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.
- 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:
- Graduate from a school that meets their standards.
- Have an associate’s degree (or higher) or 4,000 hours work experience in any field; and
- Complete 50 health and wellness coaching sessions.
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.