What Is A Coach

Over the past few years the field of coaching has exploded. The College of Executive Coaching (2009) states that coaching was initially confined to professional areas of executive and management. However, it has now expanded into areas of personal (life) coaching as well. According to the Certified Coaches Federation (CCF) (2009), the International Association of Coaching (IAC) (2007), and the International Coach Federation (ICF) (2005), most coaching institutions now concentrate on personal or life coaching; areas such as life planning; career development, achievement, and advancement; spirituality; relationships; health and fitness; creativity; financial; and parenting issues.

CCF (2009), IAC (2007), and ICF (2005) point out that coaching is a collaborative working partnership between coach and client where the coach aids the client in identifying, setting, and reaching goals, producing better results, acting more effectively with greater mental agility, and accomplishing more than was possible without the aid of a coach. In other words, the client hires the coach to help the client grow into what the client wants to become or to help the client get to where the client wants to go more easily.

It is expected that when a client hires a coach the client will become more committed; stay focused on achieving the goals established; be directive in creating a plan to overcome obstacles; better maintain individual momentum; set and achieve identifiable and meaningful goals; create a better future with a greater perception of success; more fully use their own natural strengths, and will strive for a higher quality of life. It appears all of the major coaching organizations ascribe to the notion that such an individual is a mentor, teacher, guide, motivator, challenger, crutch, supporter, and consultant–all rolled into one individual they call coach (CCF, 2009; IAC, 2007; ICF, 2005).

CCF (2009) clearly points out that coaching is not therapy, it does not involve a diagnosis, and it does not involve a therapeutic treatment plan. Coaching is not about what happened in the past. It does not provide a “cure” or relieve any mental or emotional distress or anxiety. While therapy by a licensed therapist may involve some aspects of coaching, coaching does not require any therapy training or therapeutic interventions (CCF, 2009).

However, coaching is not without its drawbacks. Coaching is not a licensed profession. This means there are no federal, state, or local laws or regulations governing what a coach can do or how they do it. Again, holding oneself out to be a coach does not require a license. There are no legally mandated education, training, or experience requirements. Unlike licensed mental health professionals, coaches are not mandated reporters (potential harm to self or others, child abuse, elder or dependent adult abuse). Unlike licensed mental health professionals, coaching provides no client-therapist relationship and therefore no confidentiality protections. Unlike licensed mental health professionals, there are no “standard of care” issues for coaches to follow. Coaching does not have a scope of practice, therefore there are no “within the scope of practice” issues. A coach simply relies on his or her own life experiences as their scope of practice (CCF, 2009; IAC, 2007; ICF, 2005).

Coaching is not a government-regulated occupation in any state and therefore there are no laws governing the business practices of coaching. While CCF (2009), IAC (2007), and ICF (2005), all show ethical codes on their web sites, there are no clearly stated consequences for breaching those ethical standards. And, any such consequences would be meaningless as anyone holding themself out to be a coach is not required to belong to or subscribe to any particular set of rules, regulations, ethics, or moral codes. On the other hand, breaching a rule, regulation, or ethical standard (such as breaking confidentiality or making a mandated report) is a major issue for licensed mental health professionals that can lead to the loss of their license (American Psychological Association, 2002; California Association of Marriage and Family Therapist, 2002, Parts 1 & 2; Corey, Corey, & Callahan, 2007).

The apparent dichotomy of requirements between a licensed mental health professional performing as a coach, verses an unlicensed private party acting as a coach, produces other dilemmas as well. Do the rules, regulations, and ethical requirements of a licensed mental health professional apply when they act in the capacity of a coach? Are licensed mental health professionals required to inform their potential coaching clients that there may be significant differences in terms of limitations, restrictions, requirements, and level of confidentiality in coaching that could otherwise be afforded them within a therapeutic relationship?

There does not appear to be any legal or regulatory history to help clarify the varying legal, moral, and ethical issues surrounding the business of coaching. As such, until coaching becomes a licensed or regulated enterprise, hiring a coach appears to be truly a “buyer beware” program. It is interesting to note that even with the ethical, moral, and legal concerns outlined here, it appears coaching is still a very popular and growing business.


American Psychological Association. (2002). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct. Retrieved June 9, 2009, from http://www.apa.org

California Association of Marriage and Family Therapist. (2002). Ethical Standards Part 1. Retrieved June 9, 2009, from http://www.camft.org

California Association of Marriage and Family Therapist. (2002). Ethical Standards Part 2.Retrieved June 9, 2009, from http://www.camft.org

College of Executive Coaching. (2009). Retrieved July 9, 2009, from


Certified Coaches Federation. (2009) Retrieved July 9, 2009, from http://wwwcertifiedcoachesfederation.com

Corey, G., Corey, M.S., & Callahan, P. (2007). Issues and ethics in the helping professions (7th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson*Brooks/Cole.

International Association of Coaching. (2007). IAC code of ethics. Retrieved June 9, 2009, from http://www.certifiedcoach.org

International Coach Federation. (2005). The ICF code of ethics. Retrieved June 9, 2009, from http://www.coachfederation.org