What is a Health Counselor?
Health counseling, also known as health coaching and wellness coaching, helps one change unhealthy behaviors by teaching how to listen to one’s subconscious, discover inner strengths and achieve short-term and long-term goals. This approach motivates individuals to change their behaviors and set realistic goals. If you are interested in becoming a health counselor, you will need to be knowledgeable in the areas of nutrition, fitness and wellness.
Health counselors, also known as health coaches, counsel others on how to live healthier and more productive lives. They work with clients, both individually and in a group format to help them develop realistic ways to achieve their health goals, change their unhealthy behaviors and avoid injuries and illnesses. Some of the issues a health counselor may treat include: weight loss, irregular sleep patterns, fatigue, food cravings and improper diet/nutrition concerns. A health counselor may perform these services at a hospital, clinic, weight loss center or private practice.
Although health counselors are primarily focused on their client’s physical health, they may also help the client improve other areas of his or her life such as: relationships and emotional well-being. During a health counseling session, health counselors teach the client the skills that he or she will need to develop healthier habits and live a more productive life. In addition, health counselors may also encourage clients to make positive changes in their thought processes and behaviors.
What are the Requirements to Become a Health Counselor?
If you are interested in becoming a health counselor, you will need to enroll in an undergraduate degree program and major in psychology, counseling, nutrition, nursing or health care. You may also need to take additional courses in health, behavioral science, nutrition, fitness, exercise science, psychology and sociology. These courses may teach you more about the body and what is needed to make it function at an optimal level. In addition, some programs may require you to complete a clinical internship at an approved hospital, clinic weight loss center or private practice.
During your degree program, you may learn how to help your clients achieve their short-term and long-term health-related goals, identify their obstacles, focus on the things within their control, cope with challenges and change their unhealthy habits.
It is important to note that some employers and states may require you to have a master’s degree in a health-related field before you can practice as a health counselor.
Certification is not mandatory, but most employers prefer that you have it. If you are interested in becoming certified as health counselor you will needed to complete certification training program. While in the training program, you may take courses in psychology, health, fitness and nutrition. Once you have successfully completed certification training you will be ready to sit for the certification exam. This exam consists of an oral assessment, a computer-based exam and a proposal that includes your goals, counseling techniques and target population.
Certification costs (program & exam) may vary depending on the length of your certification program, your college or university and the exams you are required to take. Certification costs typically range between $400 and $600, but can cost more depending on your training program.
You may also be required to complete continuing education courses. A variety of organizations offer workshops, internet-based classes and webinars to help you obtain your continuing education credits. Continuing education courses help you stay current in your field. In order to maintain certification, you will be required to enroll in continuing education courses every two to three years.
Where Does a Health Counselor Work?
Health coaches are generally employed by:
- Day spas
- Community centers
- Physician offices
- Gyms and wellness centers
- Schools and colleges
- Private practices
- Hospitals and medical centers
Health Counseling Careers
Some entry-level health counseling jobs may not require a bachelor’s degree or certification, but most employers prefer to hire health counselors with an advanced degree, certification and some experience in a health-related field. You will gain the majority of your experience working with individuals or in small groups. This may help you build a relationship with your clients.
As an entry-level health counselor you main goal will be to inspire your clients to change their unhealthy habits and improve their quality of life. You may also teach you clients how to deal with adversity, improve their health and successfully achieve their goals. In addition, you may decide to seek an advanced degree as a registered nurse (RN), social worker, psychologist, physician, nutritionist, dietician, pharmacist, chiropractor or acupuncturist.
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- Blonna, R., Loschiavo, J. & WatteHealth, D. (2010). Counseling: A microskills approach for counselors, educators, and school nurses (2nd ed.).Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett Publishers.
- Torrey, T. (2012). Health and Patient Advocacy Careers: Health Coach. About.com: Patient Empowerment. Retrieved from http://patients.about.com/od/Patient-Advocate-Categories/a/A-Career-As-A-Health-Coach.htm