Study finds wellness coaching benefits last over time

Wellness coaching is an increasingly popular strategy for improving health and well-being, yet it remains relatively unstudied. Most published research has looked at outcomes for specific medical problems such as cardiovascular disease and weight management, even though people often seek wellness coaching for general lifestyle improvements.

"At Mayo Clinic, the wellness coaches are in the employee healthy living center, which is dedicated to physical activity, so people come in with the idea that we're going to weigh them and encourage them to walk more. But people's goals often change during the wellness coaching process, which can transform it into being about so much more, including stress management, healthy sleep and relationships," explains Matthew M. Clark, Ph.D., L.P., a clinical psychologist at Mayo Clinic's campus in Minnesota.

To discover the potential psychosocial benefits of wellness coaching, Dr. Clark and colleagues undertook a single-arm cohort study of 100 Mayo employees who completed a 12-week, in-person wellness coaching program.

The primary aims of the study were to examine potential improvements in quality of life (QOL), including physical, social, emotional, cognitive and spiritual functioning, as well as in depressive symptoms and perceived stress levels. The secondary aim was to examine the maintenance of potential improvements over time.

The wellness coaching program consisted of an initial 60- to 120-minute session to discuss participants' strengths, challenges and personal goals and the strategies needed to achieve those goals. In 11 follow-up sessions lasting 30 to 60 minutes each, participants and coaches discussed actions taken toward the goals and methods for successfully continuing them.

Improvement in all areas

Study results, which appeared in Mayo Clinic Proceedings in 2014, demonstrated significant improvements at 12 weeks in all areas — overall quality of life, the five domains of QOL, depressive symptoms and perceived stress levels.

At baseline, mean QOL measures ranged from 6 to 7.6 on a 10-point scale. The effect size at 12 weeks was highest for physical well-being (0.8) and lowest for spiritual well-being (0.4). The perceived stress level decreased from a mean of 14.3 at baseline to 11.0, and depressive symptoms scores decreased by half.

The number of participants who reported having at least one troubling symptom on the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 at baseline was also reduced by half at 12 weeks. As important, the improvements were maintained at 24-week follow-up.

Dr. Clark says the study results are notable for several reasons. One is the statistically significant and clinically meaningful improvement in all five domains of QOL. Another is the potential for wellness coaching to play a role in an integrated approach to depression management and in formal stress-reduction programs.

He points out that as the popularity of wellness coaching continues to grow, the need for certification and training for coaches increases, too. All wellness coaches at Mayo Clinic received training and certification from the Mayo Clinic Wellness Coaching Training Program, which prepares wellness coaches to build trusting relationships, identify client values and desires, and transform goals into actions that create lasting change.

For more information

Clark MM, et al. The effectiveness of wellness coaching for improving quality of life. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2014;89:1537.

Mayo Clinic Wellness Coaching Program. Mayo Clinic.