Why Coaches Really Do Need to be Credentialed

Note: In this post I talk about credentialing for coaches, and I specify the International Coaching Federation (ICF). This is not the only legitimate credentialing body, just the one I am most familiar with, the most well-recognized credential internationally, and the credential I myself hold. There are other credentialing bodies and some good coaching programs also offer their own credential.

As a dyed in the wool rebel, I am surprising myself a bit in writing this post. Although I have been a credentialed coach through the International Coaching Federation for my entire 20+ year career, I always saw it as more of a pro forma thing. That is, necessary because I train coaches and write about coaching (not to mention my years consulting for the ICF itself). It wasn’t the thing that defined me as a coach.

But more and more recently, I have developed a great deal of respect for the fact that we, as coaches, can be credentialed, and I have decided that yes, indeed, we should. Let me tell you why. If any of you follow my sister blog on narcissism, But Now I Know Your Name, you’ll know I have experience with the whole world of toxic personalities, as well as a passion for education and healing all forms of relational trauma and abuse.

Because of this, I pay attention to all the ways people encounter and are manipulated by toxic personalities. This includes in the workplace, families, intimate partnerships, friendships, religious organizations, and cults. Why? The patterns are highly consistent and the negative impact very similar. And one thing I have noticed and become more and more concerned about is how many new age cults (such as the now-discredited NXIVM, just to name one example) use the term “coaches” for the one-to-one “work” (aka manipulation) sanctioned as part of the way they profess to help people develop.

I also recently listened to an interview on the wonderful podcast A Little Bit Culty. The guest had worked with a non-credentialed “life coach” for over 30 years. This person was so manipulative and coercive it left her severely traumatized — to the point that a professional giving her a neurological assessment called adult protective services.

Let me be clear — this is not coaching as an ICF credentialed coach would understand it. These “coaches” are not trained according to the ICF Core Competencies, and they are not required to follow internationally recognized ethical guidelines. They are, in my opinion, a frightening example of the looseness of the term coach.

Why frightening? Because without adequate training and ethical guidelines, anything can happen. As a neuroscience expert, I know that the way true professional coaches are trained is validated by brain research. If we follow the competencies and ethical standards, we are highly likely to create a positive, open, healthy brain state in our client. Because a core concept of professional coaching is that people are naturally creative, resourceful and whole, coaches do not dictate to their clients. And if a credentialed coach is manipulative and coercive, the client has recourse through the ICF ethical standards board.

But as anyone who works in the human development world knows, anyone can call themselves a coach. And to be fair, the term existed far before the idea of life or executive coaching became a thing about 30 years ago. But in this time we have evolved into a respectable profession with a track record of both ethics and results.

And so, if you are a coach, I do recommend being credentialed, whether it is by the ICF or another legitimate credentialing body or program with rigorous training and an ethical code. It helps differentiate you and protects our profession. If you hire coaches as part of an organization, make sure they have credentials. It protects you and your employees. And if you are personally looking for a coach, make asking about their credentials, training and ethical standards your very first questions.


Ann Betz is the co-founder of BEabove Leadership and an expert on the intersection of neuroscience, coaching, trauma and human transformation. She speaks, trains and coaches internationally, and writes about neuroscience and coaching as well as relational trauma. Ann is also a published poet who loves cats, rain in the desert, and healthy relationships. 

To order her book, This is Your Brain on Coaching, the Neuroscience of the ICF Competencies, click here.


4 responses

  1. I agree with creditialing coaches as the ICF would define it. I wish the term “Coach” was never applied to what we do because some companies want you to “coach someone up” like a HS kid has his weakness in certain sports skills. ANd it our sense someone is already “whole.” And Executive Coaches focus on work. And LIfe coaches on non work. And what the heck do I call myself who coaches both. And don’t get me started on “work / life balance” when IMHO all these pieces are just part of a whole person. Therapists are therapists but they are trained in certain approaches. I wish they would invent a term for “coaches” as we know it, and talk about our names approache’s. And have ICF continue to be the certification body. Analysts and coaches share “asking provocative questions” and differentiate from teaching/consulting who “tell” as our respective centers of gravity. Thanks your article!

      • I have challenges because my practice includes some therapy (e.g. voice therapy, Internal Family Systems), energetic work (e.g. Qi Gong, body work), and on the business side mentoring, and even consulting-style business problem-solving. Maybe I could be the 77 year Eclectic Coach? 😵‍💫😉

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