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Certification Explained

(Note: You can get all this material and much more in the free Independent Report on Coach Training and Certification).

Firstly note you do not need to be certified to begin coaching - in other words, you can - and many people do - begin coaching without certification. At the time of writing we know of no countries that require certification to practice as a coach. However, it does seem that some states in the US are making moves to regulate the profession.

But more on the need (or not) for certification later. Let's look firstly at how the certification scene has developed in the coaching industry, and your current options.

Schools vs Accrediting Bodies

You can be forgiven for getting confused. Who's the undisputed king of certification? No one - yet. Thomas Leonard began CoachU in the early 90's - and CoachU of course gave out their own certification. At that time - that was probably the best available.

Other schools began popping up and offering their special brand of certification. So which one to choose? But wait - the story's far from done.

Thomas was instrumental in creating the International Coach Federation, which - and this is important - does not train coaches. Nor are they affiliated with any school. This independence is important for the body committed to maintaining the gold standard for certification. (After all, if they were affiliated with a school, they might say "errr….the training School X provides is the standard; everyone must meet this to be ICF accredited".)

So - you have the ICF which doesn't train, and bunch of schools which do train. Some schools have the ICF rubber stamp so you can get both the school's certification and the ICF's certification (their course is called an ACTP). Some schools don't have the stamp but are close enough that you can still submit your training to the ICF at the end (called the Portfolio track to accreditation). And some (not many) still ignore the ICF.

Things got a little more complicated when Thomas Leonard (yes - his name pops up quite a bit, doesn't it?) created a second school called Coachville's School of Coaching, which didn't satisfy the ICF criteria. Why? His training doesn't have live interaction with trainers via telephone or in person, but rather relies on streaming audio over the internet. The bottom line is: you can't get ICF accreditation through Coachville.

Thomas's answer? Simple. He decided to get many more members than the ICF, which would hopefully make it more important. In other words, he decided to go around the very body he originally created; if his school was the biggest in the world, perhaps people would ignore the fact that it wasn't ICF accredited. Further, he created a new external accrediting body and called it the IAC (initially ICA, but that clashed with the school I was building at the time - isn't this all interesting?).

Just to really fry your brain, the new head of Coachville (Dave Buck) has recently said the rivalry between Coachville and the ICF is over, and Coachville will seek ICF accreditation! This would seem to really cement the ICF accreditation as the independent, 'gold' standard. (But….more on this later).

It's gotten even more interesting in the last few years with Universities jumping on the bandwagon. So now you can get a diploma or degree. And check this out - some Universities have applied for and received ICF accreditation. From now on when we mention "training schools", we'll include Universities in that category.

And finally, in some countries you may find government regulations do impact the industry. For example, in Australia the Government offers a workplace training certification. Some schools (e.g. The Life Coaching Academy) have managed to meet the criteria to become what's called a Registered Training Organisation (RTO), so they can now offer you what is called Certificate IV Certification. In fact they say their program is the only one in the world to currently have Government recognition. If you're considering corporate work, check for the equivalent in your country, as it might get you some bonus points with your prospective clients.

Recognition of Prior Training

What's that we hear you say? You already have training in a related field? You're a consultant, speaker, therapist, counselor, trainer, fitness trainer, or financial planner?

Or you've been coaching unofficially all your life?

If any of this applies to you, you may not be keen on 2 years of further study - 2 years, which ignores your prior training. In this case, you'll probably love the Coachville/IAC route. They don't even look at any training you do - they simply examine you on your skills. You choose which training you want to do with them, and when YOU decide you're ready, just sit the exam!

The ICF, on the other hand, does not recognise any non-specific coaching training. And even specific coaching training must be demonstrated to be 'aligned' with the ICF competencies. So this may not be the best course if you're already highly skilled and averse to training from scratch.

Timing of Certification

If you go the Coachville/IAC route, and you are already a pretty good coach from prior training and experience, you may be able to cram the material quite quickly and pass the exam. This is because there is no requirement for number of training hours, or training period, or number of client hours. We don't know how long this takes, but we're guessing it could be done in 2-3 months for a natural coach.

If you go the ICF route, by picking an ICF accredited school, you'll need to clock up at least 250 paid coaching hours (approximately), plus 60 training hours (that's coach-specific training), before you can sit the exam. So count on it taking at least 6-12 months to reach your first level of ICF certification (ACC).

Either way, it's expected that you'll be coaching and building your practice while you clock up your certification, unlike other industries where you train first, and enter professional practice second.

Your Certification Options

At this stage, let's summarise your choices:

a) Forget about accreditation until you have 1,000 hours of paid coaching under your belt (by which time you may not care if you're accredited or not.)

b) Pick a school whose training inspires you and get their accreditation
a. If they are rubber-stamped by the ICF - great! At the end of the day you should end up with both certifications.
b. If you chose Coachville, then no ICF accreditation (at least yet), but you'll have a CV accreditation, and an IAC accreditation. (Is this IAC accreditation worth anything? More in the next chapter.)

c) Go the other way around, and set your heart on the ICF accreditation, and pick a school accredited by the ICF - and whose training inspires you - to end up with a school accreditation AND ICF accreditation.

* * *

(Note: Much more information on certification, including a detailed discussion of the ICF versus the IAC can be found in the free Independent Report on Coach Training and Certification).

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