Many of us in helping professions are familiar with the legal term, “scope of practice,” but there is more to the idea of scope than covering your ass against lawsuits. Scope means “the extent of the area or subject matter that something deals with or to which it is relevant,” but it also means, “the opportunity or possibility to do or deal with something.” So a scope of practice is a limit, but it is also a freedom, the elbow room we have to help the people under our care to the best of our abilities. I think the definition that illustrates that best is the nautical definition of scope: “the length of cable extended when a ship rides at anchor.” The professions we choose, strength coach, yoga instructor, physical therapist, health psychologist, are where we drop our anchors. As we get a feel for the water and the tides, we learn how much line we need to let out in order to be effective yet safely moored. It takes some trial-and-error, but if we here too close to our anchors, then we run the risk of being battered when the tides change, when the evidence drives the field in a new direction, or when we realize too late that we’ve anchored in the wrong waters. However if we let out too much line, we run the risk of floating into unfamiliar waters that we have no skills to properly navigate. Know What Problems You Can Solve

People come to us with problems. Most of the time they do not know what the actual problems are, but part of our expertise is helping them figure that out. For example, when I call a plumber, I do not know why my toilet is overflowing, I just know my house is covered in an inch of water and that’s less than ideal. Part of figuring out your scope of practice is defining your practice by what type of problems you solve for people rather than the tools you use. I call a plumber to fix my water problems, not because he has the biggest wrenches. So instead of reflexively calling yourself a “personal trainer” or a “strength coach” try this exercise:

[aesop_quote width=”100%” background=”#282828” text=”#FFFFFF” align=”center” size=”2” parallax=”off” offset=”90%” direction=”up” quote=”Ask yourself what problems you solve for people and summarize them into a single sentence.”]

I help people who know what to do actually do it. I use a toolkit of psychological skills training. Once I had that in perspective it was not only easier to explain to people what I do at parties, it was a lot easier to market my services and place myself in the world of helping professions. There are a million strength coaches, nutritionists, physical therapists, dietitians, psychologists, and doctors out there with a better idea of “what to do” than I probably have, but I am an expert in working with people on “how” to do it. That’s the problem I solve. And knowing where I fit into that world yields many benefits.

Coaching is Recruiting

Dan John once explained the difference between coaching football at a high school level versus professional level as, “at every level you’re trying to improve your weaknesses and play to your strengths. But once you’re experienced enough to have a system or a style, coaching is recruiting.” There are not only some problems we are better equipped to deal with, but there are some people with whom we click. Once you know what problems you help solve, being a good coach is finding and connecting with the people with those problems. This is a lot easier than marketing yourself as a “personal trainer,” of which there are hundreds of thousands, and more lucrative. Everyone has an idea about how much personal trainers cost, but if you sell yourself based on the problems you solve for people you can charge however much people are willing pay to get help for that problem.

So learning more about one’s own scope of practice not only makes your jobs of marketing and coaching easier, it also will make you more money!

**Strength in Numbers **

If you don’t have an answer to what problems you solve just yet, there is a easy way to determine where you fit into the world of problem solvers: meet more of them. Many professions dread the “scope of practice” discussion because it feels limiting. It feels like we are drawing lines around how we can help people. My experience, however, has been the exact opposite of that. I have met hundreds of amazing practitioners from just about every profession that touches mine. I’ve also met a few idiots, but if I stopped meeting people when I ran into the first idiot, I’d be the biggest idiot of all. In the process of meeting amazing practitioners, it has been freeing to know that I am not the only one who can help them, and more importantly, that many of them can solve some problems better than I can. I’m the “how” guy, but I now have an entire network of “what” people that I can work with to help my own clients.

Scope of practice is not a dirty concept. It’s a way of better understanding what you can do for people and how you can work with other professionals. It’s a way to organize the problems your clients have so that you can have the confidence and support to work with them freely. So drop your anchor in familiar waters, but stretch out a bit. Meet the other people in your field and out of it and size them up as more help instead of more competition.

Interested in meeting more awesome professionals working on similar problems? Sign up for Motivate: A Health and Behavior Change Summit before 8/27 and I’ll email a PDF with 167 tips for sustainable fat loss right to your inbox!


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