What are the Legal Risks of Delivering Wellness Services without a License, and What Qualifies as Wellness Services Anyway?

What are the Legal Risks of Delivering Wellness Services without a License, and What Qualifies as Wellness Services Anyway?

It may come as a surprise that many services we classify as “wellness services” do not require a state-issued license, either for the practitioner delivering the service or the business offering the service. Some practitioners believe that a certification from a wellness education provider, such as for health coaches, reiki practitioners, mindfulness practitioners, personal trainers, yoga instructors, nutrition consultants, energy healers, just to name a few, is the same as a state-issued license.

It is not.

Having a certification may be very helpful for gaining knowledge and credibility in the marketplace, but certifications issued by private organizations after taking a class and/or passing an exam is not recognized by a state professional licensing board, at least not for most wellness service providers. In the United States, each state is responsible for determining which professions require a license to practice the profession and/or use the title of the profession. For example, some states require a license to provide nutritional advice, regardless of what you call yourself, and other states prohibit use of the title Dietitian unless you actually are registered with the state as a Dietitian. Other states have a combination of both restrictions. For a good resource on state nutrition practice laws, visit the Holistic Health Council’s website.

So, although you don’t need a license to deliver many wellness services, there are still legal risks. First, wellness providers should stay within their scope of practice and avoid treating, diagnosing or prescribing things to address a disease or illness. Treating, diagnosing and prescribing items relating to a specific disease or illness is in the wheelhouse of a physician and other licensed health care professionals, including behavioral health professionals. Nonlicensed wellness providers should avoid stepping on the toes of licensed providers and instead focus on helping their clients feel better, without referencing a specific disease. If you feel you cannot do this, please contact us so we can help you evaluate your unique legal risk.

Another legal risk that wellness service providers should avoid is unethical business practices. Because the wellness industry as a whole is highly unregulated, there is a lack of reliable, universal guidance that wellness professionals can reference when setting up their practices. That is one of the major downsides to not being licensed by the states – there is a lot of uncertainty about what you should or should not do. The Center for Health and Wellness Law is working on reducing that uncertainty, but until those efforts come to fruition, wellness providers should contact us to create solid business policies and procedures to reduce the risk that your clients will try suing you or file a complaint with a consumer protection agency.

Another important question looming over this whole unregulated industry we label as “wellness,” is what qualifies as a wellness service? Who’s in the industry, and who is out? A lot of wellness providers intentionally insert the word “wellness” to describe their service offerings because it brings with it a certain cache or appeal, particularly to higher income, Caucasian women. Examples that come to mind are CBD oil or other THC or hemp-based products, psychedelic services, tattoo services, and tarot reading or psychic services. Are these products/services part of wellness? Should they be?

I am currently working on an article that will highlight the homogenous demographic that makes up much of what we consider “wellness.” Along with that homogenous demographic comes inherent bias. Stay tuned for that article, which should be published sometime in 2024. Nevertheless, the inability to determine what should or should not be considered “wellness services” is important, particularly when trying to define standards by which all wellness providers should comply. More on this to come. But, in the meantime, if you have ideas about how to determine if a services should be labeled wellness or not, please contact us and share your thoughts.

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