Recently, I sat for the National Board of Medical Examiner’s Health and Wellness credential. To my surprise, I found the exam to be more challenging than I expected as it required test takers to be knowledgeable about and understand many of the comorbidities that we work with, such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and lung disease. It also required test takers to understand coaching, goal setting, communication and care planning.
This credential goes beyond simply being a sleep-health educator — it is taking sleep-health professionals into the role of a coach, so that an all-encompassing care plan can be created that keeps patients (and sleep-health professionals) accountable. Such plans also allow for open communication to help patients understand what success is and how they can achieve what they view as success.
Whether a sleep-care professional specializes in coaching or not, in order to be successful and see success with patients, we must start by expanding our understanding and education in the skills of active listening and communication to best treat our patients. These skills include listening with intent, using and understanding body language, using reflection and summarizing and asking clarifying questions. Additionally, it’s important to learn and understand goal setting, which can be done through the use of specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely (SMART) goals; motivational interviewing; growth and change theory; and relaxation techniques. Specifically for sleep-care professionals, it’s also imperative to understand techniques used in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to provide the best care to patients.
What’s important to note is that all these skills can’t be learned through books; we need to practice them and get constructive feedback from those who have moved through this path before us. The biggest part of coaching is also going through the coaching process yourself.
Gaining new skills and learning styles should be top of mind as one moves through the process of advancing their career from the sleep lab, where they run sleep studies, to a coach who helps patients be successful not just in finding solutions to sleep better, but also enjoy their lives more.