What does it matter if I get a ICF Professional Coaching Credential? Is it really necessary?

Certain questions come up repeatedly in conversations with coaches, prospective coaches, and people considering if they want to invest their credentials. One that I often hear is, “What does it matter if I get a Professional Coaching Credential?” The runner up, “Is getting your ICF Credentials worth it?” I have a couple of thoughts about this, starting with ‘it all depends.’ So, let’s look around this elephant and begin with a question for you to explore.

What Are Your Goals as a Coach?

I think that this is the first question to explore and will inform you as to if getting a credential is of value. Do your clients expect a certification? If yes, then that is something to notice. If no, then that is going to be part of your equation.

Another element of this question is around options and opportunities. What choices do you want to pave the way for? With a credential, certain opportunities do show up. That corporate gig that requires the stamp of certification. That powerhouse client who wants to know that their coach is educated and capable. Without the coaching credential, people may look past you as an option for coaching. Not because you aren’t a fantastic coach, but because you don’t make their shortlist.

A Credential May Demonstrate a Level of Professionalism.

Coaching is a huge word and an even bigger industry. There are many people who call themselves coaches, yet they are demonstrating counseling, mentoring, and consulting. To be sure there is an important place for each of these modalities, yet they are not coaching. Coaching is a very specific skill set that shifts good conversations into conversations that support clients to manifest goals. This speaks to what it even means to be a professional coach.

Coaching works with a framework to draw from the client what is below the waterline. I am sure you have seen the Iceberg Model. We all know that what we see above the waterline are Actions and Results. Many modalities drive straight towards these actions and results, often to the exclusion of what is below the waterline, causing or blocking the actions, to begin with. You don’t need a credential to have this conversation, but you do need training, a credential communicates you’re a professional coach with training.


You hire a consultant; they make an assessment of all the things that need to shift or change for you to meet your stated goal. That’s great. Yet, without understanding the more profound issues below the waterline, those changes rarely stick. A well-trained coach can listen to what you say your goals are, then get curious with you about what patterns, biases, and beliefs might be slowing down your progress in meeting your goal.

I was just having a conversation this morning with a group of coaches about team coaching. One coach asked what others thought about communication as the primary problem in teams. The idea was that the coach needs to come in and teach the team how to have healthy conversations. Modeling healthy discussions, as well as teaching them strategies for how to have healthy discussions. Ok, that’s cool, not coaching, but cool. Yet, in all the years of work that I have done with groups and people within systems, the foundation of trust and safety was usually wobbly in situations where people didn’t seem to be communicating well. I can throw a lot of tools at your team, or family, or you, and if fundamentally below the waterline, psychological safety is missing, then all the tools in the world will not work.

Here are a couple of questions you might ask yourself:

  • What type of coaching do you choose to do?
  • How do you want to differentiate yourself from the cacophony of voices, all calling themselves a coach?

Are Credentials Worth it?

No one can tell you if getting a credential will be useful to your coaching business or practice. That is a question that you have to discover for yourself. And, truth be told, there are some excellent coaches who don’t have a credential. Maybe you are one of them.

For me, there is a bias about uplifting the profession. That said, I come from a Clinical/Therapy background, and I believe that the credential is a short cut explanation that communicates that I have invested in my own development. That I have put my money where my mouth is, so to speak. 

And my experience is that as a result of my continued education and credentials, I have had unexpected doors open that wouldn’t have even been in front of me without one. I have had clients who come specifically to me, not just for my winning style and personality, but because they feel safe that I am a professional. They recognize I have the training to hold the space of curiosity “below the waterline” in a conversation. And with that more in-depth discussion, I will continually support them to connect their developing awareness to their goals.

I can’t speak for you, but I work exclusively with super smart people who don’t actually need me to tell them what they need to do next. They all know how to Google information, read books, and listen to podcasts; they are fully capable of finding tools. What they need is someone, who they trust deeply, who has no dog in the race of their decisions. They desperately want a partner who can listen from outside their situation and help them get curious about the patterns, the negative internal narratives, and challenge them to explore where they would prefer to avoid. You know, all that stuff that keeps them from smoothly moving forward on their own.

Embodies a Coaching Mindset

The new ICF Core Competency 2: Embodies A Coaching Mindset.

  • Acknowledges that clients are responsible for their own choices
  • Engages in ongoing learning and development as a coach
  • Develops an ongoing reflective practice to enhance one’s coaching
  • Remains aware of and open to the influence of context and culture on self and others
  • Uses awareness of self and one’s intuition to benefit clients
  • Develops and maintains the ability to regulate one’s emotions
  • Mentally and emotionally prepares for sessions
  • Seeks help from outside sources when necessary

This mindset speaks to continued growth as a coach, to hold my clients as a whole, resourceful, capable, and creative human being. That is a whole lot easier said than done. So, how am I continuing to be reflective and in a growth mindset about my own coaching? This is fundamental to the earlier questions. It isn’t only about a credential for me; it is about accountability. It’s about my having a professional practice and ethical standards that align to do the work that I do and the deep work that I encourage others to do when we coach together.

You Are Always at Choice.

I am not saying that you need a credential, though, as mentioned, some organizations require an ICF credential to demonstrate training. My framework is that I hold the space of self-reflection and professionalism. I have an ethical framework, and I understand the value that the coaching container the competencies provide. I feel that my credential says that I invest in my growth, develop my mastery, want to deliver my best to my clients, demonstrate my professionalism, and commit to my own continuing growth as a coach.

So, all that said, “What does it matter to you about getting a professional coaching credential?” I am very curious.


Lyssa deHart, LICSW, MCC, author of StoryJacking: Change Your Dialogue, Transform Your Life and the Reflective Coach, and the new book, Light Up: The Science of Coaching with Metaphors. Lyssa is a Confidence Coach, Certified Mentor Coach, Coaching Super-Vision Partner, ICF PCC Assessor, and coaching educator. Using her understanding of the ICF Core Competencies and her knowledge of Neuroscience, Lyssa works with Professional Coaches to expand the capacity to partner with their clients through how they show up and hold the space for those with whom they work.

Lyssa is the creator of the Power of Metaphor Certification Program. Giving coaches new ways to tune their ears to hear the powerful metaphors their clients bring forward and discovering how to leverage the important metaphors to create stronger agreements, build trust and safety, allow the client to lead, and ultimately evoke powerful embodied awareness.

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