Wellness coaching: A new career path

By Shamontiel Vaughn

Wellness coaching is a growing field in integrative health care. Dr. Carleen Phelps, chair of the Integrative Wellness Coaching programs at Saybrook University, shares some of her thoughts on wellness coaching and how to get involved in this growing field.


While most people may be used to health care professionals prescribing medicine or giving diet and exercise advice, wellness coaching takes on health from a different stance: teamwork.

Dr. Carleen Phelps
Dr. Carleen Phelps

“One of the key aspects of the wellness movement is integrative wellness coaching,” says Dr. Carleen Phelps (chair of the Integrative Wellness Coaching programs at Saybrook University). “Wellness coaching is less about giving people a lifestyle prescription and telling them what to do. It is more about partnering with the individual, hearing about their knowledge, learning more about their lives, and getting to know what they want to do and how they want to do things to improve their own wellness.”

Introduced to wellness coaching at the National Wellness Conference in 1998, Phelps has now worked in wellness coaching for more than 20 years. Under the direction of Saybrook’s Dr. Devorah Curtis (chair of the Mind-Body Medicine program) and Dr. Donald Moss (dean of the College of Integrative Medicine and Health Sciences program), Phelps helped implement Saybrook’s Integrative Wellness Coaching program in 2013.

“Working in wellness coaching is a great way to incorporate my knowledge and enthusiasm for wellness, mind-body medicine, and humanistic principles into one degree,” Dr. Phelps says.

Here are four factors Dr. Phelps has learned to help students understand what is involved in wellness coaching.

  1. Wellness coaches develop a program with their patients, not for their patients. Someone with a degree in wellness coaching works with a client to find out what they like to do and how they like to do it. For example, when it comes to physical activity, the coach would find out what their patients’ exercise preferences are (ex. indoor or outdoor), whether they like to work alone or with a group, and what kinds of exercises they prefer (ex. dance, yoga, elliptical machines). Even with larger health concerns, such as being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, the goal is to work with the patient to find out what kind of realistic changes they can make to co-create a new lifestyle program. On the other hand, someone who comes from an assess-and-prescribe framework would do the exact opposite by providing a rundown of what the patient should do to change or improve their lifestyle with limited feedback from the patient.
  1. “Wellness” does not equal just the physical body or physical health. Wellness coaches regard “wellness” as a concept of whole-person health. In scientific literature, health is often equated to biological fitness (ex. weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar level) and the term “well-being” is usually used to refer to mental health. However, “wellness” incorporates the two while expanding to other factors such as healthy relationships, environmental wellness, and financial health.
  1. Wellness coaching has a humanistic and holistic philosophy. Wellness coaches examine health and wellness with a humanistic and holistic perspective—looking at the whole individual within the context of their life and the environment in which they live. For example, someone who lives in a rural community away from nearby health food stores or health clubs may be encouraged to seek out nutrition by gardening or exercising in their own neighborhoods versus having to drive long distances for health amenities.
  1. Mindfulness and other mind-body activities can be woven into the practice of wellness coaching. Wellness coaches have certain skills and competencies outlined by the International Coaching Federation and the International Consortium of Health & Wellness Coaching. In addition, Saybrook promotes mind-body and self-care practices such as mindfulness. Mindfulness is becoming one of the skills coaches need to learn to use with their clients in order to help them overcome some of the challenges they encounter when trying to sustain necessary motivation for change.


Want more information on the integrative wellness coaching program? Contact us here.