Behaviour change can be challenging for the trainer and the client

behaviour change


Working with clients to achieve results can be a tricky process. I often see posts along the lines of “I am telling my client what to do but they don’t follow my advice”. This type of scenario can be very frustrating for the coach and ultimately lead to the working relationship breaking down. This doesn’t help the client and most importantly can damage the trainer’s reputation. There is a good chance that this type of client when asked about what happened will say that the trainer wasn’t that good or didn’t give me the right advice. This may not be true but unfortunately you are not there to put your side of the story. What can you do to stop this scenario occurring?

Believe it or not this all occurs because of a fundamental lack of understanding of behaviour change and how people make changes in their lives. When a client takes on a trainer they are embarking on a substantial lifestyle change. They will be exercising regularly where perhaps they have been fairly sedentary for years. They will be reducing their kcal intake and yet all the peer pressure around eating and drinking will still be present. They will hopefully be receiving education from the trainer about good nutritional practices they should implement, again, another big change. To the trainer this is just a new client but to the client this is a big leap of faith and if they are going to get the results they desire then they have to be psychologically ready to take all this on-board.

As a trainer/coach I would think that most of you would do a physical assessment (fitness testing) before starting to design an exercise programme for a client. You may get them to complete a physical activity readiness questionnaire (PARQ) and you may ask them to keep some food diaries, so you can assess the client’s nutritional habits. This battery of tests is necessary and yet it doesn’t include the most important assessment of the lot. Is the client psychologically ready to change?

This might sound a bit of a silly question, after all they have signed up and paid their money, so they must want to do this – RIGHT!! My research has highlighted that this is not always true. Some people will take on a trainer even though psychologically they are not ready to change. This will ultimately lead to the client failing and stopping training. In my research I got personal trainers to psychometrically test their clients for readiness to change. Regardless of these results the trainers started work with these clients. I found I could predict which clients would drop out of the programme and who would succeed. In the second study I repeated the process but this time I screened out clients I assessed as not ready to change. The second study achieved an 86% success rate, thus highlighting the importance of screening for psychological readiness. I repeated this research in New Zealand with the Maori and South Pacific islanders and achieved similar results. Clearly psychological screening increases your chances of succeeding with a client and the client achieving the outcomes they desired. Psychological assessment will not only tell you where your client is at in their head it can also act as a retention tool. By regularly assessing the client’s psychological readiness it will tell you whether your programme is working or whether the client is likely to relapse. If this is the case you can intervene early and prevent this from happening.

There are other clues as to why this partnership might not work. The statement “I am telling my client what to do” gives this away. This is a trainers natural righting reflex, the need to tell them what to do and when to do it. The only person that can make the required changes is the client themselves. If you do not respect the client autonomy, then you are doomed to fail. You can offer advice/ideas tips, but how you go about this is critical as to whether it will be taken on board or ignored. You need to foster a trusting partnership where you and the client are equals. All you are doing is facilitating the changes, but only the client can follow through with the actions. By working on an equal footing with the client they will realise that they have to do the work to achieve the results they want. They have to take responsibility for their actions and realise that only they can achieve the results they desire. There is a risk that if the trainer sets themselves on a pedestal the client will expect them to have all the answers. The fact of the matter is that in most cases the client themselves have the answers they just need to find them for themselves. Nobody knows the client better than the client themselves. If you remember this, you can’t go too far wrong. These principles are at the core of motivational interviewing (MI), a counselling style that is very client centered. Adopting a client centered approach can be challenging when you are used to just telling people what to do. Research suggests that working in an MI consistent way will ultimately achieve far better long-term results.

The psychometric testing and assessment and skills to use around these are taught on the new one-day behaviour change workshop. Full details can be found here – click for info.

I look forward to seeing some of you on a workshop soon.