Hepatitis C: Working With a Health Coach

Sashkinw for iStock via Thinkstock

I read an article in The New Yorker that has been nagging at me for five years, "Top Athletes and Singers Have Coaches. Should You?" Written by one of my favorite writers, physician Atul Gawande argues forcibly that even when we are at our best, a coach can help us in many ways. Top tennis players and musicians use coaches throughout their careers. They are always striving to learn. Did I need a coach to help me be a better hepatitis C advocate?

The essay stirred something in me, and I did what I often do when faced with potentially life-changing information, I filed it away. A year later, I discovered blogger Matt Starr, a health coach with hepatitis C. Matt used his experience with hep C, cirrhosis, multiple treatments, transplant, and post surgical complications as opportunities for transformation. Instead of lying down and dying, he turned to yoga, meditation, and self-care. He coached himself to a wellness that transcends his physical maladies, and he lives in peace.

At that time of my life, I was healthy, making decent choices, but there was room for improvement. However, I knew I could do better, and I wondered if I needed a coach to help me to be healthier. Matt inspired me, and I thought about asking him to coach me to a healthier lifestyle, but frankly, I wasn't ready for yoga and gardening. I filed the notion away.

One thing about change is that it occurs when we are ready for it, and not a moment sooner. In my case, it took nearly five years from reading that New Yorker article to committing to working with a coach. But when I was ready, change happened easily.

Sometimes change may seem to happen accidentally, although when I write this, it clearly didn't happen by chance. I discovered coach Toni Feldstein because of an essay she wrote in the Huffington Post. At that point, I had decided if I wasn't going to use a coach, I could at least write about the value of coaching, so I contacted her. You can probably guess the next part; I ended up asking her to be my coach.

Toni and Matt understand what it is like to live with that ticking time bomb, hepatitis C. Both know fear, yet both learned how to live in peace. Toni felt that empowering herself was a better choice than living in fear. She was willing to take a risk to be as strong as possible. Matt was called by a desire to attend to a purpose beyond his own story, as if the bumps and challenges were ultimately part of a deep plan to illuminate and transform. Love figures prominently in both Matt and Toni's journeys.

What Does a Coach Do?

There are many types of coaches, such as life, business, financial and health coaches. Matt and Toni are both life coaches who do health coaching. Clearly, their hepatitis C experiences were pivotal to their own decisions to become coaches. In my work with Toni, I cannot separate my health from my life choices; my health is the foundation that everything rests on.

Toni describes her role as a coach, "To assist clients to establish a grounded position, to design a plan, build momentum through action, and to maintain the motivation and commitment needed to achieve their goals. If you are dealing with a chronic illness, I help you manage and cope with your illness and condition, as well as taking proactive actions to improve your sense of good health, wellness and state of mind."

Coaching begins with an honest assessment of where you are in the moment. A coach asks the right questions, and in the process, encourages clients to see where they are and what they want. Matt puts it this way, "I teach clients how to use positive attitudes and actions to heal from within and love the life they live despite setbacks. You move beyond your limitations, and embrace what you want from life."

Why Use A Coach?

I fought the idea of working with a coach. I was afraid and I made up stories. What if I learned that the only way I'd be happy is by living in a monastery? Or worse, if I had to take up running? What if coaching was time-consuming, or costly. Besides, couldn't I just make some goals for myself and then make them materialize, despite the fact that this has never worked for me before?

It took me five years to decide to work with a coach. It felt like I did more work in my first week working with Toni than I did in those five years. The experience was profound and it was fun. Toni didn't tell me to do yoga and plant kale. She helped me discover what I could do. The accountability and companionship of a wounded healer were enough for me to make genuine change. Now I can't imagine not having a coach.

Choosing a Coach

  • Look for a coach that fits your needs. If you want to learn how to be healthy with liver disease, then work with someone who understands that disease. Matt and Toni understand both. I choose Toni because she understands that people who no longer have hepatitis C still have health issues. "Treatment can sweep the virus away, but it doesn't sweep away our habits and thinking," she said.
  • Work with a certified coach. There are varieties of certification programs. Spend a little time reading the credentials of the coach you are considering, and see if their style resonates with you.
  • Ask for a free introductory session. Many coaches offer this; it's a good way to explore if that coach is right for you, and if coaching is really what you need.
  • Look for a coach who is focused and concrete. You should see results. Your coach should be helping you assess, plan, and reach your goals. If you aren't getting anywhere, either you aren't ready or you haven't found the right coach. In either case, don't waste your time and money.

If money stands between you and working with a coach, find out if there are any webinars, group sessions, or ways to work with your budget. I am famously frugal on most things, but when it comes to my health, it makes no sense to be pennywise, pound-foolish. If health is truly my foundation, then that foundation better be a solid one.

My only mistake was not doing this sooner. But as I said, we change when we are ready. Perhaps I would have gotten a coach earlier if I read these words by Toni, "We cannot wait until the conditions are right to reach for joy and happiness and to blossom into our very best selves. Life is here for the taking, for the grabbing with all of our might."

Integral Bloom with Toni Feldstein

Starr Wellness Coaching with Matt Starr

Lucinda K. Porter, R.N., is a long-time contributor to the HCV Advocate and author of Free from Hepatitis C and Hepatitis C One Step at a Time_. She blogs at www.LucindaPorterRN.com and HepMag.com._