Life Coaching’s Ugly Debate: To Certify or Not Certify?

We all benefit when life coaching is seen as a respected, valuable profession. Just like we all hurt when a client is disappointed or disillusioned by poor coaching.

Photo: Alexis Pierce
Photo: Alexis Pierce, Award-winning strategist; Source: Courtesy Photo

I recently read an article in YFS Magazine, entitled Will The Real Life Coach Please Stand Up?, by a businesswoman, I both know and admire. The article was essentially slamming uncertified life coaches.

As an uncertified coach myself, I’m always eager to learn from certified coaches and hear what they’ve gained from certification training. But instead of coherently outlining why training and certification are invaluable for life coaches, her argument was unclear and resorted to name-calling and unsupported assumptions.

In fact, the piece read more like a jealous bridesmaid backhandedly sharing how “happy” she is for the bride than a strong call for more integrity in coaching. Which is frustrating, because we need honest dialogue about standards and expectations in the life coaching industry.


Is The Blame Game Good Business?

We all benefit when life coaching is seen as a respected, valuable profession. Just like we all hurt when a client is disappointed or disillusioned by poor coaching.

But throwing stones between the “certified” and “uncertified” camps isn’t a viable strategy to strengthen the field of life coaching. (Especially when the thrower sells a non-certifying coach training program and may be motivated by personal gain).


Photo: © Svyatoslav Lypynskyy, YFS Magazine
Photo: © Svyatoslav Lypynskyy, YFS Magazine

We need leaders who are willing to talk about substance and provide clear, tangible examples of professionalism and good practices. My aim is to spark a true conversation that will move the field forward without blaming or shaming those who are invested in the outcome.


Debunking Assumptions About Life Coaching Certification

As a strategist, I believe it’s important to start at the beginning – by highlighting a few unspoken assumptions so that we can explore what’s really true and what’s mere opinion.


Assumption 1: Certification equals excellence.

The main underlying assumption by some life coaches is this: if you’re a certified coach, you will be a good life coach. 

As someone who’s hired a dozen coaches (of all types and training over the past three years) I can say first hand that’s not true.

Recently, I stopped working with a certified life coach because the “process” she guided me through felt unprofessional and disorganized. She had years of coach-specific training, but that didn’t translate to a good experience or the results I desired.


Assumption 2: Uncertified coaches are “ill-qualified” to coach.

A second assumption implied by some life coaches is that if you’re not certified by a regulatory body, then you are unqualified to be a life coach.

Personally, I’ve worked with amazing coaches who are uncertified, but have invested in intensive training; specifically focused on improving their coaching skills. They’ve taught me lasting skills that improved my life, despite their lack of formal certification.

Assuming a coach is qualified, based on certification alone, dangerously limits the future of the profession and advancement of the field.

For example, I’ve spent years honing a unique system that I use with clients. It’s based on a framework I helped develop as a high-level strategist in the U.S. government and it has extensive research to back it up. More importantly, it works far better than any method I’ve come across to help people gain clarity, move forward, and succeed. Not to mention, it’s a teachable method so clients can use it again and again throughout their lives without the need for additional coaching.

But this type of ingenuity would be lost if everyone had to pursue formal certification in order to coach. We’d lose the potential for innovation and growth in exchange for false assurance that we all know how it “should” be done.


Assumption 3: A regulatory body would fix the problem of bad coaching.

All coaches suffer when a coach underwhelms a client. It’s a sad truth. Trust is broken, comparisons are made, and suspicion enters the hiring equation. But it’s unrealistic to assume that if every coach was certified by a regulatory body, then there would no longer be bad coaches.

Regulatory organizations set standards and invite you to fulfill minimum requirements, but they don’t grade ongoing performance or get involved in day-to-day professional activities. They can penalize egregiously bad coaches and remove accreditation, but weeding out a few weak links doesn’t make others inherently better.

Plus, coaches come from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives. There’s no guarantee the “right” perspective would be enforced. Meaning the potential for bad coaches would still exist because the label itself is based on a subjective opinion.


Regardless of if you’re a certified or uncertified life coach, you can improve the perception of coaching across the board by taking responsibility for the message you share as a leader in the field.

Take the time to uncover the assumptions behind in your beliefs and opinions, so that what you choose to share publicly truly reflects the wisdom and insight you have to offer. When you teach from a place of empowered encouragement, you strengthen us all.


This article has been edited and condensed.

Alexis Pierce is a strategist, coach, and yogi. She helps you figure out what you want, plan to get it, then become the person you need to be to live it – in business and life. You can find her on MindBodyGreen, The Huffington Post, Lucky Bitch, Today’s CNY Woman, ABC Cayuga, and referenced on Success.com. Join her on the path to success and inner freedom at AlexisPierce.com. Connect with @thefreethebrave on Twitter.


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