How To Become A Certified Health Coach: Your 5-Step Guide
Health coaching is an increasingly in-demand field, given the growing collective interest in holistic well-being. If you've ever wanted to turn your passion for healthy living into a career, you might be wondering how to become a certified health coach. This guide will walk you through exactly what's needed to get started.
What is a health coach?
Health coaches help their clients make better health choices and achieve their well-being goals effectively.
Unlike doctors, they do not prescribe medication or make diagnoses. Instead of providing direction, they offer their clients support on the journey. They help people build the self-care skills, habits, and healthy behaviors they need to reach their goals—be it sleeping more or eating better. Health coaching is a uniquely compassionate and hands-on field within healthcare, and it has proven effective in clinical trials1.
What does a health coach do?
There are many different ways to be a health coach: You can start your own coaching practice or be employed as a health coach in a hospital, functional medical clinic, etc. Some large companies also employ health coaches to guide wellness programs for their employees.
Given the increasing demand for health coaches in the U.S., they can also be found working for health care insurers, educational institutions, personal blogs, and many other types of health-minded organizations.
Trained in human behavior, communication, and active listening skills, coaches promote a safe and inspiring environment for positive change to occur, encouraging clients to direct their own path toward health.
On any given day, a health coach will be talking clients through different health-related issues that affect day-to-day living, such as diet, nutrition, chronic disease, exercise, or recovery from a life-shifting event like a heart attack. Depending on their background and specialty, health coaches can coach their clients through more holistic health skills like meditation, mindfulness, or yoga asana.
RELATED READ: 40+ Ways To Use A Health Coach Certification
Health coaching certification programs.
In order to become a certified health coach, you must pass an exam administered by the National Board for Health & Wellness Coaching (NBHWC). (While you technically do not need to be certified to call yourself a health coach, certified coaches are more reputable and they have more job opportunities.)
Before you take the exam, you'll need to enroll in a health coaching certification program—ideally one that is approved by the NBHWC. There are currently 110 approved programs that you can take to earn your certification.
There are a plethora of institutions that offer health coaching certification opportunities, ranging from private sector organizations to academic programs. Although the content, contact hours, syllabus, and overall requirements may vary, these coaching curricula are often rooted in behavior-based, nutrition, and lifestyle science—all with the goal of facilitating sustainable change and positively affecting others' health and well-being. These programs can last anywhere from 3 to 24 months, and tuition typically ranges from $1,000 to $10,000+.
Some (but not all) programs require an associate's degree or higher to enroll. Be sure to do your research beforehand and identify a program that meets your expectations and aligns with your coursework interests, career flexibility, time, etc.
Five steps to becoming a health coach:
- Do some research to find the best option for you: Finding a health coaching certification program that best suits your needs is non-negotiable. In other words, know your options! Familiarize yourself with a program's credentials, assessment standards, coursework, expert resources, specializations, and overall scholarship. This will help to ensure you'll be getting the education and coaching methodology skills you expect.
- Take a course: Now that you've narrowed down your prospects, it's time to enroll and commit to the educational journey ahead of you, which means not just fulfilling the program's demands and deadlines but homing in on your skills and passion along the way. Like any other learning opportunity, use this time to get curious about yourself and the beautiful gifts you bring into this world.
- Practice: The magic word! Many programs will offer you the chance to polish your skills as a health coach with other classmates, friends, family, and potential customers throughout the program itself. Practicing during and after you've completed and earned your certification will give you the confidence, training, and expertise to stand up for your well-deserved pursuits. Look for a program that is transparent about how they facilitate practice sessions.
- Pass the NBHWC board exam: Once you graduate from your coaching program and complete the necessary 50 practice coaching sessions, you're ready to sit for the NBCHWC exam. This is a 4.5-hour multiple-choice test. Once you pass, you will join the ranks of around 6,500 people who can call themselves certified health coaches.
- Build your business plan: Whether you are hoping to work in a private or corporate setting, it's important to put a business plan together to help you clarify your next entrepreneurial steps: marketing plan, communication strategy, website, services, networking, social media, intended audience, among others. "I strongly recommend carefully tracking finances, creating social media and blog calendars for your business, and regularly analyzing metrics that help you assess which content and marketing materials have the highest engagement so you know where to spend your energy," suggests health coach Jess Cording, M.S., R.D., CDN,
How much do health coaches make?
Most new health coaches can expect to make $62,000 to $102,000 a year, according to Glassdoor. Your salary will depend on your coaching focus, experience, and location. Your salary will also likely hinge on how successfully you're able to market your services. For this reason, you may want to enroll in a health coach certification program that also includes business training.
Once you decide you want to go into coaching, the first step is enrolling in a program that will prepare you to pass the rigorous—but rewarding—board exam. From there, you're ready to start helping clients build healthy and sustainable lifestyle habits.
Ximena Araya-Fischel, M.A, is a journalist, IIN graduate integrative health coach, E-RYT 500 lead yoga teacher, and 500-Hour certified Pilates instructor from San José, Costa Rica. She received her master's degree in communication and journalism from The University of New Mexico, emphasizing well-being, sustainable fashion, health communication research, and graduating Summa Cum Laude. A former professional dancer, she's earned multiple academic and accredited certifications in performance design, positive psychology, doula training, entrepreneurship, digital marketing, mindfulness, innovation leadership, and integrative health. Her work has appeared at top consulting brands and organizations across Latin American and the US, including Byrdie and Albuquerque The Magazine. She currently lives between Costa Rica and New Mexico.