By Wes Martin
Professional Coaching: A (Mostly) Unregulated Industry
It is common knowledge to some, but not all that being a professional coach is not regulated. This lack of regulation can make it more challenging to select a professional coach than other helping professions such as a medical doctor, licensed professional counselor, attorney, or even tax accountant. In these fields, the acronyms MD, Esq., LPC, and CPA signal to a prospective client that the professional has undergone a systematic series of steps to complete training to earn credentialing. However, as just about anyone who has hired a professional in any of these disciplines can attest, credentialing does not always correlate to quality.
Coaching, on the other hand, is currently an unregulated industry. And while credentialing is not always evidence of professional or ethical excellence, it does at least create a heuristic that can make hiring a professional in these areas more straightforward. Therefore, the mere absence of professional credentialing in the field of professional coaching can make gauging the quality of a coach more cumbersome and riddled with uncertainty.
While it is true that there is not a standard of credentialing required to practice professional coaching, that (fortunately) doesn’t tell the whole story.
The International Coaching Federation
As professional coaching has continued to grow as a discipline, with a body of scientific literature supporting its legitimacy and efficacy, many professional coaches have aligned via the International Coaching Federation (ICF) to establish what many consider to be the de facto governing body in the field of professional coaching. As with every profession, ICF has introduced a singular Code of Ethics and Core Competencies. In January 2022, ICF surpassed 50,000 members across more than 150 countries.
ICF is a nonprofit agency dedicated to advancing the field of professional coaching to “[make] coaching an integral part of a thriving society as all of us together seek to lead the global advancement of the coaching profession and empower the world through coaching.” ICF has risen to become the gold standard in coach training, oversight, and credentialing.
ICF’s stance on regulation is that they are “committed to meaningful professional self-governance. ICF’s self-governance foundation comprises and depends upon a variety of standards and practices, supported by the efforts of the ICF Global Board, volunteer leaders, and ICF Members and Credential-holders.”
Therefore, while it is accurate to say that coaching is unregulated in the sense that legal licensure is not required to practice, it isn’t entirely accurate to say that there isn’t any oversight, standards, or self-regulatory systems in place. Like many disciplines before coaching (i.e., law and medicine), there is a growing awareness and push for those within this field to rally together from across the globe to create professional standards, accreditation and training, and credentialing that advance the field of professional coaching in a manner that promotes ethical coaching to the benefit of coaching consumers worldwide.
What Does ICF Credentialing Mean?
As of 2022, ICF has three levels of coach credentialing – the ACC, PCC, and MCC, respectively. Here it suffices to say that earning ACC, or level one coach credentialing, requires the coach to complete at least 60 hours of coach-specific education that aligns with the ICF Coaching Competencies and Code of Ethics. This also includes at least 100 hours of client coaching experience, 10 hours of mentor coaching completed over a minimum of 3 months, a coaching performance evaluation, and passing a written exam.
In short, it is a lengthy, costly, and time-consuming process, and ICF Credentialing at any level is evidence that the coach holding the credential has made a significant commitment to grow in their coaching competence and ensure that the coaching they provide to their clients is productive. And, like other professions with credentialing processes (i.e., public relations, project management, human resource, etc.), an individual holding or not holding credentialing through ICF is not a guarantee that you will have beneficial or detrimental outcomes in working with that coach.
The coaching relationship is unique and special; ultimately, each coaching client must find a coach who helps them clarify and move toward their goals.
How Does Strata Align with ICF?
Strata Leadership is deeply committed to the field of professional coaching. As a provider of Executive Coaching, Coach Education, and Leadership Development, we take the responsibility seriously to champion high ethical and professional standards within the coaching field. This begins with our coach selection process and extends into how we onboard and support coaching clients throughout their coaching engagement.
We believe and have experienced first-hand the power of coaching to transform leaders and organizations. That’s why we’ve taken concrete steps toward aligning ourselves with ICF, hoping that professional coaching will eventually be regulated.
Some of these steps include:
- In 2019 we created a Strata Coaching Agreement and Code of Ethics that aligns with the standards put forth by ICF.
- In 2020 we committed to investing resources to ensure that every full-time Executive Coach at Strata would be ICF Credentialed.
- In 2023 Strata Leadership will begin offering ICF Accredited Coach Specific Training Hours.