Outside of a busy schedule, Tracie enjoys quilting and cycling in her free time. On her long commute to and from work, she likes to listen to Audible books about nutrition, as it has proven to be one of her many passions. After having lived in 15 different cities across the United States, her time in North Carolina has brought about a change of pace that allows her to focus on and enjoy activities in the moment.
Written by Alyssa Crawford
To have the opportunity to talk to Tracie Heavner is to understand what it looks like to integrate the skills and the spirit of health coaching into all aspects of life. Tracie, who is the current Director of the Diabetes Prevention Program for the YMCA’s of Greensboro, participated in UNCG’s Health Coach Training in February of 2018, and was nationally certified within one year of completing our training. Her original desire to become a Certified Health Coach was borne out of her frustration with hearing clients explain to her what they believed their limitations were. She had heard the word “can’t” one too many times, and knew that she needed to gain the necessary skills to help her clients overcome their obstacles. Tracie recognized the importance of listening to the individuals she worked with, giving them an opportunity to talk about their experiences and truly be heard. With her previous background in public health, and specifically chronic disease prevention, behavior modification, and childhood obesity, Tracie was eager to see how health coaching could improve health outcomes for the people she worked with.
Since receiving her certification through UNCG, Tracie has been using her health coaching skills in all areas of her professional life, from working with individuals with diabetes, to leading the cancer survivor’s program LIVESTRONG, and even implementing a tai chi-based fall prevention program. Tracie believes in using health coaching to help the people she works with bring about lifestyle changes that ultimately make them feel better by focusing on their “why”. Why does someone want to lose weight? Why do they want to make a change in their lives? Why do they want to improve their health? Tracie’s goal in finding the why, or the intention, in someone’s life is to understand their motivation, and help them harness that momentum to make long-term change. Her experience over this past year has led to the construction of her own definition of a health coach: A health coach is a skilled partner who works alongside a client to achieve lifestyle and behavioral changes by drawing attention to and helping a client prioritize the “what” and “why” of sustainable and lasting progress.
In reflecting on her impactful year as a health coach, Tracie discussed some of the challenges of health coaching, as well as the skills she finds to be critical when working with clients. As many health coaches may relate to, concluding her time with a client after the allotted number of sessions can pose an immense challenge. Tracie notes that it is important for a health coach to empower their clients to tackle obstacles on their own, ensuring that when the client-coach relationship comes to an end, the client is able to hold themselves accountable for reaching their goals. Another challenge health coaches may face is maintaining positivity when it comes to smaller successes achieved by a client. Lasting change is not accomplished overnight, and Tracie has learned to recognize that even little successes are a big deal. Some of the skills Tracie has found most useful in her role as a health coach are the use of open ended questions, the ability to reflect client statements back to the client, using summative language to check in with her clients, active and reflective listening, and the ability to be comfortable sitting in silence. Each of these skills allows the client to feel in control of their process.
Some of the drawbacks Tracie sees in the field of health coaching is the lack of uniformity in the industry. Especially with the rise of social media, people are labeling themselves as health coaches, life coaches, wellness coaches, and lifestyle coaches, but have no certification to support the information they share through their platforms. In order to uplift the Health Coach credential and the work of health coaches, the credentialing process and the title itself need to be standardized. The goal in doing so is the continued ability of health coaches to help clients identify their goals, and bear witness to their life-changing successes.
When asked about her clients, Tracie admitted that many of them don’t know what health coaching is when they meet with her for their first session. Many are referred to her for different reasons, sometimes as part of a larger program. Despite this, each of them knows that they want to make a change in their lives, and they want to partner with someone who will help them achieve their goals. Some of the most common issues her clients are looking to work on are weight loss, time management, and stress management, although goals vary from person to person. In describing her clients, Tracie characterized them as highly motivated, eager to change, and always willing to try something new.
In terms of the skills she has gained from her health coaching experience, the most significant take-away for Tracie has been the applicability of the coaching spirit to every area and every relationship in her life. As the field of health coaching expands, it is imperative that health coaches maintain the central essence of health coaching by prioritizing active listening and creating space for open and explorative conversation.