How a Physio is Transforming Lives Through health Coaching – an interview with Matt Dowling

Health Coaches International likes to share inspiring stories about the great work that coaches do. Here we share the story of Matt and  how adding coaching to his health profession transformed his life and the life of those around him.

Sam and Matt first met in 2010, when Matt was a physio looking to bring more meaning to his work and to have more impact with his clients. Here is Sam’s interview with Matt:

Matt, you’re a breakfast man. What did you eat this morning?

I’m flirting between Weet Bix and cold porridge at the moment. The cold porridge has chia, almonds, LSA, banana and whatever fruit is seasonal. I threw some mango on it this morning.

 How’s Byron Bay?

Thankfully it’s just rained. We’re on tank water and it had just run out. We’ve got a couple of cows and they were cooked and actually ran away to the neighbour’s place. They’ve joined the herd a few doors down so we need to throw together a game plan to try and get them back.  But it’s funny how it only takes one good rain and everything’s back green and lush again, it’s beautiful up here at the moment!

You’re a physio, how did you get interested in health coaching?

Mainly my frustration working with clients stuck in a repetitive cycle of “I have a problem and I need you to fix me.” Realising this and stepping back to see that I was actually part of a quick band aid solution that just brushed over the poor underlying health behaviour problems that are often the root of so many recurring health issues.

I was frustrated because I was contributing to the negative cycle underlying a lot of my client’s issues. I’ve made a change from assessing and prescribing to starting with questions and a focus on goal setting, which I hadn’t done before. I feel that as health professionals we have a unique ability to assist clients to take ownership of their health goals and the pathway they want to be on.

What’s the best thing about health coaching?

Breakthroughs for sure! Getting people back to doing what they love doing again. Seeing a complete shift in a clients’ outlook when they find themselves back on track with their health.

Where’s health coaching taken you?
Currently I work on a small island in Papua New Guinea, two weeks of every month, helping to coordinate a community health project.

What’s involved in the work that you do?

There are nine of us involved in the project, including seven local health coaches who conduct one-to-one health coaching sessions in the community. The coaching sessions focus on things like nutrition, physical health, healthy sleep behaviours and mental health.

We also do regular sessions talking about health issues like diabetes, heart disease, men’s health, mental health, processed foods vs wholefoods.

Talking about mental health is a new thing for PNG and the community’s been really open to it which has been amazing to see.

My role includes one-on-one physio consultations, some health promotion and taking on a mentoring role with the national health coaches.

What’s the impact of your work?

The locals are so stoked with the program we’ve got up and running!

They are so grateful for any assistance they can get and are particularly receptive to the education sessions about healthy eating.

We use objective health data to track the effect of our work such as; blood pressure readings, blood sugar, cholesterol, weight and waist measurements and lots of evidence based surveys to evaluate the success of the community health sessions that we run. So far the results have been amazing. Seeing light bulb moments and people making a shift towards healthier lifestyle behaviours.

Diabetes is a huge problem in PNG with the introduction of western foods. Traditionally the local people are hunters and fisherman, they eat the food grown on their land and have healthy sleep routines… The introduction of western diets and western work routines means that many of them are caught with one foot in two worlds. We’re working with them to encourage a shift back toward those healthy traditional lifestyle behaviours. Because many of the western lifestyle influences are so new, this is really possible unlike a lot of other places around the world.

Through this program, we really feel like we’re making a big difference in someone’s life… hopefully supporting them along a path of sustainable healthy lifestyle behaviours and in turn passing these behaviours on to their children, their families and friends back in the community

Matt, you’re a legend. Thank you for your time. The work you’re doing is incredible.

Info on Matt: