by Trina Laube, CWP

This is the sixth, and final, article in a series on the role of competencies in wellness promotion.

Multiple laws, rules, and codes of conduct exist to protect wellness professionals, as well as individuals, employers, and the communities they support. Many of the laws governing wellness professionals and settings contain provisions protecting people’s private information. It is essential for wellness professionals to not only understand the federal laws and state statutes and regulations governing their particular professional role, but also to adhere to professional codes of conduct and to approach their practice ethically and within their scope of practice.

In fact, the three competencies within the “Legal & Ethical Principles” domain of the National Wellness Institute (NWI) Wellness Promotion Competency Model stress the importance of 1) complying with legal standards for confidentiality, compliance, and legal reporting; 2) working within one’s scope of practice and in accordance with one’s profession-specific code of conduct; and 3) maintaining ethical relationships.

These competencies assist wellness professionals and those who hire, train, and certify wellness practitioners in understanding what is required of professionals to practice legally and ethically as they assist and engage diverse groups of individuals in maintaining and enhancing wellness to build inclusive cultures of well-being for all.

Victoria Vuletich, JD, CWP, a lawyer and content developer of NWI’s “Legal & Ethical Principles for Wellness Professionals” course, notes that “ethics is the most powerful component of your professional identity.” She summarizes the four ethical duties wellness professionals owe to the individuals they serve as “the Four C’s”:

  1. Competence,
  2. Conflict-free assistance,
  3. Confidentiality, and
  4. Communication.

Competence is earned through ongoing professional development (e.g., completing courses and attending events, sharing resources and challenges with professional peers, and maintaining applicable credentials). It is important to note that being unethical by violating one’s duty of competency is different from making mistakes. Competence requires authenticity and self-awareness, an understanding of whole-person and systems approaches to wellness, and utilizing inclusive and responsive practices that support a path to optimal well-being. Building competencies in these areas also helps professionals recognize conflicts of interest, understand their scope of practice, and identify when it may be necessary to make a referral to another professional.

Wellness professionals often serve in multiple roles (e.g., both HR professional and wellness manager). Conflicts of interest (or mixed loyalty) and disclosures of private information may arise due to role confusion or when a personal interest conflicts with one’s duties to the person or people the professional is serving. Many of these issues can be prevented by having good systems in place, understanding one’s scope of practice, and being aware of when mandatory reporting may be required (e.g., if child or elderly abuse is suspected). Practicing mindfulness and developing competencies related to communication and connection are also key to conflict-free assistance and to avoiding a breach or disclosure of confidential information. While confidentiality and privacy are necessary to avoid legal pitfalls, they also help to build trust and rapport, which is a key competency for wellness professionals regardless of their role or setting.

By developing the competencies within the “Legal & Ethical Principles” domain of the NWI Wellness Promotion Competency Model, professionals and champions can better understand ways to avoid legal liability while providing ethical guidance and support to realize positive well-being outcomes.