We have written quite extensively on various legal issues relating to health and wellness coaches, but we have not emphasized that lifestyle and relationship coaches often face similar legal issues. This blog post attempts to address three of the most important legal issues:
1. Lifestyle and Relationship Coaches Must Pay Attention to Scope of Practice Issues. Coaches who specialize in lifestyle matters (such as stress, careers, sleep, work-life balance) can still cross over into licensed professions depending on the types of clients or services they offer. The same is true for relationship coaches. Both of these types of coaches can easily slip into help that might otherwise be provided by licensed psychologists, counselors, or sleep medicine specialists, to name a few.
For example, a lifestyle coach may work with clients who express fear and anxiety about their current job and work-life balance. The client may complain about losing sleep because of this anxiety and that functioning on little to no sleep is creating a vicious cycle of more fear and anxiety. The coach may want to suggest taking certain sleep medication to help the client get some sleep so that the client is better able to cope with their anxiety. But is suggesting sleep medication within the scope of a lifestyle coach? Is the coach aware of any medical issues that might be exacerbated with sleep medication? Would the coach’s liability insurance cover such advice? These are just some compliance questions that the lifestyle coach should consider before offering such advice.
Similarly, a relationship coach may be working with couples who want to better enjoy their time together. But as the coaching sessions progress, the coach may learn there are serious problems within the relationship that require more than just educating and encouraging the couple. The coach may feel tempted to counsel the couple on how to address these underlying psychological issues, especially if the coach is educated and trained as a therapist. But, if the coach is not licensed in the couples’ state of residence as a therapist, the coach could unintentionally engage in the unlicensed practice of psychology or counseling, which may be a crime in some states.
Thus, it is extremely important for lifestyle and relationship coaches to understand their role and to have robust services agreements and disclaimers with their clients.
2. Lifestyle and Relationship Coaches Should Be Protecting Sensitive Information. Even if the lifestyle or relationship coach is staying within coaching boundaries, the coach may still be privy to sensitive personal information. The coach should have policies and procedures in place to protect that information from inappropriate use and disclosure. These policies and procedures should address information that is stored both on paper or electronically. If the coach uses a virtual platform to deliver their services, the coach should be familiar with that platform’s privacy and security standards. Moreover, if the coach provides group sessions, the coach should have all participants sign a group acknowledgement form to ensure everyone participating in the group respects other participants’ privacy.
3. Lifestyle and Relationship Coaches Should Protect Their Assets by Forming a Legal Entity and Acquiring Liability Insurance. Many coaches, no matter the type, often think that being a solo practitioner is the easiest and best way to provide their coaching services. Being a solo practitioner without filing any paperwork with the state is certainly easiest, but it may not be the best option. Insulating your personal assets from your business assets can be a really smart option, because you never know if or when a client may decide that they didn’t like your service and want to sue you. By creating a legal entity that is separate from you as a person, you are making it much more difficult for any lawsuit to threaten your personal assets, like your home, personal savings or personal vehicles.
Similarly, buying liability insurance for your practice can cover some of the costs related to such lawsuits (should they occur). Without liability insurance, the coach may need to use their own funds (whether personal or business) to pay for lawyers or fees associated with defending themselves in a lawsuit. As a result, establishing a legal entity and purchasing adequate liability coverage can help the coach feel more confident about their coaching practice, just in case something goes wrong in the future.
Of course, the Center for Health and Wellness Law, LLC can help guide you with regard to each of these legal areas as well as contracting, hiring employees or independent contractors and intellectual property matters. Contact us today for your free 15 minute consultation to discuss how we can be your legal partner!