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Health Coaches Don’t “Diagnose or Treat Disease”: Those Words and Others Don’t Belong in Our Vocabulary

It is nothing new that there’s inevitable overlap between the practice of medicine and providing sound health coaching. Ideally, there should be a seamless continuum between the two endeavors, but that could only exist where there is a continuum of cooperation and respect. Health Coaches need to be careful with how we describe and present our work. While health coaching is a vibrant movement, it is still a junior partner to “traditional medicine” and for self-preservation; we should seek to avoid direct “turf wars” with Physicians.

The most balanced approach requires continuous consideration of the distinctions between these complementary fields. While there will always be principled differences, the practical applications change steadily along with knowledge and technology. The most prudent approach is for Health Coaches to simply concede medicine’s proprietary terms. We need to understand them, and can use them, but anytime we do we must draw distinctions that educate our clients about the difference in objectives and procedures of these complementary endeavors. In that sense, there are no “forbidden words”, but there are plenty of places where lack of clarity in purpose and practice can cause problems. Some of the major terms that should be conceded include:

Patient, practice, diagnosis, cause, disease/pathology, prescribing, medicine, treatment, management, effectiveness, intervention and cure.

Health Coaches should strive to embody in our mission what comes from consideration of those terms. We develop relationships with clients, we are not in the practice of seeking responsibility for treating patients. We are helpful guides in exploring the vast, common sense resources of the field of wellness, not prescribing proprietary agents or using medical modalities to treat disease. We act as individual guides on a quest that prioritizes personalized discovery and anecdotal utility, not practitioners who prescribe antidotes approved by impersonal population-based investigations.

Health Coaches are about beings, synergy, elasticity, balance, flourishing and optimization.

We look for associated (natural) influences that can combine to re-establish balance, not for a cause or diagnosis that be controlled by the use of a foreign/artificial agent. Health Coaches are about beings, synergy, elasticity, balance, flourishing and optimization. Medicine predominantly lays claim to systems that don’t display those features.

“The doctor of the future will give no medication but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.”

Each term, of course, could be expanded upon greatly as time permits. Back in 1903, Thomas Edison said that “The doctor of the future will give no medication but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.” Edison was simply wrong. Health Coaches should focus on care of the human frame and diet which are the wellsprings of function and flourishing. That’s a big task that requires ever-increasing knowledge and wisdom.

Unfortunately, the human “machine” is inevitably subject to decay of various sorts and severities. Medicine will always have a very important place in providing resources for comfort where nature has been pushed to failure – which is not an uncommon occurrence. The line between those positions shifts over time, but until utopia breaks out, reality will maintain a vast market for both types of emphasis. For now, it is up to the junior partner to hold up their banner while keeping the peace.

Originally printed on the FDN blog. Reprinted with permission.


Reed Davis is a Nutritional Therapist and has been the Health Director and Case Manager at a wellness clinic San Diego for over 15 years. Reed is the Founder of the Functional Diagnostic Nutrition® Certification Course, offering functional lab training, data-driven protocols, tools and leadership you need so professionals confidently solve your client’s health issues and grow your career.

MFN Industry Expert