Life Coach Certification—your Complete Guide

Real lived insights from working successful master life coaches, giving you everything you need to know about life coach certification training.

Life Coach Certificate

You’re a natural coach who loves helping others—so you’re researching the dream of becoming a life coach.

That’s how many of us started, feeling that guiding and coaching was our purpose, and then one day we had enough clarity to commit to going pro. Maybe you’re asking yourself the same questions we once did:

  • “What are the best life coach certifications?”
  • What are the steps to get certified?
  • How much does life coach certification cost?
  • “How long does training take?” 
  • and“Do I even need certification to coach?”

It’s important to cover all your bases before you jump in. 

Taking the leap - learn about life coach certification

What is a Life Coach Certification?

We see 3 main paths for professional coaches in the world today.

  1. TITLE ONLY: Coaches that take the title without any qualifications behind them.
  2. SELF-TAUGHT: Self-taught coaches with only reading, cheaper and free online coaching courses under their belts.
  3. CERTIFIED CREDENTIALED: And finally, coaches who invest money and time to complete an internationally accredited program. Some even go on to get credentialed with the ICF at the ACC (Associate Credentialed Coach), then PCC (Professional Credentialed Coach) and finally MCC (Master Credentialed Coach).

The International Coaching Federation credential is a globally recognized and sought-after professional coaching certification. This article refers to their global competency standards and code of ethics.

Which path will you take?

Coaches who want to offer their clients the highest service and build long-lasting careers choose the certification path.

Why?

Because this gives them the confidence, credibility and, most importantly, the master coach competencies needed to coach at master levels.

What is life coach certificaiton

What does Coaching Certification mean?

Certification means to be awarded a qualification. After studying life coach competencies, methods and skills, and passing a theory and practical/oral assessment, a coach who has demonstrated sufficient competencies is awarded an accredited certificate.

what certification means
Oxford Language Definition of the word “Certification”

Life Coaches, Business Coaches, Wellness Coaches, Enneagram Coaches and all other types of coaching specialties have their own certifications. However, core competencies, as defined by the ICF, can be used by all professional coaches regardless of their specialty. 

Is Coaching Certification worth it?

Absolutely! But to see the value it makes sense to ensure you understand what life coaching is. Because the term ‘life coach’ is not a legally protected professional title, anyone can use it, even without training or certification. So, a lot of people do decide to be life coaches.

And that’s where the confusion lies.

Because our profession lies outside the mental health domain, we enjoy a lot of freedom, and with this freedom comes a price; the profession attracts fly-by-nighters. That’s why credible certification, like ICF Accredited certification, is so important.

Is certification worth it

Find out why this Life Coach quit

Many people feel like Tony.

In his article “Is life coaching worth it? Confessions from an ex-life coach.” TONY HO TRAN shares his disillusionment and disappointment with his journey to becoming a life coach.

He started his path inspired, saying:

“I looked at people like Tony Robbins and how he created a movement with years of life coaching experience. I figured I could do a smaller version of that.”

And then bravely jumped in, without any qualifications behind him. He continues…

“I struggled with a few of my first clients. I remember I had a conversation with one after a session that I thought went really well, but then at the end, they told me, ‘That didn’t really help me.’

Can you imagine how awful it would be for your client to say that a session wasn’t helpful?

What can go wrong for coaches who skip certification?

Like many aspiring coaches, Tony thought life coaching was merely guiding and helping. Using your life experience and perhaps a motivational tool or two.

The thinking is, “If I’m already doing this naturally, why not set up shop and go pro?”

Plus, if you look around on social media, there seem to be thousands of coaches that look super successful, confidently offering inspiration and motivation.

So why start coaching without certification?

  • Life experience, natural skills and a handful of tools do not make a Master Coach.
  • You may cause more harm than good if you’re not well trained.
  • Remember, we are legally and morlaly liable for any advice we give.
  • Many of us want to provide the highest service, truly help others, and make a difference, so we are happy to put in the hard work to get credible life coach certification.

And lastly, something I don’t say lightly:

“We earn the privilege of changing lives.”

How? By mastering our skills through the journey of studying, getting expert feedback, being assessed and earning our accredited certification.

Many InnerLifeSkills coaches tell us how shocked they are when they realize just how in-depth master coaching training can be. It’s not about advising, inspiring, being a good friend and listening. 

Listening is an art form that can take years to master. 

Skills we take for granted and think are easy, like listening can be improved, even taken to master levels. Master coaches learn the art and science of listening. 

So when Tony eventually gave up his dream of being a professional coach, he said:

“There’s always the challenge of having clients whose personalities you just don’t match with. And in situations where desperation is driving you, you end up taking on bad clients just because you need the money. This leads to bad relationships and a lot of baggage for you to deal with.

 

I found myself becoming their therapist instead of their coach. Instead of helping them work through a problem, you become an emotional punching bag — consoling them and trying to help them justify why you’re taking their money.

 

It’s very emotionally draining. It doesn’t give you joy or space to breathe when you feel depressed or anxious yourself. You end up taking on too much. This is the truth about life coaching that too many life coaches won’t tell you.”

I wish Tony had done his research and realized that proper coaching training would have addressed all of these issues including helping him to not slip into therapist mode—which is called maintaining “Coach Presence” or “Coach Position” in the professional industry.

 

True Life  is not:

  • Therapy
  • Consulting
  • Mentoring
  • Training
  • Athletic Development

Many of us, who align with the International Coaching Federation (ICF), also adhere to a strict code of ethics.

We would never “… end up taking on bad clients just because you need the money.”

Because coaching is not therapy, and because Master Coaches who have completed an ACTP accredited program have massive toolboxes and properly developed skill-sets, we leave sessions uplifted and as inspired as our clients.

Yes, there are some problematic sessions. No professional can avoid that, but proper training teaches you how to manage this and transform the “spiral down” session into a “spiral up” session.

Life Coach Certification isn’t worth it if:

  • You want a quick entry to set up shop overnight to get clients without paying your dues and invest in an ICF Accredited Program (which we recommend).
  • You prefer offering therapy and want to deep dive into emotional pain, supporting clients in states of trauma (then becoming a licensed counselor is better).

Life Coach Certification is worth it if:

  • You’re excited about learning new skills and paying your dues by investing time and, yes, money into your coaching career development.
  • You prefer to empower clients to be in the now, overcome their obstacles and move forward with inspiration.
  • You want to work with clients’ struggles and what we call “inner obstacles” in a coaching style, which is still profoundly transformative, but not classical therapy.

So is completing a program worth it? For the dedicated visionary, yes.

But not all certificates are equal. So read on.

The Pros and Cons of Life Coaching Certification Programs

Everything of value has a price.

We work our way to mastery and earn the privilege of changing lives.

So there are pros and cons to choosing a life coach certification path.

Let’s unpack the pros and cons of Cost, Confidence, Credibility, Competencies, Charging Rates and Client Attracting Power. 

pros and cons of life coach certification

This infographic shows you 6 main things to consider when weighing up the pros and cons of no certification versus free/cheap certification and ICF Accredited Certification.

You’ll see that, in our opinion, there are very few cons associated with the path to an ICF accredited certificate other than:

  • Upfront investment (ACTP best online life coach certification programs are not cheap).

It’s important to know that not all ICF accredited programs include Business Building and Marketing Skills.

InnerLifeSkills Master Coach MCC includes a fully mentored business-building program to close this typical gap.

free vs no vs accredited life coach certification

Cost of being certified and ROI

Even though it costs a lot more to enroll in an accredited certification program than to opt for no certification or a cheap/free certificate, in the end, qualified credentialed coaches tend to charge substantially more for their coaching services. 

We make our investments back and much more in the long run. 

According to the International Coaching Federation:

“Compared to a peer without a credential, Credentialed coach practitioners command higher fees from coaching. Report more clients and greater annual revenue from coaching.”

Here is what an average Coach in the USA was earning in 2020-2021

Average hourly fee/client type 

  • Executive: $340 USD 
  • Business owner/entrepreneur: $240 USD 
  • Manager: $230 USS 
  • Team leader: $170 USD 
  • Staff member: $130 USD 
  • Personal client: $120 USD”

Investing in an ACTP Accredited Coach Training Program can be expensive. Usually, this is not as costly as a reputable MBA or BComm Degree, but this is still a career investment that not everyone can afford. 

That is why we offer a Free Online Life Coach Course as an introduction and make these valuable foundation skills available to those who cannot yet afford our paid for accredited programs.

Confident life coaching comes from:

  • Learning from Master Coaches who are living this work. 
  • Practicing coaching with fellow coaches (which we do from day 1 of our Master Coach Certification).
  • A comprehensive coaching toolbox (so that you don’t get stuck).
  • Master Level Coaching Competencies (that distinguish you from amateurs and fly-by-night coaches).
  • Scripts and Worksheets so you don’t have to remember it all from day one. We offer 50+ professional scripts and worksheets in our InnerLifeSkills Master Coach course.

Without earning a qualification or recognized credential, you won’t know what you’re missing. Many aspiring coaches lack confidence, which is not always bad because this is a lack of confidence born of a lack of skills.

With training, we naturally become confident, capable and credible. 

Credibility as a coach

According to the ICF Annual Surveys:

“Credentials are important to consumers. Among those who have been in a coaching relationship, 83% said certification/credential is important. For those aware of coaching but not yet been in coaching relationship, 76% considered certification/credential important.”

The more coaches there are, the more your clients will check to see what makes you credible? 

Coaching clients want to see proof that you are trustworthy:

  • That you are qualified to help them reach their goals.
  • That you understand their specific problems and have the coaching toolbox to match.
  • Your reputable credentials and qualifications. 
  • What do you stand for, your values, ethics and worldview?

We can’t find many downsides to having proper credentialing. Other than if you are trained in a way that makes you feel boxed in by rules. 

InnerLifeSkills encourages our Master Coaches to be intuitive, flexible, and even build their unique coaching brand or style. 

Maintaining an ICF credential means keeping up with Continuing Coach Education (CCE) and paying for your renewals, which not everyone is willing to do. 

Core Coaching Competencies

The International Coaching Federation Surveys reveal that:

  • “Consumers are more satisfied with their coaching experience if their coach is credentialed. And are more likely to recommend.”
  • “94% of consumers who participated in a coaching relationship with a credentialed coach said they were satisfied with the experience.”

Why? Because Professional and Master Competencies are extremely valuable.

The 3 ICF levels of credentialing, ACC, PCC, and MCC, are a map for achieving higher competency levels. 

  • ACC competencies are valuable but tend to be surface, goal setting and to-do-list coaching. Which still is worthwhile but entry-level.
  • PCC competencies start to give us the skills to change lives. This is holistic, deeper than the surface, intuitive coaching. 
  • MCC competencies are a level beyond all masters. They make the coached conversation look natural and effortless.

There’s no performing, no mechanical scripted communication, just a true partnership and flow of insights from skillful coaching. 

Whether you plan to be a pure coach (offering no advice) or a blended coach (mixing coaching with mentoring or another modality), we recommend aiming for MCC competencies. 

Charging Coaching Rates per hour

Although coaches can charge what they like, it’s a case of “willing buyer, willing seller” — most of us feel ethically bound not to charge more until we are qualified and experienced. 

Credentialed Certified Life Coaches, Business Coaches, Enneagram Coaches, and all coaching styles feel free to charge higher per-hour rates once they have earned their certification. 

Client Attracting Power

A growing number of clients actively look for ICF Credentialed Coaches, hoping to find PCC and MCC Coaches that are a fit. 

Just remember that not all certification programs, even ICF ones, include marketing and coach practice building skills. 

Does certification give you everything you need?

Often no.

Even with certification, you still need to learn to build a business.

That’s why our InnerLifeSkills Master Coach Entrepreneur Program includes business building and marketing. 

How to get a Life Coach Certificate?

#1 CLARIFY your understanding of what coaching is

Before you start your journey, ask yourself:

  • Do I understand what coaching is and isn’t?
  • Can I see myself as a professional coach with an international coaching business?

Learn more about what pure and blended coaching is and how certified life coaching differs from therapy, mentoring, training, consulting and athletic coaching.

Consider test-driving coaching before committing to a full ACTP accredited life coaching certification program, with a free coaching course or a 101 Foundation Skills Course.

How to get Life Coach Certification

#2 CERTIFY with an ACTP accredited program

Ready to get certification? Then we cannot emphasize how important it is to look for ICF ACTP programs. With an ACTP Accredited Coach Training Program, you will have the skills, competencies and Performance Evaluation to validate that you can coach at professional gold standards.

Search the ICF website; you’ll find ILS Master Coach, our ACTP program listed there.

#3 CREDENTIAL with the ICF as ACC or PCC

With an ACTP qualification in your hands, you might want to work towards your ICF ACC, PCC or MCC credential. You would need to start with ACC or PCC; MCC can only be attained after PCC.

Quality Life Coach Certification builds your credibility, client-attracting power, confidence and competencies so you can serve at the highest.

How long does Life Coach Certification take?

Duration

This infographic PDF download includes a guide to online life coach certification programs duration and the criteria needed as of 2020-2021 to apply to the ICF for their recognized and respected 3 credentialing levels.

Which Life Coach Certification is best?

Which certification course is best

All ICF ACTP programs have been tested and vetted for aligning with the highest global standards.

You can usually find the best Life Coach Certification Programs among ICF ACTP accredited courses.

 

Beyond ACTP, we suggest you consider these 2 factors:

  • Coaching Toolbox – The size and uniqueness of your coaching toolbox (many ACTP toolboxes are similar, so look for what else you are given, what unique processes you will learn. Most of our toolbox is unique to InnerLifeSkills.
  • Business Building – Many certification courses only lightly cover marketing and business building, which is why we offer a full 1 year mentorship to build your coaching business.