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Functional medicine is NOT enough

One of our prospective students asked a question of me a few years ago that I simply have to share.

A practitioner asked, “I totally get the power of functional medicine. But if someone goes to see a good FM doc, why in the world would they still need a health coach?”

Well, because functional medicine on its own is not enough.

Quick story about Barb, a personal client of mine. Barb is like a lot of my clients these days: complex, suffering, and eager to change her life to get better.   Barb was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s about ten years ago and, despite medication, has still been suffering with dramatic hypothyroid function. Also progressive, painful osteoarthritis for the past two decades. Headaches, IBS, exhausted, overweight… A common and unfortunate, interconnected downward spiral.

In going through her health history and prior labs, I was amazed to see that Barb actually received a very thorough, root-cause work-up from a well known FM doc – about three years ago. Wow! Here was a comprehensive stool test, an organic acids test, a food sensitivity test, a cortisol profile, and extensive bloodwork (including a truly complete thyroid panel). I was so excited (the geek in me got giddy) – and shared with Barb that she had clearly been in good hands for the work-up. I couldn’t wait to dive in!

She said (and I quote), “Well, that’s good news because maybe now I can actually get some value out of that huge investment.”


When I asked what she meant, Barb shared that what she got from the FM doc was a “machine gun” rundown of all the test findings and a list of about 20 things that she needed to do in order to feel better. I asked her how much of it she implemented. She said she tried the first few things and got overwhelmed.

  • In total, eleven supplements had been recommended – leaving her to assume she should be taking all of them at once. She tried that, and her IBS got worse.  A follow-up call to the MD’s office limply recommended she take a break for a week and just try again. Well, she did. And got the same flare – and just wasn’t sure what to do.
  • She ran out of ideas about what to eat for breakfast given her food sensitivities. It was just too hard to try to figure out on her own.
  • Her PCP was iffy about looking at the new, broader set of thyroid data, and she didn’t have the tools or the confidence to represent and advocate for herself.
  • There was no clear priority or order in the big list of actions, so she was just trying to implement what was easy.
  • Barb hadn’t received any significant education about what all the data meant – and how each of the pieces were connected. So it was hard to know what mattered the most.
  • Over time, as “real life” interfered more and more with her goals, she struggled and wasn’t inspired to stay focused on her own self-care.
  • She did a follow-up appointment with the FM doc, but the 20 min. “pep talk” didn’t give her any tools that lasted more than a few days.

Bottom line: Barb did not have adequate support to get well. There was no one to be a partner in her journey. Data is pretty worthless unless we help patients and clients to actually DO something valuable with the information.  Barb had accurate diagnoses and an awesome clinical work-up and a very appropriate, targeted list of recommendations. But without a coach, none of this excellent functional medicine output mattered. Barb was still suffering.  She needed the three things we emphasize at SAFM as the most powerful services we can provide to any patient or client to help them get well and stay well:  Education, Inspiration, and Empowerment.

You might be surprised to learn that I have had Many clients over the years with stories similar to Barb’s. It’s why I am so passionate about this truth: coaching is a powerful (and necessary) bridge between good medicine and the true healing people seek. More and more integrative and functional physicians are realizing the major value of incorporating coaching into their practice. Programs that teach physicians (e.g. The Functional Forum) how to build more effective and profitable practices are actively advising them to provide coaching too!

I believe the modality of coaching paired with functional medicine insight and know-how – this combination! – is the ultimate solution to effective health care.  Here at SAFM, our student body includes those who are licensed or certified in about 16 different healthcare modalities, including an increasingly large percentage of physicians and nurse practitioners.  We don’t teach any specific healthcare business model, but there are indeed many ways to successfully deliver this powerful combination if you are a medical practitioner. You can Be a coach too. You can Hire a coach. You can Refer to a coach. You can Take referrals from a coach. You can deal primarily with non-entrenched patient situations that don’t require months and months of coaching and simply dedicate a portion of each patient appointment to some Coaching engagement/support.  Depending on your skills and preferences, any of these models can be wildly successful.

Whether a given SAFM practitioner is the one Doing the coaching or not, they understand why and how effective Coaching is key.  Whether you have your own practice or work within a medical team, please know this truth: what you do is vital. Having access to strong coaching paired with confidence in applying functional medicine science truly sets you apart, on the cutting edge of health care that works.

Thank you for sharing your gifts with the world!  I welcome your comments below.




P.S. If you know that healthcare must be transformed to be sustainable and effective, and you believe strongly that Functional Medicine is key to making that happen, we urge you to learn about our semester program.

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9 Questions for “Functional medicine is NOT enough”

  1. 5
    Glen Andrews says:

    I struggle with doing coaching or actually going for my ND. I am 54 y/o, so it seems kinda late to get my ND. It will be 7 years till I’m done. Although I have longevity on my side, as all my grandparents , parents live into their 90s. Any thoughts as to direction? I’ve done the first part of this course, but feel inadequate without initials behind my name. I didn’t do part 2 because I don’t have enough clients, I struggle charging people.

    • 5.1
      SAFM Team says:

      I appreciate your open sharing here, Glen! I am happy to offer some ideas for support. If you feel you want to make your coaching skills stronger with additional tools/expertise beyond your initial certification, I encourage you to consider Marilena Minucci’s Quantum Coaching program ( However, if you struggle with charging appropriately for your skills and expertise, this is a more fundamental limitation that will stand in your way regardless of your training or credentials. You might consider Carmen Hunter’s Health Coach Mentoring/Mastery resources, as she is quite skilled in working through business and worthiness mindset blocks ( There is a great book by Jen Sincero called “You are a Badass at Making Money” which might be a helpful place to begin some reflection. I also disagree 100% that you are too late in life to consider ND training; if this resonates with your heart, I would Go for It! Charging what you deserve is also a powerful way to increase your client load. We associate price with value, so charging little (or worse, nothing) tends to turn off potential new clients (who assume you must not be very good, given your price – desperation is never attractive) or tends to attract “tire kickers” who aren’t serious about their personal responsibility in getting well and who will constantly challenge your input and waffle on their commitment to a program. Many practitioners within SAFM have delightedly shared how much easier it is to attract/retain clients after they raise their prices.
      However, let me gently shine a light on an even more fundamental truth… Yes, you want to be trained. And the ultimate confidence building comes from the *combination* of Knowledge and Experience (so you’ve got to get out there and Do the work even while standing in your Uncertainty, so you can grow!). However, seeking more and more training in hopes of addressing a lack of self-confidence seldom works. We tend to seek the external approval of authorities (or hide behind it once we *do* have it) when we won’t give that approval to ourselves. No amount of credentials is going to make you *feel* credible if you don’t believe in yourself and your expertise. I have two masters degrees from a world-renowned university, but (literally) only 3 people out of thousands of clients have ever asked me about my credentials. Three. My experience is that people don’t care very much about credentials. They have likely in the past trusted a number of practitioners with very impressive credentials and have been let down regardless. They are interested in working with someone who cares, who can relate to them personally (feel heard), who has new/provocative ideas that make good sense about how they can get healthier/well, and who (ideally) has excellent testimonials available (providing that critical social proof). Since you have already done the Core 101 semester with us, go back and access the Practice Pearls webinar. I cover a number of powerful concepts there about building a business-building which might be inspiring. But I know for sure that you do not have to be an ND – or have any other initials after your name – to be a credible, wildly successful practitioner. The seal of approval that you seek must come from the inside.

  2. 4
    Gina Roof says:

    Hello! I was wondering when Advanced 202 begins and what the pay in full price is.
    Thank you!

    • 4.1
      SAFM Team says:

      Hi Gina – Thanks for your interest! We begin new classes for both the Core 101 and the Advanced 202 semesters three times a year, starting in mid-September, mid-January, and mid-April. Our next program kicks off September 16, 2019. Registration officially ends Sept. 6th, but we will likely fill up beforehand. September is our most popular enrollment period. You may find more details, including pricing, on this page: .

  3. 3
    Anthony Llabres says:

    This is truly a dynamic that I encounter just about daily in my practice. I have worked alongside several FM Docs and ND’s to support the client AND the PROVIDER. When you find that special, humble and excellent communicator to work with is when the patient THRIVES in my experience. Always keep developing the toolbox, study the trade and network when able. This will open opportunities to meet that special provider you seek to support.

  4. 2

    Oh my gracious! This is so where we are. I’m a relatively baby coach, but in my 2 years of practice, I have run into this numerous times! Teach it, Tracy!!! Warmly, Coach Melissa

  5. 1
    Eva says:

    Does your training offer some coaching skills or it is just about functional medicine? I have been introducing FM in my nutritional consultations but I would like to do some coaching with my clients, What advice can you give me? Do I need to train as a coach?

    • 1.1
      SAFM Team says:

      Thanks for your interest! Indeed, our program teaches functional medicine science to a rich variety of practitioners. Some honing and refinement on coaching skills is covered throughout our case reviews, and there is one two-hour webinar dedicated to effective coaching skills. But we do not overtly teach the art of coaching, and we are not a “coaching school”. For that specific and targeted education (esp. given your practice is already up and running), I highly recommend Marilena Minucci’s Quantum Coaching program ( . You could get trained yourself, or you could hire a coach or set up a referral partnership with one you trust in order to increase the overall number of people you can collectively support.

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