Overview of Life Coaching Accreditation

by ACO Admin on July 25, 2008

by Sarah Wright, MS, ACT and Viveca Monahan, CPC, ACG

In last month’s article on a Brief History of ADHD Coaching, we looked at the progression of coaching during the last twenty years. In this article we will look in more depth at two well-known life-coach credentialing bodies, both based in the United States: the International Coach Federation (ICF), and the International Association of Coaching (IAC).

International Coach Federation (ICF)

The ICF, founded in 1995, is the oldest, largest, and most recognized of the life coaching accreditation bodies. There are over 14,000 members in more than 80 countries and 150 chapters in 42 countries. They have certified almost 4,000 coaches. The ICF is intimately linked historically and professionally with the founding members of the personal coaching profession; the coaching schools those leaders started, and the Association of Coach Training Organizations (ACTO), which accredits ICF-approved coaching programs.

The ICF has three levels of credentials: Associate Certified Coach (ACC); Professional Certified Coach (PCC) and the Master Certified Coach (MCC). It also has two paths to credentialing: either training through an Accredited Coach Training Program (ACTP), or through a portfolio route. The latter is chosen by people who are trained, experienced coaches but who didn’t graduate from an ICF accredited coach training school. The portfolio route has been taken by many ICF-certified ADHD coaches. For all three certification levels, ICF certified coaches must obtain a minimum number of hours of continuing education in order to retain their credential. Renewal applications must be filed every three years. You can find the requirements for each level through either path here.

According to Ira Dressner, PCC, ACO member, and a current member of the Board of Directors of the ICF, the ICF is more than half way through the process of meeting the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standards for bodies operating certification of persons. He believes that within the next 18 months the ICF will complete the process and have ISO approval. He says it will then be the only life coach credentialing organization on a global level to achieve that goal.

The International Association of Coaching (IAC)

The IAC, founded in 2003, has 12,000 coaches in over 80 countries and was originally the credentialing body for the newly formed Coachville. In the aftermath of the death of Thomas Leonard, however, that association was severed and the IAC became an independent life coaching credentialing body. Originally the IAC’s credential was based on Coachville’s 15 Coaching Proficiencies. As of January 2008, the IAC’s credential is based solely on the IAC Coaching Masteries (TM), of which there are currently 9. Unfortunately, in order to find out specifically what these are (that is more than just their names), you have to either become a member at $129/year or pay $27 to download the Complete IAC Coaching Masteries E-book. We hope this will soon change.

The IAC has just one level of certification. It demands a high level of skill and we are told there is currently a high failure rate. The IAC doesn’t require training from a particular school, or even a specific number of hours of training or specific number of hours of experience. To be certified you must demonstrate you can coach according to their Coaching Masteries(TM). You do this by taking an initial written test and then submitting for review two recordings of your coaching that demonstrate your competency in all nine masteries. You can learn more about their standards and code of ethics, their credentialing process, and unofficially learn more about the masteries. You can also sign up for their newsletter, it’s free.

Sarah’s Opinion

The ICF certification has been problematic for many ADHD coaches because of the requirement to submit a list of coaching hours along with client names and contact information for verification. There are ADHD coaches who consider this an unacceptable breach of client confidentiality and so choose not to pursue an ICF credential.

It’s easy to understand why training and experience hours are considered to be important in defining a credential. However, the IAC has taken the stand that training and client hours are not necessary; that demonstration of skill is sufficient.

I find this a compelling position, just as I find it a compelling argument that academic grades should be based solely on mastery of the subject and not on whether the homework was handed in. I’ve known a number of gifted people in a number of disciplines who are self taught and are better at what they do than many who hold degrees in those subjects. It’s clear that numbers of hours in training or practice are no guarantee of skill.

So I’ll be keeping an eye on the IAC. Having recently completed the switch to their new masteries, they are basically starting over. It will take some time to see if they provide a viable life coaching credential, but I think they’ll be worth watching.

Viv’s Opinion

I believe that an important element of certification is protection of the certified. We live in a litigious society where anyone can be sued for any reason. We ADHD coaches work with people who have mental health diagnoses. The best way to protect ourselves and the public is to be sure we are adhering to a tight set of rules, ethics, principles and so forth. And that we are accountable to a credible professional body.

This has the greatest chance of protecting us from state mental health personnel who have zeroed in on life coaches in certain states. Colorado was one of them in 2003; Washington State is another. (There is an excellent article about this story written by Patrick Williams in Choice Magazine. Read more here.) Both states now have it written in their statutes that trained life coaches are specifically exempt from registering as unlicensed mental health practitioners.

The reason for this exemption is that professional coaching organizations like the ICF, the IAC and others had their finger on the pulse and provided evidence that trained coaches are not practicing therapy without a license. I believe that we are more at risk than the average coach and should take it very seriously when considering the question of credentialing. Click here to read see the ICF regulatory page.

Concluding Thoughts

The ICF and IAC take different positions on what to consider in evaluating coaching proficiency. Both are viable models. Each has points to recommend it. In this Darwinian world it will be interesting to see what happens over time to both organizations and to the life coaching profession they serve.

In our next article we’ll be talking about ADHD coach certification, so stay tuned!

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