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To address the growing costs associated with chronic illness care, many countries, both developed and developing, identify increased patient self-management or self-care as a focus of healthcare reform. Health coaching, an implementation strategy to support the shift to self-management, encourages patients to make lifestyle changes to improve the management of chronic illness. This practice differs from traditional models of health education because of the interactional dynamics between nurse and patient, and an orientation to care that ostensibly centres and empowers patients. The theoretical underpinnings of coaching reflect these differences, however in its application, the practices arranged around health coaching for chronic illness self-management reveal the social regulation and professional management of everyday life. This becomes especially problematic in contexts defined by economic constraint and government withdrawal from activities related to the ‘care’ of citizens. In this paper, we trace the development of health coaching as part of nursing practice and consider the implications of this practice as an emerging element of chronic illness self-management. Our purpose is to highlight health coaching as an approach intended to support patients with chronic illness and at the same time, problematize the tensions contained in (and by) this practice.