The Discomfort of Mystery and the Health Coach as Witness

When I imagine the health coach role symbolically, I imagine myself walking through dark woods with a client, arm in arm, using all our senses to feel out the path ahead. We know the general direction we need to go and we pause often to carefully notice our surroundings. The well-lit path is rarely an option; there is no race to a clearly defined end. Instead, together we experience a slow unfolding as my client finds her way, insight by insight, towards her destination.

Does the thought of walking through dark woods feel somewhat scary? Then you may understand how two of my clients were feeling in their sessions today, realizing the discomfort of mystery. It is the realization that self-knowledge is hard-won and wholeness requires bravery if you want to find it.

The modern definition of mystery is something that is difficult or impossible to understand. The older root of the word stands for hidden spiritual significance or mystical truth. Mystery is the reason I am a coach. Mystery can be uncomfortable, but if you learn to dance with it, it can lead you to significant and truthful places.

If my clients knew exactly what to do, or what was keeping them stuck, then they would not come to me. So when someone comes to me and asks for help, I know they are looking for a witness. They are not looking for someone who is going to comfort them and promise, "Hey, there is no mystery here! I have the simple solution you have been seeking". Instead, even if they don't realize it at first, I think my clients are looking for someone to walk with them for a time.

Bearing the mystery alone can be scary, especially if you are facing a chronic health condition or a long road to getting your health back on track. A health coach can be someone to lean on, someone to encourage you as you find the bravery within to explore more and more. Someone to play with in those dark woods, to laugh with, to celebrate with when you find the occasional lantern - those flashes of personal insight.

The opposite of mystery is what is known. Our ways of knowing, of reacting, our habits, our routines - these things most often serve us well in life. But sometimes they are the things that keep us stuck in old patterns of behavior. To step away from them is to deny yourself comfort. It is in that stepping away, when the person has decided to embrace the mystery, that a coach can step in.

People often ask me two questions, "What does a health coach do?" and "How are you different from a therapist, nurse, or nutritionist?" Because health coaches are not yet well-established in our social culture, it takes some explaining. Most often my answer is that a health coach is not an expert. A coach is a behavior change specialist who knows, from practice and research, that sustainable, lasting change for a client has to be tied to the core of their being. And the only expert on that is the client themselves.

It may sound grandiose, and a little bit woo-woo, but that is the heart of my work: getting my client back in touch with what makes them tick. It is work I take very seriously and bring my full attention to. A therapist, nurse, or nutritionist has the clinical responsibility and training to say "This way!" and help guide, and sometimes steer, the patient in the right direction. When the health coach is the witness and the client is the expert, the right direction can change as the path to growth is slowly discovered.

If you would like to learn more about health coaching and whether it could be a fit for you at this time, please email me at!

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