In this article we explore an overview of coaching accreditation and credentialing and, in particular, we look at the International Coaching Federation, European Mentoring and Coaching Council and the Association for Coaching.
Over the years, the coaching profession has matured impressively and the professional associations are now a major influence on coaching, in terms of both how it is perceived and how it gets done.
To be a successful coach now – especially within organisations – almost certainly requires you to undertake accredited training and to become credentialed with one or more of the professional associations.
So let’s take a look at what they are and what they do.
The 3 main associations in coaching
As I’ve mentioned already, the three main associations in coaching are:
- The International Coaching Federation (ICF)
- The European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC)
- The Association for Coaching (AC)
Alongside these three are some smaller associations such as the Association of Professional Executive Coaches and Supervisors (APECS), the Association of Coaching Supervisors (AOCS) and the Association of Coach Training Organisations (ACTO).
For the purposes of this guide, you really only need to consider the first three associations.
All three of these professional bodies exist to carry out the following functions:
- Accreditation of coach training providers to ensure consistent and rigorous standards
- Credentialing of individual coaches to provide identifiable levels of experience, training history and ongoing development
- Formulating and laying out the core practices, competencies and code of conduct for the coaching profession so that coaches, training companies and purchasers of coaching all have a broadly consistent understanding of what coaching is
- Researching, promoting and advancing coaching
You might be wondering why it takes three associations to do this and if there are significant differences between them.
To answer this, we’ll take a look at the key associations and then, after presenting the basic facts, I’ll share my thoughts on what you might look for when deciding which suits you best.
Before doing this though, let’s get clear on the basic process of accreditation and credentialing in our field and how this applies to all three of the associations we’re about to look at.
The Accreditation and Credentialing Process
Accreditation of Coach Training
Accreditation refers to the quality assurance awarded to a coach training course by one or more of the professional associations that allows the course to be listed as accredited with their approval.
In other words, an independent training provider such as Animas will submit its programme to a process of evaluation that leads to the professional association awarding it a specific level of accreditation as a coach training course.
When a coach training provider is accredited in this way, a potential coach will know that the course meets certain standards of content, delivery, ethical criteria and even administration and that it provides the training required for a given level of credentials.
Credentialing the Individual Coach
Credentialing is the certification of a coach within one or more of these professional bodies. Training is a vital part of this but it’s not the only part and the journey to credentialing happens after training is completed.
If you haven’t received any training, you can’t become a credentialed coach. Thus, the accredited training is the first step towards joining the coaching profession and gaining credentials.
To become credentialed with any of the professional associations, an individual coach will need to meet the criteria of their chosen association, which will almost invariably require:
- A specific level of accredited coach training
- A specified minimum level of coaching experience
- Undergoing coaching supervision or mentoring
- Written submissions
- A credentialing fee
These will vary in detail but, in essence, all three associations require some version of this.
Whilst the EMCC and AC are fairly accepting of any coach training that has received accreditation from one of the bodies, the ICF is most particular about the coach having undertaken ICF-accredited training and whilst it’s possible to become credentialed with them with non-ICF accredited training, it is a much longer process, which is one good reason for selecting an ICF-accredited course to future-proof your options.
One thing to note is that the professional associations are each independent of the training providers and so, as a coach, you will always seek your credentials with them directly once you have met their criteria.
That said, a good coach training course will ensure that most elements needed to meet the credentialing requirements are also built into their own qualification process.
Coaching is Unregulated and Credentials are not Mandatory
Finally, it is important to say that, as much as we value credentialing, it is not obligatory to be credentialed as a coach with a professional association, nor even to be a member.
Coaching is unregulated (as are other talking professions like psychotherapy and counselling) and many coaches find that their accredited course is all they need to be ready to go into the world and thrive as a coach.
A course should give you the skills and credibility you need to coach well, and the journey to professional credentials is one you may choose to take or not depending on what matters to you and what your client group needs (for instance, some organisations insist on ICF credentials if you wish to coach there).
We believe that high-quality accredited training and credentials in coaching are only going to become more important and that coaches will be seen to be professional or not based on this, but right now it remains a loosely self-regulated space in which your clients’ perception and expectations dictate what really matters.
All that said, now let’s look at the specific associations.
International Coaching Federation
The International Coaching Federation (ICF) was established in 1995 and is now the world’s largest professional coaching association.
It has around 40,000 members spanning the whole globe.
It provides 3 levels of accreditation of coach training, somewhat unimaginatively named:
- Level 1
- Level 2
- Level 3
These in turn are mapped to individual coach credentials that are based on the level of experience of the coach and the level of competency they must demonstrate to achieve the credential. These are:
- Associate Certified Coach (ACC)
- Professional Certified Coach (PCC)
- Master Certified Coach (MCC)
The ICF arguably shapes and influences the profession more than any other association. Partly this is a result of its originating in the US and so carrying an international weight that the more Euro-centric associations don’t, and partly through its sheer size and representation across the world.
European Mentoring and Coaching Council
The European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) was established in 2002 (following 10 years as the European Mentoring Council) and has around 10,000 members across the world.
It provides 4 levels of coach training accreditation:
- Senior Practitioner
- Master Practitioner
Similarly, it offers 4 levels of credentialing to the individual coach that map to precisely the same levels:
- Senior Practitioner
- Master Practitioner
Association for Coaching
The Association for Coaching (AC) was established in 2002 and has around 7,000 members around the world.
It offers 4 levels of accreditation to training providers:
- Accredited Award in Coach Training
- Accredited Certificate in Coach Training
- Accredited Diploma in Coach Training
- Accredited Advanced Diploma in Coach Training
It provides 4 levels of credentialing for coaches based on their experience and training:
- Professional Coach
- Master Coach
Which One Should You Choose?
To be frank, there really is no right or wrong choice here.
There’s no question that the ICF is the world’s largest and most influential professional coaching association and, almost certainly, will continue to be so. However, both the EMCC and AC are highly credible. What’s important is that you have accreditation from at least one of these bodies.
We do see more people joining Animas because of our association with the ICF more than our association with the EMCC and AC but, I suspect, this is simply because the ICF has greater brand recognition in the field.