Coaching continues to grow in popularity, expanding into universities as well as private life coach schools throughout the world. These programs range from a full Master’s in Leadership and Coaching to workshops that last only a few hours. For this reason, and concern for the welfare of clients, some people wonder if coaches should be licensed. And indeed, attempts to initiate licensure at the state level have been made. The current answer is no.

That is, if you operate solely as a coach. This encompasses those who serve others as a life coach, executive coach, business coach, relationship coach, career coach, life skills coach, small business coach, and the scores of additional variations. There are scenarios in which a license is required, though not typically for the coaching component of the service. For example, if you offer your clients a mixture of therapy and coaching, you still are required to hold a license in your discipline depending on the state requirements in your area. This would certainly include psychiatrists, psychologists and clinical social workers, as well as dentists, doctors and other medical professionals.

Perhaps the better question to ask is: should a coach be professionally trained and certified? And for me, that’s a non-negotiable “yes.” Coaching is like many other personal services in that you work with the whole person. For this reason, you need the capacity to work with whatever arises inside the coaching relationship. It’s a specialized practice requiring skills that extend beyond your past experiences and traditional academic pursuits. Even the most brilliant among us have blind spots. That’s where the tools of professional coaching can help. Adding communications and relationship building skills is just the first step. You must also be able to differentiate between the “symptoms” and the “underlying factors” really preventing someone’s success. Equally important is the ability to help them see it for themselves versus just telling them.

Take for example the client who comes to you to lose weight. As someone who lost 30 pounds on your own with careful dieting and exercise, you’re baffled by how to motivate them. When you lost weight, you intrinsically knew what to do and simply did it. Your client on the other hand is not motivated to head to the gym… or even take a walk. Give up fast food and mocha Frappuccinos? She actually laughs when you suggest that. Why? The client in this scenario has an underlying stopping block that a skillfully-trained coach will sense, gently reveal, and successfully address.

When you train to become a coach, you supercharge your wisdom and life experience – applying your success as an impetus while leaving room for the client to find their own solution. It’s not enough to rely upon a template of your success. If you hope to achieve sustainable outcomes, your client must be encouraged to walk their own path. As a professionally trained coach, you gain the influencer skills that move your clients through struggle and into their preferred future. The benefits you become capable of providing are “exponential.” This means they have the power to impact every aspect of your client’s life. As the benefits spread, so too does word about your skills. Before you know it, the cost of your tuition for coach training has been paid. And you’re moving toward success as a business owner.

Professional training also benefits you as the coach. You uncover your own learning opportunities as you serve others. As a trained professional coach, you leverage more than your experience, your perspective and your ideas. Make no mistake: these life lessons are critical to establishing your unique niche. But through professional training, you learn to embody the skills that make you a highly specialized human development professional. You become creative in your approach and learn to adapt based on the individual client and context.

Training is important, but so is earning your ICF credential. This happens once you’ve successfully completed your coach training program, a rigorous mentorship and sufficient coaching experience hours. After successfully completing your final exams and evaluations you can become an ICF credentialed coach and benefit from the credibility of the global gold standard in coaching.

Certified coach training programs and self-regulation

One criticism of the coaching industry is that some of its practitioners simply tack “coach” onto their name and purport to offer services. In fact, according to the 2016 ICF Global Coaching Study, professional coaches list untrained individuals who call themselves coaches as the ‘No. 1 obstacle to the coaching industry’. Yet there are just as many coaches, if not more, who invest in their success and that of their future clients by completing a qualified coach training program and earning their ICF credential. Even though no license is often required, many people opt for professional certification to enhance their profile and reputation. This also instills the expertise required to achieve sustainable results and self-innovative habits that often reach exponentially into other areas of a client’s life (as well as the life of the coach!).

Here in the United States, several organizations provide certification and training for those who want to become a life coach. The most popular among them is the International Coach Federation (ICF) with roughly 30,000 members in 140 countries. Additional organizations include the International Coaching Council (ICC), the Certified Coaches Alliance (CCA), and the Center for Credentialing Education (CCE). The mission of these organizations is to advance the practice of coaching through an adherence to established best practices and training requirements. They also serve another critical role: industry self-regulation.

For example, the ICF is viewed globally as the gold standard for coaching. To get started you can earn a the ICF Associate Certified Coach credential (ACC). To do this you must complete a minimum of 60 hours of coach training within an accredited life coach training program and possess a minimum of 100 hours of coaching experience. There are additional requirements for mentoring and evaluations as well as an oral exam and the ICF credentialing process itself which requires completion of the Coach Knowledge Assessment (CKA).  As an ICF Professional Certified Coach, you’ve attended a minimum of 125+ hours of coach training and possess 500 hours of coaching experience. The Associate Certified Coach credential was actually created as a stepping stone. It’s designed to allow coaches to enter the profession with some credibility as they pursue their Professional Certified Coach credential. The PCC requires additional training, coaching experience and higher mentoring standards. Yet research has shown this additional work pays off.

According to information published in the 2016 ICF Global Coaching Study, “coaches who hold a credential from a professional coaching association report higher annual revenue from coaching than their peers without a credential.” There is substantial and increasing value between credentialing levels (ACC, PCC and MCC). First, there is a notable increase in the fees you can command. Depending on your level of certification and area of focus, coaches have reported anywhere from $125 to $500 an hour for government and private sector contracts. The reason for this sizable gap is the difference in capacity between the three levels of certification. You gain a significantly increased ability to assist your clients, both within your chosen niche and all other areas of their lives, when you complete advanced certifications.

A recent article appearing on HuffPost further reflects the need for coaching certification: “Not only has life coaching become more mainstream, it has fully grown up as a profession. While the life coach of the past was simply anyone skilled at giving advice and connecting with a person’s deeper motivations, today’s life coaches are full-time professionals who are highly qualified to coach others in their area of specialization. In other words, if you want to be a successful life coach in today’s world, not only do you have to work well with people, you need to get certified.” Source: HuffPost These sentiments were echoed in an article that appeared on – this one aimed at business clients looking to hire a coach: “Basic credentials are an absolute necessity for any quality coach. Make sure they have them. Coaches don’t have any basic requirements, meaning that anyone can call themselves … a coach. Don’t get brainwashed by good marketing – look for coaching certifications that show you they’ve at least attended a workshop or two.” Source:

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How licensing coaches could impact the future of the coaching industry

Many coaches are also small business owners. This gives them the opportunity to pursue their dream-come-true business, one that is directly reflective of their passions and expertise. Others employ coaches within coaching firms or training schools, and some serve as the central component of a development initiative for a larger organization. For these individuals, state licensing actually has the potential to hinder their success. Bearing in mind these individual coaches and the unique services they provide, self-regulation is preferable to governmental licensing within the coaching industry for three reasons:

  1. Added costs. Licensing is provided through annual fees. Licensing fees and the educational requirements and expense that come with licensing can be more difficult for an individual or small business with 10 to 20 employees than they are for an outfit with hundreds of people on their payroll. These fees would either be absorbed by the small business owner or passed on to their client.
  2. Limited diversity. Licensing could also mean the requirement of advanced graduate degrees with lengthy mentorships and national testing. Many come to coaching having already earned advanced degrees. And their services stand out as a result. Yet what happens for those who can’t afford the costs of extended education? Their life experience – experience with quantifiable value often earned over decades – gets cast aside simply because it didn’t take place within the parameters of a degree program.

But it’s the national testing, or more accurately the system of which it would be a part, that poses the real problem. Similar to teachers and licensed social workers, national testing would be part of a standardized certification process in an attempt to be “fair” to all. But what happens when a coach wants to combine complementary services in which they specialize? For example, a wellness coach who also wants to offer Reiki and reflective tarot. The practice of tarot tends to fall outside what some people consider mainstream healing practices. Yet many rely on it to achieve deeper self-awareness and direction in life. Within a standardized system, this coach could be barred from obtaining a license – a practice that would severely limit the diversity of coaching services available to clients.

  1. Innovation. Professional coaching and the coaching courses used to train individuals incorporate a series of proven scientific methods. But they must also remain nimble, integrating new methods, tools and techniques, especially when considering emerging technologies and the ways in which clients prefer to interact with coaches.

The coaching industry and its moderating organizations have shown great adaptability with regard to self-regulation. In contrast, the legislation required for licensing simply moves too slow to allow coaches to remain competitive and keep up with the needs of their clients. Again, this is an area where self-regulation not only comes to the rescue but is also the best place to start. The ICF provides a checklist for hiring a coach and offers a searchable database that allows clients to pair up with an individual who has expertise relative to their needs. It’s also worth noting numerous metrics exist to measure the effectiveness of a coach, at least within business. An article published by the Financial Times, reported that the success of a coach “can be measured, for example, by psychometric testing, 360 degree appraisals, key performance indicators, employee surveys, HR data on talent management and financial data such as levels of profitability.” A report by Forbes also reflected the same potential metrics then went a little further by connecting client success to the personal success of the coach: “What will set successful executive coaches apart from others in the coming years is their ability to demonstrate measurable results. Savvy clients will only choose executive coaching organizations that can clearly demonstrate how they helped their coachees move the needle. Pre- and post-360 interviews, structured feedback and other tools will be used to quantify and qualify results.” Source: Forbes

Coaching credentials benefit client and coach alike

Professional credentials lead to coaches who are confident and ultimately more effective due to the specialized components included in professional training programs. Here at Coach Training World, we build our Whole Person Coach Certification (WPCC) on the holistic wisdom of the individual. One of the key tools we use to do so is Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). In another article appearing on HuffPost, certification was highlighted as essential – but specifically the depth of that certification. They reported that standard coaching, also known as surface coaching, only “deals with the symptoms the client brings to the coaching session. The results are usually short lasting, as the underlying issue in most cases remains unresolved.” The article went on to say that coaches possessing the tools available through certified training achieve more sustainable results, often permanent, as they have the capability to reach their clients on a deeper level. “An NLP-trained coach is focused on what lies underneath the client’s problem, and works with them to identify, unpack and resolve the real issue which often has no apparent connection with the symptom the client seeks to address.” Source: HuffPost This insight, according to the article, bolsters the coach’s credibility, as the “higher the level of education (especially when relevant to their chosen niche), the greater the level of the client’s comfort and confidence in their coach’s skills.” You can work through a 4- to 8-year program to add enhanced training like positive psychology and somatic awareness. Or you can bring your current passions, experience and expertise to a professionally certified coaching training school like Coach Training World. Here we merge those modalities right into the training without adding years of coursework and classes you’ll never use – not to mention the exorbitant cost of a degree and time spent on a thesis. Expediency. Diversity. Affordability. Three words that sum up the argument against government regulation while making a solid case for professional coach training.