Episode 83: Is Coaching Really an Unregulated Industry?

Rachel Monroe’s thought-provoking article, “I’m a life coach, you’re a life coach: the rise of an unregulated industry” has sparked conversation and even debate within and outside of the coaching community. In this episode, I’m sharing my opinion on the article and its critiques as well as what it says about the intersection between coaching and mental health.

83: Is Coaching Really an Unregulated Industry?

The coaching industry is entirely unregulated. That's what one writer claimed in a recent article in The Guardian. If you're been listening to the podcast for a while, you'll know that I take issue with that characterization.

Subscribe:  Apple Podcasts  |  Spotify  |  Android Devices  |  Stitcher  |  RSS

Show Notes

The coaching industry is entirely unregulated.

That’s what one writer claimed in a recent article in The Guardian. If you’re been listening to the podcast for a while, you’ll know that I take issue with that characterization.

This week I’m deviating from my scheduled content to talk about Rachel Monroe’s article “I’m a life coach, you’re a life coach: the rise of an unregulated industry.”

Over the past couple of days, I’ve seen this article everywhere. While I don’t agree with it all, the article is thought-provoking, and the critiques outlined in this article bring up several issues which all of us as coaches should be thinking about in our practices.

In this episode, I’m sharing my opinion on the article and the issues it raises, which are very much at the heart of the work that I do.

Topics covered

  • The article that sparked the conversation in this episode
  • Putting this article in context
  • Why I take issue with the claim that the coaching industry is entirely unregulated
  • The problem with framing one business as a representative sample of an entire industry
  • What every coach can learn from the critiques of The Life Coach School
  • The downside of The Model as a coaching strategy
  • My experience in Self Coaching Scholars and with the Life Coach School Podcast
  • Getting clear on the lines between therapy and coaching

Resources mentioned

Now it’s time for you to show the world what it means to be a Coach with Clarity! Screenshot this episode and tag me on Instagram @coachwithclarity and let me know what you’re more excited to explore in future podcast episodes!

* * * * * *

Grow Your Coaching Practice! Go from idea to income in 90 days or less with the free Coach with Clarity Business Blueprint!

Want to connect further? Follow me on Instagram and continue the discussion in the Coach with Clarity Facebook group.

Want to work together? Become a Coach with Clarity Member today!

Download the Coach with Clarity Business Blueprint




Well, hello, my friend. Welcome to the Coach with Clarity Podcast. I'm your host, Lee Chaix McDonough, and I am so honored that you're joining me for today's episode. Now I'm going to be honest with you, I am going away from my pre-planned calendar of episode topics because I really want to address something that has come up within the last week. So I am recording this episode on Monday, October 11th. And I believe it's going to be dropping in your podcast feed on Monday, October 18th. And I want to talk about an article that was published last week in The Guardian. And the title of the article is, “I'm a Life Coach, You're a Life Coach: the Rise of an Unregulated Industry”, and it's by a writer named Rachel Monroe. I cannot tell you how many people have reached out to me over the last week about this article, and I have seen this article everywhere. I have seen it in countless Facebook groups and posted by friends and colleagues. I've seen it on LinkedIn. I've seen it on Twitter. And I've definitely seen it in my inbox and in my DMs, because my own students, members, and colleagues want my opinion on it, because it's very much at the heart of the work that I do. So I thought I would press pause on my content calendar for the podcast and take this opportunity to walk through my thoughts about this article. Because I will say I think this is a very thought provoking article, which I hope is it’s intention. I hope that it is meant to spark conversation, and even debate, within the coaching community and also outside it, because it also looks at the intersection of coaching and mental health. And this article is part of a larger series The Guardian is doing about the evolution of mental health care in the 21st Century. So if the intention is to spur conversation, then I am for it. And that's exactly what I want today's podcast episode to do as well. 

* * * * * * * 


So the first thing we need to address is that this particular article uses one coaching business, and really only one coaching business, to explore what they see as some of the pitfalls of the coaching industry. They do a deep dive into the Life Coach School by Brooke Castillo, which I'm sure many of you are familiar with. And you've probably listened to the podcast by the same name. I'm very familiar with it as well. And I should say at the beginning that while I did not receive my coach training from the Life Coach School, I was a member of Self Coaching Scholars for a little less than a year. And I will say that I left Self Coaching Scholars largely for the criticisms pointed out in this article, and we'll talk about those in a little bit. But I do want to be upfront with you from the beginning, and share my own personal experience with the business that they are profiling in this article. I feel like that's only fair to be completely transparent. I did not go through their formal coach training process, though I was a member of their self coaching membership program for about a year. It's also important to recognize that the Life Coach School is not accredited by any professional coaching organization. So that includes the international Coaching Federation, or ICF. It includes the Center for Credentialing and Excellence, or CCE. It includes the International Association of Coaching. There are several very well respected professional organizations worldwide in the coaching industry. And none of them have accredited the Life Coach School’s training program, and that is by design. Brooke Castillo has always been completely transparent that she is not interested in having her program certified or accredited by an outside organization. And the article goes into that a little bit as well. But that's where I do take an issue with one perspective that this article takes, and I'm going to quote from the article right now. The author writes, “Coaching is an entirely unregulated industry. There are no oversight boards, no standard curricula, no codes of ethics”. And then later in the article she writes, “In 1995, the nonprofit International Coaching Federation or ICF, an independent credentialing body, attempted to impose a set of standards and a Code of Ethics on the industry and met with middling success”. So I think we need to stop and really take a look at that for a second because I'm not sure those statements are fair or even accurate. And I have always taken issue with calling the coaching industry “unregulated”. It is entirely fair and accurate to say that there is no governmental regulation of the coaching industry as there is for other professions. For example, I'm a licensed clinical social worker. I am licensed by the state of North Carolina, there are certain laws that I must follow if I am practicing as a clinical social worker or as a therapist. Those are governmental regulations put in place to protect the safety of the public and to ensure that I'm doing my job as a therapist. The coaching industry does not have a comparable oversight program that is government regulated. So in that sense, it is not regulated. However, as the author even states in her article, there are organizations out there like ICF that have a Code of Ethics, that have very clear core competencies that its coaches must follow and master. And they do put into place a set of guidelines, and expectations, and ethical behavior codes to guide coaches. The difference, however, is that because this is through a professional organization, and not a governmental oversight body, this is something that coaches must opt into. So as a therapist, I can't opt in to my state's licensing procedures, I am mandated to follow them. If I want to practice as a therapist in my state, I must hold a license and I have to go through whatever the state of North Carolina deems appropriate for clinical social workers in terms of licensure, continuing education, maintaining your license, and so forth. The same cannot be said for coaching. But as an ICF member, as an ICF credentialed coach, and as someone who runs programs that are accredited by ICF, I am obligated to follow the Code of Ethics. I do have to demonstrate mastery in those core competencies. And that is something I choose to do, I opted into it. So yes, I think you could argue that it's voluntary. But to suggest that coaching on the whole is an entirely unregulated industry, and those are the words of the author, I don't think that's fair. I think it's a bit misleading. And I also think the author minimises the power and importance that organizations like ICF, CCE, AIC, all of them have in the industry. So that I would say would be my primary critique of this article, is that they really downplay the role that these professional organizations have in the coaching industry. And then to make blanket statements saying that it's entirely unregulated, there's no Code of Ethics, there's no oversight boards, I think that's misleading. They're not mandated. That is true. But there is a way that we coaches can opt into it. And it's for that reason that I believe coaches who do choose to be credentialed by an organization such as ICF or CCE, they're demonstrating to the public that they take their role as a professional coach seriously. That they understand just how sacred the relationship is between coach and client. And that there does need to be some rules that govern the coaching experience and that relationship, and that ultimately, it is the coach's responsibility to ensure that they're behaving in an ethical manner. And so when we become credentialed by an organization like ICF or CCE, we are showing our willingness to do that, even when it's not required of us. And that sets us apart, and hopefully that communicates to our clients and to the public. We take this seriously. We do follow a Code of Ethics. We are constantly working on improving our coaching skills so that we can better serve our clients. And ultimately, I believe that sets us apart from coaches who choose not to become credentialed. Now, let me be clear, that does not mean i think that credentialed coaches are better than uncredentialed coaches. I know many coaches out there who have not pursued credentialing through ICF or a similar organization for various reasons. Many of which are they have been trained as counselors or therapists, and they feel confident in their skills and their knowledge. And they've done enough study on their own, to be able to really differentiate between providing therapy and providing coaching. Many of them have worked with mentor coaches, they've studied, they've read books and listened to podcasts, they've engaged in consultation and even supervision, and so they feel that they are able to provide coaching services ethically to their clients without blurring the boundaries between coach and therapist. And many of those coaches are phenomenal coaches who are serving their clients powerfully. So please know that while I am in strong favor of the credentialing and accreditation processes through these organizations, it doesn't mean that coaches without a credential are bad coaches, far from it. There's room for nuance in this discussion. And so I hope that we can have this conversation and talk about the benefits of credentialing and accreditation without making the assumption that if you attend an unaccredited program, or you are an uncredentialed coach, that there's something inherently wrong with you. There's not. As long as you are making your decisions from an informed place, and you are taking steps to ensure that the services you're providing your clients are ethical and have sound quality and evidence based, then you're doing your job as a coach.
So that's my primary critique of the article, is that they really paint with a broad brush when it comes to talking about coaching as being unregulated. And it's why I have and will continue to describe the coaching industry as self-regulated. The second critique I have with this article is that they are using a sample size of one. They have done a case study of one business and are using that single business to extrapolate issues about the entire industry. Now, I am not naive, I know that within the coaching industry, we have some major problems. I see it every day. I've seen manipulative tactics, both in terms of selling coaching, and also in the provision of coaching services. I have experienced that as a student and as a coaching client, where I have felt manipulated by the person who was trying to get me to buy their program or product or package. I've heard stories from my own clients, and my own members, about times where they felt pressured into making decisions by another coach, or another course creator. And this does run rampant in the coaching industry. And yes, you can make the argument that it's because there is no formal government led oversight process for the profession. I get all of that. And so I'm not going to sit here and deny that this happens within the field of coaching. And I think to use one business, one business that has had a lot of problems in the last few years, and allow that to be proxy for every single coach, every single coach trainer, and every single coaching company out there, demonstrates a lack of nuance and quite honestly, I think is dangerous. So I do have pretty strong opinions about how the article is using the Life Coach School as a representative for the coaching industry as a whole. And I do think the article brings up several valid and important critiques of the Life Coach School that every coach should be aware of so that we can take a good hard look at the coaching services that we are providing to ensure that we are not making the same mistakes and that we are not following suit. It's been interesting watching some of the responses to this article in social media, because I've seen a lot of people, some of whom are my colleagues, respond from a place that's a little high and mighty, saying, “Oh, I'm so glad I went to such and such program that's accredited. Oh, I'm so glad I'm a credential coach, or I would never go to an unaccredited program”. Listen, I get it. But just because you've gone to an accredited program, and just because you're a credential holder, doesn't mean you're perfect. And if you are so quick to delight in the downfall of another person or another business without taking the time to look at your own practices and ask, “Hmm, I wonder if there's something I could be doing better. I wonder where I need to strengthen my approach”. If your first instinct is to go, “Thank God, that's not me”. Well, perhaps this is an invitation for you to do some self reflection and some self inquiry. Within the article, there were what I see as four central critiques of the Life Coach School. Number one is the coaching strategy that they are teaching, which some of you are probably familiar with, it's often called The Model. And if you have any background in psychology or therapy, you see the model for what it is, which is essentially a pared down, one might say reductive, version of cognitive behavioral therapy. Where it asks you to observe your thoughts, and to notice the emotion and the behavior that stem from it, and then to kind of revisit, “Alright, what would be different in my result, if I changed my thought”. I mean, that's basically The Model in a nutshell. And where many people take issue is that it is a very simplistic form of cognitive behavioral therapy. So number one, this model is being distorted and then used by coaches that have no formal psychology or therapy training. And number two, The Model as it stands, does not take into account environmental or situational factors. It places the responsibility squarely on the person's thoughts. And the overarching message is if you simply change your thoughts, if you change the way you view this, then you will change your outcome and you will be happier for it. And so what's so interesting is then, this leads into the second criticism that the article talks about, the way in which The Model can be used to minimize it’s students and it’s members own experiences. And to be honest with you, this was my experience when I was in Self Coaching Scholars. When I raised a concern, when I had an issue with how a particular situation was being handled, I was essentially told I needed to change my thinking around it, and then everything would be okay. And to my mind, that's gaslighting. If you're telling me “No, no, no, what you think is a problem isn't really a problem, it's just the way you're thinking about it”, well, then you're completely minimizing my experience, my process, and that is a very toxic way of engaging with anyone. Whether it's a client, whether it's a student, whether it's a family member, or a friend, that's gaslighting, and it is problematic. And that was my personal experience in Self Coaching Scholars. And it's certainly the experience of other people whose stories have been shared in this article. So the second criticism, from my perspective is a valid one, when we use any coaching approach, in this case, The Model, but when we use any approach to negate our clients experiences, to essentially tell them they are wrong, and that if they simply follow this one way of doing things, then they'll be on the right path. That's really scary. It's toxic, it's dangerous, and it's a problem. This lack of nuance, and this inability to bring in situational and environmental factors, I think is also connected to a third criticism that the article points out, which is the Life Coach School’s response in 2020, as America, and really the world, was facing a racial reckoning. So in the weeks after the murder of George Floyd, when a lot of companies were taking very vocal, anti-racist stances, the Life Coach School did not. They were radio silent for a while. Then when they did make a statement, it was vague, it was a bit of that toxic positivity, and it really, really missed the boat when it came to talking about how racism can influence a person's experience, and therefore influence their results. You know, at the end of their model, it's all about what's the result you are getting. And so when we place the responsibility of changing the results squarely on a person and their thoughts, we ignore the effects of systemic racism, xenophobia, and homophobia. And to me, that was always the downfall of The Model as it was taught and applied within the Life Coach School. And it's ultimately why I left the Self Coaching Scholars Membership. I want to say that I stopped listening to the podcast after the murder of George Floyd because I was getting so frustrated and frankly, disgusted by the reaction I was hearing from Brooke Castillo and her company. So I don't know what measures they've taken since then to correct this. My understanding is that they have made some new hires, including a black woman, to serve in a leadership position. But I don't know if they have changed their curriculum at all, or how they've changed it. I don't know if The Model now includes a more nuanced perspective. It might. And honestly, I really hope it does, because the way it was being taught before was problematic. So I really do hope that over the last year, they've taken all of this and allowed it to shape their curriculum.
So that brings us to the fourth critique that the article mentions, and that is the blurry boundaries created between the coaching profession and therapy, or mental health. And that is something we have talked about quite a bit on this very podcast. And as someone who is trained as a therapist, and who has provided clinical supervision to other therapists, and as someone who is a certified coach who runs an accredited coach training program, and teaches other coaches how to improve their skills, I see this. I feel like I have a really unique perspective on this, because I've been on both sides. Not to mention the fact that I've been both a therapy client and a coaching client. So I have been at a lot of the vantage points within this argument. And so I can see it from the perspective of a therapist, I can see it from the perspective of a coach, and I can see it from the perspective of a trainer, a supervisor, and a client as well. And I'm here to say that yes, there can be some very blurry boundaries between mental health and coaching if a coach does not understand where the line is between the two professions. At the end of the day, I believe it's really the coach's responsibility to stay in their lane. As coaches, we are not trained to diagnose or treat mental health disorders. That's just how it is. Anything related to an actively occurring mental health diagnosis should be treated by a mental health professional. And those of us who are both, who are mental health professionals who are also coaching, it's even more important that we understand that when we are operating as a coach, we cannot be providing mental health treatment. We must keep our roles explicitly clear. Which is why when I work with therapists interested in coaching, I strongly advise them: have two separate businesses, have two separate business entities, keep everything separate, separate websites, separate mailing lists, separate offers. Because if there's any appearance of blurred boundaries, it can be incredibly confusing for your clients. And it could put you at risk of some liability as well. For coaches who are not therapists or who do not have a strong background in psychology, it's even more important that we understand when to refer someone to a mental health professional. And the International Coaching Federation does have a very good white paper that talks about the coach's ethical responsibility to refer a client to a mental health provider when it's becoming clear that what they are seeking help for is outside the scope of coaching. So I will make sure that there is a link to that white paper in the notes. And I strongly recommend that you take a good look at it because there's some solid guidance in there as to what coaches should be looking out for, what behaviors may suggest that a client would be best served by a mental health professional. And again, it reiterates our ethical obligation to center our client's needs and agenda and ensure that they have the appropriate care they need. And sometimes that's not through coaching, sometimes it is through therapy. When we create these types of measures in our own coaching practices, then we can minimize these blurry boundaries that the article rightly talks about. And we can ensure that we are practicing from a perspective that emphasizes safety and ethical behavior.
Well, there you have it. That is my perspective on the article that was published by The Guardian last week called, “I'm a Life Coach, You're a Life Coach: the Rise of an Unregulated Industry. I am very, very interested to hear your thoughts about this article, and also my take on it. And chiefly that coaching does not have to be an unregulated industry, that perhaps the better way to describe it is as a self regulated industry, and that we as coaches do have an ethical responsibility to our clients and to the profession as a whole to ensure that we are providing quality coaching services, that we understand the boundaries between our work as coaches and the realm of therapy, and that we are engaging with our clients in an ethical manner from the very beginning of the relationship before they are even officially our client, through the end of the relationship and beyond. We're going to talk more about this in future episodes of the podcast. In fact, probably in early 2022, I'm going to have a series that looks at what it means to be an ethical coach and what some of the codes of ethics say about that practice. And I'll probably do a deep dive into some of the coaching core competencies as well. So more to come on that. But for now, why don't we head into this week's Clarity in Action moment. For this week's Clarity in Action moment, I want us to take this idea of coaching as a self regulated profession, and let's really focus on the self. I'm curious if you are to create your own standards and practices, if you were to create your own list of regulations for your coaching practice, what would that look like? Essentially, maybe I'm asking, what would your personal coaching Code of Ethics look like? How would you know that the behavior in which you're engaging is one that centers your clients, that promotes their safety and security, and respects them as the expert in themselves? What elements would you want to include in your personal Code of Ethics?
If you need some inspiration, I will definitely link to the International Coaching Federation's Code of Ethics, we'll have that in the show notes for you. And while I think the Code of Ethics that ICF presents is strong and a great place to start, I think it's even more important that we take the time to really dive into, what does it look like to apply this code in my practice every day, on a regular basis? What processes do I have in place that demonstrate my commitment to my client's well being? How can I ensure that the decisions that I'm making for my business are ethical, that they not only benefit me as the coach and as the business owner, but that they also benefit the client? And if anything, they prioritize the client. It may also mean taking a good hard look at the approaches we use within our coaching sessions. Do our approaches create space for our clients to disagree with us? To object? What perspective do our approaches really have about clients? Do we believe that our clients are inherently worthy And wise? That they are the experts in themselves? Or do our approaches come from the perspective that there's something faulty or flawed, that needs to be fixed, and if they would just fix this one thing, then everything would be okay? This is some deep introspection I'm asking you to do for this week's Clarity in Action moment. And rest assured, I am doing it right along with you. Because I know that I've just spent the last 28 minutes critiquing this article, and even critiquing the Life Coach School. And I want you to know that I will be doing the same level of self critique from my coaching practice, and for my coach training program as well. In fact, I'm spending a few months now revising the curriculum, making the user experience more accessible and more user friendly. But I'm also looking at specifically what I'm teaching, and ensuring that it always comes from a place of centering the client and allowing them to lead. So I will be doing my own work on this and I invite you to do the same. And if it would be helpful to talk through this, if you've got questions or you're feeling uncertain, please reach out. Come find me on Instagram @CoachwithClarity,  feel free to send me a DM. You're also welcome to email me at info@CoachwithClarity.com, because I know these are big questions. And they don't come with simple, easy one sentence answers. There's a lot of nuance here. There's a lot of things that we can explore. And as coaches, that's our ethical responsibility to do that work. And I'm doing it right along with you. So let me know how I can support you. Definitely check out this week's show notes for links to all of the articles and resources that we've talked about in this episode. Just head to CoachwithClarity.com/83, the number eight three and there you'll find a summary of today's podcast episode those links as well as a full transcript. And then I hope you will join me for next week's episode of the Coach with Clarity Podcast. I will be interviewing my friend and colleague Danait Berhe, all about messaging and positioning within your coaching business. It is going to be a fantastic interview. So I really hope you'll join me then. Until then My name is Lee Chaix McDonough, reminding you to get out there and show the world what it means to be a Coach with Clarity.

Click to read the entire transcript

Recent Episodes
Clarity Coaching

Download the FREE Coach with Clarity Business Blueprint

Looking to Grow Your Coaching Business?

Go from idea to income in 90 days or less with the Coach with Clarity Business Blueprint.

What's your coaching superpower?

I’ve uncovered five primary coaching styles — which one are you?