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Navigating the White Water – A Recommendation for Health Coaching

Meet your river guide

Just before I got married, several of my friends took me on a guys’ adventure day, which included a day whitewater rafting on the Arkansas River. As we signed in, we received instruction about river safety, got our life vests, and hopped on a bus that took us to our starting point.

On this day we would be hitting class 3 and class 4 rapids, which are not as big as they come, but plenty big for a novice like me.

And then we met our guide. He would be in charge of steering the raft, helping us to make our way down the river safely, showing us where to go, what to avoid, and how to get past obstacles. He was skilled and knowledgeable, a good teacher, and he delivered us to our destination safely. Along the way we had an amazing time together.

The healthcare system – a contrasting approach

In some ways, I believe that the healthcare system uses a very different approach. As you try to make healthy choices, overcome obstacles, and make progress, how often do you interact with your healthcare team? I suspect for the majority, it’s not often.

It would be a bit like going to that river, and the guide would hand you a map and point out a few key items. “Now when you get to the big rock at turn 17, make sure to stay on the left. And there’s a hole at mile 5. Paddle fast to carry momentum there. Oh, and don’t let your raft get swept to the right side on turn 47 or you’ll flip.” Then you’d jump in your raft and go, hopefully able to use the critical instruction at the right time.

There must be a better way

My mom was an elementary schoolteacher, and I think she instilled me with a love for education – both learning and teaching. When we look at studies of how adults learn, it’s not by being told something one time. Acquiring knowledge is important, yes. But repetition, the opportunity to practice, time to reflect, troubleshooting, and adapting are all crucial to success.

There is a growing movement in healthcare to use health coaches to help folks get better results. A health coach is someone who is “there in the raft” with you. They have experience helping people navigate past obstacles, and skill knowing how to help you apply that knowledge to your own situation, goals, and preferences.

One caveat, there is no current standard or licensing for health coaches, so if you look for one I’d try to find someone who has gone through a certification program and ideally has good references.

A worthwhile investment?

Health coaching is becoming more available, sometimes through your insurance, sometimes something you would pay for yourself. I like to remind people that your current knowledge, skills, and abilities brought you to where you are today. To make progress, you’ll need to make gains in one or more of these areas.

Of course, it’s possible to make progress through your own research and study. Having a coach can often help you make progress easier and faster. My hope is time saved and greater progress would be worth your investment. Take a look for health coaching services available to you.

I can still remember the day on the river with my buddies as a wonderful time. I’m glad we had a guide.


Dr. Topher Fox

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