mind as to the client’s success that they address these. A client needs to know that the coach believes in their success and their ability to obtain their goal.

Conclusion

To conclude Positive Psychology Health coaches are in a powerful position to work with individuals regarding Positive health interventions. Not only can coaches provide and positive growth mindset for their clients but a shift in the power relationship enables the client to be more empowered and feel in control of their health. As new evidence continues to be presented Positive Health Coaching strategies continue to flourish.

’People desire well-being in its own right, and they desire it above and beyond the relief of their suffering… being in a state of optimal health is not merely being disorder free; rather it is the presence of flourishing.’

 

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