Episode 25: Coaching Certifications: What You Need to Know

This week I'm doing a deep dive into a topic I get a ton of questions about - coaching certifications. Because honestly, the process can be a bit confusing. So today I'm going to break down the basics behind coaching certifications, and the key factors you should be aware of when deciding whether to become a certified coach.
Coach with Clarity Podcast Lee Chaix McDonough

25: Coaching Certifications: What You Need to Know

Before we get into today's show, I want to say thank you. I'm really glad to say that I'm doing much better now but those first few weeks after my surgery were pretty rough and I cannot tell you how much the outpouring of love, concern, and support I received from you meant to me and how that helped me in my recovery process.

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Show Notes

Before we get into today's show, I want to say thank you. I'm really glad to say that I'm doing much better now but those first few weeks after my surgery were pretty rough and I cannot tell you how much the outpouring of love, concern, and support I received from you meant to me and how that helped me in my recovery process. This community has been such a bright light for me and it's my honor to show up every week and serve you through the podcast.

This week we're back to normal and I'm going to do a deep dive into one of the most common questions I get asked, which is about coaching certifications. I know many of you are interested in becoming a certified coach and because it is a self-regulating profession, the process can be a bit confusing.

There is such a wide variability in the types of certification programs, the investment to obtain them, and the requirements for each. So today I'm going to break down the basics behind coaching certification, and the key factors you should be aware of when deciding whether to become a certified coach.

Hopefully, by the end of the show, you will have a little more insight and a little more direction about what is the right path for you.

Topics covered

  • The key terms you need to understand before choosing a coaching certification
  • Why there is so much variation in the types of coaching certifications available
  • Differentiating between certification and credentials
  • What it means for you to be a credentialed coach
  • Why a coaching credential may be more important to you than a certification
  • The two main organizations that offer coaching credentials
  • Questions to ask yourself to determine whether you need a coaching credential
  • Why I chose the International Coach Federation (ICF) credentialing path
  • Where does accreditation fit in on your certification journey?
  • Why the Center for Credentialing & Education's BCC credential is more commonly chosen by therapists and counselors
  • Three types of credentials offered by the ICF
  • ICF credential requirements
  • The differences between the three ICF application paths to becoming a credentialed coach

Resources mentioned

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Well, hey there friend. Welcome to another episode of the Coach with Clarity podcast. I'm your host, Lee Chaix McDonough, and as always, I am so honored to have you joining me for another episode. 

I want to start off today's show first by saying thank you. 

As many of you know, the last several weeks have been difficult for me. I have had a few surgeries, one of which was not planned, and my recovery has been…we’ll say, a little rocky. I'm really glad to say that I'm doing much better now. My prognosis is excellent, but those first few weeks after my surgery were pretty rough, and the outpouring of love and concern and support I received from you – I cannot tell you how much that meant to me, and how that really helped me in my recovery process. When I was having rough days, when I was in pain, when I was feeling alone, I knew I wasn't alone. I knew I had a community of coaches standing behind me supporting me every step of the way, and your emails, your Voxer messages, all of the ways that you have shown up to express your support – I cannot thank you enough for that. So, I wanted to start off today's show simply by saying thank you, and to let you know just how much that meant to me. 

There are also a couple people I want to thank because they have gone ahead and left a review on Apple Podcasts for the Coach with Clarity show, and I cannot tell you how delighted I am when I get a little notification that there's a new review up about the show. Recently, Rebecca Capps wrote, “Wonderful resource, great podcast. Lee is a wealth of knowledge, I appreciate her wisdom and useful suggestions”. Rebecca, thank you, I am so happy that you are finding the show to be useful and informative. 

And I also want to say thank you to Apple Podcast user ExcavateYOU who wrote, “I am so grateful to have come upon Lee and her work, this podcast included. During the formative stage of getting my coaching business started after practicing as a licensed psychotherapist. The content, tools and interviews, coaching calls, have been so valuable in providing me with guidance and inspiration for tapping into my strengths and creativity to build the business I envision”. What a lovely review, thank you so much ExcavateYOU. 

Thank you, Rebecca, thank you to all of you who have left a review for the show. Not only does it mean a great deal to me, but it also helps increase the visibility of the show so that other coaches can join the Coach with Clarity Community, and so that I can be a part of their journey as well. If you are enjoying the Coach with Clarity podcast, I would be honored to read your review on a future episode as well. So you can head to Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen to the show, leave your review, and again, thank you. 

Thank you for everything. This community has been such a bright light for me in my business, and it's my honor to show up every week and serve you through the podcast. This week is no different and, in fact, I am going to dive into one of the most common questions I get asked, which is about coaching certifications. I know many of you are interested in becoming a certified coach and are a little confused about the process, and that's understandable because when it comes to coaching, because it is a self-regulating profession, there is a wide variability in the types of programs out there, the types of certifications, and what it all means. 

So in today's episode, I am going to break down the basics behind coaching certification, and hopefully, by the end of the show, you will have a little more insight and a little more direction about what is the right path for you. 

But first things first, we need to define a few terms so that we are all on the same page with what we are discussing, and there are three terms that we need to be clear on. Those terms are certification, credential, and accreditation. 

So, let's start with certification. If you have been researching coaching certifications, you have probably seen that there is a wide variety in terms of what's available and the price point. This is largely because coaching is a self-regulated industry, there is no federal or state oversight of the coaching profession. And so what that means is that anyone can be a coach and anyone can offer a coaching certification program. That's why you may see some programs for as little as $19 on some common education sites, all the way up to $10-, $15-, $20,000, and beyond. So it's understandable that if you are looking for a certification program and you are seeing such a wide variability, it may feel really confusing. What's the difference between a $19 or a $49 program versus a $20,000 program, and how are they both offering certifications? 

Well, this is where this second term of credentialing is important, and the best definition of a credential that I found comes from the National Environmental Health Association website. I think they do a fantastic job of defining what a credential is, and it's not just limited to their profession. So you can find this at their website, neha.org, but what they write is that “a credential is issued by a third party with authoritative power and is proof of an individual's qualification or competence in a given subject. Possessing a credential not only helps one to prove competency and capability in a given field, but also demonstrates to one's community and employers that the individual is competent, properly trained, and equipped to carry out their duties. To sit for a credential, exam an individual must possess certain requirements. A set level of education, experience, or a combination of both. Credentials serve as verification that a professional has achieved a baseline level of competency in their subject matter.”. 

So in coaching, there are different ways that you can be a credentialed coach, and I'm going to talk about two of them today. One is through the Center for Credentialing and Education (CCE), which is often an option explored by people who are counselors, or who have a counseling background. And then there's also the International Coaching Federation (ICF) credentialing process, which I would say really is the leader in this industry. But what I think is very important to remember is that not every certification program will lead to a credential, and it is that credential that is often recognized as being important to clients, to companies, and to the people that coaches want to serve. So if you're asking the question, “Do I need a coaching certification?”. You may actually be asking, “Do I need a coaching credential?”. We talked about this at length in Episode Three of the podcast, “How to Become a Coach”. So if you haven't checked out that episode, you may want to go back and take a listen. 

But what I will say is that whether or not you need a credential comes down to two main questions: number one, how important is that credential to the clients you want to serve? So in some industries, having a coaching credential, particularly from the International Coaching Federation, is pretty much a baseline requirement. If you are looking at corporate coaching or executive coaching, if you're wanting to become an internal coach at a large corporation, oftentimes having that ICF credential is going to be a requirement. Now if you are looking at a smaller business coaching approach, where you're doing life coaching, business coaching, relationship coaching, wellness coaching, or something like that, well, the credential itself may not be as important to your clients. They are going to want to make sure that you know what you're doing and that you're able to serve them powerfully, and while a credential certainly can indicate that it may not be a prerequisite for your clients.

The second question to answer is, “How important is this credential to you?”. Now, there is no right or wrong answer here. This is going to align very much with your values and your preferences. I can tell you that for me having the credential was incredibly important. I'm definitely someone who likes to complete the certifications and the credentials, who likes to have all of her ducks in a row, and I also knew that going through a coaching certification program would be at a very important part of my personal and professional development as a coach. So having that education and that credential was personally important to me, which is why I went to the ICF credentialing path. 

So I'm going to encourage you to ask yourself those two questions. How important is a credential to your ideal clients? And how important is the credential to you? If you are still at the point where you're saying, “Credentialing is really important, I want to commit to this”. Well, that's where this third word that we need to define comes in, and that is accredited. 

Accredited means that a program has been reviewed and approved by a professional governing agency. So in this case, the program has been accredited by the International Coaching Federation, or the Center for Credentialing and Excellence, or whatever organization is responsible for ensuring the quality of the training program. So if a program has been accredited by an organization such as ICF, or CCE, then you know it is going to meet their training requirements for their credential. 

So, in summary, programs are accredited, coaches are credentialed, and having that certification is often a part of the credentialing process. So, if you are looking to become a credentialed coach, you will want to complete a certification program that's been accredited by the organization you wish to be credentialed by. I know it's a little confusing, but hopefully, I've helped clear it up a little bit the difference between certification, credentialing, and accreditation. So just remember, programs get accredited, people get credentialed, and in order to have that credential, you'll need to complete a certification program that has been accredited. 

Okay, now that we've got that clear, let's talk about what your options are for becoming a credentialed coach. As I mentioned before, the first step is to determine which organization you wish to be credentialed by. This is an important question to ask because there are many organizations out there that offer credentials. The main one, as you know, is the International Coaching Federation, so I am going to spend most of the rest of today's episode talking about that process. 

But first, I do want to briefly talk about the Center for Credentialing and Excellence, or CCE, because they offer a credential, which is the Board Certified Coach, or the BCC. And I get a lot of questions about the BCC, in large part because many of the people that I work with, many of the people I serve, and honestly a lot of the podcast listeners are therapists and counselors. And the BCC is a more common credential that we see among therapists, and that's because the CCE was originally developed as an offshoot of the National Board of Certified Counselors. So you have the NBCC and then they created this separate wing to offer credentialing in a variety of professions including coaching. As a result, their training requirements vary based on the level of counseling education an applicant has received. So for example, if you have a Master's in counseling, you may only need to complete 30 hours of coaching specific education in order to meet the training requirements for the BCC. Now, if you have a Master's in a related field, and that includes social work, you will have to complete at least 60 hours of training. And to be honest with you, that's one of the reasons why I opted to pursue the ICF track versus the CCE track. As a social worker, CCE wasn’t extending the reduced training component to me as they would a counselor, and when I looked at the ICF programs, and what I was interested in, I realized that it just made more sense for me to go the ICF route. Plus the program that I completed for the ICF credential is also accredited by CCE and, in fact, I'm in the process of getting my Board Certified Coach credential from CCE. I haven't had to do any additional training, because I've already completed an ICF accredited program. So it is certainly possible to get credentials from more than one organization, you just want to make sure that whatever training program you're doing is accredited by both. So if you are a counselor, so you have a Master's in counseling or a Master's of counseling psychology, the BCC option may be a faster route for you to obtain your credential. However, it all comes back to which credential is going to best serve your career goals and your clients, and to be honest with you, it's really the ICF credentials that are more recognized, and in some cases, more respected in certain fields than the BCC. So again, do your research, do your homework, figure out what's gonna work best for you. 

I made the decision to go the ICF route, and I want to talk a little bit about what that looks like and what your options are because even within the International Coaching Federation, there are multiple paths and multiple tracks to becoming a credential coach. 

Let's start with the three different types of credentials offered by the International Coaching Federation. So you have the ACC, which is the Associate Certified Coach, the PCC which is the Professional Certified Coach, and the MCC, which is the Master Certified Coach. What differentiates each of these three credentials are the number of training hours you need to complete it in order to apply, and the number of coaching experience hours as well. So many coaches start by obtaining their ACC, and then over time, they acquire enough experience hours and training hours to then apply for the PCC. That's what I did. I was able to achieve my ACC credential shortly after completing my certification program, and then about a year or two later, I was eligible for my PCC. I have found that many coaches obtain their PCC and that's where they stop. Some coaches continue on to the MCC level, but I would say the vast majority of coaches go for the PCC and then stop because they are able to achieve everything they want in their career by obtaining that PCC credential. So certainly if you want to become a Master Certified Coach through ICF, I'm going to support you every step of the way, but you may find that that's not necessary based on your own career and personal goals. 

So to sum up, we have the ACC, the PCC, and the MCC credentials, and what differentiates them are the number of training hours required and the amount of experience as well. For the ACC, you need a minimum of 60 training hours, for the PCC you need a minimum of 125 (training hours), and for the MCC, you need at least 200 training hours. In terms of coaching experience, for the ACC, you need a minimum of 100 hours, for the PCC 500 hours, and for the MCC 2,500 hours. Now for each of those, a certain percentage of those hours can be pro bono, meaning that you can offer your services complimentary. However, for the majority of the hours, you must be compensated for them. So for the ACC as an example, of those 100 hours, typically 75 of them need to be compensated or paid, and 25 can be pro bono. 

Now in the time of Coronavirus, the ICF has changed that ratio a bit so that it can be 70 paid hours and 30 pro bono, I believe that is in place for the remainder of 2020 and then in January 2021, they are going to return to the 75/25 split before Coronavirus. Now again, they may extend that based on circumstances but as of the time that I'm recording this podcast, which is August 2020, they are still on schedule to revert back to the original 75/25 requirement in January 2021. ICF has made similar concessions for the PCC as well. So for the PCC, you have to have 500 hours, and typically 450 of those hours must be paid. Right now they have made it so that only 440 of those hours need to be paid, and 60 can be pro bono. But again, that will change after 2020. The same goes for the MCC –  of those 2500 experience hours, typically 2,250 of them must be paid. Right now only 2200 need to be paid but again, that will expire at the end of 2020. So you have a training hour requirement that you must meet as well as an experiential requirement that you must meet and that varies based on whether you're applying for the ACC, PCC or MCC credentials. 

So in addition to the training hour requirements, and the experience our requirements, applicants also need to complete a minimum of 10 hours of mentor coaching. And those 10 hours must be completed over a minimum of three months, and the mentor code has to be at or above the level of credentialing that you're seeking. So, for example, if you want that ACC credential, you can be mentored by an MCC, a PCC or an ACC who has completed a full cycle of the credential through renewal. So what that means is, they've been an ACC for at least three years because the renewal cycle for the International Coaching Federation is three years, so you can be mentored by an experienced ACC, or you may be mentored by a PCC or MCC in good standing with ICF, but you have to have at least 10 hours of mentor coaching. And I believe seven of those hours may be group coaching, and three must be individual. So we've got the mentor coaching requirement. 

There's also a performance evaluation that occurs as well, and that's where you submit an audio recording and a written transcript of a session you've conducted so that your skills as a coach can be evaluated. Finally, ICF administers the Coach Knowledge Assessment or the CKA, and you must successfully pass the CKA in order to be credentialed. 

So basically, that is five things that you need to complete in order to seek accreditation. You've got training, you have experience, you have mentor coaching, you have the performance evaluation, and you have the CKA. 

Through ICF, there are three different paths that you can take to achieve those five requirements. So the first path is the ACTP or the Accredited Coach Training Program path. When you opt for this path, you are signing up for a coaching certification program that ICF has accredited to be an ACTP, and essentially the program provides you with all of the training, mentorship, and the performance evaluation requirement. So that program provides your mentor coaching, and they will be reviewing the coaching session you conduct to ensure that it meets the standards of the ICF core competencies. You still have to take the CKA on your own, and you still have to obtain those coaching experience hours on your own, but the program takes care of the training, the mentoring, and that performance evaluation. So that's the ACTP path. 

On the other end of the spectrum, we have the Portfolio path. With the Portfolio path, you're doing it all on your own in the sense that you're finding your own mentor coaching, you're doing your own experience hours, you're submitting your own performance evaluation, and the training that you are submitting has not been accredited by ICF as a coach training program, but you have significant enough documentation to prove that the training you've completed meets ICF standards. So essentially, you are petitioning ICF, and you're saying, “Hey, I've done all of this training already. Based on what I've learned and the documentation I have, you can see that it covers everything that a coach training program would, it covers the ICF definition of coaching, it goes over the codes of ethics and the core competencies, and it's organized in such a way that it's building my proficiency as a coach”. So you are essentially asking ICF to give you credit for the training you've received even though it has not been officially accredited. That's what makes the Portfolio path different, and honestly, a little riskier because the training wasn't pre-approved, and so you're essentially asking ICF to take a close look at the work that you've done so far, and to credential you based on that. So that's the Portfolio path. 

You have the ACTP path where it’s kind of all taken care of for you, you have the Portfolio path where you're kind of doing it all yourself, and then in between those two, you have the ACSTH path, and that stands for Accredited Coach Specific Training Hours. So if you take this path, you're still responsible to work with your own mentor coach, obtain your own experience ours, submit the performance evaluation, and take the CKA, but your training is through a program that has been accredited by ICF, specifically for initial coach training. So you know that the training you're taking will meet those ICF requirements. 

So in many ways, the ACTP approach is the all-inclusive approach. Whereas the ACSTH is more of a buffet, you can pick and choose the elements that are going to work best for you. Whereas the ACTP, it's all included. And with the Portfolio path, it's kind of like you're bringing your own bag lunch to the buffet, and you're going to supplement what you're bringing with some items from the buffet. 

Alright, so we have just covered a ton of information. In today's episode, we've talked about the difference between a certification, a credential, and accreditation. We've talked about different types of credentials that are available, and I've walked you through the basics of ICF credentialing, so the three different types of credentials and the three different pathways to becoming a credentialed coach. Now I think it's time for the Clarity in Action moment.

I am very excited to share that today's Clarity in Action moment is brought to you by my brand new coaching certification program. This September 2020, I am launching the inaugural round of the Certified Clarity Coach Program. We'll be spending six months together with 20 weeks of live active instruction and coaching labs. The coaching labs are sessions where you will be able to apply the coaching skills and approaches you've learned in the program with your fellow students. So here's what's really special about this. At the conclusion of this inaugural round, I will be submitting this program to the International Coaching Federation to request accreditation as an ACSTH program. ICF requires that all programs first run and complete a beta round before they can be accredited, and so that's what this is, this is the inaugural round of the program. And once it's accredited by ICF, anyone who participates in the beta round will be given credit for having completed an ACSTH program. 

So if you have been considering pursuing an ICF credential, and if you are interested in a powerful initial coach training program, then I would love to talk to you more about the Certified Clarity Coach Program that I'm offering through Coach with Clarity. As of today, nine of the twelve slots have already been taken, which means I have room for three more people in this inaugural round. If you'd like to be one of those people, send me an email to info@CoachwithClarity.com and put, “Certified Clarity Coach” in the subject line. I'll then respond with more information about next steps and how we can connect to see if the program is the right fit at the right time for you, because there's never been a better time to become a Coach with Clarity through the Certified Clarity Coach Program. 

Okay friends, for this week's Clarity in Action moment, I have a few questions that I would like you to answer. You can do this as a journaling exercise or as a meditation. You can also discuss this with a trusted friend or with a coach, but I'd like you to consider the following questions in your journey to become a coach. 

  • Question number one, why is becoming a credentialed coach important to me? 
  • Question number two, why is becoming a credentialed coach important to the people I wish to serve? 
  • Question number three, what path to credentialing would best serve me? 
  • And finally, question number four, what qualities or features would I want in a coach training program? 

Hopefully, these four questions will help you drill down into whether becoming a credentialed coach is the right next step for you, and if it is, it will also bring clarity to what you are looking for in a program because, as we've discussed, there are many programs out there that offer certification. A smaller number of those will lead to credentialing, and you want to make sure that before you invest your time, your money, and your energy in a coach training program, that the program aligns with your values, your priorities, and with your vision for your coaching practice. And of course, if you get the sense that the Certified Clarity Coach Program through Coach with Clarity might meet your needs, I would be more than happy to connect with you and talk about next steps. Whatever you choose, my sincerest hope is that you connect with a program that will help you develop into a powerful proficient coach and that it becomes a part of your own personal journey of self-development.

I hope you have found today's episode to be a helpful breakdown of all of the steps that go into becoming a credentialed coach. I would love to hear from you – what resonated with you or what additional questions you have. So you can come find me over in the Coach with Clarity podcast, Facebook group, just head to CoachwithClarity.com/facebookgroup, it'll take you right there. And if you're not yet a member, you can request to join. You can also find me over at Instagram @CoachwithClarity, and I would love to connect with you there. 

That's it for this week's episode of the Coach with Clarity podcast. I hope you all have a wonderful week and that you will join me again next week for another episode of the show. This is Lee Chaix McDonough, encouraging you to get out there and show the world what it means to be a Coach with Clarity.

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