Do Coaches Need ICF Accreditation in 2023? (to become fully booked)

Do coaches need ICF accreditation is a question that crops up every now and then in The Fully Booked Coach Facebook Group

As I am sure you know, coaching is entirely unregulated.

There’s no governing body and you cannot be struck off.

As such, the ICF is somewhat of a paper tiger.

The ICF (International Coaching Federation) has no legal parameters they have to adhere to in the same way as other professional bodies do.

Licensed Mental Health Counselors (LMHC), Board Certified Doctors, and Attorneys who have passed the bar have to operate within very strict legal requirements.

And the organizations who license them have real teeth and serious clout.

They can cut your career very short if you step over the line. And you can even face criminal charges.

Yes, the ICF can indeed revoke your membership in the highly unlikely event they catch you stepping over the line, but they cannot stop you from coaching.

Do coaches need ICF accreditation to attract more clients?

Walk down any high street and ask 100 people what they think the acronym ICF stands for.

My guess is, one person will know.

She will be a coach.

I have been coaching full-time for almost 18 years and do you know how many times I have been asked if I had ICF accreditation?


And that person hired me even though I said I didn’t.

Note: I did have 7 months of formal life coach training.  I simply wasn’t aware of the ICF when I booked my training in 2004 and don’t even know if there training was available in the UK at that time.

The reality is, as coaches we get asked about our qualifications far less than we imagine we will be when we get underway.

That doesn’t mean formal training isn’t important, I spent north of $25k on a lot of training both in the UK and the US.

Training will build your confidence and (presuming it’s good training) ensure you’re a competent coach equipped to help your clients.

It’s the reason I highly recommend Lumia.

It’s just that its efficacy in helping you attract clients is overestimated.

It doesn’t matter how much training you have had if you don’t understand how to start a coaching business and get coaching clients.

icf accreditation

When you probably do need ICF accreditation

Let me do a 180-degree pivot here and say there is a situation where you almost certainly should take the ICF route.

That’s executive and some business coaching.

If you want to coach in the corporate sector you’re probably going to need that credibility.

In such situations, you’re probably going to be dealing with HR departments in the early stages.

And trust me, I worked with HR departments for a number of years and they will want to see the certificates and proof of competency.

The Human Resource department is there to mitigate risk and any potential liability. As such, they have a tendency of playing things safe.

They don’t want to roll the dice on somebody who sounds credible but has nothing to back it up with.

Especially when they have somebody sporting the MCC (Master Certified Coach) moniker applying for the same position/opportunity.

If that is your target market then do your due diligence and take a look at the ICF.

Wrong Way Road Sign

In Summary – do coaches need ICF accreditation in 2023?

The ICF has done and continues to do, some good work.

They promote coaching and keep the standard as high as possible within their limitations.

However, you’re going to be needing at least $5k and probably closer to $10k to get training from an ICF-accredited organization.

You’re also going to need about 18 months.

If both of those restraints pose no problem and it doesn’t mean you’re left with no marketing budget, then I would say, go for it.

Just do it because you want to be the best coach you can be rather than because you think being ICF accredited will bring you in any more paying clients.

What’s your take?

Please let me know what you think about the ICF and what your path to becoming a coach looked or will look like.

If you’re a new coach then check out How to start a coaching business in 2023

40 thoughts on “Do Coaches Need ICF Accreditation in 2023? (to become fully booked)”

  1. That was quick 😉 Tim, thanks for sharing your perspectives. Lots of valid points & gave me much to think about as I continue in my business. I like how you mentioned “Core Values”…yep, that’s what its all about.

  2. Great write-up Tim with lots of valid points. I’m not big on ICF certification either but I think there needs to be a distinction made between certification and training. No, we don’t have to be certified for the sake of being certified but we also can do the certification for the purpose of obtaining training. And yes, we can get that training elsewhere too. I think the way the advice you dispense comes across to some people is don’t train, don’t get certified, don’t do anything – just start coaching. Maybe not from your post here necessarily but this seems to come from a lot of the coaching blogs out there. Training helps. The better, more well-trained coaches we become, the better we can help the people we are serving.

    • I have to be honest and say I don’t read many coaching posts per se so I was unaware that many people were advocating no training.

      And yeh of course training helps and should be a ‘must’ for any coach to understand the basics.

      Started that book you recommending btw. It’s almost like you I’m listening to with the humor 😉

      • i’ll forward some of these posts to you so you get the idea of coaching blogs that don’t recommend training and instead opt for going with what you know and what you’ve experienced.

        I’ve found that book helpful but the humor is terrible and makes you want to jump out of a tall building.

        Wait a sec…

  3. Its interesting you (Tim) have written on the ICF issue now. I checked our a number of coaching programs here in the eastern part of the US and settled on one that is “certified.” My reasons — I recall about 20 years ago something here called a CADC (certified alcohol and drug counselor) didn’t need a license to practice. As a result, anyone with a GED could sit for the program, fulfill its requirements (I think attending a number of AA and NA meetings) and voile, you were a CADC. Thank the lord, the state stepped in a reviewed the trainings, declared one must have at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college, and then satisfy internship and other criteria before hangling up a shingle to practice. I knew someone who was an “uneducated” CADC and he was a disaster!

    In any event, I’m finding this ICF program is not really teaching me anything I don’t already know — which is disconcerting. But I’ve decided to participate in the program’s first “face to face” weekend training and then decide if going futher is worth my time and money.

    Anyway, I do enjoy your writings, and once I’ve made my decision concerning the current program I’m enrolled in, I’m seriously considering your program.

    Well, that’s my opinion, fo what its worth!!

    Shrink in NJ!

    • It’s disappointing to hear that Janice. It may be poor training, a reflection on how much you know, or probably a combination of both is more likely.

      We have had a number of therapists and counselors who were looking to transition into coaching take the course and the feedback has been great.

      And thanks for the opinion and it’s worth a lot!

    • Hi Janice,

      I took Tim’s training when he first started. It was awesome and I learned a lot. I was able to firmly establish my niche, revamp my web presence and learn some coaching techniques that I didn’t know. I have been looking at the ICF training as well, I opted to get a B.S. degree in Life Coaching instead because of my niche.. I am not excited about spending so much money to take training that I already know. So thank you for sharing your experience. I may pass on ICF certification once again. I am going to apply for the Coach the Life Coach Certification.



      • Thanks a lot Athena, much appreciated.

        I still talk about the person (you obviously although I don’t mention your name) on an early course who was the single most gracious I ever worked with when I quite frankly demolished her website.

        You’re an example to others!

  4. Hi Tim,

    I think this is well written and unbiased, but I do see value in the ICF and bringing more credibility to the “profession.” I use quotations for the reason that coaching is unregulated. The ICF is trying to bring more legitimacy to coaching and I think that’s a good thing. I completed my coaching certification with a program recognized by the ICF (so perhaps I am a bit biased). Coming from an engineering background, the training I received gave me invaluable skills to use with my clients, the biggest of which is that we are not there to be the expert on the lives of others and dish out advice. I learned that with practice, I could coach people if I followed a framework. We see online that everyone and their dog is a “coach” these days when in reality they are experts, mentors, or consultants. Coaching is something different and I think the only way to distinguish it as such is to continue creating more credibility, which I think the ICF is trying to do.

    That said, I don’t think you need to be ICF certified to bring value to clients.


    • I 100% agree with you in terms of what the ICF is trying to do Eric.

      I almost put into the post but didn’t for fear of looking like I was bashing them. I am happy to share it here as few people read the comments of a post who haven’t actually commented.

      I was looking at the site of a Christian coach training organization which was affiliated with the ICF. Looking at their curriculum it spooked me because it talked about teaching you how to guide clients on a religious path. That bugged me a lot.

      I have no issue with somebody being a Christian coach and only dealing with Christians (even if that imho shows closed-mindedness), but I do have a problem with training that is so far off the co-active approach you need binoculars to see it being endorsed by the ICF.

  5. Fantastic timing Tim! I am coming to the conclusion of my ICF recognised training and just considering the “how” side of my accreditation. When I started down this learning path, I was convinced I needed both – so this article was a great perspective for me.

    Training was important for me, I discovered coaching was actually different to what I had experienced and really honed some of my skills. I’m beginning to feel like the accreditation would just be for me – my clients so far couldn’t care less. And I know I could better spend the money working on improving my knowledge.

    Much like Vishnu mentioned, I see/hear/read of so many people running ‘coaching’ businesses who stray into areas of psychology and counselling – even giving prescriptive medical advice… which is downright scary! From this perspective I look forward to some form of governing body or at least minimum requirement before a person can hang up a “Coach” sign.

    Ps Arrived here via your email….of which the frequency is fine mate!

    • Yep it is scary.

      I definitely see coaches offering terrible advice via blogs, Social Media etc., but as I said I haven’t really seen it that much with training companies other than the example I used with Eric above.

      I honestly don’t know what the answer is. Maybe a task force set up to make sure that coaches are, at the very minimum, not breaking the law.

      I see your in Australia and from what I have been told you have about the strictest laws on the planet this side of regulation. It would only take 3 or 4 coaches to be prosecuted for offering therapeutic or medical advice for the message to get home methinks.

      And I’m glad I’m not sending you into e-mail fatigue!

  6. Hi Tim,

    I appreciate your opinion and agree with it. However, I did decide to go the ICF certification route, not because I’m a business coach, but because at times I interact with psychologists and counselors and thought it might be helpful. While in some minds, it may have more credibility, it does not necessarily bring in more clients, because as you mentioned, most people don’t even know what ICF stands for. I believe training is important, but you don’t necessarily need to be ICF certified.

    By the way, in response to your recent message, I find your emails very helpful, and are one of the few that I read regularly, so thank you for all the information and help!

  7. Thank you for your insight Tim. I found your article interesting, informative, and confirming. In 2009, I was introduced to Life Coaching. With a strong background in training and employee development coupled with a love for people, certification just made sense. I opted out of ICF and went through a certification program with a Chicago based non-profit organization. It was a great experience.
    In 2011, I wrote my own certification program and rolled it out in 2012. To date, approximately 75 participants internationally have successfully completed my program.
    I believe certification is becoming more and more important as more and more people are hanging out Life Coach neon signs. I believe it is important for those seeking certification to do the research in finding a program which will be the best fit for them. ICF is an option, but it’s definitely not the only option. I am connected to several ICF coaches and in fact belong to a couple of local support groups with some of them. My not being certified by ICF does not minimize the value I bring to the table. My coaching background and business actually enhances the groups.

  8. Good points in the post, and the comments. As a newer coach, I struggle with feeling “credible,” since I’m one of those people who has an affinity for lots of letters after people’s names. But so far, that hasn’t been an issue for me. Many of my clients are doubling their incomes (or moving into more fulfilling careers) and are satisfied with the results, regardless of of certification.

    • Yep I’m pretty sure you’re not going to get too many complaints with clients who doubled their income.

      And you could always take our certification!

  9. I left the PR corporate world and set up as a life coach. I took an online course and got my own life coach to help guide me. I was surprised how similar the course was to much of my management training. One of the life coaches I follow online puts it this way.
    It’s not what qualifications you have. The question you should ask is ‘can I help this person?’
    I go with that.

  10. This is a late reply, considering it has been posted over a month ago. I am training to be a life coach with Tim through Coach the Life Coach and I have to say I am receiving the best training ever. I have learned so much about core values, reframing, NLP, developing your niche, and so on. What I love about about this program it’s focused on high quality training through personal development.

    I currently have a certification CADC, certified alcohol drug counselor and a LPC, licensed professional counselor; And I must say that when I was preparing for these silly acronyms I lost focus of what it was I thought I was gaining. I became obsessed in passing to Obtain these letters after my last name and for what? It Doesn’t change how I help, granted it keeps me employed as this is state required for my job . However, and very sadly, I can’t practice independently under these credtentals because it’s regulated by my state.

    I appreciate and value the training I am receiving and it’s nice that This is something that I can use and improve on for when I do become a Life Coach

  11. There is another certification in the works for Health Coaches to be launched in 2017,the National Examination for health coaches or something like that. They had also created a code of conduct. I just wonder if this will be required down the road,because as of now insurance companies are not covering Health Coaching sessions,it’s cash. Have you heard about it?

  12. I was happy to see your views on this subject, Tim. More coaches (and would-be coaches) need to hear this. The ICF isn’t the only certification body out there—there are plenty of other viable and valuable programs. And at a much more affordable price for start-ups, too. And I agree that certification isn’t necessarily required. What’s important is if you can help people. When I started the International Association of Professional Life Coaches® as an alternative to the ICF 10 years ago, I decided to include coaches with or without certification, as long as they were professional and had experience. I think that’s more important. Some coaches are so good at coaching, they don’t even need training. Others pick up trainings to add to their repertoire. Anyway, thanks so much for making your opinion known, Tim!

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment, Jeanette. And you are 100% right, at the end of the day it’s how we can help our clients that really matters!

  13. I think the ICF has done a great job of marketing themselves to the point where a lot of people “think” it is the gold standard of coaching. It’s kinda like what you’ve said previously about Tony Robbins. He may not be the best coach, but he’s the best at marketing himself.

    The one big downside to being ICF certified is you’re basically forced to keep renewing your membership if you want to keep all the CCE’s you’ve accumulated.

  14. This informative post may be more pertinent now than when it was originally published. I am an advocate for licensure in professional self-development coaching. In 2008, I was recruited by a major hospital chain to write and publish an Emotional Intelligence Coach curriculum for physicians consistent with the standards estahlishe by Joint Commission on The Accreditation of Healtcare Organizations.
    This is currently the most widely EI Coaching for physicians worldwided. Beginning in January, my firm will begin a major project in the middle east to provide Emotional Intelligece Assessments, training and coaching for physicians at ten hospitals is Saudi Arabia, one medical school along with one hospital in Egypt and one in Germany.

  15. I chanced upon your article while reviewing on my development path in 2021 and beyond. I like your well balanced perspective and love those practical insights.
    When I started ICF ACC training a few months back, I have been getting this thought in my mind about what does ‘gold standard and transformative shift’ mean. I observed varying standard and explanation about it. at the end of day, what is important for me in this coaching path is …. how can i help my potential clients experience positive growth in their path.
    I look forward to reading your articles !

  16. So I came across this article and I know it’s a little weird when people post comments on old content – but wanted to comment anyway!

    I found this really helpful as I am in the process of getting my ACC certification. My employer paid for my coaching training, but I paid for my mentor coaching ($1500) and will then have to pay the certification exam fee and processing fee myself. It’s a substantial investment, but because my employer does want me to coach, and I want to develop a private practice of clients, I figured it would be worth it.

    However, I was going through the ICF site and realized that to renew my ACC certification 3 years after I receive it, I have to go through another 10 hours of mentor coaching (even though, presumably, I will have been coaching the entire three years). So, 2.5 years from this fall (when I expect to be certified) I will have to invest more money in mentor coaching, because the mentor coaching has to be done over a certain number of months to meet ICF standards.

    That made me realize, this is an interesting little closed feedback loop the ICF has created, and I can see why they did it. So many coaches say they struggle to get clients. However, if people getting or renewing an ACC must get 20 hours of mentor coaching (10 to obtain, 10 to renew), that creates a built-in market for coaches to coach other coaches. And, in fact, in searching I found tons of websites with PCCs or MCCs offering “mentor coaching packages” that were all $1000+. I would love to know how many of those coaches are doing coaching of non-coach clients, or if the bulk of their business is coaching other coaches? Corollary question, does the ICF really exist to create a “gold standard in coaching,” as they say, or is it to create a closed loop market where coaches get certified, renew, and then can coach other coaches and have somewhat of a guaranteed audience/income stream?

    I am still going to get my ACC – I’m too far into it to abandon it at this point. Whether or not I renew will become a different story. I figure if I get the credential, and don’t renew, I can at least then say I had an ACC credential, but chose not to renew it for X reasons. My education and experience will be verified, but I’m just not sure how interested I am in financially propping up the ICF for the rest of my career.

    • That’s a great comment Michelle and a shame you’re anonymous as you may not see I have responded.

      I’d like to repost this in my Facebook group because you make really valid points.

      One persons feedback loop is another persons pyramid scheme, sadly.

  17. One of my coaching buddies alerted me to this post as we are both currently doing training at an ICF accredited institute. I went for ICF because my asking around here in western Canada had life and career coaches recommending it. However, I am getting much better and in-depth training working with my course peers than in the classroom. After investing so much money into the program (and only half way through), it is very disappointing. Several of us have been trainers and instructors (and several also coaches) for getting on to decades. We are coming away from this convinced that we could do a much better job at providing training. I will be following up with alternative training to find out everything I am missing after this.

  18. I am interested in becoming a life coach but the coach trainings are so expensive. There is one called IAP College that says they charge $149 to $189 for a course. I’m not sure if I should keep looking for something else or
    give that school a try.

    • TBH Angelica, you get what you pay for *most* of the time.

      Coach training is just the start of things. You must be able to then invest in building a business and marketing yourself.

      I cannot comment now that cheap would be like, but in my experience, there’s a reason why some training companies charge so little.

      It’s a crap shoot I’m afraid and I wish you all the best.

  19. Hey Tim,

    This was a great post for me to read as someone who is starting as a coach. I have an B.S. in Psychology with minors in neuroscience and biology. Additionally, I am beginning a M.S. in Mental Health Counseling in the Spring of 2024. Thus, the credentials from ICF seem useless in my scenario. I was worried that it would potentially affect my draw to clients and hearing that not many ask about certification is helpful.

    Again, my main draw when marketing myself to clients is that I will be pursuing a mental health counseling license (and I know coaching and therapy are not the same) AND that I adhere to the code of conduct and ethics set forth by the American Psychological Association (APA). And I conduct myself in a way that acknowledges the clear boundaries between the two worlds of coaching and therapy/counseling while also maintaining a reputation that will not tarnish my future as a therapist.

    This was quite the ramble to say that I appreciated this post!

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