Are there any life coaching regulations? The answer to this question is Yes and No.
While the industry is self-regulated, there are no government statutes which control it. There are really no life coaching legal requirements.
Firstly, let’s take a look at what a life coach is and what his or her type of work entails.
A life coach is, in most cases, a professionally trained person whose function it is to assist and empower other people. Coaches seek to help people rise above and beyond their current professional and personal situations. Their intervention can encompass helping you achieve a promotion at work, reaching a state of happiness at home or in a relationship, getting you to explore your abilities and achieving other goals and desires.
Using personal insight and methods that are steeped in psychological values or principles, life coaches set out to skill their clients in dealing with challenging situations and to circumvent emotional barriers which may be preventing them from reaching their goals.
The essence of life coaching is empowerment and objectivity.
Coaches don’t do anything for you; they empower you to do it yourself.
Many people gravitate towards life coaching in a very natural way – years of life experience having made them much wiser folk. For a number of people, it is a great second career. This career demands of the practitioner compassion (if not empathy), excellent listening skills and creative problem-solving.
Unlike licensed counsellors, psychologists or therapists, for life coaches there is no controlling body or regulations which require certification or an official licence. In South Africa, there is a non-statutory body which is recognised by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA).
Requirements to Be a Life Coach
What is required to be a life coach?
There are no specific or exact requirements necessary to become a life coach. Many new entrants into the field have previously had experience in the fields or counselling or mental health. A large majority of people got started working as life coaches because of their passion to assist others, by offering guidance or extending advice. People, who do become life coaches, often say that their motivation, for starting out, was friends and family members who used to approach them on many occasions for advice or assistance with their problems or difficulties.
Any person can become a life coach, regardless of educational qualification or age. Despite the pace of its growth, the industry is not really regulated (except for self-regulation) and there is currently no formal qualification required to practise as a life coach.
However, all life coaches should follow a few fundamental principles and guidelines.
- Objectivity: A coach must remain detached and objective, not allowing personal preferences to influence his or her advice in any way. Because all people and their perspectives (positions) are different, their coaching provided must be adapted to their specific needs and requirements.
- Empowerment: the coach must provide his client with the tools necessary to review their current situation and enable them to make the choices necessary to reach the goals they have set for themselves.
- Guidance: the coach is a guide, not an instructor. An instructor advises a person exactly what they need to do. A guide offers the support and tools someone requires to be able to do something for her- or himself. Because a life coach is not an instructor, but a guide, he or she will never tell you what you should do.
Certification for Life Coaches
Although there are, in essence, no life coaching regulations, certification lays down the experience a coach should have and universal standards that he or she should abide by. This framework lays down an acceptable behavioural code for coaches and does provide some recourse to consumers.
In South Africa, COMENSA (Coaches and Mentors of South Africa) is a professional umbrella association for providers of mentoring and coaching services and carries official SAQA (South African Qualifications Authority) recognition as a professional body. So, although it is a non-statutory body, its members (coaches) have to comply with its Code of Ethics and it provides users (clients) with some form of recourse, in terms of its ethics complaints procedure.
This professional association expects its members to subscribe to a set of values: Ethics; Professionalism; Integrity and Inclusivity.
Further, COMENSA, having previously recognised and registered training providers, now has a mandate of vetting them. Training providers are approved at three levels: Gold, Silver and Bronze.
Gold is bestowed on an Institution which meets the following requirements:
- Is accredited by South African Quality Council (SAQA) with a programme having no fewer than 5 credits (directly linked to mentoring or coaching);
- Training is aligned to COMENSA’s Behavioural Standards Framework which enables learners’ credentialing;
- it must have at least TWO COMENSA trained assessors, one of whom must be a COMENSA trained evaluator.
Silver status is awarded to institutions whose courses:
- are aligned with COMENSA’s Behavioural Standards Framework
- have two COMENSA trained assessors, with, at least, one being a COMENSA trained evaluator.
Institutions are awarded Bronze status when it provides:
- Continuous Professional Development of COMENSA members via workshops, programmes or resources.
Any provider of training must create a profile to be able to access COMENSA’s self-serve platform. This will enable them to submit applications to provide training.
Internationally, the International Coach Federation (ICF) – an officially recognised association of trained coaches - offers certification of life coaches. The Federation accredits programmes that provide coaching-specific training, independently provides certification and sets standards for coaches.
A coach who is certified will, no doubt, have the advantage over one who isn’t, as most clients would trust a certified to a far greater degree. An ICF certified programme guarantees that a life coach has successfully completed the following aspects of a training programme for coaches which is ICF-accredited:
- Mentoring coaching
- Coach skills training
- Session observation
- Ethics training
- Final examination
Many institutions claim to offer certification for life coaching, however ICF is one of the only legally recognised credentialing organisations.
The Association for Coaching (AC) is an international organisation with a footprint in over 80 countries. This is an independent not-for-profit professional organisation committed to promoting best coaching practice and cultivating the standards and awareness of coaching, around the world. The Association consists of providers and trainers of coaching, academic institutions, professional coaches, as well as coaching sponsors via large corporates.
The AC, because it is committed to “maintaining and promoting excellent practice in coaching and mentoring”, has crafted The Global Code of Ethics for Coaches, Mentors and Supervisors. This code sets excellence as a standard for all who are involved in the fields of coaching and mentoring. It sees inspiring and championing coaching excellence as its purpose and wishes to advance coaching as a profession and making an ongoing difference to society, organisations and individuals.
Let’s Consider the Credentials of a Life Coach
Anyone interested in coaching, would want to know what are the qualifications for a life coach. At an international level, a prospective candidate could aspire to one of the following coaching credentials:
- Associate Certified Coach: Achieved once a candidate has completed a minimum of 60 hours spent in training and 100 hours of coaching.
- Professional Certified Coach: This certification requires no less than 125 hours of training and 500 hours of coaching.
- Master Certified Coach: This highest credential places a requirement of 200 hours of training on a candidate, along with 2 500 hours of coaching experience.
The ICF certification also applies to coaches in fields other than Life Coaching.
How to Find a Life Coach
One life coach is not another life coach. Each individual is different as are their life experiences and levels of education and experience in the field. Also, although the industry is generally unregulated, there are some steps you can follow to ensure that you hook up with a terrific coach.
Word of mouth is regarded by many to be the best advertisement! If a friend has had a wonderful experience with a coach, start there.
Do some research and check for coaches have been certified by ICF or COMENSA. There are definitely some fantastic coaches who may not have any of these accreditations, but coaches are increasingly gravitating towards this form of accreditation, as this stamp of approval will have great benefits for them. There clients will seek them out before others, will believe them to be trustworthy and will also have a protocol to follow in the event of any dissatisfaction.
Choose only coaches who provide you with a written coaching agreement. This document will tell you what to expect and will, in all likelihood, point toward the code of ethics that the coach follows.
Look for a coach who is a member of a professional body which has an enforceable code of ethics. If your coach openly addresses this ethical code, it makes it easy for you to know the kind of behaviour to expect from your coach.
Identify coaches who have a good deal of training which is coaching specific. The majority of coaches have undergone coach training, including those who have been practising for many years. ICF qualified coaches may be good choice, as their requirement for training is 60 hours. However, their entry-level certificate requires 100 hours of coaching as a minimum.
What to Expect in a Life Coaching Session
A life coaching session will, generally, be between 45 to 60 minutes long. These sessions can occur face-to-face, via email or Skype, or over the phone. Some coaches even use instant messaging.
Your coach, through guided questions, will ascertain what you want to achieve, what area of your life you’d like to change and where you would like to be at the end of a particular period in time. You will ultimately be guided in the direction you wish to go. Your coach will never impose his or her ideas on you.
He or she is in partnership with you and will encourage you to bring changes that will positively impact on your life. Furthermore, your coach will provide you with feedback and support to enable you to focus on your goals and achieving your goals.
You Must Feel Comfortable With Your Coach
Finding a highly qualified coach is of no benefit if the two of you don’t get along.
One of the most important things in life coaching is having a rapport and, if you are in desperate need of assistance, then it will, arguably, play a more important role than qualifications. Your coaching sessions will amount to nought, if you’re not comfortable with your coach.
A good idea is to contact your coach before actually committing to a session. In this first contact, you can get to see what your coach is like and if you would like to commit to spend time and money on this particular individual.
Trust you gut – if it doesn’t feel right to you, do not commit! You must ensure that you feel at ease with someone with whom you’re going to share very personal information.
Life coaching can be a wonderful tool with which to fine tune your life, no matter your situation, so don’t let the lack of regulation scare you off! Imagine your future! Then, get out there and create it!