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A New Coach's Guide to the ICF (International Coaching Federation)

Coaching is not a highly regulated field. Unlike for doctors or lawyers, there is no governing body that determines whether you are legally allowed to call yourself a coach or not. This means anyone can technically market their services as a life or business coach. The positive side to that is that there are no hard barriers of entry to becoming a life coach. The negative side of that is that people can call themselves coaches without even understanding what coaching truly is.


The International Coaching Federation (ICF) was created to offer an internationally recognized credential for life coaches who have demonstrated expertise and experience in the field. They offer 3 levels of certification (which are outlined along with their application requirements below) and have grown to become the gold standard in coach training accreditation, and certification for individuals.


Do You Need to be ICF Certified to Get Started?


The short answer is, no!


In fact, in order to become an ICF certified coach you are required to have already facilitated a number of paid coaching hours (after beginning an ICF-Accredited training course, such as the ones offered by Say Coach). Getting started is a pre-requisite to becoming an ICF certified coach, not the other way around.


Who should get ICF Certified?


Depending on what your goals are as a coach you may or may not need to become ICF certified to find success.


The truth is, most clients in the personal life coaching space do not know about the ICF and are unlikely to ask for proof of qualification before deciding whether or not to work with you. While having the fundamental coaching skills delineated by the ICF will be key to any successful practice, if you work exclusively with individual clients, becoming ICF credentialed is not a requirement for your business growth.


In the corporate and executive coaching spaces, however, an ICF certification is often seen as a prerequisite for hiring. Many companies have policies that will not allow them to contract a coach that is not ICF certified. If business, corporate, or executive coaching is a key component to your coaching business’s trajectory, an ICF certification is something you’ll want to have under your belt.


Another key reason ICF certification can be appealing for new coaches is because it offers a level of validation that can be instrumental in building your confidence as a coach. It also gives coaches a goal to work towards as they are getting started in the field and building their client base.


Levels of ICF Certification


There are 3 levels of ICF certification. These are:

  • Associate Certified Coach (ACC)

  • Professional Certified Coach (PCC)

  • Master Certified Coach (MCC)

Each level is trained to work with their clients at different levels of depth — the more advanced levels working more deeply and subtly, addressing and transforming core issues.


ACC (Associate Certified Coach)

At this level of training the coach is expected to understand and abide by the ICF Core Competencies and ICF Code of Ethics. ACC level coaches are able to work with clients to advance their goals, though may not be as confident working through inner obstacles.


PCC (Professional Certified Coach)

PCC level coaches are equipped to work with inner obstacles, transforming root issues through their coaching processes. They have a strong variety of processes and coaching tools that they are able to utilize confidently.


MCC (Master Certified Coach)

MCC level coaches have integrated their coaching skills and processes to a level of mastery that allows them to work with the most challenging obstacles, both internal and external, that their clients face. Master coaches are able to improvise and adapt their processes, and a coaching session with them often feels like a very natural conversation. Coaching sessions at the master coach level frequently create profound shifts in their clients.


ICF Credential Application

Note: The ICF regulations and policies are subject to change. As such specific, up-to-date information should be sought out on their website, https://coachingfederation.org/ . What follows is a general overview to provide a birds-eye view of what an application process entails.


Each ICF credential level (ACC, PCC, and MCC) requires five main components for application:


1. A certain number of ICF-approved training hours

Note: All of Say Coach’s trainings are ICF-Accredited through InnerLifeSkills at MCC-level


2. A certain number of coaching hours (majority of which are paid hours)

A log of these hours should include the coachee’s name, contact information, start and end dates of the coaching relationship, and number of paid and pro bono hours is required to be kept. This log is not submitted with your initial application but may be requested.


3. Passing a written test


4. Passing an performance evaluation of one of your coaching sessions (a submitted recording)


5. Application fee


In addition, some paths require a certain number of hours of mentorship by an ICF certified coach.


You can learn more about the specific application requirements for each level at the links below:


ACC: https://coachingfederation.org/credentials-and-standards/acc-paths

PCC: https://coachingfederation.org/credentials-and-standards/pcc-paths

MCC: https://coachingfederation.org/credentials-and-standards/mcc-path


Any Questions?


Want to learn more about ICF Certification or the process of becoming a coach? Say Coach has a diverse team of professional coaches ranging all the way up to the MCC level. Schedule a chat with us and we’d be happy help you find clarity.


Looking to start your coach training? Start with Coach 101 if you want to see if coaching is right for you. If you are fully committed to your journey of becoming a life coach, we highly recommend enrolling in Professional Coach. You can also explore our variety of coaching specialty courses using the menu above.