If you’re considering becoming a health coach, this article is for you.
Health coaching is a critical profession that bridges a gap between the medical world and the health and fitness world to help clients understand, adhere to, and stay accountable for their healthy lifestyle changes.
Although health coaching is incredibly valuable, it’s still a relatively new profession. That newness has contributed to some confusion regarding the scope of practice for a health coach. Follow along as we explore what a health coach does, define what “scope of practice” means and why it’s important, and discuss the scope of practice for current health coaches.
Health coaches play an intricate role in the success of an individual’s health and wellness goals. They often work with other health, wellness, and fitness professionals (i.e., personal trainers, doctors, dieticians, etc.) to best support clients holistically.
Health coaches are often well versed in a variety of health-related topics, but more importantly, they provide support and accountability through the ups and downs of the behavior change process and empower clients to take the lead on making the best decisions for themselves and their wellbeing.
A health and wellness professional’s scope of practice is defined as:
The extent and limits of the medical interventions that a health care provider may perform (1).
In other words, it is a boundary for what health and fitness professionals can and can’t do in alignment with their knowledge, skills, and professional ethics. Ultimately, the scope of practice is there to help protect both the health and wellness professional and the client.
But, keep in mind if a health professional completes additional certifications, licenses, education, and training, the additional education and credentials can potentially expand their scope of practice.
As a health coach, you’ll work with many different types of clients in the wellness space. And during the course of the coach/client relationship, you’ll receive many kinds of questions and concerns about various health, fitness, wellness, and medical-related topics. If a health coach gives advice or makes suggestions outside of their scope of practice, they could put a client at risk and end up with a lawsuit on their hands. So, it’s essential for health coaches (and all health and wellness professionals) to understand their scope of practice and adhere to it.
First and foremost, it’s essential to keep in mind that this information is not intended to be legal advice. It is important to get current regulations on this topic from a legal professional in your local area for the most up-to-date and accurate advice specific to you and your health coaching business.
There is no doubt that the health coaching role is critical in the health and wellness space. But it’s important to note that health coaching is a relatively new profession. Because of this, health coaching isn’t currently regulated by most states, and a health coach’s scope of practice is primarily shaped by the things they shouldn’t be doing unless they have a specific license or training to do so.
While it is essential to understand any legal requirements for health coaching in your area, the following are some of the most common things outside of the scope of practice for a health coach without additional qualifications.
Do not diagnose health conditions, prescribe medical treatments, or provide psychological interventions (2).
Do not prescribe supplements.
Do not prescribe meal plans.
Do not prescribe or program exercise plans.
A health coach with additional credentials or licenses can expand their scope of practice. For example, if a health coach is also a Registered Dietician, they can also provide meal plans for their clientele. And if a health coach is also certified as a personal trainer, they can create and provide exercise plans for their clients to accompany their program.
Each state or region may have different rules and regulations, so be sure to explore and understand any local limitations that affect your coaching business.
If you’re looking for a little further clarification on what you can do as a certified health coach to make sure you stay within your scope of practice, here are a few additional tips:
When in doubt, refer out: If you’re unsure how or if you should handle a particular scenario, refer the client to the appropriate licensed professional you know can help. Having a collection of different professionals that you can refer to and who can refer to you is essential for your and your client’s success.
Have your client sign an informed consent document that provides clear expectations. Clients are sure to have lots of questions. But making sure clients are clear about your role and scope of practice as they work toward their health and wellness goals is essential.
Get familiar with your state’s licenses and regulations regarding health coaching and other health care professions. Regulations can vary from start to state, so make sure you understand those in your local area.
Refrain from giving advice. A health coach should focus on empowering behavior change, motivating, and helping educate clients. Health coaches should provide quality health and wellness education and share credible resources for clients to research and look up information aligned with their questions.
Consider additional continuing education or certifications. For example, exercise is an essential part of overall health and wellness for almost every client. Combining a Personal Training Certification with your Health Coaching credential is a great way to support clients’ exercise routines.
If you’re interested in health coaching, this is a great time to get started!! Check out ISSA’s Health Coach Certification and put your passion for helping others to use by becoming a health coach today!
Scope of practice. (n.d.) McGraw-Hill Concise Dictionary of Modern Medicine. (2002). Retrieved January 27, 2022 from https://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/scope+of+practice
National Board for health and wellness coaching. Health and wellness coach scope of practice. (2021). Retrieved January 27, 2022 from https://nbhwc.org/scope-of-practice/
ISSA's Health Coach certification is for personal trainers and other health professionals who want to help clients overcome physical and mental health barriers to achieve their optimal wellness.