What You Need to Know About the Health Coach Scope of Practice

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As a health coach, do you know what your scope of practice is? Are you wondering what you are or aren’t allowed to do and say as a health coach?

Your scope of practice basically defines what you can and can’t do, say, and teach as a health coach.

The problem is, it’s really hard to figure out what your scope of practice actually is.

Technically speaking, a health coach’s scope of practice is defined on a state-by-state basis in the U.S.

But here’s the thing: 99% of my customers work online with clients from all over the U.S. (and world). So what’s a girl to do then?

And most states don’t even bother to define it for us. #thanksalot

Which just leaves us trying to read between the nutritionist-doctor-personal trainer lines to make sure you’re not doing anything that could get you in trouble.

When I had my own health coaching practice back in the day, I played it safe. I never gave advice (obvi) and always stuck strictly to the “coach” role.

That means lighting the path in front of someone (in case they can’t see it themselves), not defining or carving that path for them.

Make sense?

Clients typically ask if they can offer meal plans, suggest supplements, or coach someone through an elimination diet.

Or they’ll just ask what they are allowed to do in general ; )

Being a health or wellness coach is still a relatively new career. As so many new coaches enter the work force, and new programs sprout up to certify and train them, new questions arise as to what exactly is the scope of practice for a health coach.

So today, we’ll dive into the health coach scope of practice a little deeper.

What is a scope of practice?

Scope of practice laws are state-specific laws that tell you what you can and can’t do, what services you can offer, and how you can work with clients based on your qualifications. It dictates how you can work with clients, what you can teach them, coach them around, or give advice or information on.

Since being a health coach is still relatively new, most U.S. states don’t have any certification or registration process. And most don’t define what a health coach can do.

One trend I’m noticing is that states are starting to define who can talk about nutrition, meal planning, or how and what we eat. For example, New Jersey recently passed a law saying that no one can call themselves a ‘nutritionist’ unless they meet certain registration and education requirements. (See NJ’s Dietetics and Nutrition Licensing Act, which goes into effect in January 2021).

Until states do define what a health coach can do, you need to make sure your services, offerings, coaching, etc. don’t creep into the ‘scope of practice’ of another regulated, licensed group — like a registered dietitian, physician, therapist, etc.

For example, now that NJ has defined who can provide nutrition services, you can’t provide those types of services unless you meet the law’s requirements and education threshold.

You need to know what the scope of practice is

Why do we need to know what our scope of practice is?

You need to know what the scope of practice is for being a health or wellness coach so you…

  • Don’t get sued for doing something outside of it
  • Aren’t held liable if you are sued
  • Don’t hurt anyone (most important!)
  • Keep the integrity of your certification or profession
  • Play fairly with other coaches who are abiding by the scope
What is the scope of practice for a health coach

What is the scope of practice for a health coach?

It depends! Your scope of practice is defined by your training or certification program, state laws where you live/work, and the laws where you coach others. I’ve put together this super helpful Scope of Practice checklist for you to help you learn how you can stay within the scope of practice where you live and work:

How do I make sure my clients know who/what I am?

Easy! I actually teach you my 5-step strategy to legally protect yourself and your business in my free on-demand video workshop ‘5 Steps to Legally Protect & Grow Your Online Business’ HERE.

Your website disclaimer tells not only your clients, but anyone who visits your website or reads your blog posts who you are and what you do. Then, you include disclaimer language again in your client agreement. Finally, fully protect yourself by including a mini-disclaimer on all of your handouts and PDFs, since you never really know who’s ending up with them.

Health Coach state regulations

Know The Laws Where Your Clients Live

It’s important to get familiar with the health coach regulations in all states, since you’re likely seeing clients in states other than yours. If you do something really specific and unique (like interpreting DNA tests, supplement recommendations, meal planning, etc.), look and see if you’re operating in any “red states.” See if what you’re doing is allowed and whether you qualify for any exemptions

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  1. Hello Sam! I appreciated your article as I was thinking about going into health coaching. I was excited about the prospect of a new career and what nutrition schools were offering.

    After doing some research I was taken aback when I heard of a health coach in Florida being sued for her practices. Since I reside in Florida (a red state), do you believe its better to go the route of becoming a licensed registered dietician or nutritionist to protect yourself/ practices against legal turmoil in the future?

    1. Hey Cristina! Thank you so much for stopping by. In terms of scope of practice, we need to know not only what our state’s scope of practice is, but the states where any of our clients live, too. So it’s hard to say whether it’s better to get another degree or certification – because each state’s scope is so different! You could work with an attorney near you to determine what’s best for you and your specific situation. Feel free to send me an email if you have any questions at all! <3

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