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Coaching Intervention for Fibromyalgia

Client Testimonials “I am more comfortable with having fibromyalgia and being able to get through it; I know I am going to be okay; I started going to the gym twice/week; I still have a lot of fatigue but the pain has subsided” “I’ve always been a goal setter and do things no matter how much I hurt; my coach and I have worked on taking time for myself and sleeping more; getting more restful sleep; I am seeing a difference in pain levels –decreased soreness to the touch and less trouble with my legs” “I would have had a different life if I’d had this 10 years ago”

Results at a glance

In collaboration with Kevin Hackshaw, MD, four Wellcoaches-certified coaches (Susan O’Donnell, Pat Roix, Lisa Creekmur and Christine VanHoozer) worked with 9 patients with fibromyalgia (FM) for 12-months leading to: an increase in self-compassion and self-kindness; pain scores decreased 32% and FM impact scores improved 35%; and an 86% decrease in health care utilization during and 6 months post-intervention.

What is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a member of a class of disorders called “medically unexplained symptoms” which present significant diagnostic and therapeutic challenges in healthcare (1). The economic impact of FM is enormous; current estimates suggest that as many as 25% of FM patients in the US receive some form of disability or injury compensation (2, 3). Various reports suggest that overall healthcare costs of FM are more than double that for people without FM (4, 5). Two factors that determine FM patients’ health and quality of life are a positive diagnosis and effective treatment (6).

What is Health & Wellness Coaching (HWC)?

The purpose of this study was to test the hypothesis that a Health and Wellness Coaching-based (HWC) intervention for FM would result in sustained improvements in health, quality of life, and reductions in healthcare-related costs as documented by subjective global improvement and health care utilization. The HWC approach employs health professionals who have completed the Wellcoaches professional health and wellness coach training and certification (125 live hours training over 18 months). The training curriculum integrates evidence-based theories in behavior change, self-determination, self efficacy and self regulation, motivational interviewing, positive psychology, and communication techniques into a standardized patient-centered protocol. HWC helps patients identify a personal vision of thriving, mentally and physically.  Coaches assist patients in developing autonomous motivation, new skills, improved self-efficacy, and sustainable changes in mindset and behavior that deliver more thriving through improved health and well-being.

The 12 Month HWC Protocol

The HWC protocol combined 60-minute, phone-based group coaching sessions (for 12 months) with 45-minute, private phone-based coaching sessions (up to 20 sessions over 12 months). Web-based educational webinars were provided, prior to each group coaching session, drawing upon the latest neuroscience discoveries to encourage patients to work on “rewiring their brains”, thinking and feeling patterns, and personal wellness habits. Group coaching sessions addressed webinar topics including taming emotional frenzy, deep focus and flow, mindfulness, self-compassion, and leveraging one’s strengths. Individual coaching sessions were customized while encouraging patients to discuss their learning and application of the content in the webinars and the group coaching sessions. Following the HWC intervention, patients expressed an appreciation for feeling increased calm, more in control of health issues, greater self-compassion, and decreased stress leading to healthier choices.


1 Yunus MB. Editorial Review: An Update on Central Sensitivity Syndromes and the Issues of Nosology and Psychobiology. Curr Rheumatol Rev. 2015;11(2):70-85.

2 Smith HS, Harris R, Clauw D. Fibromyalgia: an afferent processing disorder leading to a complex pain generalized syndrome. Pain Physician. 2011 Mar-Apr;14(2):E217-45.

3 Wolfe F. The fibromyalgia syndrome: a consensus report on fibromyalgia and disability. J Rheumatol. 1996 Mar;23(3):534-9.

4 White LA, Birnbaum HG, Kaltenboeck A, Tang J, Mallett D, Robinson RL. Employees with fibromyalgia: medical comorbidity, healthcare costs, and work loss. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 2008 Jan;50(1):13-24.

5 Thompson JM, Luedtke CA, Oh TH, Shah ND, Long KH, King S, et al. Direct medical costs in patients with fibromyalgia: Cost of illness and impact of a brief multidisciplinary treatment program. American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2011 Jan;90(1):40-6.

6 Clauw DJ. Fibromyalgia: a clinical review. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2014 Apr 16;311(15):1547-55.

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