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Influencer ‘Wellness Coaches’ Are on the Rise in Mental Health Spaces — Should We Be Worried?

Since its inception, social media has connected people near and far. Whether it be through mutual friends, acquaintances or shared interests, it seems like you can find anyone and everything you need with a quick scroll. Which is why it’s no surprise that healthcare has made its way to the platforms. From birth control to tele-health appointments, a single click of an Instagram ad or “book now” button on a website can get you on your way to feeling and looking better.

So with the steady growth of virtual healthcare, and the explosive rise of social media influencers, a new figure has emerged —  influencer coaches. Coaches for self-esteem, life, business, wellness, babies, fitness and health have begun popping up in newsfeeds, daily. Touting glossy images captioned with a laundry list of curated hashtags and promises that you can feel or look better if you, “just hire me”.

“Health and wellness are hot topics these days, and in some ways coaching can be a fast-track to working in these fields,” said Whitney Brooks, a National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach based in North Carolina. “Unlike a medical doctor, nurse or therapist, a coach doesn’t legally require certification, licensure or additional education to hang their shingle and set up shop. In other words, there are fewer barriers to entry.”

So, what is a wellness coach?

The definition of a wellness coach in today’s world can vary. Coaching as a whole is a system to help improve performance, and finding a niche coach, like a wellness or health coach, provides the client with someone who is tailored or specialized to help develop focus or vision and achieve specific goals. 

Brooks says in a nutshell her job is to work with individuals to facilitate healthy habit change: “I never tell the client what to do or give them advice,” she said. “I also don’t have to be a subject-matter expert on what the client wants to focus on, because my expertise is on the coaching process itself.”

Licensed vs. unlicensed 

When it comes to finding a wellness coach or any healthcare provider, experts agree that you should seek out someone who is licensed to practice. 

“Board-certified health coaches have completed an educational program approved by the National Board for Health and Wellness coaching and passed a standardized National Board Certification Examination,” said Brooks. “Board-certified health coaches must also complete ongoing continuing education requirements to maintain their board certification status.”

And certification also ensures safety when it comes to wellness coaching that dives into physical training. Fitness influencers who double as personal trainers have exploded thanks to social media.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics,  fitness trainers are projected to grow 39 percent from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Emily McNeill, who has a masters in exercise physiology and is American College of Sports Medicine and National Strength and Conditioning Association certified says her biggest issue with the fitness industry as a whole is the lack of oversight and no governing body. 

“Nobody who works 9 to 5 can do the things a fitness influencer does in a day because that’s all they do in a day,” she said. “And then they make people feel disproportionate failure that they didn’t meet their own goals or expectations. All the while the already fit girl continues to post their triumphs and wins. It’s hard to watch.”

What you see isn’t what you always get

Being able to afford the time off and the financial obligation that comes with hiring a coach is certainly a luxury, but data shows that if you’re able and you find someone who is a fit for you and your needs, it’s worth it. 

The International Coaching Federation reports that 80 percent of people who receive coaching have increased self-confidence, and over 70 percent benefit from improved work performance and have more effective communication skills.

For many social media users like Mary Mendez, finding someone who was within her price point and could work within her schedule is what drew her to hiring a wellness coach through social media. “I’m a mother of three, with two kids in school and one still at home, I just don’t have the time to see a therapist once or twice a month,” she said. “I need someone that doesn’t cost a fortune, and scrolling through Instagram before I go to bed is the only time I really have to see who is out there.”

Mendez said she hired an unlicensed wellness coach through Instagram to help her create more daily routines to improve her overall mental and physical health. Within four days of taking her online courses and following a strict wellness routine, the coach began pushing a multi-level marketing workout series and diet. “I couldn’t pronounce half the ingredients in the shakes she wanted me to drink three times a day,” Mendez said. “I quit before the weekend was over.”

How to spot red flags & find a quality coach

Like anything online, experts and those who’ve been burned by social media wellness coaches, say it’s good to approach everything — especially in the realm of online influencers — with a healthy dose of skepticism and do your research before diving in head first. 

Mendez says she’d tell anyone looking to hire a wellness coach to not be afraid to ask questions and do your homework. “Not every wellness coach is out to make a quick buck or screw you over,” she said. “Just like everyone who has a job, some people are going to provide quality service and some are not.” 

And with the rise in influencer coaching comes what experts agree is a step in the right direction. People are more comfortable talking to someone about their struggles and are looking for viable solutions. 

Brooks said she doesn’t promote her work on social media because she doesn’t want to be tethered to her screen any more than she already is. “The tricky thing with social media, especially for people who use it to drive new business or find new clients, is that the more you use it, the more you have to keep using it,” she said.  “And it’s not like people find their doctor by looking at an Instagram post, for the most part.”

Before you go, check out some mental health apps we love for some more self-directed mental health TLC: 

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