How to Become a Wellness Counselor

What is Wellness Counseling?

Wellness counseling involves a paradigm shift from the pathology intervention model of mental health counseling. In the pathology intervention model, the emphasis is on evaluating, diagnosing, and treating psychological problems. Wellness counseling is more of prevention than intervention model, and involves imparting knowledge of overall good health in other areas than the psychological/emotional component. Wellness counseling integrates physical, social and spiritual health into the treatment model.

The purpose of wellness counseling is to assist individuals to maximize their quality of life and longevity, by discarding poor health habits and adopting healthy day to day practices. It encompasses a variety of good health practices: exercise, fitness, nutrition, smoking cessation. Sleep and rest, journal writing, spirituality, and connection and attachment to others. A primary goal of wellness counseling is the prevention and management of diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease, as all three of these disease categories are significantly influenced by diet, physical activity level, and other lifestyle factors, as well as genetic predisposition.

Wellness counseling does not only emphasize the absence of disease, but the development and maintenance of vibrant good health: strength, endurance, energy, motivation, positive outlook on life, happiness, satisfaction, healthy relationships and connection to others, and maximum performance.

What is a Wellness Counselor?

The United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics lists Health Educators as individuals who teach people about behaviors that promote wellness by developing and implementing strategies that improve individual health as well as the health of communities. Wellness counselors help people who want to follow a healthier way of life. The counselor supports and motivates clients by helping them choose behaviors like setting up routines, adhering to a personal exercise regimen and using health supplements. A wellness counselor may also advise clients in spiritual wellness involving meditation and organics. Wellness counselors who are Health Educators assess the needs of their clients, educate people about health topics and teach people how to cope with health conditions. They may also provide training for other health care professionals. They evaluate the effectiveness of programs and educational materials and help their clients in their search for information and health services.

Wellness counselors may offer advice about healthy diets and appropriate meal plans, explain the benefits of regular exercise and recommend strategies to deal with stress. There is an increasing focus on preventative medicine and the role of diet, exercise and stress reduction in obtaining optimum personal wellness. Wellness counselors may offer advice on a range of areas of health and wellness, or they may specialize in nutrition, exercise or stress management. They may also offer advice on lifestyle issues and goal setting. Other areas covered by some wellness counselors include disease and weight management, smoking cessation and fitness for new mothers.

Related Reading: How to Become a Nutritional Counselor

Where Does a Wellness Counselor Work?

Wellness counselors may work in an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), a program established by corporations to provide health education for employees. One such program, the Employee Assistance Group, features a Wellness Center that is a comprehensive resource for individual or organization wellness programs. The approach is an online individual health risk assessment and subsequent access by the client to wellness articles, videos, training materials and a nutrition assessment.

A Wellness Counselor may also work at a hospital, for a school or for a non-profit organization. Those who specialize in fitness may work at a fitness center to provide assessments and training to individual members.

What are the Requirements to Become a Wellness Counselor?

Education

The educational requirements for wellness counselors vary widely. An individual interested in becoming a wellness counselor can complete a certification program in as few as 80.5 hours, while other programs require up to 500 hours. Some of these certification programs can be completed online. Wellness counselors do not provide the same services as licensed psychologists and are not trained to work with individuals struggling with mental illness. There are positions that require a college degree, while other positions simply require a background in nutritional training, diet or healthcare.

Those who are employed by large corporations and healthcare agencies are generally required to have a bachelor’s degree in a health-related field, like sports medicine or nutrition. Kaplan University offers a Bachelor of Science degree in Health and Wellness focusing on concepts, values, research methods and applications. The curriculum integrates wellness concepts of the mind, body and spirit. The University of Wisconsin offers a Bachelor of Science in Health and Wellness Management, a 60-credit degree program designed for positions including wellness program manager, worksite wellness coordinator, and director of sports, fitness and wellness.

Licensing and Certification

The American College of Wellness offers certification as a Certified Wellness Consultant (CWC) and as a Certified Wellness Specialist (CWS). The CWC certification is based on the importance of education people in good health and wellness practices throughout their lives. The CWC certification is available to professionals who have completed 150 points in health and wellness or a related field. The CWS certification is based on the successful practice and promotion in health and wellness. The CWS certification is conferred upon those applicants who have completed 250 points in health and wellness or a related field.

The NAHU, National Association of Health Underwriters, also offers a wellness certification course dealing with issues like prevention, compliance and creating incentives for participation. The course is designed for employee benefits professionals. Some employers require health educators such as Wellness Counselors to obtain Certified Health Education Specialist certification issued by the National Commission of Education Credentialing after completing a bachelor’s degree.

Necessary Skills and Qualities

Wellness counselors should have strong problem-solving, interpersonal and instructional skills, and be comfortable facilitating discussions with clients and families.

What is the Salary for a Wellness Counselor?

While the Department of Labor does not differentiate Wellness Counselors from other health workers, the Occupational Outlook Handbook lists the median annual wage for health educators at $48,790 in 2012. The highest paid workers were employed at hospitals and earned a median wage of $60,360.

What is the Job Outlook for Wellness Counselors?

Employment for health educators such as Wellness Counselors is expected to increase at a rate of 21 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations. This is the result of federal health care reform, the Affordable Care Act that increased access to medical care, and governments finding ways to increase the quality of healthcare and curb costs.

Related Reading

References and Further Reading

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Health Educators and Community Health Workers http://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/health-educators.htm (visited September 25, 2014).
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists http://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/mental-health-counselors-and-marriage-and-family-therapists.htm (visited September 25, 2014).
  • https://www.theeap.com/wellness-center
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