July 22, 2021
Last Updated:
July 23, 2021

Establishing the Coach-Client Relationship – Tips from Integrative Nutrition Health Coaches

Working with a Health Coach has many benefits – such as receiving personalized guidance to reach your health goals and gaining insight into different ways of eating and living – but one that isn’t talked about often (and should be!) is establishing a positive and supportive coach-client relationship.

The coach-client relationship is an integrated partnership where the coach and client learn from each other and mutually benefit from the work they do together. The coach and client are equal partners – one cannot find success without the other. There’s a popular misconception that Health Coaches simply tell their clients what to do and expect their clients to show up and complete a to-do list – but this is far from the truth.

Health Coaches empower their clients to learn and make choices that are right for them and only them – an example of IIN’s core concept of bio-individuality. To do this, Health Coaches must create space, physical or metaphorical, for clients to explore their health concerns and goals without judgment. At the end of the day, everyone wants to be heard, and Health Coaches open up these opportunities for their clients.

As a Health Coach yourself, you might be wondering how to create this kind of safe space and actually empower clients to find success (and in turn your success)! If you’re a coaching client, how do you know if the Health Coach you’re working with is right for you? How do you get the most out of the coaching experience?

Pillars of the coach-client relationship

Any good relationship likely has many, if not all, of the following:

  • Accountability
  • Authenticity
  • Honesty
  • Rapport
  • Reliability
  • Respect
  • Safety
  • Trust

The coach-client relationship should be no different! In fact, these qualities are necessary in a relationship where one person desires to make behavior change and the other desires to spark those changes. Building trust and rapport in the coaching relationship allows the client to feel more comfortable opening up about their health (a rather personal topic) and sets the stage for the deeper work that will happen between the Health Coach and client.

From active listening and practicing vulnerability to meeting the client where they are (instead of where you hope they’d be), Health Coaches can create a solid foundation for a mutually beneficial relationship where clients know they have someone rooting for them along the way and coaches know they can provide the encouragement and information their clients need.

Ultimately, ensuring the coach-client relationship has the above qualities is key for the client as they embark on a new and exciting journey of discovering their happiest, healthiest selves.

How Integrative Nutrition Health Coaches create healthy coach-client relationships

We spoke to some Integrative Nutrition Health Coaches passionate about helping people change their lives about the importance of the coach-client relationship:

How do you establish trust in the coach-client relationship?

“Being authentically yourself! Allowing your client to ask questions and digging deeper into areas of conversation that might not be considered easy. Those are the conversations that make the biggest impact.”

– Rebekah W.

“You ground yourself before sessions. You keep your own heart open and hold space for your client to open theirs. You start sessions on time. You maintain a code of ethics and coach within your scope of practice. You educate yourself on different cultures, races, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, etc.”

– Marissa LaRocca

“Sharing my story and what brought me to this career.”

– Deneen Jackson

“You have to build it – you can tell them to ‘trust’ you over and over again, but you have to really show up and support them in the ways they need to be supported. Prove to them again and again that they can confide in you and your response will be curious, not judgmental.”

– Heather Freudenthal

How do you create boundaries in the coach-client relationship?

“Establishing office hours.”

– Deneen Jackson

“You explicitly outline your policies in your program agreement and go over these terms with your client before you begin working together. If your client ever crosses a boundary, you let them know and refer to the program agreement they signed when you began working together.”

– Marissa LaRocca

“I'm up front about what I can and can’t help with. I walk them through the program agreement and make sure they understand my cancellation policy and how they can reach me between sessions.”

– Merritt Tracy

“Clearly outlining them verbally and in writing (in the coaching agreement) and then following through in practice. For example, if a coach tells a client they will not prescribe a diet, and the client still asks the coach to tell them what to eat, the coach can say, ‘At the beginning of our work, we discussed that I would help you figure out the best foods for your body and your condition, but I cannot prescribe diets or know with absolute certainty what’s best for your health. Are you comfortable continuing to explore your options with me? Or would you like me to refer you to a nutritionist or RD who can prescribe meal plans?’”

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– Heather Freudenthal

Are there certain misconceptions or myths around the coach-client relationship that you often need to clarify or dispel?

“That coaching is consulting and the coach has all the answers.”

– Amy Nolan

“That you have to be in top optimal health to support others.”

– Deneen Jackson

“I emphasize the importance of setting not just goals, but realistic, tangible goals! They allow the client to achieve them with the continued support of the coach. I find that the clients who have clear and concise goals are the ones who get the most out of the program.”

– Rebekah W.

“Often clients come into health coaching thinking I will tell them what to do. I let them know that the coach-client relationship is about them being able to take responsibility for their own health and create the life they want; while I can guide them, they need to take the lead.”

– Merritt Tracy

“Coaching is a collaborative process in which the coach actually helps the client realize they are the expert on themselves and take appropriate action. Another misconception is that the coach will tell the client what or how to eat and know what diet is best for them. Another misconception is that a Health Coach will be able to work with/is a good match for anyone with any health condition. Coaching is a partnership, and just like people need to find a therapist who is a good match in experience, temperament, and style for them, clients will be best served when they find a coach who they ‘mesh’ with.”

– Heather Freudenthal

“I have had a few experiences where clients expected me to have conversations or correspondence with them outside our sessions without compensating me for my time. So the myth might be that coaches are willing to work for free. It's important to be very up front with the terms of your coaching agreement and create clear policies around things like additional time spent emailing your client, whether they can text you, whether you have specific office hours, etc.”

– Marissa LaRocca

What do you want an aspiring Health Coach to know about the coach-client relationship?

“That the client guides the journey, not the coach!”

– Amy Nolan

“Let the client lead! As tempting as it can be to provide clients information and ideas, the work you do as a coach will be more transformative and powerful if you empower your clients to think for themselves.”

– Marissa LaRocca

“Get to know your niche market and what they are looking for in your coaching services. Remain true to who you are but also remember that bio-individuality comes into play with your clients. Ask them about themselves to open them up in your first session.”

– Rebekah W.

“I think a lot of new coaches get caught up in trying to create perfect handouts and amazing social media content. The relationship is what’s most important and what will create a program where the client can grow and shift.”

– Merritt Tracy

“It's very much a give-and-take relationship. You'll get as much out of it as your clients will. You'll both learn a lot from each other.”

– Heather Freudenthal

Author Biography
Nina Zorfass
IIN Content Writer

Nina holds a bachelor’s in dietetics, nutrition, and food sciences from the University of Vermont, is a graduate of IIN’s Health Coach Training Program, and is an NASM-Certified Personal Trainer.

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