How to Prepare for the NBHWC Exam

Catalyst Coaching Podcast

Brad: The profession of health and wellness coaching changed significantly in 2017 when the NBHWC (National Board for Health & Wellness Coaching) created a National Board Certification for Health and Wellness Coaches. In this episode, we’ll be interviewing Sabryna Liddle and Susan McGarry, two individuals who were not only among the first group to pass the board certification, but are also on the committee to help design future questions for the exam. If you’re a current or future health and wellness coach, this episode is critical to your future. They’ll explain all the ins and outs of the exam, how to prepare, what it means for your future career and where the profession is heading as a result.

Welcome to the catalyst coaching podcast. My name is Brad Cooper. I’ll be your host today and we’ve got a very special event planned for you today. You’re probably aware if you’ve been watching the wellness coaching industry for a while, you have noticed that it has changed dramatically in the last couple of years. Instead of just being the wild wild west in terms of certifications, there’s now something called the International Consortium for Health and Wellness coaching. You may want to look that up. This is an nonprofit organization where as they accredit programs that allow people to sit for the national board exam, so it’s brought a lot of additional credibility to the field and it’s going to continue to do so in the future.

Today, we have two coaches joining us who are both certified wellness coaches and they’ve gone on to earn their national board certification as wellness coaches.  They don’t just have the accreditation. they’ve actually been asked by the NBHWC to participate in the committee that’s developing the questions for the exam. Obviously, they’ve got confidentiality things they can’t share with you, specific questions and those types of things, but they can give you insights into the process, into the background, into the value of the NBHWC, and we’re going to talk that through with them today. Let me just introduce you to the two of them and then we’ll hear from them. First coach is Susan McGarry, as I mentioned, she’s a certified wellness coach and now a nationally board-certified wellness coach. She is also an instructor for the Catalyst Coaching Institute and Specializes in sleep and coaching tools and techniques. She’s also a coach for us corporate wellness. She says her passion is about helping others become the best version of themselves.  She also loves is seeing the ripple effect on how it enhances, not just that individual’s life, but the lives that that person then touches. She believes we all have a journey to live that involves both failures and successes and she’s honored to be a part of each of our clients’ journeys. Personally, she’s married, a mother of three children, a competitive cyclist, runner, and tennis player. Our second coach joining us today is Sabryna Liddle, as I mentioned, Sabryna is also a certified wellness coach and nationally board-certified wellness coach as well as a personal trainer. She’s an instructor for the Catalysts Coaching Institute and her focus areas are life balance, positive psychology, emotional eating among others. She’s been a professional health and wellness coach for 11 plus years now. Her specialty is finding the root of our clients’ challenges and igniting the flames of positive lifestyle change. Sabryna is the mom of two college age students. She’s been married for over 25 years and she enjoys cycling, camping, strength training, hiking, cooking and reading.  She wants to ensure that she is immersing herself in as many health and wellness related activities as possible so that she can add to those conversations she has with their clients about the various dimensions of wellness. Please join me in welcoming Susan McGarry and Sabryna Liddle.

Let’s start off just by talking about the history of the NBHWC.  Sabrina, can you tell us a little bit about what the International Consortium for Health and Wellness coaching even is, how it came to be, all those types of things?

Sabrina: Sure. I’ll give you a little insight. The consortium originated in 2013. They are nonprofit organization and started off being referred to as the national consortium for credentialing health and wellness coaches. The group is made up of a board of directors, all volunteers and they were assisted by a council of Advisors. These folks are all people that have been in the industry I think for at least a couple of decades, so when they first started as the national consortium for health and wellness coaches, they raised money to help develop best practices for the health and wellness coach industry.   Once they raised that money they met with health and wellness coaches in the industry and they came together and created this job task analysis that actually defined the role of health and wellness coaches. It detailed the tasks, the expected knowledge and skills of health and wellness coaches. Then in 2016, the consortium, then changed their title to international consortium of health and wellness coaches.  In 2016, NBHWC partnered with the National Board of Medical Examiners.  They moved forward to create this national board certification process in order to support everything that they did and to validate the standards of the health and wellness coaching industry.

Brad: Susan, can you expand on that where NBHWC is going in terms of their purpose and the goals they have for the coming years?

Susan: Well, I think in the beginning the main idea was to start this process because anyone could call themselves a health coach even without any education. So that’s where they developed the national consortium for credentialing health and wellness coaches. The reason being it’s very important for coaches to be effective in what they do. A competent health and wellness coach will act as a powerful force to facilitate healthy lifestyle changes and quality of life. We believe that as people use coaching to build healthier habits, these positive changes will become more wide spread throughout all aspects of our world. Also, the mission of NBHWC is to support coaches so that they can improve their health and wellness. which also helps to prevent and manage chronic disease to make important health decisions and optimizing their lifestyles to achieve their best possible overall wellbeing. There’re three main approaches with the mission. One is to integrate knowledgeable, skilled and credentialed professional health and wellness coaches into the healthcare system. We want to do this so the coaches can facilitate lasting change of mindsets and behaviors to improve health and wellbeing of individuals. Two, we want to support the integration of basic coaching skills and the practices of health professions so that healthcare providers are better able to catalyze and support engagement and enhancing lifestyles.  And Three we want to advance at collaborative research agenda based on best practices.

Brad: Moving on to the board certification, Sabryna, can anybody take this exam? Can I just walk up and say, “I think I know my stuff pretty well” Can I just go ahead and take the exam now?

Sabryna: No. There are requirements just to sit for the certification exam. You’ve had to complete a coaching training program from a consortium approved program. You have to have an associate’s degree or higher.  You have to have completed a log of 50 health and wellness coaching sessions that were at least 20 minutes in length.  75% of those sessions have to be considered true coaching versus educational or teaching.  I think that process alone is so important. The fact that not just anyone can sit for it, that they have to demonstrate that they have gone through training from programs that are specifically approved by NBHWC.

Brad: Well let’s get personal here, So the two of you were in the first class of people that sat for this exam. You had nobody to build off of. You hadn’t heard about anybody who’s gone through it. Susan. I’ll start with you. Why did you put yourself out there? Maybe talk a little bit about your experience with that.

Susan: Well, first of all, I love health and wellness coaching. I was trained through CCI eight years ago and just really fell in love with it.  When I found out about becoming Nationally board certified, I was like, of course I’m going to do this because it’s going to help me become better a health and wellness coach for my clients. I think it also gives me more credibility when working with clients, I think it also gives my clients a little bit more confidence in where I’m coming from and, and it just helps to build better trust and rapport. The other thing that I love about being a national board-certified health and wellness coach is I like being part of this community.

NBHWC again has a Facebook page only to those who were certified. That has been a really neat place to go and to read and hear about what other wellness coaches are doing around the country. It gives you great ideas and other perspectives, which I love because it can also help me with my clients.  In addition, we have quarterly, coffee and chats and that’s been really fun because one of them was with Meg Jordan, you know, one of the Gurus of health and wellness coaching. That was really fun to have a question and answer session with her.  We were able to hear about her challenges that come up in health and wellness coaching and how she deals with them and that was really fun because it gave you a different perspective. They also give you opportunities for business and marketing ideas around the country. We’re all different. We’re all but we’re all on. We’re all trying to help others become healthier and happier people.

Brad: Great. Great. Love it. Sabrina, anything different from Susan or is your story real similar?

Sabryna: You know, I’ve been coaching professionally for over a decade and for me it was really important to just remain a leader in the industry and by pursuing this national board certification right away, I felt like that showed it and as Susan said, I got to be able to be a part of this new community, but I can’t really express enough how important it is to really validate the profession. The taking the certification and really supporting this because it’s so funny. I’ve been in different groups and people asking you, you know, “oh, you’re a wellness coach.” “what do you do, do you sell supplements?” It’s like, “ah, no.” And I’ve actually come across people who try and pass themselves off as a wellness coach because they sell a supplement.  I think that’s totally doing the industry a disservice because these training programs that are approved through NBHWC, it’s not about selling a supplement. It is about really how to be coach that supports a client and we get training on how to talk with people, not just educate people, not just tell them how to, or please buy my product. It is so not that. So again, it was so important to take this exam and be one of the first thousand nationally board-certified health and wellness coaches. like Susan said, I just want to be able to have my clients trust me and it is really interesting because I actually have gone out there and marketed myself and when I talk to people I definitely bring up the fact that I’m nationally board certified and I’m talking to people who are physicians and who are physical therapists and their ears perk up, you know, because they’re like, oh, there is such a thing we didn’t know that. And so, it really does make a difference to describe what I do and to have to give myself credibility just by saying, Yup, we have it and I’m one of the only a thousand that’s nationally board certified. So that’s pretty cool.

Brad: Good stuff. Good stuff. All right, so we’re going to take a step back. When You two became board certified, you were actually selected by NBHWC to participate in a group that would help fine tune the exam, develop questions going forward for future exams. Now I know you’re under some confidentiality restrictions here so you can’t take a full deep dive with our audience, but any guidance, any insights that you could share in terms of the exam itself. I’m going to ask you about general tips for coaches, people thinking about becoming a coach, but in terms of the exam itself, the preparation, any other considerations? Do you have any guidance to give us out there?

Susan: I guess I have some insight and then maybe some guidance. I think the things that struck me the most is me just by being a part of the group that is in the process of creating the national board certification. I was looking at something the other day. It was over 20 years of research just putting everything together and it’s coming to fruition. You know, I think the main things that jump out to me are that with the job task analysis, which has been a process of coming up with what we do is health and wellness coaches. There are four domains of that and it’s all on the NBHWC website and then the objectives that go with each. It’s very important that you understand exactly what all of that means. For example, you’re looking at coaching structure, coaching process, health and wellness and ethics.

The reason those are so important is because that is what we do. That is what helps us to have that credibility because people think, oh, it’s just talking about selling products. But what we do is we get into the human part of what it’s like to make change and why it’s so important to build a healthy life.

So, I guess the questions and the test, they’re built off of obviously the task analysis and the four domains. The other interesting thing that I’d like to bring to light is the National Board of Medical Examiners developed this exam for health and wellness coaches.  They, give exams to doctors and medical professionals and when they were looking at what they were going to do next, and I believe it was about 10 years ago, they noticed that they had a hole in the prevention piece, like where are we going to really work on helping to prevent disease, chronic diseases and then and they thought through it and it was the health and wellness coaches where they look to and say, okay, well this is a field that can help us with this and it’s important that we do legitimize this and we have an exam and then the job task analysis and so forth and so on.

I was very impressed by the national board when they talked about that. I was excited to be a health and wellness coach that they find what we do is so incredibly important. It does need to be credentialed. It needs to be standardized so that there are expectations.

Brad: Sabryna, any other tips? Just in terms of the NBHWC preparation and getting ready because that’s got to be kind of intimidating. You guys both talked about how credentialed it is, what’s gone into it, the history, the background, so there’s a lot to this test, so any other helpful words you can provide folks that are thinking, “I think I’d like to try to pursue this thing.”

Sabryna: Yes, I have some things I’d love to share, first a little bit more about the process. When Susan and I went and helped create future exam questions, we actually spent the first part of the meeting being trained and how to write excellent exam questions by the National Board of Medical Examiners. This was actually really neat and we learned how to avoid writing questions that people who are just good test takers can answer correctly without knowing the actual information. So for all of the you that might be thinking, oh, this, this test going to be a piece of cake, it’s not. It was extremely rigorous and complex training and you know, once we created those questions, we actually edited, all the questions in a separate process, so we created a bunch of questions and then we went through in a separate meeting and edited them because we actually had make sure that the questions for the exam were specific to the information that was provided in the content outline, which is right on the international consortium of health and wellness coaches website.

So it’s really important for those of you that are considering taking this exam to a know that it’s a really professionally done exam. It is not an easy exam, if you go through that outline and feel like you know everything, then you’re probably going to do pretty well. But also realize that you are taking this exam from the standpoint of a health and wellness coach. So a lot of people, they have something else in their background. You might be a physical therapist, you might be a registered nurse and you’re wanting to add this to your list of certifications and just know that this exam, is geared towards being a health and wellness coach and that is very different than being a physical therapist or being a nurse and as long as you really follow the guidelines and you get your training from an approved training program and you look at that outline and think you know it really well, then you’re going to  do great.

Brad: Excellent. Really good distinction of the difference between coming into this exam compared to some other background that you might bring to the table. So, thanks both of you. Okay, so we’re going to take a little step back here and we’re going to take the NBHWC and set it to the side and let everybody breathe for a minute. I just want to tap into your brain’s a little bit about general tips or suggestions for individuals who are either thinking about the wellness coaching thing. Maybe this is a route they want to go in their career or they are certified already and they’re trying to figure out how to get better at it. So, I’ll throw that out there and we may do a little back and forth with this one.

Susan: Okay. Well first the first step is an NBHWC approved program, there are lots out there. Catalyst Coaching Institute is one. There are, you know, universities. Duke has one, their integrative medicine program. There’s one in Minnesota, I mean there are all kinds of different programs. So first I would find one that is approved and you can find that on the NBHWC website. Then, you know, once you’re in a program, my next thing would be just to practice as much as possible with just the coaching and following the different tools and techniques and interviewing processes. Another thing to keep in mind is that the exam is scenario based so I think that the way that we learn is by practice and of course trial and error.  You might try to apply different things on the job task analysis and it may be difficult with a teaching background. I always say that we’re working with people not widgets and so it’s going to look different with every single client and I would say that’s why practice is so important because you have to get a feel for how different people respond, how you might respond to different people and so forth and so on. So those are my suggestions.

Brad: Sabrina, any other tips to throw out for people either thinking about that this would be a cool career or folks that are in it that might be looking for a boost?

Sabryna: Sure. It really is important that if you’re interested in in pursuing health and wellness coaching as a career, that you really get familiar with the NBHWC website. There are so many programs that are listed and we know that you are all different and individual, so you really want to make sure that you pick a training program that’s right for you and your situation on your goals.  Honestly, I would recommend doing this sooner rather than later right now. This process, we didn’t even touch on this, but the process is considered a transition phase. This is happening, this transition phase is what happens prior to what will be considered the permanent phase because Susan and I both work for catalysts, we know that the permanent phase will require many, many more hours of training, I think it might almost be double of what is required currently. If you are considering doing this, I definitely am encouraging you to do it now. Do it soon.

Coaches that are interested in completing the requirements during this transition phase, they actually have to have all the requirements completed by October 30th of 2020. And if you look at the website, the health and wellness coach certification exam, it is only offered during specific times. So, this is not something that is offered every day, all year long. There are definite windows, there is only one exam offered in 2019 and the period is June and requirements have to be done by March 15th of 2019. And right now, there’s only one offered in February, 2020.  All that I want you all to know is that again, this process, this is, this is new and I would get on it now if you’re thinking about it and just understand that it might be harder to do a few years from now.

Brad: So let me throw one more question out there. Building on what you just talked about beyond the NBHWC, any tips for that person who’s thinking about this coaching thing? Just any, and we’re going to have a future podcast on what it’s like to be a coach and all the positives in some case studies in that kind of thing, but just in brief, any kind of putting your arm around their shoulder and saying, here, here’s a little nugget for you that might help you make the right decision or choose not to do it or kind of why you got into it. That type of thing.

Susan: Good question. Health and wellness coaching it’s different from other things, other fields, other opportunities.  We have to help people. One analogy that I read, was talking about how what we do as a health and wellness coach is we’re sitting in the passenger seat in a car with our client who’s sitting, who’s driving, so if you’re one of those people who liked to listen, if you enjoy supporting, if you are nonjudgmental, you’ve got to be in a place where you want to listen very objectively to your clients. You have to know the tools such as summarizing and reflecting all these other different things that you will get from being in a program and an accredited program, but you really have to take yourself out of it and let the client drive what they want to change. Because we, you know, as a health and wellness coach, we don’t tell people what to do. We help them explore and figure out what they can do in their lives and it looks very different for each person. If you’re the type of person who likes to prescribe or say you need to do a, b and c, then health and wellness coaching is not going to be for you because to help a person change, THEY have to be invested. We cannot do it for them. And so again, it’s one of those jobs where you really have to listen. You have to empathize, you have to care. You have to be nonjudgmental and you have to take every single person where they are today. And that I think is where the magic happens because then they feel we help to empower them to feel that they can make this change in their lives.

Outstanding. It’s funny, as you were talking, I was thinking about we have a lot of clinicians go through the Catalyst Coaching Institute program and they’re coming from a setting where that’s what they do. They’re supposed to be the expert. The person walks in, you’re a  physical therapist, you evaluate and treat and you’re supposed to give the answer and then the same Physical Therapists comes through the wellness training program and they go, “oh wow my treatments are going to be so much better now because, I can still be an expert.”  I love that passenger seat analogy So good.

Brad: Sabrina, any other closing thoughts with this?

Sabryna: Yes, I really think that the future of healthcare is to focus on the preventive nature of it with Health and wellness coaching. You know, we’re really trying to help people prevent problems a lot of times. And I also think that being a health and wellness coach, if you’re interested at all in helping people change then consider being a health and wellness coach.

We just talked about the medical professional, you’re used to giving information, providing information, right?  Then you send your client or patient out the door and you say, “I gave you this information, do it. Okay”.  Then your patient says, “Whoa, okay, I know what I’m supposed to do, but how do I do it? Well, wellness coaches, we close the gap. We close that gap between the person’s given information and how do they make it happen.  We’re the person that helps. So, if you are a person that is really interested in helping somebody pursue change, change their lifestyle, then this is for you.

Brad: Love it, love it. I mean just think about that gap between information and application. That’s where living is, right? So good. You two. I appreciate it. It’s great stuff. Great Information and I’m sure we’re going to get some good feedback on it. So, thanks for joining us.

Wow, how was that for a great summary and it builds on our introductory podcast that we kicked this whole thing off with.  Both Susan and Sabryna talked about the idea of competence and credibility. They talked about this concept of they want their clients to trust them and this idea of a national board certification that’s credentialed from the outside. It’s a big deal. So again, in terms of your takeaways, you’ve got a lot of information in here about the NBHWC. If you want to go to their website, it’s stands for the International Consortium for Health and Wellness coaching. And if you have any questions about our certification, we’d obviously love for you to keep us in mind. It’s Catalyst Coaching And, even if you don’t choose to go with us, we’re happy to answer any questions and, walk you through that. So, again, lot of good stuff, maybe one that you want to listen to a couple of times through.

A huge thanks to Sabryna Liddle and Susan McGarry what a wonderful job and just full of information. Thanks for joining us. See you next time.


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