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Do Life Coaches Need to Be Certified?

Life coaches don’t need to be certified, but a credential can demonstrate your skills and professionalism.

two professions talking walk past city benches
two professions talking walk past city benches

Life coaching is a relatively new profession, and it’s unregulated. That means that licensing and certification aren’t required to enter the profession.

But certifications are available—and they are highly recommended. A credential like certification can show potential clients that you’ve met high standards for training and professional ethics and you’re ready to help them as they take their lives in a new direction.

The International Coaching Federation is recognized by the industry as coaching’s leading professional organization, and it offers three credentials to help coaches demonstrate their skills and experience.

“ICF credential-holders are part of a self-regulating group of elite coaches who complete rigorous education and practice requirements in order to obtain a credential,” says Luke Davis, vice president of ICF coach training. “In business, executive and leadership coaching for corporations, the government, and non-profits, an ICF credential is required or strongly preferred for many engagements,” says Davis.

A credential can show potential clients that you’ve met high standards for training and professional ethics.

ICF Credentials

Here are the IFC’s three coaching credentials and general requirements for each.

Associate Certified Coach (ACC)

This is an entry-level certification:

  • Completion of an ICF-accredited coach training program
  • 60 hours of training
  • 100 hours of coaching experience, including 70 paid hours
  • Coaching experience with a minimum of eight clients
  • Completion of the Coach Knowledge Assessment exam

Professional Certified Coach (PCC)

Coaches at this level are generally more experienced and often serve as coach mentors:

  • Completion of an entire ICF-accredited coach training program
  • 125 hours of training
  • 500 hours of coaching experience, including 440 paid hours
  • Coaching experience with a minimum of 25 clients
  • Completion of the Coach Knowledge Assessment

Master Certified Coach (MCC)

This credential is for highly experienced coaches:

  • 200 hours of coach skills training
  • 10 hours of mentor coaching
  • 2,500 hours of coaching experience, including 2,200 paid hours  
  • Coaching experience with at least 35 clients
  • Performance evaluations based on two audio recordings and written transcripts of coaching sessions
  • Currently holds (or previously held) a Professional Certified Coach (PCC) credential
  • Completion of the Coach Knowledge Assessment exam, unless previously passed when applying for ACC or PCC
  • Pro Tip:
    In some cases, in lieu of completing an entire ICF-accredited coach training program, applicants may use completion of specific coach training classes, a specified number of hours of mentor coaching, and performance evaluations of coaching sessions to fulfill credential requirements.

Earning a Credential

Candidates pursuing an ICF credential submit an application and documents supporting their training, education, and experience. In most cases, candidates will need to take the ICF’s Coach Knowledge Assessment exam to demonstrate their coaching knowledge.

The ICF requires coaches to renew their credentials periodically, usually by taking continuing education classes on coaching.

Specialty Credentials

While the ICF is the dominant organization when it comes to coaching credentials, there are several other organizations that offer credentials if you want to specialize.

The Center for Credentialing and Education (CCE) offers a Board Certified Coach (BCC) credential for professionals in counseling and social or behavioral sciences. These coach practitioners have college degrees; many have graduate degrees.

The CCE also provides board certification in the following coaching specialties:

  • Executive/Corporate/Business/Leadership Coach
  • Health and Wellness Coach
  • Career Coach
  • Personal/Life Coach

The National Board for Health & Wellness Coaching (NBHWC) collaborated with the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) to offer a board certification examination for National Board Certified Health & Wellness Coaches (NBC-HWC).

The Worldwide Association of Business Coaches (WABC) offers four credentials for business coaches.

Can a Credential Boost Your Salary?

A coaching credential can boost your salary by positioning you as a top-notch professional with strong standards and training.

While a credential can be a strong recommendation for personal life coaches, the deciding factors for many individual clients is a referral from others.

Credentials can be especially important for business, leadership, and executive coaches, says Davis. But he adds that “not everyone who takes coach training classes pursues or needs a credential.”

Davis says many members of the ICF work in a profession outside coaching but have found coaching skills helpful in their daily work. They may want to add a coach program certificate to their resume but not pursue a credential.

While a credential can be a strong recommendation for personal life coaches, the deciding factors for many individual clients are a referral from others and rapport with the coach.


sheila mickool

Written and Reported by:
Sheila Mickool
Contributing Writer

luke davis

With professional insight from:
Luke Davis
Vice President of ICF coach training programs


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