Key takeaways
  • Health coaches play a crucial role in helping people make meaningful lifestyle changes to support their health goals
  • Health coaches provide support, guidance, and accountability throughout the patient's journey. They help patients set realistic goals, facilitate problem-solving, promote self-management, ensure adherence to treatment plans, and offer crucial emotional support
  • At MFM, health coaches also collaborate with practitioners to bridge the gap between knowing what needs to be done and implementing the necessary changes

Prior to 2016, Melbourne Functional Medicine (MFM) operated like many other clinics. Patients were seeing their practitioner, being given clinical recommendations, and often coming back with gaps in their application. Our practitioners were dispensing world-class advice, yet we knew our patients could have been getting better outcomes.

This was frustrating for our practitioners who would sometimes joke that if they were treating robots, our success rate would be 100%. It became obvious that we had a leak in our bucket, and that health coaches were the putty. We recognised we needed health coaches to give our patients the advantage of behaviour change strategy, accountability and support through their health transformation to get the results they were seeking.

“I can tell my patients what to do, but if they don’t do it, it doesn’t matter” - Mark Hyman

If you’re wanting to improve your health, we know that while you might be feeling motivated, driven and determined to make change, for most, this enthusiasm tends to ebb and flow. Many people want to improve their health and haven’t had the opportunity to develop skills around behaviour change, habit creation and goal setting that health coaches can help with. 

At MFM, we want to set you up for the greatest success by teaming you up with an expert in change, alongside receiving the clinical direction from your practitioner. 

What is health coaching?

At its core, health coaching at MFM is about change and the ability for someone to make adjustments to their lifestyle that will support their health goals. A coach fills the gap between ‘knowing’ and ‘doing’. 

The health coach toolkit consists of evidence-based interventions, including active listening, motivational interviewing, positive psychology strategies, and SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) goal setting.

Where a practitioner might be quite tactical and give you specific strategies, advising ‘what’ to do, a health coach is skilled at helping you work out the ‘how’, to implement and make meaningful change. 

If you’ve ever seen a healthcare provider and haven’t been able to follow the clinical direction, that is likely because change, for most, is difficult. You might not fully understand how to do it, why to do it, or, importantly, how to navigate around the natural obstacles or barriers that might get in your way.

These obstacles or objections can be anything from being too busy, being forgetful, not knowing how to do something, starting and then struggling to continue with the change, and being overwhelmed by having too many changes to make. 

Health coaches guide people to transform their behaviour in order to live healthier, more fulfilling lives.

12 benefits of working with a coach at MFM

During health coaching sessions at MFM, the coach and patient collaborate to turn aspirations into achievable goals. Because health coaching is a patient-centred process, the coach does not set the goals, but helps the patient establish them through an inquiry process. They help the patient decide where they want to begin their journey towards better health. This is key to cultivating a sense of empowerment.

“Without health coaching, patients find it much more difficult to stay on track. I see profound outcomes when a patient engages with their coach” - Jabe Brown

A health coach educates and supports the patients as they make diet and lifestyle changes. But the process isn’t just teaching them to eat this and not that, or get more sleep and reduce stress. A vital component of the health coaching process involves helping people discover their own power to change. Don’t be tricked into thinking that a health coach is going to do the work for you - they are much more like an ally, someone who will ask you good questions so that you can understand yourself, your behaviour and how you might possibly be getting in your own way.

The process is judgement free and curiosity-led.

Some of the actions a health coach can take to help you are:

  1. The rule of health coaching is to have two ears and one mouth and to use them in that ratio. Listening is a key skill of coaching and hearing you dig deep to uncover what keeps you stuck is the most valuable part of the conversation
  2. Provide education and clear up confusion. Whilst advice giving is generally off the table, your coach might from time to time put on their ‘educators hat’ and explain something about nutrition, sleep science, habits, etc. to help you further understand and make change, and improving your personal health literacy
  3. Ensure you understand your treatment plan. Your practitioner will continue to update your treatment notes according to the latest information they have gathered. It could be easy for you to lose the thread of what we’re doing (and why). Your health coach, by collaborating with your practitioner, will be equipped to help you move forward
  4. Facilitate problem-solving. This is the very essence of health coaching. Obstacles and problems pop up all the time, and can be simple things like simply forgetting to take your supplements, or something more challenging like an unhealthy work-life balance. Problem-solving using coaching strategies, like drilling down into the details to help you come up with a plan, will help you untangle these messes
  5. Promote self-management. The most empowering part of health coaching is when you understand and act on your potential. If you’ve previously just ‘done what you’re told’ without really standing in a place of control, this element of coaching can be life-changing
  6. Ensure adherence to your treatment plan. Coaches use accountability in a gentle and supportive way to help you stay on track 
  7. Help you set realistic goals for behaviour change. Goal setting helps you identify both the short and long-term visions you want for yourself. Using the SMART goal-setting approach, you can move forward with clarity and ease
  8. Provide crucial emotional support. Not to be underestimated, having emotional support can be critical to your success. Talking through emotions in a safe place can give you confidence as well as a deep feeling of being heard and seen
  9. Celebrate tiny wins. The cheerleader hat is one of the health coach’s favourites! There is no such thing as a too-small win. Each and every win is worth acknowledging. This can promote motivation and dedication to the program and remind you that you are moving forward
  10. Help you persevere despite obstacles. Change, big or small, can be challenging. When the going gets tough, your health coach is going to be right there alongside you. Obstacles will inevitably appear and so knowing that someone is there to help you figure that out is both uplifting and a relief
  11. Bridge the gap between the practitioner’s recommendations and carrying them out. As we’ve identified, giving advice is a lot easier than implementing the change that comes from that advice. Because your health coach and your practitioner are in regular contact, your health coach is able to guide you on the most important strategy of the moment
  12. Bring awareness to where you might be holding yourself back, health-wise. Like in our case study with Steph (below), your coach will help you shine on a light on where you might be sabotaging your health from beliefs to old patterns. Bringing non-judgmental awareness to self-sabotaging patterns creates an opportunity to find new ways through barriers to create true and lasting change

Now you’re getting a sense of the health coach’s role, you’ll recognise it is not directive, but is a way to help you figure out what you need to do to succeed with your health goals.

Health coaching in action - Steph's experience

Steph arrived at MFM with a deep desire to shift her health picture. She’d been managing a thyroid condition for over 3 years, and was so tired of being tired… and of chasing the answers. By the time she came to MFM, she was giving her health ‘one last shot’. At the beginning of our time together, Steph was anticipating testing, food change, data and a deep dive into her real health story. She got all of that. What Steph hadn’t anticipated was, through health coaching, the insight she gained into her behaviours and beliefs that were contributing to her health puzzle. Steph had been so focused on ‘doing the right things’, she hadn’t recognised the need to reprioritise ‘how’ she moved through her world.

As Steph’s health coach, I helped her understand some of the ways she sabotaged her health. She also became aware of beliefs she had brought with her from childhood - like needing to do everything perfectly, and that having a rest meant she was lazy.

As her coach, it was important to hold space for her to express her sadness at how much she had missed out on because of her health condition, the doubts she had around career success, and how she struggled to let people in - even those who might be really supportive.

By the end of her program, Steph felt more optimistic than she had in years, and importantly, this had a huge influence on her health.

What doesn’t a health coach do?

It is equally important to be clear about what a health coach doesn’t do. Health coaches have a scope of practice, in which all coaches are taught to stay within the realm of their skillset. Health coaches do not:

  • Diagnose medical or psychiatric conditions 
  • Develop treatment plans 
  • Provide psychotherapy 
  • Order and interpret lab testing 
  • Recommend supplements

A health coach may, through robust conversation, identify that a patient might require specialist support from a mental health expert, their practitioner or other health professional. The health coach may make that recommendation and will also consult with your practitioner on the correct course of action.

To help you further understand the role of a health coach compared to other mind or lifestyle experts:


  • Hold advanced degrees in counseling, psychology, or similar

  • Employ a therapeutic approach

  • Use skills like CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), psychoanalysis, ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy)

  • Address psychological, emotional, or mental health concerns

Health coach

  • Hold certificate or degree

  • Have a patient-centered approach

  • Use skills like reflective listening, motivational interviewing, goal setting

  • Help the patient overcome barriers to change by identifying patterns or behaviors, as well as understanding motivators and stressors

Performance coach

  • Typically have expertise in their specific field, industry or sport

  • Focus on enhancing performance in a specific domain, often taking place in a professional or competitive environment

  • Will get a client to focus on setting and achieving goals using goal setting, performance analysis, mental conditioning, education and strategic planning

  • Directive

Health coach

  • Skills that apply more broadly to anyone wanting to make change to their health

  • Focus on helping the patient identify their own way forward in a personal and non-competitive context

  • Use gentle skills to help a patient identify where they want to go and how to get there

  • Can use accountability to facilitate behavior change

  • Non-directive

Life coach

  • The most similar to a health coach

  • A broader spectrum of scope including personal, professional, and relational

  • Focus on personal development, self-improvement, and achieving overall life goals

  • Use active listening, visualization, self-reflection exercises to facilitate change

  • Help clients overcome obstacles, set goals, and make positive changes in many areas of life

  • Unregulated industry

Health coach

  • Coaching specifically health-related issues (which include behavior and habits)

  • May provide education around nutrition and other health behaviors

  • Use motivational interviewing, active listening, goal setting to facilitate change

  • Help patients set goals, overcome obstacles, and make positive changes in relation to health

  • Unregulated industry

Health coaching in action - Anthony's experience

Anthony was experiencing extreme skin problems. Eczema was flaring all over his body - it was painful and he was extremely self conscious. After Anthony’s practitioner investigated the state of his digestion and microbiome, food allergies & intolerances and his stress response, we learned that he was significantly impacted by food and stress.

While his practitioner was dialled in on giving dietary guidelines and recommendations around sleep to support healing, Anthony was finding the stress equation difficult to make any progress with. His health coach dedicated calls to understanding the stressors in his life, as well as what opportunities were available to him to reshape them.‍

Through taking a step by step approach and setting micro goals, he and his coach were able to establish meaningful boundaries that supported a huge reduction in day to day stress. A bonus was that his sleep improved, and gradually Anthony’s skin was able to heal.

How to engage with your health coach

We encourage you to engage with your health coach frequently - weekly to begin with and as time passes, a little less often (or as desired). Coaching conversations can be held by phone or by video link. 

More frequent conversations improve the likelihood of gaining a deeper understanding of your potential barriers, help us to stay abreast of your clinical changes, and help you celebrate your wins. 

You can always guide your health coach towards what you need, and we might also make a recommendation based on our understanding of your situation.

Are MFM health coaches qualified?

While health and wellness coaching in Australia & New Zealand is an unregulated industry, a peak industry body, Health Coaches Australia & New Zealand Association (HCANZA), has established recognised standards for training of coaches within the region. 

These standards provide a useful benchmark for recognising quality in training and continuous professional development. HCANZA recognises national and international health and wellness coaching programs that have been deemed to meet the standards for highly skilled and qualified coaches. All health coaches at Melbourne Functional Medicine are members of HCANZA and continue with professional development in line with membership guidelines. 

Unlock your potential with a health coach

Health coaching bridges the gap between knowing and doing. With a health coach on your healthcare team, in our experience, you are more likely to stay the course, achieve your health goals and feel completely supported along the way. 

If you’re wanting the guidance of a practitioner with the support of a health coach to improve your health picture, book a discovery call today to take the first step to working together. 

bee pennington health coach wearing teal dress standing smiling
Bee Pennington
Bee, an award-winning health coach at Melbourne Functional Medicine, specialises in mindset, emotional health, and maintaining healthy boundaries. Meditation and breathwork facilitator.
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Bee Pennington
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Have something to add, or want to ask
something? Join the conversation in the comments below and we'd be delighted to chat.
{ "datePublished": "Oct 13, 2023" }