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Interview with Margaret Moore about Wellness Coaching

Margaret Moore (also known as Coach Meg) has established herself in the world of prevention, health and wellbeing by founding Wellcoaches Corporation. Wellcoaches is widely known for setting the gold standard for training and credentialing of professional wellness and health coaches, and trains more than 1000 coaches per year. Margaret is also the co-director of the Institute of Coaching at McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School and its annual coaching conference. Furthermore, she is a founding adviser for the Institute of Lifestyle Medicine at Harvard Medical School which was the result of her collaboration with Edward Phillips, MD, to build a Harvard CME course that teaches basic coaching skills to physicians.


Here are my 5 questions with Margaret and her answers:

1) There still seems to be some confusion about what a “coach” actually is, and is not. There are different types of coaches, and within these segments varying levels of expertise. With that in mind, when someone decides they desire a wellness coach what are the right questions to ask in the hope of optimizing the chance of a successful engagement?
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There are really four things you want to ask when looking to engage a coach:

1) What expertise and knowledge does a coach have relative to your particular interest?

2) What coach training and credentialing does s/he have? What have they learned, and what is their philosophical view of coaching? In other words, do you like the story they tell about what they do and how they’ve helped other clients? Does it resonate with you? Does it sound like it’s something that would work for you? Coaches vary widely in their personalities, their training and education, expertise, and their ability to engage and help people go beyond what they think is possible. So you have to get a sense of what your coach does and where they are coming from. In short, ask yourself, “Does their approach sound like something that would work for me?”

3) Ask them about their life experience. What else have they done in their education and career? Coaches have interesting and diverse backgrounds, and their stories may inspire you as well. You want someone that’s going to be energizing, and a role model. Someone full of ideas, full of positivity, zest, and things that will energize you. When you get through all of the above, at this point it really goes to your gut feel, leading to…

4) Does this seem like the right match for me? You really should feel a little excitement when you are introduced. You mind should be saying, “My gosh, this person can help me, this is cool!” Coaches, generally, in initial conversations move immediately into a coaching mode. They ask interesting questions; they try to understand what you are looking for; they try to get into a dialogue that feels more like it’s a coaching interaction – they shouldn’t be trying to sell you. If there’s a hard sell then it’s not coaching. If you find your energy going up in the initial conversation and you are getting excited about the proposition of working with this coach there is promise that it will a good fit. When you make contact with a coach and the chemistry does not feel right, keep looking.

Last, ask for references and talk to them. Coaching is like most helping professional services, the best coaches attract referrals.

2) Is there any pre-work or preparation you can do to get ready to be coached and enrich the experience for both yourself and the coach?

That’s an interesting question. Before you find a coach, no, not necessarily. If a coach has a website s/he may have things available to read. Do a little playing around on the Web to find out what coaches do. Most coaches have a body of homework and assignments to augment their coaching, and if you want more than is being offered it is just a matter of asking. We’ve all got plenty of tools for people to think about themselves and help them along. It is not always immediately offered, because the truth is some people will do homework and others won’t. And so we have plenty of homework that could be done if you’re really interested… again, it is usually just a matter of asking. I personally have a set of pre-coaching questions you can ask your spouse, your friends, and/or colleagues, which help you bring yourself into the experience and help you think about where you are going.

As for reading materials, if you have the appetite to read books, ask for recommendations for books that might be appropriate given your situation. You like reading articles and blogs better? The Web is rich with information. I share my blogs with potential clients at http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/bloggers/margaret-moore and http://www.huffingtonpost.com/margaret-moore). I often give my clients a book or a DVD, something that is relevant for them. Clients that want to develop mental processes and are ready to really expand their knowledge are great to work with. The journey is much more fulfilling (for them and the coach) if they are learning and exploring, in addition to pursuing their goals, in between coaching sessions.

3) What are some important success measures a client should have to gauge their progress? And what is an appropriate tracking mechanism and frequency to evaluate progress?

That’s something that you really want to build into the coaching process and a good coach will help you imagine what your better future looks like: visualize it, put it into words, and figure out how to measure success. A great coaching question is: how will you know when you get there? Is it you want more life balance, you want more energy, you want more vitality or zest… what is it that you want more of? Furthermore, what will success look like and how will you know when you get there? Some things you can measure with numbers. You can measure your blood pressure, you can measure your waist size and body fat percentage…. However, a lot of things that people desire are subjective. Therefore we need to create scales to quantify things that are not easy to quantify. Asking questions like, “What is your energy level today out of 10, if 10 is the peak? …that being the case, where are you right now?”

I remember working with a client with fibromyalgia. When we started a coaching program she rated her energy level as a 3. Three months later she rated it as a 7. We parsed it out a bit because it turned out that her mental energy and her physical energy were different numbers. We were able to get her mental energy up to a 7 and her physical energy got up to a 5. We recorded our sessions and that allowed both of us to follow the change of energy in her voice. That was very meaningful for her because the transformation was objective. Sometimes it is easy to forget the 3 when you’re at the 7. In fact, you actually do forget that you’re in a new place. It is rather easy to lose track of how far you’ve come. So using a ruler or scale like that is a nice way to capture something that is hard to quantify. It gives you a sense of “gosh, I’ve really changed here for the better, this is different than what it was!”

4) How is the current innovation happening in positive psychology influencing wellness coaching?

Positive psychology is central to wellness. The latest research in Positive Psychology concludes that 80% of us aren’t flourishing. This means only 20% of adults are flourishing and now we know the main ingredients. We actually know what drives flourishing and can measure it via the Positivity Ratio. In fact, the wonderful thing about the Positivity Ratio is that it’s a number that can be measured over time as one works on increasing positivity. Not that it’s easy to develop positive emotion habits, but if you work at it, like any new habit your brain will change and you can shift to a more positive frame of mind more often. You can savor more; you can connect to your purpose more; you can be more mindful and appreciative in your relationships; you can empower yourself to get more out of your connections every day. You can stop and enjoy your coffee in the morning instead of spilling it on the carpet because you’re rushing around. You can relish the things that make you thrive.

I’ve always viewed wellness coaches as the army of agents to really deliver on the scientific mechanisms of flourishing in the world. Also, I’ve envisioned wellness coaches as unique in tackling both physical and mental issues together. Let’s move mental flourishing out into the open, from behind the therapy door, to help lots of people create a more positive future including resilience, confidence, purpose and all those type of things. Let’s make flourishing a focus of coaching to change the world.

Optimizing physical and mental health together, wouldn’t it be amazing how our paradigm would change? I think that cognitive psychology has provided a scientific framework for coaching. It provides the basis for understanding where people can take their minds. When it comes to emotional flourishing, –everybody’s got their own recipe for purpose, strengths, flow, relationships, flourishing, and positivity. Once you understand in yourself what makes you thrive, what are the main wellsprings that make you feel good every day, what are the main toxic things that drag you down… once you really have a command of these things, you can make some real progress because now you have clarity about where you want to go.

5) You are currently heavily involved in translating science and research into coaching practice at Wellcoaches and the Institute of Coaching at McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School. Why is this important?

Like a subject out of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, I am a person who was at the right place, at the right time, with the right talent, who put in the 10,000 hours, and in that journey helped to build a robust scientific foundation for coaching in health and wellness. My legacy will probably be, at least one piece anyway, the polishing and translating of theory, theoretical concepts and evidence – bridging the science and the practice of coaching. My colleagues and I are innovators as well as translators of important theoretical, evidence based concepts into practice.

I started Wellcoaches 10 years ago and this year we’ll hit 5,000 coaches trained in ~33 countries. My hope is that we find a way to produce a master’s degree in coaching in the not so distant future and then maybe before I’m done there will even be a PhD. Wellcoaches is where I started, and from there I was looking enthusiastically for an academic home for coaching (because it is an important step in order to further credibility). So what came out of teamwork to create a new theory for coaching, which we call relational flow, was collaboration with Carol Kauffman at McLean Hospital. Dr. Kauffman is a professor at Harvard Medical School, a psychologist at McLean for ~30 years, and she and I started what is now the Institute of Coaching with a $2M dollar philanthropic donation by The Harnisch Foundation to give out coaching research grants. And we’re just about to launch the Institute of Coaching Professional Association, which has an amazing rich set of resources for leadership, health and wellness, and positive psychology coaches… where we are really translating science into practice for the masses. We are fostering coaching research and fostering re-education around the science of coaching.

Most recently I helped to start a national team to build a national certification and training and education standards a for health and wellness coaches. This effort is now 80 organizations strong. We hope to have a national certification board in the not so distant future. We are on the move to create a scientific foundation, robust training and education programs that produce masterful coaches. Then the research, curriculum, and standards will become global accepted. That is probably 10 years for now, which will be 20 years in the coaching game for me by then. Before I am done we’ll have established the professional health and wellness coach as an accepted part of the healthcare and consumer wellness landscape.

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