Health Coach Certification: Becoming a Certified Coach | Chris Kresser

How Earning Your Health Coach Certification Can Boost Your Coaching Career

by Will Welch, A-CFHC, NBC-HWC

Published on

I encourage anyone who is thinking about health coaching as a career to become a certified health coach. The certification process tests and develops your coaching skills. It’s a growth and learning opportunity. It also signals to prospective clients and collaborators that you’re serious about your craft and that you’re well-trained. I am both an ADAPT-Certified Functional Health Coach (A-CFHC) and a National Board Certified Health & Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC). However, I almost didn’t go down that certification path because I thought my career experience was enough to be a great coach and build a coaching business.

Health coach certification
Earning your health coach certification helps test your knowledge and signals to clients and collaborators that you’re serious about your profession. iStock/damircudic

In spring 2018, I thought about starting a health coaching practice without additional training. At the time, I was contemplating a career change. I had undergraduate and graduate degrees in psychology, and I had worked as a stress researcher and had coached leaders. I thought that all of these things would be a solid foundation for coaching and make me a good coach.

Could I have become a health coach based on that experience and education? Sure. In fact, anyone can call themselves a health coach.

Would that have provided me with the building blocks to become a great health coach? I doubt it.

As I thought about whether or not to sign up for a coaching program, I had the nagging feeling that there were blind spots in my experience that I couldn’t address by myself, so I decided to take the leap and enroll in the ADAPT Health Coach Training Program. I’m glad that I did.

Are you thinking about earning your health coach certification? Check out this article from certified health coach Will Welch on the benefits that certification has to offer. #changeagent #kresserinstitute

Why get a health coaching certification? There are several reasons.

Health coaching is a growing industry and an increasingly popular and fulfilling career choice. Although becoming a great health coach isn’t easy, health coaching is a relatively short path to working as a health and wellness professional. That said, it’s still the “Wild West,” and anyone can call themselves a health coach. Certification sets a standard, provides accountability and guidelines, and signals to others your qualifications and the philosophies that you value as a coach. That’s why it’s an essential part of a health coach’s career path and professional development. The ADAPT Health Coach Training Program offers not only powerful training in health coaching, but graduates earn the A-CFHC certificate.

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What Is Certification?

A certificate marks an educational or training achievement, and certification is the process to get there. Health coaches can earn certifications in several ways, including through programs, courses, and exams. It’s also important to note that certification is different from licensure and that not all certificates are equal.

Certification can take many forms. Training programs, such as the ADAPT Health Coach Training Program, require students to learn, practice, and demonstrate knowledge to earn certification. Exams, such as the Health & Wellness Coach Certifying Exam, administered by the National Board for Health & Wellness Coaching (NBHWC), measure “the foundational knowledge, skills, and abilities essential to the practice of health and wellness coaching.” (1) Candidates who pass the exam earn the NBC-HWC certificate. You can earn multiple certifications and combine them, such as the A-CFHC and NBC-HWC certifications mentioned above.

The Difference between Certification and Licensure

Certificates are a powerful element in a coaching practice, but they differ from licenses in crucial ways that impact how and what a coach can do. Unlike a license, a certificate doesn’t allow you to practice a job or skill. A certificate is an indication of training or knowledge, and it’s something you do voluntarily. Licensure is a mandatory requirement to do a job, such as practicing medicine, or perform a skill, such as driving a car. Doctors can’t practice medicine without a medical license, but health coaches can practice as coaches without a certificate. Becoming a certified health coach doesn’t allow you to do licensed activities like practice medicine or prescribe nutrition or fitness protocols. Instead, a good certification program can:

  • Train you to be a highly skilled health coach
  • Outline ethical coaching guidelines
  • Define a scope of practice to clarify the boundaries of what you can and can’t do as a coach

Certification is also a pathway to skill-building, but certification programs vary widely in their standards. Before embarking on becoming a certified health coach, review a number of programs in the industry.

  • What do they cover in their curriculum?
  • How do they evaluate coaching proficiency?
  • Do they include practice time and guidance by experienced coaches?

For more questions to consider, I recommend reading this article on how to find a great training program.

Another important consideration when thinking about certification is recertification. Some certification programs or exams require that you take continuing education courses to maintain your certificate. Although it’s additional work beyond initially earning the certificate, it shows a commitment to professional development, encourages growth as a coach, and reinforces ethical practice.

Why Become a Certified Health Coach?

As you can tell from the certification description above, there are many potential benefits to becoming a certified health coach. For one, certification signals to others that you have achieved a level of proficiency. Certification programs also provide you with an opportunity to be evaluated on specific knowledge and skills based on certain standards and criteria. It can be daunting to think about passing a coaching skills assessment or taking the National Board exam, but it’s a great accomplishment when you achieve that level of skill and join a community of coaches who have achieved that same level of excellence.

A certificate communicates to others that you have completed specific training that meets a certain standard. This communication is valuable in the “Wild West” of the health coaching industry to differentiate yourself from others who call themselves a health coach without training. As an example, my certifications as an NBC-HWC and an A-CFHC signal that I have:

  • Received an education in Functional Health
  • Demonstrated a high level of coaching competence
  • Completed at least 50 coaching sessions following a practical skills assessment
  • Completed a program that has earned NBHWC approval
  • Passed an exam offered by an independent standards board (the NBHWC and National Board of Medical Examiners, or NBME)
  • Gained an understanding of ethical practice and coaching scope of practice

The NBHWC states this value well: National Board certification provides “evidence of their expertise and quality as competent health & wellness coaches. Further, the credential allows stakeholders such as health care professionals, patients, employers, and educators to identify practitioners who have demonstrated the knowledge, skills, and abilities essential to effective health and wellness coaching.” (2)

Certification also signals to the client that their coach is being guided by a clear code of ethics, which offers an element of safety and trust as well as an expectation of how they (and their information) will be treated.

Why ADAPT Certification?

There are a lot of health coach certification programs out there. Why ADAPT? For people who want an education in Functional and ancestral health, hands-on coaching training, and guidance on business and professional development, the ADAPT Health Coach Training Program is an excellent fit. The certification carries weight in the Functional Health community, and it signals that you have completed rigorous training. The program also offers graduates eligibility for the National Board exam, one of the top credentials in the field of health and wellness coaching.

Becoming an ADAPT-certified coach means that you’ve completed one of the only programs that covers Functional Health, ancestral health, rigorous coaching training, and business and professional development. ADAPT coaches understand how each person’s environment impacts their body and mind, that a focus on the root causes of diseases offers more value to clients than a focus on disease symptoms, and that our bodies have evolved to thrive in specific environments. ADAPT coaches know how to use this knowledge to coach in the best interest of their clients. They know where the lines between coaching, medicine, dietetics, and personal training are so that they can practice safely and ethically. They also know how to attract clients, run a coaching business, and develop careers in the coaching industry. In other words, earning the ADAPT certification provides coaches with a powerful foundation for working with clients and partnering with practitioners.

Your certification communicates to clients and practitioners certain philosophies and ideas that you value. Students who choose the ADAPT program, for example, are interested in working with clients and partnering with other healthcare professionals who value Functional and ancestral health. The ADAPT certification tells these clients and partners that you have training in these areas. It’s also a natural foundation to connect with others in the ADAPT community, including fellow coaches and ADAPT practitioners. Being ADAPT-certified signals to these collaborators that you speak a common language and hold a shared philosophy of health and wellness.

The ADAPT Health Coach Training Program offers top-notch training on the art and practice of coaching, Functional and ancestral health, and business and professional development. Find out more about our yearlong, virtual course, and learn how it can prepare you for a career as a certified health coach.

Getting Board-Certified as a Health Coach

The ADAPT certification is not just a foundation for great coaching, but it is also a gateway to becoming an NBC-HWC. You can absolutely practice without being board-certified, and the ADAPT program will prepare you to be a great coach. However, many students choose to take another step and become board-certified.

The NBHWC has approved only a select number of programs, including the ADAPT program. Approval by the NBHWC means that a program offers rigorous training, including hands-on mentorship with experienced coaches. Approved programs train coaches on specific coaching competencies that meet the National Board standard. These are the top programs in health and wellness coaching.

The NBHWC has also partnered with the NBME, which licenses clinicians, to offer the Health & Wellness Coach Certifying Exam. Passing this exam sends a clear message to clients and collaborators about your coaching. It shows this audience that you not only have trained at a top health and wellness coaching program but that you have also achieved a level of coaching proficiency that is unmatched in the health and wellness coaching field. Many employers are looking specifically for coaches with the NBC-HWC credential, which indicates that the certification carries considerable weight in the industry.

In all, certifications are a great asset for health coaches. Certification programs help you build the skills to be a great coach. They signal to clients and collaborators that you meet a set of standards. They also create a foundation for professional development and future career opportunities. As I reflect on my journey as a health coach and that decision to either become a certified coach or start a practice without certification, I know that I made the right choice. My road to certification has been a great development experience and an opportunity to join a community of like-minded coaches.