Navigating the coaching credentials minefield…

Published by matt on

22 April 2016

The whole topic of coaching qualification, accreditation and professional membership can be a hugely complex and confusing area, which I will attempt to shed some light on in this post.  It’s also increasingly important, both for new coaches looking to establish themselves, as well as for old hands (like myself) who realise that with the professionalisation of our field, we need to prove our credentials, for example with HR departments who are becoming the gateways for executive coaching services in larger organisations (I will be interested to hear of your own experience around this too – please add any comments below).

I must declare an obvious interest here – we have set up our PG Certificate in Leadership Coaching base upon a clear viewpoint about the best way to tackle this.  So in part this post is an explanation of the choices we have made and a clarification for whom courses like ours are the best way to go.

The first question to ask is, as a professional coach, are you looking for training and development, or professional credentials, or both?  The two needs can be linked but can also be looked at separately.

If you are looking for professional training or development, you have a wide selection of providers and courses to consider, ranging from short introductory programmes (a few days) to Masters programmes (two or more years). I would suggest that the starting point for beginning or consolidating a career in coaching should be a certification programme.  The key distinction between all the certification programmes on offer is between those that are academically backed (with university validation) and those that are not. Basically anyone can run what they call a certificate programme, where they are effectively self-certificating (and many who do this are linked to the ICF coach certification scheme), but this is not the same as a post-graduate certificate programme (such as ours) which provides you with a valid and recognised academic qualification at an outcome. On her Cognitive Behavioural Coaching website, Gladeana McMahon also advises that you should chose a first level training course in coaching with a university accreditation attached, which will be looked at favourably in the future and also mean something beyond the coaching profession.

Alongside certification and qualification, there is the issue of accreditation with a recognised professional coaching body, such as ICF, AC, EMCC or APECS.  Some providers and courses are directly linked to the ICF, where you aim to tick off a certain number of training days and coaching hours in pursuit of higher levels of ICF certification, and it should be acknowledged that this is the most popular approach to coaching accreditation both in the UK and internationally.  AC (Association for Coaching) seems to be more flexible and doesn’t require your training to have taken place with a provider that they have validated, and I gather membership can be achieved quite quickly via an on-line submission (along with third party references, etc.)  APECS describes itself as ‘the top level professional body for executive coaching’, and until now has kept its membership relatively small (e.g. a few hundred) and therefore exclusive, primarily by making the application process quite lengthy, thorough and challenging. Their approach now seems to be broadening to encourage a wider membership with different entry levels.  One of the advantages of APECS is that they accredit you as a coach based upon an assessment of all your relevant experience, training and qualifications. Therefore, more experienced coaches who started practising before coaching courses were commonplace can draw upon relevant professional and psychological training which is not necessarily coach specific (for example my MSc in CASS).  They do want to see evidence that you have been practising for at least five years for full accredited executive coach status, and that you have part time experience for at least two years for entry level professional membership.  They have recently reviewed and redefined their three membership levels, broadly aligning these with recognised post-graduate level coaching courses at Certificate, Diploma and Masters levels.  As part of this, we (PCL) have set up a Fast-Track path to professional membership for the students of our PGCPLC programme, for which attendance is considered equivalent evidence for parts of the application.  We are now one of three providers with such Fast-Track arrangements (the others are Metanoia and Henley).

You may gather from this that we favour accreditation with APECS over other options for professional bodies (although you might want to join more than one).  This is certainly the case for those coaches wanting to practice within an organisational context, whether as external or internal coaches. From my own experience, as well as credibility, APECS offers engagement with a dynamic and mature professional community and I would recommend membership for anyone engaged in leadership coaching (and don’t be put off by the use of the narrow term Executive).  For life coaches who don’t expect to work in an organisational context, one of the other options may be more appropriate.

This brings us back to the issue of which training and development course is right for you, depending upon your needs and preferences.  Assuming you agree with the rationale of choosing a university backed qualification, these are then some of the questions you should think about:

Do you (want to) practice as a life coach or leadership coach or both?  

Are you starting out as a coach, or looking to consolidate, refresh, integrate your learning after years of practice? 

What are your learning and development needs? Are you building upon previous professional or psychological training and experience?  Do you want a novice oriented programme or one that assumes a basic level of development?   

Do you want a training that is psychologically based or one that is just skills and technique based?  What mix of theoretical, experiential and practical learning do you prefer?

What type of psychology are you draw to?  e.g. depth (and height) versus behavioural? Traditional psychoanalytic and psychodynamic versus humanistic, transpersonal or integrative? Recent developments in positive psychology or neuroscience?

Does it matter to you whether the training institute has a prestigious name?  Are you willing to pay a premium for this?

Do you want to start with a relatively short certificate programme (e.g. 6 months) or commit to a full diploma or masters course (e.g. 2-3 years)? You might want the option of taking a break after a certificate qualification, etc.

I will write another piece to explore these questions in more detail, but for now I will summarise the positioning of our PGCPLC programme:

The course is aimed at leadership coaches, but also gives you a foundation for life coaching.  We are more suited to experienced coaches and other professionals who are looking to develop another dimension to their work than absolute novices (although we start with basic skills and principles). The course seeks to balance theoretical, experiential and practical learning in a dynamic group context. Psychosynthesis is a depth and height psychology that integrates other approaches, in particular developmental psychology and systemic coaching. The certificate programme is designed to set you up to confidently practice as a leadership coach at an affordable cost, with options to continue studying towards a Masters qualification in the future.

That’s us in a nutshell.  Hope I have shed some light on this topic!

Best wishes



Leave a Reply

Avatar placeholder

Your email address will not be published.