Meet Health Coach Jennifer Sponholtz: Incorporating Coaching into Incentive-Based Wellness Programs

Friday, August 10th, 2012
This post was written by Cheryl Miller

This month’s inside look at a health coach, the choices she made on the road to success, and the challenges ahead.

Jennifer Sponholtz, Wellness Coordinator at Advocate Health Care

HIN: What was your first job out of college and how did you get into health coaching?

Jennifer Sponholtz: After I graduated, I started at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital as a fitness specialist and cardiac rehab phase III coordinator. I enrolled in the Totally Coached Intrinsic Coaching® development series shortly after I started with Advocate. The coaching methodology really intrigued me, so I pursued the opportunity to start health coaching for Advocate.

Have you received any health coaching certifications? If so, please list them.

I did both Intrinsic Coaching® Series I & II, was certified by the American Lung Association as a Freedom from Smoking facilitator and recently became certified in motivational interviewing. I’ve attended several coaching workshops and was a poster proposal presenter at the National Wellness Conference offered by the National Wellness Institute.

Has there been a defining moment in your career? Perhaps when you knew you were on the right road?

I knew in high school I wanted to pursue my passion for preventive health. When I started my health education classes in college I knew I was on the right path. Now, when I work with people and they share their progress and express appreciation, it ignites my passion even more.

In brief, describe your organization.

Advocate Health Care is the largest integrated healthcare system in Illinois with more than 250 sites of care. I work in the Advocate Medical Group division to provide lifestyle health coaching and other wellness services to patients, employees and other organizations.

What are two or three important concepts or rules that you follow in health coaching?

  • Honor the silence when the participant is thinking and never interrupt.
  • Listen for key indicators of where to dig deeper. For example, if I hear more energy in the tone of voice, it indicates a higher level of motivation so I pursue that topic further.
  • Finally, I try to never think about what I am going to say next and just listen.

What is the single-most successful thing that your company is doing now?

Advocate incorporates health coaching as part of a comprehensive incentive-based wellness program at no cost for associates and spouses participating in our benefits plan.

What is the single most effective workflow, process, tool or form that you are using in coaching today?

The intrinsic method has been very useful for me as both a coaching technique as well as a communication tool in general. As long as it is incorporated into the conversation and not the sole technique used, it proves very effective.

Do you see a trend or path that you have to lock onto for 2012?

With the changes in health insurance and accountable care, we are starting to collaborate more with the physicians and care management team so patients have an entire network partnering with them to support their health goals.

What is the most satisfying thing about being a health coach?

It is gratifying to work with individuals who are motivated to make changes and very open to new ideas. I love hearing someone have an “aha” moment when a new idea just clicks.

What is the greatest challenge of health coaching, and how are you working to overcome this challenge?

When I train coaches, they often struggle with figuring out how to motivate someone who is in the pre-contemplation phase. Personally, I like the challenge of working with these individuals and see their mind-set change over time. I encourage coaches to find out one thing they are ready to change and work from there. If I hate exercise but want to lose weight, maybe there is an area of my diet I could improve. With health, one improvement triggers another; it’s all related.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Racine, Wisconsin and moved to the Chicago area after college.

What college did you attend? Is there a moment from that time that stands out?

I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Playing tennis was definitely the highlight of my college experience. I also enjoyed writing for the student newspaper and had the opportunity to develop a health section in the paper and became the health editor.

Are you married? Do you have children?

I am engaged and planning an August 2013 wedding. No children yet!

What is your favorite hobby and how did it develop in your life?

Tennis is definitely my favorite sport to play. I started in high school and ended up playing all four years of college. It helped me develop crucial prioritization skills to enable me to take the max credits allowed, work a part-time job and still have a social life in college. I use those skills every day now! I also enjoy running since it takes less effort to coordinate than playing tennis. Running helps me unwind and do some deep thinking.

Is there a book you recently read or movie you saw that you would recommend?

I just heard about the book FYI (For Your Improvement): A Guide for Developing and Coaching by Lominger. It’s on my reading list.

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One Response to “Meet Health Coach Jennifer Sponholtz: Incorporating Coaching into Incentive-Based Wellness Programs”

  1. Ken Zeno says:

    Please note that there is no such things as certification in Motivational Interviewing as I understand it.