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The goal: Overcome obstacles to maintain healthy habits for life

New Health & Wellness Coaching graduate certificate helps clients help themselves

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What is the most important thing in your life? What do you want your life to look like in three years? How does your wellness contribute to that?

Those are just a few questions that holders of UND’s new certificate in health and wellness coaching will ask clients as they work with them to achieve their health and wellness goals. They’ll help people develop their own health and wellness plan rather than following (or, more often, not following), a prescribed diet and exercise plan.

The graduate level certificate program is offered through UND’s nutrition & dietetics department, said Anne Bodensteiner, clinical assistant professor and graduate program director.

Health and wellness coaches begin with an initial assessment with the client, focusing on goals and needs. They look at strengths and values, the social support system, and the client’s desires. After the client creates goals, the coach will guide them in creating weekly action steps, and follow up with subsequent coaching sessions.

“It’s not just about having a healthy diet,” Bodensteiner said. “We talk about cardiovascular disease, arthritis. It’s less on the technical elements of health and more about how you implement it. How do you help someone use the information?”

Requested by students

It’s a relatively new credential, but a necessary one, she said. Faculty in the nutrition and dietetics department began looking into the possibility a couple of years ago after students began requesting it, and it’s quickly becoming a requirement for those who wish to become a wellness coach. Job opportunities abound in both clinical and corporate settings, as well as private practice.

It’s also an opportunity to change careers. For example, someone with an accounting degree might want to add more purpose and meaning by helping people, or kinesiology and psychology graduates may want additional skills to offer clients.

Courses begin this fall, and there’s a lot of interest, with some students already accepted. Initially, 15 students will enter the program, since it will be intensive for both students and faculty.

The program, which is rigorous, requires a bachelor’s degree, completion of coaching sessions, and passing a practical skills assessment. After earning the certificate and passing the exam, graduates are nationally certified through the National Board of Health & Wellness Coaches. The academic credits can also be counted toward a master’s degree in nutrition.

“A doctor can recommend that a patient improve their health by working with a health coach,” Bodensteiner said. “Health coaches are great partners for medical providers. You have an opportunity to change someone’s life, to guide someone in their own life story, and I love that part of it.”