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Medical Wellness Archives

Wellness Coaching and

The Collaborative Problem Solving Model

2006: Volume 3, Number 1

Dr. Donna Mayerson

Hummingbird Coaching Services


Making healthy lifestyle changes is stressful and many of the traditional supports that individuals have had in the past have eroded. We recognize that people in today's world have fast-paced lifestyles with higher demands on personal and professional time, along with more single parent households and homes where both parents must work. These elements severely reduce the time, energy, and motivation people have to focus on their own needs.

Those seeking to improve their health and fitness have a number of places they turn to for support. Sometimes they turn to personal relationships with friends or family. Sometimes they turn to professional relationships with doctors, physical therapists, chiropractors or personal trainers. But often, they do not have the time or money to continue the work they began together.

Health and fitness seekers also turn to published materials – books, magazine articles, etc. - that have been written by experts. Unfortunately, very few of us are good at taking generic information and actually applying it to the particulars of our own lives. Though many people find printed materials helpful, such materials are usually not sufficient to resolve the issues at hand.

Hummingbird Coaching Services (HCS) has developed a service that adds to the range of supports for those wishing to make healthy lifestyle changes. It is aimed at being a “gap filler” – more personalized than generic information from experts and less intensive and expensive than professional one-on-one counseling. This service, (MHC) is personalized and efficient. Unlike traditional counseling, it is focused on non-clinical problems – the everyday challenges of instituting positive lifestyle changes. Clinical issues are instead referred to mental health and health professionals. HCS coaching also differs from traditional counseling in the depth of analysis. Counseling requires a high degree of thoroughness and analysis since the stakes are very high. Alternatively, since the stakes are lower with coaching a quicker methodology can be utilized.

In coaching, if a strategy doesn’t work we simply circle back and try something different, whereas in counseling a misdirected intervention can have more severe consequences and therefore is more unacceptable. Further, whereas counseling/therapy is often based in an “expert” model and advice is often expected, in coaching an explicit attempt is made to avoid advice–giving. Instead, the aim is to help individuals think through issues and come to their own conclusions in a collaborative problem-solving model. The coach offers ideas for consideration and helps the people generate ideas of their own. The coach helps an individual consider various ideas, choose a direction, and then supports them in the implementation of their decision.

HCS coaches aim to serve their members well but to use as little of their own time as possible in doing so. The more efficient coaches can be in the use of their time, the lower the cost to deliver the service and thereby the cost to members is kept to a minimum. Lower cost means greater availability to a wider range of people.

HCS has developed procedures and technology to help coaches in their quest for efficiency. It has developed its unique Human Touch software (in its third generation) that enables coaches and members to interact in meaningful and convenient ways using the Internet. The software offers members a secure personal website at which they can access their coach in real-time or on a non-synchronous basis within 24 hours.

The site allows coaches to hand pick topic-specific, user-friendly articles targeted to the specific issue at hand and to deliver them to a member’s personal library. It also allows coaches to help members set specific goals and to support them through implementing these goals. And, the software and program provide coaching support for the coaches themselves. All in all, the software is efficient for coaches, user-friendly for members, and capable of handling a large volume of activity.

MHC services are based in a collaborative relationship. The relationship formed between member and coach not only enhances the quality of service but the efficiency as well. The familiarity that a coach develops with a member’s circumstances and significant relationships allows them over time to more quickly offer useful ideas and assistance. With traditional call-in assistance lines, such as a warm-line, the time intensive exercise of getting background and contextual information is repeated each time. Efficiency is lost.

Challenging the conventional wisdom that relationship formation requires in-person interaction, HCS has found that members and coaches can build sufficient relationships via internet-based communication. Often HCS coaches utilize an initial time-limited telephone conversation to establish a personal connection and then proceed with computer-based interactions for the remainder of their work with the member.

In looking to maximize efficiency HCS has focused on minimizing the time used in live interactions when the listener waits for the respondent to formulate and express their thoughts. Non-synchronous interchanges via computer eliminate these “inefficiencies”. HCS coaching does not require a coach to be tethered to a member while the member formulates and expresses their thoughts. Instead, coach time is used mainly in reviewing member correspondence and formulating responses. This strategy produces great timesaving.

Further, HCS has developed a protocol based on key learnings from the field of psychotherapy and behavior modification. The protocol is embedded within a proprietary problem-solving model called Y.O.U.R. This model is based on the concept that too often people act without a good understanding of a problem. Their responses then complicate matters and often make matters worse.

MHC offers the opportunity to step back and take a second look at what’s going on – to try to quickly come to a reasonable guess as to what factors might be influencing the situation. The Y.O.U.R. model organizes the inquiry in a systematic way. Basically, it sequences the process of:

  • clarifying the member’s thoughts, feelings, beliefs and expectations around the issue (Y for You)

  • identifying some targeted Observations to make

  • deriving an understanding from the observations made Using well-established concepts of human behavior, and then

  • generating specific Responses based on an improved understanding.

But, having an idea of “what” to do is very different from actually “doing” it. People need help with the follow-through. So, after figuring out “what” to do using the Y.O.U.R. Model, HCS focuses on implementation. Here HCS builds on sound research and experience from the field of behavior modification that has to do with goal-setting and with implementation support.

Key Points
People need additional supports to the array currently available to ensure Healthy Lifestyle Change Effective goal setting and implementation support greatly increases the likelihood of behavioral change.
All problems involve negative emotions (e.g. frustration, anger, guilt, disappointment, etc.) that must be acknowledged and validated before rational problem-solving can occur Efficiency is the key to keeping the coaching service price point low and thereby making it widely accessible.
Acknowledgement and validation via reflective listening, positive re-framing and empathic responding are always necessary and sometimes sufficient responses to a member in need of support.  


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(C) 2006 The Medical Wellness Association