Life Coach CertificationThe first step in your journey of becoming a certified professional coach is to understand what coaching is. Contrary to common belief, life coaching is not a synonym to therapy, mentoring, or managing talent. If you have training as a therapist, manager, teacher, consultant, or other “people helps” careers, you will still need to be trained as a life coach. Simply put, a coach will help their clients to help themselves. The professional coach does this without giving advice. Instead, a life coach first helps the client establish an outcome they are seeking, i.e., a harmonized marriage, a peaceful life, etc., then goals are set and a path to accomplish are planned out. Finally, the life coach acts as the accountability partner for the client. The professional coach helps the client establish what it is they want to do through asking powerful and insightful questions that lead to “ah-ha” moments for the client. Since the work of a life coach is not giving advice, they are not responsible for their client’s outcomes, which makes it possible for them to coach anyone—from CEOs and athletes to moms and dads.

A mantra to remember is this: professional coaches coach the person, not the problem.

Once you understand what professional coaching is all about and are sure this is something you want to do, you can begin your certification process. The International Coaching Federation is the gold standard in professional coaching so you may want to pursue certification from programs that are ICF accredited, such as Aim Higher.

Here are the three important steps to become a professional coach:

  1. Certification from a coach-specific training program
  2. ICF credentials
  3. Become an ICF member

Let’s look at each of these in more detail below.

Certification from a coach-specific training program

coach specific training programTraining by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Pix4free

For a training program to qualify as coach-specific training, it has to abide by the guidelines as stipulated by the ICF. Your ultimate goal with the training program should be to qualify for ICF membership and ICF credentials, so you want to ensure the program is ICF accredited.

Let’s look at of these guidelines:

  • Make sure the training is either the Approved Coach Specific Training Hours (ACSTH) designation or Accredited Coach Training Program (ACTP)
  • If your training will be from a Continuing Coach Education program, check to verify if all the hours to be covered are approved and accepted in the ICF core competencies. When taking a Continuing Coach Education program, only a maximum of 12 hours outside the core competencies can be accepted.
  • A training program that wasn’t previously approved by the ICF but is now teaching coaching skills as per the ICF core competencies can be accepted. This is becoming a common trend in universities that are seeking to be relevant to the growing demand for life coach training.

Some training programs are marketed as teaching skills that will help the life coach. While it is true that a professional coach may need the skills (and more), the programs will not be considered coach-specific training if they do not adhere to the ICF core competencies. You should be wary of personal development courses that are marketed as training for life coaching.

Calculating the hours

You need at least 60 hours of coach-specific training for you to qualify for ICF credentials. But how exactly are these hours calculated? For starters, at least 48 hours must be student contact hours. This means real time spent in the interaction between the students and instructors. Instruction can take different formats, including in-person training, real-time lessons/discussions, feedback and observation, and mentorship hours. Additionally, the 48 hours must be structured in a way that all ICF core competencies will be covered within this time.

Additionally, not more than 12 out of the 60 hours should be spent on homework. This includes the time you spend in independent study activities like writing, research, reading, journaling, and any other activity that is part of your training but doesn’t include real-time interaction with faculty.

Things to look for in a training program

Coach training is a significant investment so you want to make a good choice. Here are some important factors to consider when looking for a program.

  • ICF accreditation – Getting training from an ICF accredited program will set you up for success. You will command a better rate, attract more clients, and be recognized in ways that will allow you to work with companies and executives. The ICF gives accreditations to programs that meet their stringent requirements, so you can be sure of quality training that will prepare you well for your life coaching tasks
  • Coach specific training hours – You need to have at least 48 hours of in-person training for you to qualify for an ICF membership. Make sure the program you sign up for is tailored to meet this requirement.
  • Niche – Even though the core competencies are taught in all ICF accredited training, programs can be tailored for particular niches. For instance, if you want to be an executive life coach or a health coach, you may want to look for a program that is designed especially for coaches in that niche. If you are unsure of your coaching niche, programs such as Aim Higher equip you to be a competent life coach and help you determine your coaching niche.
  • Curriculum – Check the curriculum to see what exactly is covered in the training. You should pay particular attention to the ICF core competencies; if these competencies are not covered in the training, you may want to look elsewhere.
  • Faculty – Before you participate in a program, find out who your trainers will be. What is their experience and training? Have they gone through coach-specific training? Are they ICF credentialed? Are they ICF members?

ICF Logo 200ICF credentials

Once you have completed your coach-specific training, you are ready to coach. However, as with obtaining different college/university degrees, you can go further with your coaching expertise by obtaining your ICF credentials. There are three credentials that you can get from the ICF:

  • Associate Certified Coach (ACC)
  • Professional Certified Coach (PCC)
  • Master Certified Coach (MCC)

Before applying for any of these credentials, you must first have completed coach-specific training from an ICF accredited program and meet the other requirements for the respective credential. You can then apply for the credential and the application should be reviewed in approximately 4 weeks.

In addition to completing 60 hours of coach-specific training from an ACSTH program or 125 hours from an ACTP program, you will also need to have at least 100 hours of coaching experience for the ACC, 500 hours of coaching experience for PCC, and 2,500 hours of coaching for the MCC. This means you need to have practical life coaching experience before you get credentialed.

ACC and PCC have three distinct paths that you can use but the MCC has only one path. You can focus on getting the ACC credential first, then upgrade to the PCC and MCC as you get more experience and fulfill the requirements.

Keep in mind that ICF credentials must be renewed every 3 years. You can submit your application online and for your renewal application to be accepted, and you must meet the following requirements:

  • 40 hours of Continuing Coach Education (CCE) within the last three since you earned/renewed your credential. Of the hours, at least 24 must be in the core competencies.
  • Demonstrate that you have completed at least 3 Continuing Coach Education (CCE) modules in life coaching ethics.
  • If you are renewing your ACC credential, you must have an additional 10 mentoring hours that must be completed in no less than 3 months.

Renewing your coaching credential ensures you are committed to continuous personal development and growth in your life coaching career/business. The process can also help you to easily move to the higher credentials i.e., from ACC to PCC and MCC.

Becoming an ICF memberBecoming an ICF member

Every serious professional should be a member of a professional organization, and the organization to join as a professional coach is the ICF. There are many benefits as an ICF member but one notable one is gaining credibility with your clients. Statistics show that at least 52 percent of coaching clients will expect you to be credentialed by the ICF. Becoming an ICF member lets the public know are proficient in the ICF core competencies and will adhere to the ICF code of ethics.

To qualify for ICF membership, they have to meet at least one of the requirements below:

  • Have any of the ICF credentials (ACC, PCC, or MCC)
  • Complete at least 60 hours of coach-specific training
  • Be enrolled in a coach-specific training program that will take at least 60 hours.

Once you meet the minimum requirements, you can apply to join the ICF. Here are some of the key benefits to becoming a member:

  • Networking – As an ICF member, you can join your local ICF chapter that connects you to other life coaches in your region. ICF local chapters organize helpful events that you can benefit from including continuing education programs. Also, you can give back to the community by participating in the pro bono coaching initiatives of the chapter.
  • Get involved – You can volunteer to be a leader in your ICF local chapter, which will also give you the opportunity to volunteer at national and global levels. As an ICF member, you can also add your voice to the global discourse by contributing to the ICF blog.
  • Share knowledge – As a member, you can share your expertise with peers in the field while learning from them.
  • Elect leaders – ICF members help in electing board members. This board is responsible for setting the mission, vision, and objectives of the organization. Since the decisions made at the board level affect all life coaches, it is a great opportunity to add your voice by helping determine who will seat on the board.

If you are serious about your professional coaching career/business, then you should start with getting your coach certification by taking coach-specific training. Even though no legislation requires you to be certified as a life coach, it is in your best interest to do so. Not only will certification set you apart as a professional but it will give you access to lots of growth opportunities.