On October 18th and 19th, 2019 I attended the Coaching in Leadership and Healthcare conference in Boston, Massachusetts. This conference is offered by the McLean Hospital Continuing Education department and the Institute of Coaching (IOC).

Special thanks to the conference organizers for creating a comprehensive and diverse learning and networking environment. I plan to attend again next year! I got to meet so many smart and inspiring people. As a newbie health coach, I left feeling like I found my tribe.

If you’re a health coach on the fence about attending, I can tell you this conference is a very worthwhile investment. Below I write about my personal highlights, tools I am excited to use, and books I plan to read thanks to the conference.

Being a health coach in-training, I attended the sessions that were related to the field of health coaching (I didn’t attend the leadership sessions).

As of this writing, I am in my 8th month of a 12-month training program with the Functional Medicine Coaching Academy (FMCA) and I plan to sit for the exam in October 2020 to become a national board-certified health and wellness coach (NBC-HWC). My goal is to specialize as a health coach for brain health, working with clients who have a history of mental illness, trauma, or neuro-degenerative diseases.

If you’re interested in becoming a Functional Medicine Health Coach, learn more here!

As a result of attending the IOC conference, I feel more inspired and better equipped to enter the field of health coaching than I was before the conference. I spoke with so many talented coaches and aspiring coaches and in all of my interactions, I sensed a community that is focused on possibility and potential. So much of healthcare is focused on illness and limitations, so this shift in general perspective was so refreshing.


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Among my growing tribe, I got to meet Jennifer Bannon, course facilitator for my health coaching program at FMCA and also the FMCA Director of Admissions. Jennifer is also a health coach and has her own thriving practice called Pathway to Wellness.

Jennifer has been leading my small cohort of fellow coaching students since March 2019 and will continue to be our guide until the program ends in 2020. She is as kind and smart in person as she is on video conference! Our cohort gathers with Jennifer 3 times a month for about 2 hours each meeting. Jennifer guides me and about 10 other students through the FMCA curriculum and facilitates our coaching practice sessions. It was so wonderful to meet her in person at an FMCA networking event before the conference!

On Friday I got to sit in a session led by Beth Frates, MD. The focus of the sessions was how to measure outcomes in coaching (more on that below!). Dr. Frates is an FMCA lecturer, a pioneer in lifestyle medicine education, is an award-winning teacher at Harvard, and currently practices lifestyle medicine through her health and wellness coaching company, Wellness Synergy, LLC.

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In the year-long coaching course at FMCA, we benefit from myriad lectures that Dr. Frates has pre-recorded. She is so energetic and passionate about lifestyle medicine and this, as well as her generous spirit, comes across in her lectures and especially when I got to meet her in person.

Check out this fantastic podcast interview that Dr. Frates recorded in September 2019, in which she talks with Dr. Denise, MD about the coach approach and the importance of a wellness mindset vs. an illness mindset.

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And saving a very special trio for last: I got to hang out with Chris Palmer, MD, Cecile Seth, MBA and Christie Barnett, APN! Cecile and Christie are the organization and energy behind Dr. Palmer’s website, ChrisPalmerMD.com where he publicizes his work and the emerging research around ‘the interface of mental health and metabolic disorders’. Chris was one of the (very busy) conference organizers, so I wasn’t able to take a photo with him, but I was lucky to grab Christie and Cecile as they were heading out to catch their train to NYC.

Episode 10 of our Mental Horizons Podcast was with Dr. Palmer and the topic was using the ketogenic diet as medical intervention for mood and psychotic disorders. If you would like to read more about the link between the ketogenic diet and psychiatric disorders, check out this article on Dr. Palmer’s website. His team is constantly posting news and emerging research as well as guides and resources for anyone interested in this topic.


The next best thing about this conference was all the great sessions available for health coaches! Below is a list of the sessions I attended and my key takeaways from each.

— DAY 1 —

Meditation, the Brain, and Transformation of Personality with Sara W. Lazar, PhD.

  • Meditation preserves the thickness of the pre-frontal cortex over time.
  • Meditation delays the decline of fluid intelligence in practitioners over time.
  • Mindfulness practices significantly alter the state of the Hippocampus, the part of the brain that plays an important role in information consolidation and memory

Working with Research and Using Strategies for Demonstrating Health and Wellness Outcomes with Beth Frates, MD, Brooke Werneburg, NBC-HWC, and Matthew Clark, PhD.

  • Health coaches can track data and publish case reports! We should feel empowered to do this and contribute to the growing data supporting coaching outcomes.
  • Outcomes any health coach can can keep track of for the purposes of publishing case reports include body weight, blood pressure, LDL, Hemaglobin A1C, HRA – Health Risk Appraisal, Pain, Psychological factors, exercise behaviors, and nutrition behaviors.

To write a case report, do these 5 things:

  1. Identify a case
  2. What unique points does it make?
  3. How will it add value to the literature? (Know the literature)
  4. What is the target audience?
  5. What are the requirements for the target journal?

Coaching as an intervention in a healthcare context with Noushig Nahabedian.

Poster session.

  • Coaching believes that an individual is resourceful and the role of the coach is to empower them by springing loose that resourcefulness.
  • This perspective is diametrically opposed to the ‘clinician-as-expert’ model.
  • The expert role can deprive a patient from learning from their own experiences, successes, and failures.
  • When interviewed, clinicians cited 4 main things hindering the adoption of a coaching culture: Time, Opportunity, Confidence, and Mindset.
  • Clinicians have competing demands on their time, patient capacity, confidence in switching between the expert and coach mindset, and a desire to be seen as the expert.
  • Coaching mindset was promoted when clinicians practiced coaching skills with their colleagues with real issues, thus embedding the skills.
  • Coaching should be incorporated into professional training (perhaps before it is introduced as a new way to work with clients).

— DAY 2 —

Stronger, Better, Healthier: Essential Principles for Thriving Relationships. A conversation with Susan David, PhD, John Gottman, PhD, and Julie Gottman, PhD.

  • In a “stress reducing conversation” it is important to NOT solve the problem. There is a hidden implication of condescension. Just expressing empathy is most effective, period. It helps someone feel less alone, instead of solving their problem.
  • Coaches have to be comfortable with strong emotions. Strong emotions and conflict are FUNCTIONAL.
  • Emotions are often signposts for underlying, deeply held values. As coaches, we need to become more expressive and better translators of emotions.
  • Conflict avoidance (not conflict) has always preceded betrayal in relationships.

Permission to Feel: Unlocking the Power of Emotions with Marc Brackett, PhD.

  • Incredibly powerful session! This was one of my favorites. I’ve listed his book in the book section below.
  • “If one more person tells me to be mindful, I’m going to lose it”. – Marc
  • Mindfulness does not teach emotional intelligence. It’s good for emotional regulation and de-escalating emotional reactions. But it is no substitute for examining emotions.
  • All emotions are signals to either APPROACH or AVOID. Except in children. In children ALL EMOTIONS (positive or negative) are APPROACH.
  • At Yale, Marc and his team have developed the Mood Meter App to help with increasing emotional intelligence
  • Emotional intelligence is not innate, it is effortful. Most of us do not know our triggers and can’t accurately identify our emotions or translate the emotions of others.

Immunity to Change: Supporting Transformational Growth with Deborah Helsing, PhD.

  • Deborah presented a powerful change tool called the Immunity Map. You can find a blank copy of this Map on their website, Minds at Work.
  • The Immunity to Change Map helps to illuminate the competing commitments we all have that can lock up or stall out any change process.
  • If you have a client who keeps “failing” at reaching a goal over and over, it’s likely because something deeper needs to shift for them before they can pursue that goal. And the ensuring shift may even change their goal!
  • This tools is GREAT for unearthing the assumptions and behaviors that are holding us back.
  • When working with clients, there are “adaptive challenges” and “technical challenges”. The Immunity Map is for the adaptive challenges.
  • With a client, if you can help them INVESTIGATE “big assumptions” as not true, this is the LEVER for disrupting immunity to change.


Permission to Feel: Unlocking the Power of Emotions to Help Our Kids, Ourselves, and Our Society Thrive

by Marc Brackett (Author)

Phone Coaching in Dialectical Behavior Therapy

by Alexander L. Chapman (Author)

The School of Life: An Emotional Education

by Alain de Botton

Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization

by Robert Kegan & Lisa Laskow Lahey


If you’re not accustomed to the hustle-and-bustle of a typical conference, you may find these conference attendee hacks useful! In my former role as a national marketing representative for 5 years, I went to dozens of conferences and these little hacks made the difference for me between staying healthy and happy versus going home sick and with sore feet!

Bring a backpack. If you don’t have one, steal one from your kids. Seriously, do not bring your purse. You’re going to be bringing stuff with you and accumulating things – papers, giveaways, conference brochures. You will need a place to stow all these things to keep your hands free! Think of your conference as a mini expedition. Plan ahead and prepare!

Bring a water bottle. Don’t rely on the unreliable supply of plastic water bottles provided. 1) they’re usually tiny and 2) they’re terrible water bottles full of BPA and will go straight to a landfill. You’re going to be walking and talking a lot more than you’re used to and your days will be long, so don’t hamper yourself by getting dehydrated and getting a headache.

Leave the heels at home. Please. Seriously! As someone who has done permanent damage to her feet because I insisted on wearing fashion shoes in my early days: don’t do it. You’ll get blisters, your back will ache, and that annoying pain will drag you down. You walk A LOT during conferences. A surprising amount. Your hotel may be a few blocks away, you may go out to lunch or dinner with fellow attendees, your conference may be on multiple floors. Wear comfortable shoes — again, act like you’re going on an expedition!

Pack snacks. For me, it’s high fat, low carb snacks; a cup of nuts in a bag do the trick. I also bring jerkey, dark chocolate, and cheese. Conferences usually serve high-carb pastries, cookies, and other sugary treats. Your brain is going to be working double-time with all the learning and networking, don’t hamper your brain by eating junk or not eating regularly.

And if you want to be a conference rockstar, remember your business cards and store them in your name tag! Most conferences provide a name tag on a lanyard. I always slip 10 of my business cards in the back of the name tag so that I don’t have to go searching for them when I meet someone I want to stay connected with. That way, your hands are free to shake hands and you’re not whipping your backpack off and rummaging through pockets to search for your cards. This allows you to be quick and smooth and get on with the fun.

#coaching #CoachinginLeadershipandHealthcareconference #conference