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[UPDATED OCTOBER 2023 after the latest ICF changes]

You’re serious about your career and want to do the right thing, so you may wonder, “Is getting an ICF credential worthwhile?”

This decision requires careful consideration because an ICF Credential path is a real commitment of time and money. In this article, I’ll help you weigh the upsides and downsides to determine if pursuing an ICF credential is a good fit for you.

You may think I’m biased in favor of the ICF, and in most cases, that’s true. It is a valuable and worthwhile path, but it’s not for everyone. And I feel it’s important to see the ICF as a resource and credibility builder and NOT a CEILING of excessive restriction.

So, let’s dive in and declutter this topic to help you make an informed decision.

Do you need an ICF Credential to work as a coach? The short answer is no.

Coaching is mostly an unregulated industry, and there are no legal restrictions over using the word “coach” or the title itself. You can easily see why, because the title is generic and used in many industries including sports.

Coaching as a profession like life coaching, executive and team coaching, is often closer to consulting. And therefore it doesn’t fall under the domain of medical or mental health professional standards and controls.

So if it’s relatively unrestricted industry, is an ICF Credential like ACC, PCC or MCC worth the effort?

Pursuing an ICF credential can be worthwhile if you are committed to your career and mastering your skills and value having recognized credentials and certifications. Also if you enjoy a sense of community and share values of professionalism and high standards.

ICF Core Competencies paths

What’s the downside of pursuing an ICF credential?

TIME INVESTMENT

Earning an ICF credential requires a significant investment on time. You need to allocate time for the following:

  • Studying, certifications, admin and logging of your coaching experience.

Each level of credential requires an increasing amount of coaching experience. For example, the top-level MCC credential asks for 2500+ hours of coaching experience. However, if you are already on the path of being a professional coach, you may already be engaged in studying and coaching, which could minimize the impact of this downside.

FINANCIAL INVESTMENT

Another potential downside is the financial investment. Pursuing an ICF credential involves expenses, including coach-specific training and education and the ICF credential application and later their renewal fees.

The most direct path to the credential is through a Level 2 program previously called a ACTP-accredited coach training program, which may come with a higher price tag compared to non-accredited programs. Additionally, there are costs associated with the credentialing process.

If you choose a portfolio or a Partial Level 1 or Level 2 (previously approved coach-specific training path), the ICF will charge you more and require additional paperwork and proof of competencies than if you have a Level 1 or Level 2 program behind you. Their review process also takes longer with the Portfolio or Level 1-2 path.

By completing a Level 2 program, you can save money and time during the ICF credential process. you also know that most of the requirements are taken care of inside of your program by your Training Provider. Here is an article on demystifying the Credential Process.

Once you have a credential, what’s next?

It’s also important to note that once you have a credential, you’ll be required to engage in continuing education and renew your credential periodically (which costs time and money).

You will need to accumulate a certain number of Continued Coach Education (CCE) hours or credits to demonstrate your commitment to learning and developing as a coach.

There are various ways to obtain CCE hours. The ICF provides self-study courses on their platform, conferences and online webinars through ICF chapters worldwide, which often count towards CCE.

Re-attending any part of a Level 1 or Level 2 (previously ACTP) program can also contribute to your CCE requirements.

InnerLifeSkills offers short 30 hour module courses which are part of our Level 2 and therefor make for popular CCE hours, we call these the BIG 4 because they are the most popular in-demand services:

 

ICF Coaching Guide ACC PCC MCC

Does an ICF credential restrict you as a coach?

While being an ICF credentialed coach means you are held to a certain code of ethics and standards, it doesn’t necessarily limit your ability to coach uniquely.

InnerLifeSkills makes a conscious effort to balance providing the ICF framework for professional standards and allowing coaches the freedom to express their coaching styles and approaches. We call this being unniched, uncapped and unlimited. This freedom approach always respects integrity, honesty and ethics.

The ICF recognizes and asserts the difference between coaching, therapy, teaching, mentoring, and other roles.

If you comply with the ICF code of ethics and demonstrate your coaching competencies through performance evaluations, you can engage in various coaching roles.

Most coaches play multiple roles. They often blend coaching with other responsibilities, such as managerial or leadership roles. External coaches with their businesses often incorporate consulting, mentoring or training into their practice. 

“Knowing when to refer a client to other professionals is an important part of any coach’s professional practice. It is specifically reflected in the ICF Code of Ethics that all ICF members and credentialed coaches abide by. This guide offers a powerful and structured way for coaches to assess and respond to situations they encounter in their practice and serves as an assurance for the clients that they will receive the service that is best suited for their unique circumstances,” ICF CEO/Executive Director Magdalena Mook.

While pure coaching adheres to ICF competency standards, coaches in the real world frequently shift between roles based on the needs of their clients. Read more about what Life Coaching is and pure vs blended styles.

Adapting and utilizing different approaches can enhance your communication, listening, and speaking skills as a coach.

Having said this, when you submit an ICF Performance Evaluation or complete their Credential knowledge exam (multiple choice), you cannot blend coaching with other modalities; you’ll need to give evidence of pure, no-advice coaching competencies.

Blended Coaching

Pursuing an ICF credential is not mandatory to work as a coach.

It can provide you with valuable recognition, credibility, and a competitive edge in the coaching industry. However, it requires a significant time and financial investment.

Assessing your goals, values, and commitment to continuous learning is essential before embarking on this path.

Deciding whether to pursue an ICF credential requires careful consideration of the:

  • financial investment,
  • ongoing education,
  • and adherence to standards.

Evaluating how these factors align with your goals, aspirations, and the specific coaching market you wish to serve is essential.

By making an informed decision, you can determine if pursuing an ICF credential is the right path for you and your coaching career.

It’s important to understand the potential factors that may affect your decision.

One aspect to consider is whether certain areas of your coaching practice and education are already covered, which may reduce the significance of these factors for you.

Accredited Coaching certification duration ACC PCC MCC

Let’s explore the financial investment in pursuing an ICF credential, particularly aiming for ACC, PCC, and ultimately MCC.

This investment includes coach-specific training and education and the most direct path to the credential mountain, completing a Level 2 (previously ACTP) accredited coach training program.

Naturally, this path comes with a relevant price tag compared to some cheap, non-accredited coach training programs available. Additionally, there are costs associated with the credentialing process.

Choosing a portfolio path or a Partial Level 1 or Level 2 (previously approved coach-specific training path) with the ICF, the other two paths to climb the credentialing mountain, the ICF will charge you significantly more and require additional administration. This is because you may not have fulfilled some of the expected requirements within your ACTP-accredited coach training program, such as observed coaching sessions, performance evaluation, and mentor coaching hours.

ICF Coaching Guide ACC PCC MCC

One of the significant advantages of becoming a credentialed coach with the ICF is the transfer of credibility.

The ICF has built a strong reputation through extensive research and consultation with stakeholders, establishing gold standards for coaching at a professional and master level.

When you possess an ICF credential, you benefit from the industry’s trust and recognition, which can open doors and enhance your credibility.

It’s important to note that the value of an ICF credential may vary in different markets. While certain niche markets may not prioritize it as much, executive coaching and business coaching sectors, for example, tend to regard an ICF credential highly. In some cases, corporate and organizational clients may even require it.

Embarking on the journey of acquiring an ICF credential, starting from ACC or jumping directly to PCC, and finally MCC (only PCC can apply for MCC), is a rigorous path that cultivates your skillsets and demonstrates your commitment to professional growth and excellence.

Rise Above the sea of life coaches

You are benchmarked at an international level.

You’re being asked to prove and demonstrate your competencies. This is where the industry is sifting through the sand, finding the gold. And if you are serious about this mastery path, know that a big part of it is challenging yourself to up your skills all the time.

Having an ICF credential with an ACC, PCC, or MCC next to your name means you’ve suddenly stepped into a community of professionals. You can look around at the ocean of coaches and spot other credentialed coaches. This means there’s an opportunity for networking, partnerships, referrals, and collaborations.

If you go onto platforms like LinkedIn (see our InnerLifeSkills school listing) and search for an ACC, PCC, or MCC coach, you will see how many coaches and the community you would automatically be involved in by having an ICF credential.

You’ve just made it possible to connect with people who may not have considered connecting with you without the ACC, PCC, or MCC next to your name.

The more the coaching industry matures and grows, the more discerning our clients are getting. It makes sense.

When your client is deciding whether to hire you or someone else to promote their services in the coaching space, your ICF credential could be the deciding factor.

Certainly, in the world of executive coaching and corporate organizational leadership coaching, the ICF credential carries a lot of weight and influence. Many corporate clients won’t even consider your services without you having an ICF credential.

Something you might not know about ICF competencies is that they’re plug-and-play. They’re the kinds of skills and competencies that you can insert into many other forms of communication, and they will enhance other roles like consulting, teaching, counselling, and more.

So even though many ICF credentialed coaches don’t offer only pure coaching without advice-giving, they often mix in other roles. Still, this competency skill set and these credentials enhance every other area of our career and all the other roles that we play in life.

credibility

Is having an ICF credential enough to succeed?

No.

It’s going to make a substantial contribution to your career, confidence, credibility, and ability to attract clients. But it is not enough.

Most coaches don’t realize they need other tools.

To build a career of substance and value, professional coaches also need;

  • Flexible, comprehensive toolboxes,
  • Ongoing support and mentoring,
  • And business-building and career-building skill sets.

That’s why choosing an ICF program that goes beyond ICF competencies and provides additional tools and support is important.

When choosing an ICF program, make sure it ticks all the boxes of Level 2 and that the trainers are well-qualified and credentialed at the PCC and MCC levels.

Then ask the question, “What else am I getting?”

Ensure you’re getting a comprehensive toolbox that will allow you to coach any niche, not just life, executive, or business coaching. We suggest you consider our Big 4, named the Big 4 because we’ve seen these are the most in-demand toolboxes that give you the most flexibility to custom build solutions for clients and serve at the highest. The InnerLifeSkills Big 4 are: Life Coaching + Enneagram Coaching + Business Coaching + Executive Coaching.

If you decide that and ICF Credential is worth it, and want to have all doors open then also ensure you are getting expert mentoring instruction from professional coaches who have walked the path already and proven their success in building a practice, finding clients, and implementing systems beyond selling coaching hours.

By choosing a program that offers a comprehensive approach, mentorship, and guidance, you can break free of the limitations of simply selling coaching hours and create the freedom and abundant client-attracting practice you dream of.

InnerLifeSkills calls this being unniched, uncapped and unlimited. 

We want you to do the work you love, make the difference you were born to make, and coach anyone anywhere in the world.

Remember, the decision to pursue an ICF credential is personal and ultimately depends on your circumstances and aspirations as a coach.

If you have any further questions or need more information, chat with us.

BOOK A NO-STRINGS  GUIDANCE CALL

You’ve decided to an ICF Credential Path is worth it, and have been comparing certifications, but which one is best for you? We highly recommend an ICF accredited course like ours but what else is important?

  • If you’re looking for only theoretical academic courses—InnerLifeSkills Master Coach is not for you.
  • If you’re want only surface to-do-list style coaching—we’re not for you.
  • If you’re satisfied with generic everyone-offers-the-same—we’re not for you.

But if you’re interested in life-changing skills, coaching with depth and unique ready-to-coach processes that no one else is offering, we’re happy to talk. Book a call with our coaching career advisor Eryn Dawn.