Clarity on Scope of Practice: The What, the How and the Why of Lifestyle Improvement

Health and wellness professionals are sometimes confused about the role each professional might play in helping individuals to live their best life possible. Our clients are seeking to be healthier by attaining such goals as losing weight, managing stress, stopping smoking, becoming less isolated, and often, managing a health challenge of some kind. To do so they need:
• excellent wellness information
• great treatment (if that is called for)
• and a way to make the lifestyle changes that will ensure lasting success.

So, who is responsible for what?

Health educators, fitness trainers, rehabilitation therapists, physical therapists, dieticians, physicians, and various treatment professionals can help their clients/patients to know what lifestyle behavioral changes will move them towards improved health and wellbeing. What we often hear from these medical and wellness pros is frustration with a lack of success on their client’s part in making the recommended changes and making them last. The reality is, most people simply don’t know that much about how to change the ingrained habits of a lifetime.

The physical therapist works with their client in their session and sends them home with exercises that must be done every day. The dietician creates a fantastic meal plan that their client must put into practice. The fitness professional creates a tailor-made workout plan, but their client needs to exercise on their own, not just in front of their trainer.

Health educators, treatment professionals, etc. provide the
WHAT
Health and Wellness Coaches provide the
HOW
Our Clients find their
WHY

Everyone’s challenge is the how. It takes more then will power and motivation. What is often lacking is an actual well-thought out plan that the client has co-created with the help of someone who can provide support, accountability and a well-developed behavioral change methodology. Translating the lifestyle prescription into action and fitting it in to an already busy life is often where, despite good intentions, our clients struggle. This is where having a trusted ally in the cause of one’s wellness pays off.

Role Clarity

As the field of health and wellness coaching grows, the challenge coaches sometimes face is clarity about their own role. Sometimes the confusion is all about the what and the how. For coaches to be proficient at “writing” the lifestyle prescription they need additional qualifications. It becomes a question of Scope of Practice.

To guide coaches the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaches (NBHWC) has developed a Scope of Practice Statement. Here is the part most relevant to our question.

“While health and wellness coaches per se do not diagnose conditions, prescribe treatments, or provide psychological therapeutic interventions, they may provide expert guidance in areas in which they hold active, nationally recognized credentials, and may offer resources from nationally recognized authorities such as those referenced in NBHWC’s Content Outline with Resources.” (https://nbhwc.org/scope-of-practice/ )

Wearing “Two Hats”

If coaches can “wear two hats” professionally they can combine the what and the how. Otherwise the key is to coordinate with other wellness professionals or work with the lifestyle prescription that their client already has.

When coaches do, or believe they do, “wear two hats” there are two key factors at play here. One is the guidance of the Scope of Practice above: “they may provide expert guidance in areas in which they hold active, nationally recognized credentials.” A dietician/coach can smoothly, but openly, go back and forth between helping their client discover ways in which their current diet needs to be improved and how to implement those recommendation in their life. A fitness trainer/coach can likewise shift between fitness instruction and strategizing with their client for how to fit their workouts into their lifestyle consistently enough to be effective.

The other factor is the agreement that the client has with their coach. In each of the two examples we just used the client has an agreement to receive both coaching and dietetic consultation, or to receive both coaching and fitness training. It’s a clear agreement from the start of services.

I recently reviewed a recording of a coaching session with a coach who was not a dietician or nutritional therapist. The coaching was going well until the client began talking about the KETO diet they were experimenting with. The session quickly devolved into a chat between what seemed like two friends who knew a few things about this diet from their own experience. A fine discussion for a couple of friends over a cup of tea but the coach was completely outside their scope of practice. You just cannot draw upon amateurish wisdom when you are in the role of a professional coach. I think what happened in this instance was not a coach falsely holding themselves out as a nutritional expert but rather a coach who simply wanted to help and allowed the coaching conversation to slip into sharing what they knew about a subject that is actually much more complex than it might seem.

The Coach Lane is a very narrow one. We can’t cross over into other lanes without those active, nationally recognized credentials we spoke of. Then we have to use our turn signals when switching lanes!

For more clarity about staying within coaching scope of practice when coaching with emotions, see my two blogs: “Emotions, Feelings and Healthy Choices: Coaching for Greater Wellness” https://realbalancewellness.wordpress.com/2019/09/10/emotions-feelings-and-healthy-choices-coaching-for-greater-wellness/ And, Process Coaching: Yes, Coaches “Do Emotions” https://realbalancewellness.wordpress.com/2014/05/15/process-coaching-yes-coaches-do-emotions/

The Why

Beyond the what and the how is the why. The “why” of behavior is all about motivation – initiating and sustaining behavioral change efforts by drawing upon the energy and desire to do so. The key here once again is the question of who is responsible for supplying this. People may initiate behavior based upon external motivation – the urging and cheering on of others, the fear of negative outcomes. In order to sustain that motivation, it has to come from within. The challenge here for all wellness professionals is to help our client to discover their own unique sources of motivation. Seasoned wellness professionals realize they can’t convince or persuade anyone to be well. However, when we help our clients discover their own important sources of what motivates them, they discover their why. Motivation is fuel. Now with the aid of a coach our clients can find the vehicle to put in. They know what they need to change. Now they have a way how to change and grow, and they know themselves, why. (See our previous post Motivation Plus Mobilization: Coaching For Success At Lifestyle Improvement. https://wp.me/pUi2y-mn)

 

Michael Arloski, Ph.D., PCC, NBC-HWC is CEO and Founder of Real Balance Global Wellness Services, Inc. (www.realbalance.com). Dr. Arloski is a pioneering architect of the field of health and wellness coaching. He and his company have trained thousands of coaches around the world.  His latest book is Masterful Health & Wellness Coaching: Deepening Your Craft. https://wholeperson.com/store/masterful-health-and-wellness-coaching.html

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Healthy Boundaries For Health & Wellness Coaches: Part Two

Boundaries Are There For A Reason
Boundaries Are There For A Reason

In our last post we featured Part One on this topic:

A New Code of Ethics For Health & Wellness Coaches: Healthy Boundaries Part One   http://wp.me/pUi2y-kb There we introduced the new NCCHWC Code (National Consortium for Credentialing Health and Wellness Coaches) and began the discussion of boundaries with a look at ethics, appropriate relationships, touch and self-disclosure. We talked about the establishment of a trusting environment and how coaches show respect for boundaries by asking permission to explore sensitive areas. In this blog we’ll take a deeper dive into some specific areas where coaches often have questions about how to proceed.

Pushing The Edge

In health and wellness coaching boundaries can be pushed by either the coach or the client. When is a client asking for too much? When is a coach straying either beyond their Scope of Practice (see NCCHWC website: http://www.ncchwc.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Final-NCCHWC-Health-Coach-Scope-of-Practice.pdf) or enters territory that simply feels uncomfortable for either party, or both?

boundariessoccerflagClient-Generated Boundary Crossings

  • Asking for reminders, contact beyond appointments, services not in the contract and personal inquiry.

 

When clients co-create with their coach agreements about action steps and accountability they frequently begin by asking for the coach to remind them to perform that action step. This is not an outrageous request and one that some coaches are okay with. What works better, however, and is much less of a burden on the coach, is for the client to agree to contact the coach (via email, text) to let them know when they did, in fact, perform the action step. This keeps the client more responsible and allows the coach to avoid falling into the role of nag or authority. Coaches should always agree only to what they are willing to do when setting accountability agreements.

Clients may also ask for additional contact beyond the agreed upon appointments. This request can arise out of a variety of intentions. Clients may desire more of a friendship relationship instead of a professional coaching relationship. This could even have romantic intentions. This is where using direct communication is a coaching skill that can pay off. The coach should gently inquire about the client’s intention in making such a request. This brings things out into the open and can lead to a helpful coaching conversation about where else in the client’s life they could get such needs met. The coach can gently, but firmly explain the advantage for the client in keeping the coaching relationship on a professional level.

I once trained a coach who had gotten into a coaching relationship where she would come to the client’s house, wake her up at 6:00 am and go jogging with her as part of the coaching service. I asked if their agreement was for coaching or for services as a personal assistant! There is quite a difference to say the least. Stick to coaching! When clients make excessive requests, explain the roles of a coach and explore how else the client might get these other needs met.

The other area coaches are often unclear about is how much to disclose about their own personal lives. We address self-disclosure in coaching very thoroughly in my previous blog post: “Self-Disclosure in Coaching – When Sharing Helps and Hinders” (http://wp.me/pUi2y-8m). To quote from that post: “Coaches choose to share certain biographical information with their clients to help build the coaching alliance. The coach who comes across as secretive about whether they have ever had children, are in a relationship with a partner, etc., is going to be trusted less. The challenge here is to maintain good professional boundaries while also being willing to relate to the client as an ally, an authentic human being, not an impersonal and distant professional.”

boundariescalmCoach-Generated Boundary Crossings

 

  • Going Beyond Competency – Beyond Scope of Practice

 

In Part One on this topic we addressed professional scope of practice. (See NCCHWC Health & Wellness Coach Scope of Practice http://www.ncchwc.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Final-NCCHWC-Health-Coach-Scope-of-Practice.pdf You can also find copies of both the Code of Ethics and the Scope of Practice in the Wellness Resources section of the Real Balance website (https://www.realbalance.com/wellness-resources)

Looking more closely at what happens at times in coaching, we see that the edge that is pushed here is often done subtly and usually without intent to go beyond coaching. The number one concern I hear about in training coaches is the distinction between coaching and therapy. Again, look to the Wellness Resources section of the Real Balance website listed above for a copy of the definitive article on this subject by Meg Jordan and John Livingstone Coaching versus Psychotherapy in Health and Wellness: Overlap, Dissimilarities and the Potential for Collaboration.”

What I observe more frequently is when coaches pursue a line of inquiry into a client’s psycho-emotional history, into their family of origin issues, etc., and sometimes do so based upon methods and techniques that they have read about in various self-help books. Without a mental-health professional background, even attending a workshop with a famous self-help author does not prepare a coach to do such work. Such inquiries usually do not develop into dire mistakes, but do have the potential to urge the client to go somewhere emotionally that they and the coach are not prepared for. The number one brake here is for the coach to catch themselves when they realize they are engaging in this line of inquiry more out of their own curiosity/fascination instead of a solid coaching rational. When clients push to pursue this inquiry it’s time for the coach to state their own lack of qualifications to go there and to suggest how the client could be better served by speaking with a counselor, therapist, etc.referrals

 

Going beyond one’s competency can also occur outside of the mental/emotional dimension of wellness. It’s so easy for a coach to blur the line between providing some helpful wellness/health education and being more directive. Coaches should refrain from recommending, imploring, strongly suggesting, or arguing for the benefits of a particular course of action (such as a specific diet, exercise plan, or any form of conventional or non-conventional type of treatment) if they are not qualified to do so as a licensed professional in that field. The coach who can “wear two hats” can offer the wisdom of that other profession that they are part of when they clearly inform their client that they are doing so. This step “over the edge” can occur easily when the coach is not aware of how they are pushing their own agenda for change.

  • The Coach Acts Out Of Their Own Needshands-of-couple-reaching-for-each-other-resize

A boundary is crossed when the coach is no longer acting with the good of the client remaining primary. Coaches are fallible human beings like everyone else. Unmet interpersonal needs for intimacy, whether sexual, romantic, or simply the desire for closeness, can influence the coach’s actions at levels that require keen awareness to detect. Part of being a health and wellness coach is living a wellness lifestyle and that means acknowledging one’s needs and seeking healthy ways to get them met. Unmet needs for power and control, for self-worth through showing competency can also be expressed by coaches at an unhealthy level that once again causes the coach to no longer be acting with the wellbeing of their client as primary.

Coaches can also put their own needs first on the financial front. The coach who is facing severe financial stress may consciously or unconsciously strive to create more dependence in the coaching relationship instead of fostering independence in their client. Coaches who also sell wellness products, such as supplements, etc., may pressure clients to make purchases (a clear violation of the Code of Ethics).

  • Social Media Boundaries

Clients sometimes actually brag about having a coach and are proud to tell the world about the wonderful services that Coach X is providing for them. Coaches however must respect their client’s confidentiality and not identify any client on Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.). It is also not a good idea to “friend” clients on Social Media. Clients can share information using more private methods of communication than a Social Media format that provides no privacy.

robo-coaching

Organization-Generated Boundary Crossings

 

  • Violating Client’s Right To Confidentiality

 

Most organizations are careful to avoid violating the privacy of their employees but this can happen when coaches working within an organization are asked to give specific reports on their clients. HIPPA regulations (https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/index.html) protect the health information of a client. The request for information about “how a client is doing” may come innocently enough out of genuine concern for the client. Still, this request should be met with a recommendation that the person inquiring ask the client directly.

  • Requiring Internal Coaches To Push Sales

An organization may require the coaches that work for them to promote the sales of products or services within the context of the coaching. While this may be framed as a low-pressure offering that clients can easily decline, it is potentially an exploitation of the unique trusting relationship that the coaching process develops.

  • Requiring Internal Coaches To See Too Many Clients

Another boundary is that of setting healthy expectations/requirements for the number of clients a coach can see in one hour and in one work day. Some disease management and other large coaching services make excessive demands of their coaches in terms of quantity of clients seen, lack of break times, and lack of times to do coach notes, etc. The result is both a health risk for the coach and inevitably a diminishment of quality of services for the clients.

Organizations and coaches share in the responsibility and potential liability of working with the people they serve. They must always act with the good of the client (and the coach) – their health and wellbeing – as foremost in all policies and procedures.

Coaches also need to think about how they may at times be putting themselves at risk. One example would be if a coach meets a client in a building where they are the only occupants, or especially if the coach opened a locked building to meet with the client there.

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Healthy Self-Generated Boundaries

  • Knowing And Abiding By Your Own Limits & Boundaries

Perhaps the most rewarding benefit of Healthy Boundaries is the self-care that they provide for the coach themselves. We benefit from all of the healthy boundaries described above, but we also need to reflect on the boundaries that we need to set for our own mental, emotional and spiritual health and wellbeing. Sometimes coaches work in settings where excessive demands are made of them as we noted above. Independent coaches however, need to set their own limits and achieve healthy boundaries in order to preserve their own wellness and continue provide the highest quality services. Part of the self-employed challenge here is having enough confidence in your own ability to create a successful business that will support you to allow  you to invest in the time it takes for self-care and personal and professional renewal.

Boundaries are there for good reasons. Just like a football game or match would become chaotic without those “out-of-bounds” markers, professional and personal relationships thrive on clear and healthy boundaries.