Since its founding in the 1980s, the field of coaching has continued to evolve. As part of that evolution, many types of specialized coaching have emerged. These niches in coaching use similar foundations of coaching skillsets, knowledge of human behavior, and support for self-directed change.

However, different niches have specific knowledge, education, and skillsets to support their clients in making lasting changes.  That specificity can create confusion for aspiring coaches and potential clients.

One example of that confusion is the difference between wellness coaching and health coaching. It can be helpful as a practitioner or consumer to know the options so you can find what best suits your needs.

In this article we’ll cover:

• What is a health coach?
• What does a health coach do?
• How are wellness coaching and health coaching different?
• Knowing which type of coaching is right for you.

What is a Health Coach?

Just like other types of coaching, an ethical and qualified health coach will have education and certification in health coaching. Health coaches primarily work with individuals who’ve had a medical diagnosis or identified predisposition toward a health condition that would benefit from a lifestyle change. For example, a client with an elevated A1C may be pre-diabetic or diabetic.

The healthcare provider may prescribe lifestyle changes along with any medication or other intervention. However, lifestyle change is difficult for most people and successful changes are incremental and slow. A health coach can work with this individual to make progress on the lifestyle changes their doctor has prescribed.

Learn more about what it takes to be an influential health and wellness coach by checking out our Certified Wellness Coach.

What is a Wellness Coach?

A wellness coach works with clients, regardless of medical status or diagnosis, to build a lifestyle that supports their overall wellbeing. Through holistic lifestyle choices in the areas of movement, nutrition, sleep, recovery and regeneration, emotional awareness, and stress management, a wellness coach supports gradual change geared toward the client’s overall wellness goals.

For example, a client may have read an article on how movement and nutrition can benefit mental health. Recognizing the impact of their stressful job, that client can enlist a wellness coach to help build a lifestyle that keeps the stress in balance when they’re not at work.

What is the difference between a Wellness Coach and a Health Coach?

The primary differences between a wellness coach and a health coach are the focus of their work, who their clients are, and the changes being recommended.

A wellness coach focuses on the ongoing process of a client’s holistic wellness. Wellness is a lifelong journey of “mental, physical, and emotional betterment of life” and working with a wellness coach focuses on the skills of sustainable change in each of those domains. A health coach focuses on sustainable change as well, with the onus on changing related to health considerations.  

Individual coaches may choose to focus on a particular group of people or specific circumstances. For example, a health coach may focus on women over 50 who are diabetic, or a wellness coach may focus on new dads with demanding jobs who want to manage stress better.


Another significant difference is the focus of the change. Wellness coaching clients are taking a holistic view and self-directing change; while health coaching clients consider overall wellbeing, the focus is on the lifestyle changes that are part of the client’s ongoing treatment plan.

Sometimes those changes are physician directed, such as a medically prescribed diet or exercise protocol.  In those instances, the health coach’s role is to support clients in troubleshooting the execution of the prescription from the doctor.  

It can be helpful to note that many wellness coaches work with those with chronic illnesses, and many health coaches support change outside of what the doctor has specifically prescribed. The foundation built through the coaching skillset allows a good coach to support a variety of lifestyle changes in their chosen population.

Wellness Coach Health Coach
Focus on the ongoing process of a client’s overall wellness. Focus on the client’s health outcomes.  Typically relates to physical health status.
Works with the general population on improving overall wellness.  May have a group they choose to focus on. Works with individuals who’ve had a medical diagnosis that involves lifestyle changes to mitigate or treat.
The client chooses what areas of wellness to focus on as part of their wellness journey. Changes being made may be prescribed by a physician as part of the client’s ongoing treatment plan.



Finding the right coach, or the right coaching qualification, is an important process to support the next step on your wellness journey. If you’re considering becoming a coach, think about the kind of client you want to support, the kind of experts you want to learn from, and what will help you be successful professionally.

For clients, find a qualified practitioner you trust who has experience and expertise in the changes you’re looking to make in your life.

Regardless of the title, one of the most important factors for any coaching is remaining in your scope of practice and maintaining ethical standards. Be transparent with your clients about what is and is not in your scope and communicate your boundaries clearly based on what kinds of changes you’re empowered and qualified to support.