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Is Health Coaching Regulated?

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Are you wondering how to become a health coach? Or maybe you’re wondering if health coaching is even regulated and how you go about getting certified in the United States. At times, it can feel a little “wild wild west-y” out here in the coaching services world, so I’m here to help you make sense of it.

A health coach is someone who partners with his/her client to work together toward the client’s health, fitness, and/or mindset goals. The coach guides and educates the client on how to set and achieve those goals. But a health coach does not diagnose or treat or offer her client a prescribed set of rules or offer any sort of medical advice.

Most health coaches offer 1:1 client sessions, coaching programs, or courses that help people get closer to their health and fitness goals. A health coach can do so many things. From offering cooking classes to teaching about running, to meal prep and movement strategies.

With a healthcare system not exactly prepared or set up for holistic wellness or longevity, and so many Americans with chronic health issues (or just flat-out confusion over what to do!), there’s a demand for additional support from coaches.

But not all health coaches are created equal. And health coaches can’t just do whatever they want just because it falls under the wide umbrella of “health and wellness.”

And while it’s true that so much of the field still goes unregulated, that doesn’t mean health coaches can just do whatever they want.

Is Health Coaching Regulated?

Overall in the U.S., there are laws and rules around who can offer health and wellness services, advice, treatments, etc. That’s called a “scope of practice.” It’s what refers to what you can legally do or not do based on your:

  • education, degree, etc.
  • qualifications
  • license / certifications
  • your state law (and client’s state law) and regulations regarding scope of practice

Since health coaching is relatively new, it’s generally not “regulated” — in the sense that most states don’t have any specific-to-health-coaches rules on the books.

However, that doesn’t mean it’s a free for all.

Health Coach Scope of Practice

Health coaches still have to make sure that everything they do falls within their scope of practice. Or the way I like to look at it — that nothing you do falls within someone else’s scope of practice that you don’t fall under. (i.e., a doctor, therapist, registered dietician, etc.)

What Health Coaches Can’t Do

Health coaches cannot, under any circumstances, order and interpret lab work, prescribe any medications or supplements, give medical advice. Or do anything else that would fall under “the practice of medicine” or therapy, nursing, etc.

In some states, health coaches can’t offer nutritional advice (Florida, for example!) either.

Health coaches want to be especially careful not to offer any medical advice for those with certain chronic health conditions or certain chronic diseases (i.e., cancer, diabetes). You shouldn’t offer medical advice to anyone. But obviously, it’s even riskier when working with vulnerable populations.

What Health Coaches Can Do

Health Coaches can run coaching programs or have a coaching practice that establishes a coaching relationship based on informed consent with guidance, education, and information. That means instead of focusing on cures, treatments or other health outcomes, a health coach can help her client, instead, focus on access to information, goal setting, communication with the client’s health care team, etc.

I like to think of a health coach as more of a mentor or guide than a practitioner. A health coach helps their clients discover what’s best for them. Whereas a doctor can tell a client what IS best for them.

Think of yourself as a path navigator on your client’s journey to health and wellness. You hold the flashlight to illuminate the path that’s already in front of them. To help them see what’s already there for them. You don’t carve or design the path for them.

Why You Have to Stay Within Your Scope of Practice

Staying within your scope of practice as a health coach is critical to your legal safety as a coach and business owner. If you don’t stay within your scope and violate licensing laws (i.e., you offer nutritional advice or do something only a registered dietitian can do), you can not only get sued by a client for your work, but you could also face a cease and desist (or worse) from your state’s licensing board accusing you of the unauthorized practice of ______ (medicine, therapy, etc.)

That’s why it’s so important that you know not only your state law, but also the overall state laws of where ever you work with clients. (Since this would be highly impractical to keep up with, I teach my customers in the Ultimate Bundle my signature method on how to create an across-the-board safer business that doesn’t dip into any state’s licensing laws.)

(Learn more about about the Bundle + get my free 5-step strategy to legally protect your business in my free legal workshop!)

Health Coach Qualifications

Technically speaking, you don’t have to be certified or attend any sort of program to be a “health coach.” That’s both good and bad —

On the one hand, I’m so glad (from a business perspective) that it’s so easy to get started.

On the other, the downside to literally just being able to call yourself a “health coach” is that because “anyone” can do it, it’s harder to earn public trust. It’s also a little scary that someone without any experience, training or education could hold themselves out as an “expert” and have a training program.

Health Coach Certification

So although it’s not a requirement by any means, there are ways to get “certified” as a health coach.

Most of the time, health coaches who say they’re “certified” are only certified by the school/program that they received their certificate from. Not all health coach training programs are created equal, though. Some are really short, have minimal requirements for completion. And don’t require any actual client interaction.

Others have a more rigorous curriculum, in-person education/training, exams, and/or actual coaching requirements.

Long story short: just because someone says they’re a “certified” coach, doesn’t mean they went through the same process as another certified coach or health professional. You need to do your research to see where they’re claiming their “certified” credentials from.

As of early 2023, the best and most highly recognized way to become a Board Certified health coach is through the exam administered by the National Board of Health & Wellness Coaching, detailed below.

National Board Certification Health Coaching

There is a way, however, to become Board Certified through the National Board of Health & Wellness Coaching’s exam if you:

After you take and pass the exam (the upcoming exam dates are July and November 2023), you could start your coaching business as a Certified Health & Wellness Coach online.

Phew! I know that’s a lot, friend. So what questions do you have for me? Drop your question in the comments below 👇

That’s also a great place to tell me if this post was helpful. Or if you want me to write about any other legal topic on your mind 🙂

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Note: Remember, this isn’t legal advice. Although I’m a lawyer, I’m not your lawyer — under any circumstances. This article is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to supplement or replace seeking advice from your own attorney. Do not take health coach scope of practice advice or tips from anyone other than a licensed attorney. I see a lot of bad / false information circulating online and social media, and it’s very dangerous to blindly accept non-lawyer advice.

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  1. 3 AM _ the best hour I spent today . . .Thank You so much!

  2. Hi there! I just graduated from IIN. Does it make sense to become board certified too?

    1. Hi Sam- My name is Annie. I am a Pediatric Clinical Exercise Physiologist working at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for past 30 years. In addition I recently started working as a Health Coach to one of our cardiologists and also recently was certified as a health coach through ACE in July. Currently my “health coaching” costs are absorbed by a grant. And I have atleast 50 coaching sessions under my belt. I am looking to expand to work with other physicians and they are asking me if insurance would pick it up. I do not have an NPI number- and not sure I can get one. I have a M.Ed and all the qualifications to be a Health Coach- but now I am looking for a way to see if insurance will cover a portion if not all of my sessions with future clients.

  3. Hi Sam- My name is Annie. I am a Pediatric Clinical Exercise Physiologist working at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for past 30 years. In addition I recently started working as a Health Coach to one of our cardiologists and also recently was certified as a health coach through ACE in July. Currently my “health coaching” costs are absorbed by a grant. And I have atleast 50 coaching sessions under my belt. I am looking to expand to work with other physicians and they are asking me if insurance would pick it up. I do not have an NPI number- and not sure I can get one. I have a M.Ed and all the qualifications to be a Health Coach- but now I am looking for a way to see if insurance will cover a portion if not all of my sessions with future clients.

  4. So I have a master’s in human services with a concentration in marriage and family therapy, plus I am a registered behavioral therapist. For the past several years I have worked with children and families. I love what I do but have not found it easy or even affordable to gain clinical hours for obtaining licensure. I am 53 and I love helping people. In 2016 I obtained my health coaching certification from the Institute of Integrated Nutrition. I love doing all things health-related mind, body, and spirit. I would like to become a health coach and have my own business, however, I want to do it right. I want to be board certified and be able to bill insurance. Does any of my past experience and education factor into obtaining board certification and which schools should I look at for obtaining the credentials I need?

    1. Hi Michele,

      Thank you for telling us a bit about your business – we’re happy to hear that you’re going to be following the path that will bring you the most happiness. If you didn’t already, click the links found in this blog post under the heading “Health Coach National Exam” to see what the stipulations are for getting board certified.

      Become A Board Certified Coach: https://nbhwc.org/become-a-board-certified-coach/
      Board standards: https://nbhwc.org/program-approval-requirements/
      Approved work experience: https://nbhwc.org/education-work-experience-documentation/
      Health & Wellness Coaching Sessions: https://nbhwc.org/coaching-log/

      We hope that helps!

      -Leanne, Team Sam Vander Wielen LLC

  5. If a person is credentialed as a health coach, and they bill insurance, is it required to keep records on the coaching discussions/ visits

    1. Hi Bonnie! You’ll want to consult an attorney in your state to see what the rules are regarding records that you are able to keep based on your scope of practice. In addition, you may want to reach out to some of the most common insurance companies that you’d be working with to see what their policies are on collection of information from their clients.

      – Leanne
      Team Sam Vander Wielen LLC

  6. Hello, I didn’t know if you might be able to help me or guide me into the right steps for getting my business started with life coaching

    1. Thank you for your comment, and for reading this post, Lisa! We don’t offer one-to-one consultations, but you can find loads of info using Sam’s available resources. Here are just a few:

      How To Start An Online Coaching Business: https://www.samvanderwielen.com/how-to-start-an-online-coaching-business/
      Health Coach vs. Life Coach: https://www.samvanderwielen.com/health-coach-vs-life-coach/
      10 Steps To Start An Online Business: https://www.samvanderwielen.com/10-steps-to-start-an-online-business/

      PODCAST PLAYLISTS:
      How To Start An Online Business: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/3kgOsRyI8QsYJjpeItD4is?si=c915414a60714dd9&nd=1
      How To Know When & What Kind Of Legal Protection You Need: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/4ffeVSBlBf0A5PKi5ljeSn?si=2268e671b5264712&nd=1
      How To Market Your Business: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/2VOrpO275X2pXt79WKFhwu?si=c29c453c3d2c432e&nd=1
      Scope Of Practice: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/6Om92lDroFJZfed2Ktlm9U?si=e796c5f19ebc4fea&nd=1

      We hope this is a good start for the information you need to starting your own business. Best of luck!

      Leanne
      – Team Sam Vander Wielen LLC

  7. Thank you for the wealth of quality and to the point information that you produce here.

    I’m looking into how to go about health coach courses and certification for billable services to insurance companies in NY. I’d love to speak to you more on that.
    I have a licensed PHP healing and health business with a medical team, licensed and trained therapist
    and support staff.
    Myself, I have a masters in business and technology, a medical assistant certificate and was the COO of a high end wellness clinic in Switzerland that won the Condenast award . It was a very effective wellbeing project… that fueled my passion to came back to USA to add the much needed value here.
    The USA healing and health program just launched. Insurance contracts pending and NPI exist. We focus on treating youth eating disorders and the associated mental health concerns . Our approach is holistic and integrative. We believe in the salutogenesis approach and create an exceptional bespoke treatment for youth to recover and thrive.
    I want to offer more services- tools to our clients for wellbeing empowerment and longevity of health; as well as run a sustainable business. Hence researching how to make those services for health-wellbeing coaching I can provide billable to insurance providers.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Nasia! We recommend tuning into Sam’s podcast playlist all about Scope of Practice (https://open.spotify.com/playlist/6Om92lDroFJZfed2Ktlm9U?si=e796c5f19ebc4fea) as it will help you to determine how to find out what you can offer as a coach in your state based on state’s laws. Your best first step is to meet with an attorney in your area and discuss what options are open to you as a health coach, including what kind of services you can provide and what type of business entity you should register as.

      Leanne
      – Team Sam Vander Wielen LLC

  8. Great information, thank you for sharing.

    I have a bachelors’ degree in Psychology and a master’s in Addiction Counseling. I became a certified Brain Health Coach through Amen University in 2020. I have been working as an addiction counselor but want to get into Brain Health Coaching.

    I have an NPI number from working with a business a few years ago as an addiction counselor. Would I keep that same NPI for the Brain Health Coaching as well? Or would I need to update it somehow or request a new one? Thanks for any help you can give.

    1. Hi Allison! You should reach out to a local-to-you attorney for advice on your best steps forward with everything.

      Leanne
      – Team Sam Vander Wielen LLC

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