Wellness Coaching Ethics

By the end of this article, students should be able to:

  • put together a wellness coaching code of ethics;
  • align personal and professional ethics;
  • know their professional limits;
  • name client rights;
  • practice confidentiality.

In the future, it is expected that different areas of coaching will have ethical codes. For the time being, this is at the wellness coach's discretion. It is advisable to study other professional ethical codes, adopt one, acknowledge and respect client rights, know the limits to coaching, and always practice confidentiality. These things will not only help cover you in the event of unsatisfied customers but will prepare coaches for a future in which coaching will be regulated.

Along the way, whether you have been aware of it or not, we have constantly been sending secret messages about ethics. Okay, maybe they were not so secret. The fact of the matter is, though wellness coaching is not currently a field that requires a license, that may very well change in the future. This is to guard against charlatans hanging their shingle and selling snake oil, or the wellness coaching equivalent.

There is no doubt that you can be a good, effective, ethical wellness coach without an education and license. However, it is up to you to regulate yourself for the time being. As this is still a relatively new field, clients themselves may not even think to ask what your education or background is, whether licensure is required, if you belong to any professional organizations, or if you have references.

Your Very Own Wellness Coaching Code of Ethics

The activity for this article will be to write a "Wellness Coaching Code of Ethics." If you want to start writing it as we go, that is perfectly fine. To review, some of the ethical considerations that we have brought up thus far include the list in the following box.

1. Be professional. No matter your educational or work background, you are now operating as a professional wellness coach. Your clients will expect that you will present yourself as such, from the way you dress, the way you talk, the way you handle the billing and accounting for services, and the way you conduct sessions.

2. Do your research. It is okay to not know everything about everything when you start coaching. It is enough to get you started, but there is a lot you will still need to do from here. Do not fly by the seat of your pants. Do the activities. Try various ways of writing wellness treatment plans until you find a basic approach you like, and then be flexible because the client may want something slightly or even radically different. When you come to a topic you feel unsure of or do not have a firm grasp on for one reason or another, hit the Internet, books, the library, friends, other professionals, or take additional classes. You owe it to yourself, your practice, and your clients to not do this thing willy-nilly.

3. Know your limits. Fact vs. Fiction in Wellness Coaching. Unless this is a second career and you have the education and/or licensing to perform the functions of a financial adviser, doctor, lawyer, therapist, or other, you should not pretend to be able to do any of those things. Your clients will appreciate that you are not one of those because you can offer different perspectives and ways of thinking that they may not. Even so, know when to refer. Your clients will also appreciate that.

4. Keep files confidential. It is true that you are in charge of your own paperwork. You decide what paperwork you need to keep, though we have advised you when you should look into waivers and consents. Because you are a professional and your clients may be working with you on sensitive topics, you owe it to them and yourself to keep their information, notes, and anything related to them in a secure, confidential location. Perhaps this is a file cabinet to which only you have the key, or a locked office to which family and friends do not have access without your presence. When in the field, if you have files with you, do your best to secure them someplace out of sight, such as in a locked trunk or glove box.

5. Remember you are living in a glass bowl now. As a wellness coach, you are going to be looked at by some, if not all, of your clients as a role model. Do your best to live life in harmony with what you offer as a wellness coach. If you find yourself struggling with issues that are not responding to self-treatment, get professional support.

6. Do not gossip about your clients. This could have been lumped with No. 4, but it is important enough to mention separately. Do not gossip about your clients to your friends, family, other professionals, or to other clients. It is not professional and it reflects poorly on you. Besides, you may be turning off future clients for fear that they will someday overhear you gossiping about someone who sounds awfully familiar.

7. Be clear about expectations. This is very important in the first session with a client. Address how billing and payments will be handled, talk about scheduling sessions, cancellation policies, ethics, client rights, confidentiality, and how crises will be handled. This requires thought on your part beforehand. Be consistent with these across the board; otherwise you may find yourself having a hard time keeping up with the different expectations for each client.

8. Write and make available a copy of client rights. In many hospitals and educational institutions, client or student rights are either posted in conspicuous locations or made available through brochures or handouts. You, too, being the ethical, professional wellness coach that you are, should think through what the client's rights are. You can find examples online.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Wellness Coaching course?

9. Do not make promises you cannot deliver on. Quite simply, do everything possible to keep your word, be realistic, and do not promise miracles.

10. Use self-disclosure sparingly. it is tempting to share everything you have learned and how you learned it and to feel that you will genuinely have more sway with the client if you do so. But think back to any adolescent whose parents said, "I used to be a kid, too, you know!" Do adolescents ever really trust that their parents were kids? That they could possibly have gone through the same things? In most cases, no. In the best-case scenario, clients will believe you but perhaps think it is a bit weird that they are paying you to focus on stories about yourself. In the worst-case scenario, you will find yourself facing a dual relationship.

11. Avoid dual relationships. Dual relationships occur any time a professional relationship overlaps with a different kind of relationship. It is not ethical to date your clients; to babysit for your clients or have them babysit your kids; to be engaged in a buyer-seller relationship, such as you buy their used car; or to be anything more than coach-client during the time wellness coaching services are being utilized.

12. End relationships professionally and in a timely manner. Do not prolong a coaching relationship that has accomplished what it needs to, that has stagnated for too long, or that is simply not working. The money may be nice to have, but you owe it to yourself and the client to move on when the time is right. It may take some trial and error in your first few clients to know when this time is right, but always try to be aware of it. You would not appreciate a doctor billing you for tests you do not need, so do not ask a client to keep coming back if there is no longer any client benefit.

Keeping Professional and Personal Ethics in Harmony
The more you can keep what you do and what you say in alignment, the easier it is to be an effective agent of change with your clients. If you are leading really separate lives, that means there is actually a lot of discord in your life. You may find the personal/professional lines confusing or have a hard time adjusting from personal life to professional life. Therefore, aim for a life that is respectful of your professional and personal ethics, and then apply that to your work as a wellness coach. Switching hats will not be nearly as confusing, and it will keep you more balanced, overall.

Business Strategies for Wellness Coaching

By the end of this section, students should be able to:

  • see how Internet strategies can help build a wellness coaching practice;
  • keep promotion and marketing in line with the coaching mission;
  • utilize creativity to spread the word about coaching services.

Few wellness coaches will be able to start by hanging their shingle outside the door. While an office is not necessary for successful coaching practices, some sort of business strategy or plan will be. Here are some ideas to get the ball rolling on a wellness coaching business.

Internet Strategies

Blog: Everyone has a blog these days, so do not be left out. Blogs are like casual, informative, and interactive message boards. You, the blogger, can write about the services you offer, different activities you have tried in your wellness coaching explorations, different experiences you have had, research you do on wellness coaching, and seminars you attend. The topics are endless; they can be as little as 100 words, and you can do it as frequently or infrequently as you like, though frequent blogging is more attractive when you want to build up readership. It is a free form of advertising and publicity for your services, so it is definitely worth checking out. Do a search for free blogging and you will find lots of sites available.

Web site: Gone are the days when Web sites are only for corporations with the money to hire programmers to set up home pages. Now nearly anyone can purchase a domain and have a decent-looking site set up in a matter of hours. And it is not that expensive. GoDaddy.com and 1and1.com both have great deals for beginners.

Articles: If you have any sort of writing ability, you should try your hand at writing some articles and submitting them to article databases. If you already write on different wellness coaching topics on your blog or elsewhere, why not expand on them a bit (800 to 1,000 words is a common article length) and try submitting them to different article directories? Search for "submit articles" or "article directories." Make sure you include a blurb about who you are and direct readers to get more information by visiting your blog, Web site, or e-mailing you directly. You may just get some new clients and it was, again, free!

Digg: Digg.com is the everyman's public relations source. You can submit any link, not just your own links, though that would be the point when we are talking about promoting your business; write a few sentences promoting the content of the link; and submit. It is very easy and you can submit to different categories where you think the content would fall under, such as news, health, education, etc. Another free Internet resource!

Social networking: Sites such as MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and Friendster are not just for kids. Plenty of businesses now have their own social networking pages. It is not just to promote your business, either; it really is to help network. Depending on the particular social network you use, and you can use all of them if you like, plus others not named here, you can find lots of valuable information from others in the same or similar line of work. This might include strategies they have used to gain clients, tips on what to avoid, the type of client to target, and so on. It is also free!

Craigslist: This site offers free Internet ads in most locations. In some bigger cities, a nominal fee will cover approximately 30 days of listing.

Creative Marketing
In addition to the Internet marketing strategies already mentioned, you have limitless other ways to attract clientele.

Have business cards made. This can be done cheaply online at sites like VistaPrint.com or PrintsMadeEasy.com, or even on your home printer. Start handing them out and posting them on community bulletin boards, such as those at churches and libraries. With permission, leave them at places where you think your clients may shop or otherwise show up.

Hold a free seminar on a topic you can speak about for an hour or more. This may include some up-front costs for the location and snacks but may pay off in a big way with client referrals.

Join a community organization or club to help you network. Toastmasters has many local chapters and practice speaking in front of a group will be beneficial as well.

Write an e-book. It takes time, research, and its own marketing, but once it is out there and published, it looks very impressive to add to your list of achievements.

Sponsor something. This is not free but can get the word out about your service to a wide number of people very quickly. Look into community events; perhaps you can sponsor a table, donate pens with your practice's name and number, bring food or drinks to volunteers along with business cards or other literature from your practice.

Word of Mouth

Word-of-mouth referrals come not just from previous or current clients but from your friends, family, and other professionals. Therefore, make sure everyone knows what you are doing and what you are offering. You never know when someone might mention something to your brother's boss about needing someone to help bring his or her life back into balance.

Also, when you have satisfied clients, ask if you can use them as references. Even if they do not want to be available by phone to talk to potential clients, perhaps they would be willing to make their e-mail address available or write a brief testimonial that you can then share when new clients ask for references. If you have been successful with a client, the person will probably be more than happy to give you this in return.

Writing Your Own Wellness Treatment Plan

This should not be an overly taxing exercise. You can make a list, you can organize it however you like, prioritize how you like, include pictures if you like, dates for expected completion, or leave it all open-ended.

Set a time to revisit and re-evaluate it. Are you making progress on your goals? Do you need new goals? Is there something that is not working that needs to be revised? Is one area particularly needy while the others seem pretty good for now?

This is your time to shine and figure out what wellness coaching is going to look like for you.