Feature Articles

How to Choose a Health Coach or Other Health Practitioner

One of our underlying philosophies here at Health and Wellness Watchers is that health is an individual responsibility. Taking responsibility for your health involves living a healthy lifestyle that includes a healthy diet and regular exercise. It also involves working with a physician or other health practitioner who can guide you in achieving and maintaining your health care goals. Ideally, the Health Coach and health practitioners you choose to work with will take an integrative and holistic approach to health, meaning that they will be versed in the best that both conventional and alternative or complementary medicine has to offer.

Selecting such a holistic practitioner is an important consideration. Just because a person bills him- or herself as an alternative or integrative physician does not necessarily mean he or she is any more competent than a conventional physician might be. Moreover, many alternative physicians do not practice integrative medicine, nor to they follow a holistic approach that treats the "whole person." Instead, while they may substitute safer substances such as nutrients or herbal remedies in place of prescription drugs, their focus remains allopathic, meaning, like conventional MDs, they are doing little more than treating symptoms. As a health care consumer, you need to determine if that is all you are looking for. If not, you will want to work with a practitioner who takes a more "whole person" approach and, ideally, is skilled in a variety of therapies. What follow are some more guidelines for choosing wisely:

Educate yourself about the general principles and philosophies of holistic and integrative medicine. You can do this reading through this site and by reading books on the subject, such as Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide, The American Holistic Medical Association Guide to Holistic Health, or any of the many other books now available on this topic. You can also contact various health organizations, such as the American Holistic Medical Association (AHMA), the American College for Advancement of Medicine (ACAM), or the American Naturopathic Association. (You can find the websites of these and other health organizations by entering their names on Google, Yahoo, or other search engines.) Once you've selected a practitioner to work with, don’t be shy about asking him or her questions. The best physicians also tend to be excellent educators who willing to take time to address their patients concerns and questions. This is as it should be, since the root word for "Health Coach" is docere, which is Latin for "to teach."

Select a practitioner with a diverse background and expertise in a wide variety of healing disciplines, or who is part of a holistic clinic that offers such services. Ideally you'll want to work with someone who combines the best of both conventional and alternative medicine, who also has a lot of experience in the therapies offered. To find out, simply ask how long a practitioner has practiced the therapies he or she employs. Generally, the longer they have done so, the better. In many cases, such physicians will also be happy to refer you to other types of health practitioners, such as nutritionists, herbalists, homeopaths, and massage therapists, all of whom can further assist you in achieving optimal health.

Choose a practitioner with whom you feel comfortable and have a good rapport. This is very important. Your physician can be brilliant, but if you don't feel comfortable around him or her, you will likely experience stress and anxiety during your office visits, which can impede the healing process. When that is the case, no matter what the physician does, usually the benefits for the patient will be less than ideal. So "trust your gut" and if you feel uncomfortable, find someone else to work with.

Choose to explore therapies in which you have confidence. It is vital that you believe in the healing approaches you choose to explore. Faith in your whatever approach you choose, whether it is conventional or alternative, can make a big difference in how well and how quickly you respond to it.

Lastly, use your common sense. If a practitioner is making claims that sound too good to be true, then most likely they are. Don't allow yourself to be persuaded by hype. Insist on the facts and, if in doubt, ask if you can speak with other patients who might recommend the practitioner you're considering. The time and energy you invest in these guidelines can make a big difference in your health.

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