Health coaching

Health coaching is a way of helping people gain the knowledge, skills, tools and confidence they need to take an active part in their own health care. It helps them reach the health goals they want to achieve.

Key points

  • Health coaching is useful if you are working with someone who has ongoing health issues or complex health needs.
  • Its goal is to improve their long-term outcomes.
  • It can include whānau members, so they can also support your client in achieving their health goals.
  • Read about training to become a health coach.

What is the idea behind health coaching?

Health coaching is based on the saying that if you give a person a fish, they will eat for a day, but if you teach them to fish, they will eat for a lifetime.

It’s not about one person rescuing another; it’s about giving someone the resources to help themselves. Rescuing is appropriate for acute care when doctors need to take over and do something or tell someone what to do. But if someone has an ongoing health issue, rather than telling them what to do, a health coach works alongside them so they can manage their condition well and achieve the goals that they set.

What does a health coach do?

Just like sports coaches, the role of a health coach is to inspire confidence in you, share knowledge with you and find ways to motivate you to achieve your goals.

They might help someone manage their appointments or medication, answer questions about their condition, or explain more fully why the doctor recommended they take certain actions. They will help them work out what they want to achieve and will help them find the support to do that.

Health coaches have five roles, which are to:

  1. provide support for their client to manage their condition themselves
  2. bridge the gap between their client and their doctor
  3. help their client find their way around the healthcare system
  4. offer their client emotional support
  5. be their client's ongoing first person to contact if they have a question.

Five roles of a health coach graphic(Image source:  American Academy of Family Physicians, Fam Pract Mgt, 2010)


  1. Bennett HD, Coleman EA, Parry C, Bodenheimer T, Chen EH. Health coaching for patients with chronic illness Family Practice Management. 2010 Sept/Oct:24–29. 

For more information about health coaching, visit our dedicated Self-management Support (SMS) Toolkit website for health providers and healthcare staff. 

Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team. Reviewed By: Dr. Janine Bycroft Last reviewed: 28 Aug 2017