Do I Need ICF Accreditation To Be A Coach?

I’m not sure there is a question I get asked from people inquiring about the Coach the Life Coach course than, ‘Do you have ICF accreditation?”

The simple answer in, ‘No we don’t and it’s doubtful we ever will have’, but that doesn’t say why we haven’t and in all probability, won’t go down that path.

As I am sure you know Life Coaching is entirely unregulated in (as far as I am aware) every country on the planet.

There is no governing body, you cannot be struck off and nobody this side of a psychiatrist with a court order can stop you practicing as a coach.

As such, any accreditation is self accreditation.

By that I mean the ICF (International Coach Federation) are self appointed in exactly the same way as myself and Karl are self appointed when we choose to certify coaches.

Of course the ICF and has a code of conduct which all nice and cosy, but we have a code of conduct here at Coach the Life Coach.

It’s called our core values!

Yes they can take revoke your membership in the highly unlikely event they catch you being a very naughty coach, but they cannot stop you coaching.

Do You Want ICF Accreditation To Attract More Clients?

Walk down any high street and ask 100 people what they think the acronym ICF stands for.

My guess is one person will know, and she will be a coach.

I have been coaching full time for over a decade and do you know how many times I have been asked if I had ICF accreditation?


And that person hired me even though I said I didn’t.

The reality is, as coaches we get asked about our qualifications far less than we imagine we will be when we get underway.

That doesn’t mean formal training isn’t important, I have had a LOT, and now I give a lot. Just that there is something more crucial when talking with potential clients if you want them to hire you.

And that’s connection.

It doesn’t matter how much training you have had if you cannot build rapport and connect with potential clients.

I’m not suggesting that having the ICF badge can’t be beneficial, just not as beneficial as you being able to relate to potential clients in a way that puts them at ease and helps them trust you.

When You Probably Do Need ICF Accreditation

Let me do a 180 here and say there is a situation where I would advise you to take the ICF route and that is Executive and some Business Coaching.

If you want to coach in the corporate sector with businesses of more than say, 100 employees, you’re probably going to need that badge.

In such situations you are almost certainly going to be dealing with HR in the early stages and they will take qualifications far more seriously than the average person looking to hire a Life Coach.

I spent a number of years selling into HR departments both HR solutions and payroll solutions and they’re not the easiest to deal with.

For the large part HR people are trained to minimize risk and potential liability and as such have a tendency of playing things safe.

They don’t want to roll the dice on an English Life Coach who last wore a suit for business 12 years ago, swears a lot and has a strange accent no matter how much experience he has.

Especially when they have somebody sporting the MCC (Master Certified Coach) moniker applying for the same position.

If that is your target market then do your due diligence and check out the ICF.

Why We Won’t Go ICF

You may be wondering why, if there are now downsides to being ICF accredited (and to the best of my knowledge there aren’t) we don’t become affiliated.

There are three primary reasons.

1. Cost

For the level of training and ongoing support we offer, we are relatively inexpensive. If we were ICF we would have to double our costs and then some. That would price a lot of potential great coaches out of taking training.

Also, we almost certainly wouldn’t get people taking the course who just want coaching skills for other reasons such as making them better managers, running their own business etc that we get now.

2. Time

It takes about 18 months to achieve PCC (Professional Certified Coach) status.

It took me 7 months to get certified and that is close to what the average person taking Coach the Life Coach is gaining certification in.

It is possible to do it in 4 months with us, but that is a stretch without any previous experience.

I’m confident that if somebody works hard and is serious about coaching that they do not need to take 18 months before they can get out there and help people.

I have seen the contrary happen far too many times to buy into that erroneous belief.

Equally I have worked with too many coaches who had done an ICF course and who still didn’t feel equipped to work with paying clients. And in a couple of cases, rightly so.

3. Flexibility

ICF adhere’s to the co-active coaching model, and if you represent them, so must you.

That’s not such a bad thing as it is unequivocally the best way to coach.

But it’s not the only way.

Co-active coaching is my default mode and it makes up the core of our course, but we teach other stuff too.

When the co-active approach doesn’t work it’s nice to know that there are other options open to you to help you help your clients.

In Summary

This post is in no way bashing on the ICF, they have done, and continue to do, some great work to promote coaching and keep the standard of coaching as high as possible within their limitations.

They are a not for profit organization which I think is important when you’re asking other training companies and general public to trust you.

But unless coaching ever becomes regulated (and I highly doubt that, and even if it did they would have to grandfather current coaches in) they are by no means the only show in town.

It may be the most expensive show, but that doesn’t always mean you’re going to love it and that it’s right for you.

I know some people disagree with my opinions on this topic and that’s fine, I respect y our opinion.

If you’re one of them please feel free to comment. In fact comment anyway and let’s start a dialogue.


  1. That was quick 😉 Tim, thanks for sharing your perspectives. Lots of valid points & gave me much to think about as I continue in my business. I like how you mentioned “Core Values”…yep, that’s what its all about.

  2. Great write-up Tim with lots of valid points. I’m not big on ICF certification either but I think there needs to be a distinction made between certification and training. No, we don’t have to be certified for the sake of being certified but we also can do the certification for the purpose of obtaining training. And yes, we can get that training elsewhere too. I think the way the advice you dispense comes across to some people is don’t train, don’t get certified, don’t do anything – just start coaching. Maybe not from your post here necessarily but this seems to come from a lot of the coaching blogs out there. Training helps. The better, more well-trained coaches we become, the better we can help the people we are serving.

    • Tim Brownson

      I have to be honest and say I don’t read many coaching posts per se so I was unaware that many people were advocating no training.

      And yeh of course training helps and should be a ‘must’ for any coach to understand the basics.

      Started that book you recommending btw. It’s almost like you I’m listening to with the humor 😉

      • i’ll forward some of these posts to you so you get the idea of coaching blogs that don’t recommend training and instead opt for going with what you know and what you’ve experienced.

        I’ve found that book helpful but the humor is terrible and makes you want to jump out of a tall building.

        Wait a sec…

        • Tim Brownson

          I’d definitely like to see them so I can maybe comment 😉

          Feel free to post them here in the comments if you like.

  3. Its interesting you (Tim) have written on the ICF issue now. I checked our a number of coaching programs here in the eastern part of the US and settled on one that is “certified.” My reasons — I recall about 20 years ago something here called a CADC (certified alcohol and drug counselor) didn’t need a license to practice. As a result, anyone with a GED could sit for the program, fulfill its requirements (I think attending a number of AA and NA meetings) and voile, you were a CADC. Thank the lord, the state stepped in a reviewed the trainings, declared one must have at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college, and then satisfy internship and other criteria before hangling up a shingle to practice. I knew someone who was an “uneducated” CADC and he was a disaster!

    In any event, I’m finding this ICF program is not really teaching me anything I don’t already know — which is disconcerting. But I’ve decided to participate in the program’s first “face to face” weekend training and then decide if going futher is worth my time and money.

    Anyway, I do enjoy your writings, and once I’ve made my decision concerning the current program I’m enrolled in, I’m seriously considering your program.

    Well, that’s my opinion, fo what its worth!!

    Shrink in NJ!

    • Tim Brownson

      It’s disappointing to hear that Janice. It may be poor training, a reflection on how much you know, or probably a combination of both is more likely.

      We have had a number of therapists and counselors who were looking to transition into coaching take the course and the feedback has been great.

      And thanks for the opinion and it’s worth a lot!

    • Hi Janice,

      I took Tim’s training when he first started. It was awesome and I learned a lot. I was able to firmly establish my niche, revamp my web presence and learn some coaching techniques that I didn’t know. I have been looking at the ICF training as well, I opted to get a B.S. degree in Life Coaching instead because of my niche.. I am not excited about spending so much money to take training that I already know. So thank you for sharing your experience. I may pass on ICF certification once again. I am going to apply for the Coach the Life Coach Certification.



      • Tim Brownson

        Thanks a lot Athena, much appreciated.

        I still talk about the person (you obviously although I don’t mention your name) on an early course who was the single most gracious I ever worked with when I quite frankly demolished her website.

        You’re an example to others!

  4. Hi Tim,

    I think this is well written and unbiased, but I do see value in the ICF and bringing more credibility to the “profession.” I use quotations for the reason that coaching is unregulated. The ICF is trying to bring more legitimacy to coaching and I think that’s a good thing. I completed my coaching certification with a program recognized by the ICF (so perhaps I am a bit biased). Coming from an engineering background, the training I received gave me invaluable skills to use with my clients, the biggest of which is that we are not there to be the expert on the lives of others and dish out advice. I learned that with practice, I could coach people if I followed a framework. We see online that everyone and their dog is a “coach” these days when in reality they are experts, mentors, or consultants. Coaching is something different and I think the only way to distinguish it as such is to continue creating more credibility, which I think the ICF is trying to do.

    That said, I don’t think you need to be ICF certified to bring value to clients.


    • Tim Brownson

      I 100% agree with you in terms of what the ICF is trying to do Eric.

      I almost put into the post but didn’t for fear of looking like I was bashing them. I am happy to share it here as few people read the comments of a post who haven’t actually commented.

      I was looking at the site of a Christian coach training organization which was affiliated with the ICF. Looking at their curriculum it spooked me because it talked about teaching you how to guide clients on a religious path. That bugged me a lot.

      I have no issue with somebody being a Christian coach and only dealing with Christians (even if that imho shows closed-mindedness), but I do have a problem with training that is so far off the co-active approach you need binoculars to see it being endorsed by the ICF.

  5. Tanya

    Fantastic timing Tim! I am coming to the conclusion of my ICF recognised training and just considering the “how” side of my accreditation. When I started down this learning path, I was convinced I needed both – so this article was a great perspective for me.

    Training was important for me, I discovered coaching was actually different to what I had experienced and really honed some of my skills. I’m beginning to feel like the accreditation would just be for me – my clients so far couldn’t care less. And I know I could better spend the money working on improving my knowledge.

    Much like Vishnu mentioned, I see/hear/read of so many people running ‘coaching’ businesses who stray into areas of psychology and counselling – even giving prescriptive medical advice… which is downright scary! From this perspective I look forward to some form of governing body or at least minimum requirement before a person can hang up a “Coach” sign.

    Ps Arrived here via your email….of which the frequency is fine mate!

    • Tim Brownson

      Yep it is scary.

      I definitely see coaches offering terrible advice via blogs, Social Media etc., but as I said I haven’t really seen it that much with training companies other than the example I used with Eric above.

      I honestly don’t know what the answer is. Maybe a task force set up to make sure that coaches are, at the very minimum, not breaking the law.

      I see your in Australia and from what I have been told you have about the strictest laws on the planet this side of regulation. It would only take 3 or 4 coaches to be prosecuted for offering therapeutic or medical advice for the message to get home methinks.

      And I’m glad I’m not sending you into e-mail fatigue!

  6. Hi Tim,

    I appreciate your opinion and agree with it. However, I did decide to go the ICF certification route, not because I’m a business coach, but because at times I interact with psychologists and counselors and thought it might be helpful. While in some minds, it may have more credibility, it does not necessarily bring in more clients, because as you mentioned, most people don’t even know what ICF stands for. I believe training is important, but you don’t necessarily need to be ICF certified.

    By the way, in response to your recent message, I find your emails very helpful, and are one of the few that I read regularly, so thank you for all the information and help!

    • Tim Brownson

      Yep that’s a good point Cathy. In fact if I were writing the post from scratch now I would probably add the part about therapists etc.


  7. Thank you for your insight Tim. I found your article interesting, informative, and confirming. In 2009, I was introduced to Life Coaching. With a strong background in training and employee development coupled with a love for people, certification just made sense. I opted out of ICF and went through a certification program with a Chicago based non-profit organization. It was a great experience.
    In 2011, I wrote my own certification program and rolled it out in 2012. To date, approximately 75 participants internationally have successfully completed my program.
    I believe certification is becoming more and more important as more and more people are hanging out Life Coach neon signs. I believe it is important for those seeking certification to do the research in finding a program which will be the best fit for them. ICF is an option, but it’s definitely not the only option. I am connected to several ICF coaches and in fact belong to a couple of local support groups with some of them. My not being certified by ICF does not minimize the value I bring to the table. My coaching background and business actually enhances the groups.

    • Tim Brownson

      I agree, in a group setting like that who cares what letters somebody can put behind their name?

  8. Good points in the post, and the comments. As a newer coach, I struggle with feeling “credible,” since I’m one of those people who has an affinity for lots of letters after people’s names. But so far, that hasn’t been an issue for me. Many of my clients are doubling their incomes (or moving into more fulfilling careers) and are satisfied with the results, regardless of of certification.

    • Tim Brownson

      Yep I’m pretty sure you’re not going to get too many complaints with clients who doubled their income.

      And you could always take our certification!

  9. I left the PR corporate world and set up as a life coach. I took an online course and got my own life coach to help guide me. I was surprised how similar the course was to much of my management training. One of the life coaches I follow online puts it this way.
    It’s not what qualifications you have. The question you should ask is ‘can I help this person?’
    I go with that.

    • Tim Brownson

      That’s a good point Marcus, there are a lot of cross overs from (good) management into coaching.

  10. Yvette Medina

    This is a late reply, considering it has been posted over a month ago. I am training to be a life coach with Tim through Coach the Life Coach and I have to say I am receiving the best training ever. I have learned so much about core values, reframing, NLP, developing your niche, and so on. What I love about about this program it’s focused on high quality training through personal development.

    I currently have a certification CADC, certified alcohol drug counselor and a LPC, licensed professional counselor; And I must say that when I was preparing for these silly acronyms I lost focus of what it was I thought I was gaining. I became obsessed in passing to Obtain these letters after my last name and for what? It Doesn’t change how I help, granted it keeps me employed as this is state required for my job . However, and very sadly, I can’t practice independently under these credtentals because it’s regulated by my state.

    I appreciate and value the training I am receiving and it’s nice that This is something that I can use and improve on for when I do become a Life Coach

    • Tim Brownson

      Thanks a lot Yvette, that’s very kind of you, And of course I’m delighted you are enjoying the training!

  11. Deanna

    There is another certification in the works for Health Coaches to be launched in 2017,the National Examination for health coaches or something like that. They had also created a code of conduct. I just wonder if this will be required down the road,because as of now insurance companies are not covering Health Coaching sessions,it’s cash. Have you heard about it?