It's good to ask.
Updated: Mar 15
What are your coaching qualifications?
We all know due diligence on investments is smart. That most certainly includes deciding who you engage as your coach, whether you're exploring life, executive or leadership coaching.
CBC Marketplace’s undercover investigation on Life Coaching shines an important light highlighting the need to:
Understand the quality of a coach’s qualifications
Watch for the critical separation between therapy and coaching
The boundary between therapy and coaching is one of many critical standards and ethics emphasized in accredited coach training. I'll explain "accredited" below.
Coaching and Therapy
International Coaching Federation (ICF) "defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. The process of coaching often unlocks previously untapped sources of imagination, productivity and leadership.” 
In this definition, ICF does not distinguish between life, leadership or executive coaching.
Further: “Coaching focuses on visioning, success, the present and moving toward the future. Therapy emphasizes psychopathology, emotions and the past to understand the present, and it works more with developing skills for managing emotions or past issues than does coaching.” 
Understanding coaching qualifications
ICF and the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC Global) are established self-regulating bodies for consistency and quality of coaching and qualifications. Their memberships are growing significantly. They play a valuable role for coaches and clients alike. (For this article, I'll refer to ICF although also applicable for EMCC Global.)
ICF gives credentials to coaches and accredits training provider programs.
ICF credentialing is rigorously managed with clear ethics and standards. To be credentialed, a coach must complete an ICF accredited training certification, acquire coaching hours, pass a comprehensive exam, and invest in ongoing professional development. Most coaches invest significant time, effort and money in their credential certification and ongoing development.
For a training provider to say their offerings are accredited by ICF or EMCC, they too must prove they meet strict guidelines.
Coaches are typically life-long learners by passion, fascination and choice (as well as for our credentials). In addition to our credential certification, such as Executive or Life Coach, many of us have additional certifications. Certifications range from lengthy programs to short training sessions. Some are ICF accredited, some not. Either way, certifications can be valuable in adding to our capacity to serve you.
What might you ask a prospective coach?
I believe I speak for most coaches when I say we invite you to ask us: can you tell me about your coaching credentials? More specific questions if needed are:
Are you credentialed by the ICF?
Where did you get your coach training?
What is your experience in coaching?
Other good things to look for with a prospective coach:
There is opportunity to simply connect to explore fit, expectations and goals.
The coach prompts discussion for clarity on what coaching is or is not.
There is a no-pressure-feel to how things work.
Confidentiality is emphasized.
The coach is open and curious about you and what you seek from coaching.
There are no sweeping promises made to change your life or solve things for you.
The coach will not cross the boundary into therapy.
The coach can provide client testimonials. References may also be possible, depending upon client confidentiality waivers.
My take on the bottom line
What can be most important in your due diligence, is that a coach's core certification is accredited, meaning the coach is or can be credentialed by ICF. Note: An ICF coaching credential can come down to coaching hours accrued. If a coach is not yet there, and ICF accreditation is important to you, then verify their core certification is accredited (completed or in progress can be ok).
Connection between you and your coach = the deciding factor (for you both).
Start with but don't rely only on LinkedIn profiles, websites, client testimonials
Don't worry if there are no direct client references. Confidentiality is tricky
Do have a conversation!
These conversations may be called a chemistry call, mutual discovery, exploration.
So, what comes next?
You're happy with your due diligence and you've had your connection call.
I invite you to consider what now becomes most important are your answers to:
How do I feel about this person?
What am I feeling about embarking on a coaching journey together?
Want to know more about my credentials? Please just ask—I welcome a simple exploratory conversation and would love to learn more about you.
Further reading: This is an excellent article about what Executive Coaching is and is not, what to expect and how to know if a person is ready to work with a coach: https://bigthink.com/plus/executive-coaching/
Notes to think about:
Blended scenarios can be effective, where a client works on the past and present with their therapist while we coach on the present and future. Or, a client may be referred to therapy and return to coaching when ready.
Coaching can feel therapeutic, in the sense that it can feel good to stop everything for a moment and give yourself that dedicated safe space for thinking things through with an objective person you trust. Both coaching and Therapy are a form of being #seenheardandunderstood. That said, coaching is not, nor should it ever be considered, therapeutic by definition—therapy is a treatment intended to heal or relieve a disorder.
There are non-credentialed coaches who are excellent. I know some well and learn a lot from them! Some have been coaching since before ICF took off. Their approach may (or may not) be a little different, maybe a mentor-coach hybrid for instance. They are typically well established—for good reason—and often come through referrals you trust. Still ask about their qualifications and have a connection conversation, but you do not need to dismiss them just because they are not ICF credentialed.
Author: Toni Crow, CEC PCC PQC, Toni Crow Leadership Coaching