How to navigate a challenging coaching client

Working alongside clients who seem unmotivated, resistant or you just don’t gel with can be tricky. You can find yourself in the solutioning trap, pulling out all of your health coaching tools to gain traction, only to find things feel worse. There is no doubt that humans are complex. Learning to let go, genuinely be you, and to trust your client in knowing what is best for them is key.

Are you using your full senses to pursue the true perspective of your client who is experiencing over-riding dissonance? Is it that they need acknowledgement and the space to vent their unexpressed emotions before they can move forward? Is it that they feel alone in their struggle and need to know that where they are right now is normal & ok. Or is it a deeper physiological injury that needs the attention of another health professional. For the health coach, it means paying attention, observing cues and noticing the small attenuations. It is our role to be brave, to build rapport and to bring to the surface what we notice in service of creating new awareness for our clients.


Courageous conversations

Health coaching without the skill of intuition is like a dance that is missing some steps. When things get a little shaky, check-in with your client on where they are at right now i.e. ‘what do you really want?’. Check-in on where they are at in terms of their big goal. Be honest about what you are noticing i.e. their distraction, their expectations, their motivation i.e. ‘how motivated are you?’. Listen to their language and understand their readiness for action ‘i might’, ‘i should’ and play that back to them. Your client may be gremlin fighting: This may be the moment to help your client spot their saboteur and begin to uncover how it is holding them back. Be gentle, be respectful, yet firm in your observations. Courageous conversations are the fabric of health coaching.


Accept that not everyone will like you

It is a fact of life that not everyone will like you. Understand and portray your values & skills as a health coach transparently to your clients. Build coaching agreements that reflect a shared understanding of the contract you are undertaking together. Match your clients energy: A health coach that is overtly resonant and positive when their client is fully stuck and in the muddy waters, will be incongruent with the tone & flow of the session. Loosen your attachment to the discomfort that not all clients will be ready, will gain value in terms of your ‘world view’, or will like you. Know that in service of self care, at times you may have to redirect a client that you do not feel comfortable working with to another health coach.

“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” – Marcus Aurelius

Channel your calm

We all have our favourite set of power questions. Being masterful in your health coaching requires the courage to let go. If you find yourself in the depths of a tricky conversation: Take a deep breath to channel your calm. Reflect-in-action: Ask yourself ‘am I truly listening & dancing in the moment with my client or am I listening only to answer’. Trying to fit your clients health coaching topic or goal into your questions & knowledge sharing, will derail the conversation. Take things as they are, listen globally and adjust your questions to be in alignment.


Slow down to speed up

Giving your client time to warm up and get into the health coaching conversation is a must. In our current world of hyperconnectivity & complexity, clients come with divided focus. Allow them time to come into the now. Offer breathing techniques to facilitate their parasympathetic switch of calm. Allow the time and space to check-in with your client first and be curious about anything you notice that is out of alignment. At times, clients may be distracted, or have other issues that are more pertinent, be flexible enough to prioritise your clients clarity and well-being in the moment.


Common traps when dealing with a challenging coaching client

One of the most common traps we land in as humans is to try and process emotions with our logical brain. Don’t miss the moment to hold the space and dive down on an emotion that your client is circling. Stay curious and in the asking frame. Sit with your own discomfort of the ‘hard emotions’ and allow your client to explore ‘tell me more?’, ‘what does it feel like to….?’, ‘what feels hardest? As health coaches it is the skill to support our clients’ understanding of themselves that removes the barriers to change. Your number one power question is always…silence……..


When we let go of our lists and the need to deliver the ‘perfect’ health coaching session we can navigate more freely in the waters of a ‘stuck client’. Connect and anchor your ‘breath’ with your client. Acknowledge their difficulties and let your head knowledge float freely in the moment. Instead of fearing difficult health coaching sessions, embrace being you and just know they come within the journey of health coaching.



Sonya English is a PREKURE Lead Health Coach and transformative life coach. With a Masters of Health Practice, Sonya is also a highly experienced critical care nurse.

Sonya is a passionate advocate in the proactive prevention of disease and living the best quality of life you can. As a health coach she believes working with her client’s vision and values to support their movement from where they are now to their desired goal is paramount. Her focus is on her client’s strengths, their lifeworld and untapped awareness to move forward positively and sustainably. Her vast health experience affords a holistic approach to championing her client’s wellness.


Learn more about PREKURE’s Health Coach Courses and how you can study with expert coaches like Sonya to become a masterful Health Coach.


  1. Arloski, M. (2014). Wellness Coaching for Lasting Lifestyle Change (2nd edition). Duthulth, Minnesota.

  2. Greif, S., Moller, H., Scholl, W., Passmore, J., Muller, F. (2022). International Handbook of evidenced based Coaching: Theory, Research & Practice. Springer, Munich, Germany.

  3. Reynolds, M. (2020). Coach the Person not the Problem: A Guide to Reflective Inquiry. Berrett-Koehler Publishers Ltd. Oakland.

  4. Tee, D., Passmore, J. (2022). Coaching Practiced. Johns Wiley & Sons Ltd,.USA.

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