What Certification Do You Need to Be a Life Coach?

May 25, 2020
Life Coaching

If you’re new to the field of life coaching, you might feel overwhelmed with the zillions of specialized terms that seem to litter the field. There’s so much insider terminology to wade through from the moment you begin your research.

Certification. Accreditation. Credentialing. Should you get all these? None? Do they matter? Which do you actually need to become a successful life coach? 

Each of these terms has its own definition. As a professional coach (or someone who wants to BE a professional coach), it’s important that you understand what they mean, and which may be required for your practice.

When it comes to presenting yourself and your business, it’s also vital to your own credibility that you know industry standards and terms. Imagine an architect mislabeling themselves as an “interior designer” because they didn't recognize the distinctions within their own field. There’s a major disconnect! 

Understanding the Differences


A certificate is awarded when you complete an educational training or program and attain knowledge in a specific field or area.

Certification - be it life coaching or other fields - most often means “authorized provider.” Individuals, agencies, programs, and organizations acquire certifications to demonstrate they've been credentialed through an outside process in order to provide specific services. 

In the field of life coaching, pursuing a certification allows you to yourself a “certified life coach” rather than simply going by “life coach” as a business title. To be clear: you cannot call yourself certified if you’re not. This is akin to getting a college degree - you can’t say you’re a licensed nurse if you earned a nursing degree but don’t have a license to practice. 

With life coaching, there's no single organization that certifies all coaches. It's offered by the organization you train with, and each has their own standards. If you graduate from JRNI Coaching, then you’re “certified” by our organization as a life coach -- we vouch that you completed your training and met our graduation requirements.

How to get certified as a life coach

Just like enrolling in college will lead toward a degree, you'll need to enroll in a coaching program to begin the process. There are a variety of programs you can choose from. They all have different methods of teaching, and vary in terms of duration as well. Some require in-person meetings, others are offered fully online.
It’s a good idea to find a program that is ICF-accredited and taught by expert instructors. The ICF or International Coach Federation is an organization that sets standards to ensure that all the coaching programs they accredit meet a high level of quality in order to train exceptional coaches. 

Once you complete your training and all graduation requirements, you’re now a certified life coach and ready to begin building your coaching business.


A credential is awarded when you complete an advanced, third party examination to prove your level of knowledge in a certain field.

Credentials are awarded to life coaches by outside organizations and agencies (like the ICF) once they have completed training, paid an additional fee to the outside credentialing organization, and undergone rigorous testing. 

Having credentials means you’ve undergone an outside professional review to demonstrate your capabilities as a coach. You're qualified not just because you say you are, but because you underwent formal education through a reputable program, earned a certificate for it, and undertook the additional testing required to attain the credential.

How to get your coaching credential

Once you get trained and certified by a life coaching program, then you’re ready to seek your credential. Most credentialing bodies such as the ICF have prerequisites, so pay attention to these as you select a training program to ensure it includes what you'll need. These include getting your coaching certificate from an “accredited” coach training program, having a certain number of coaching hours, and passing the Coach Knowledge Assessment exam with flying colors. 


Another term you have likely come across is accreditation. Programs and institutions get an accreditation, not individuals. For instance, when we say JRNI is an ICF-accredited program it means that our curriculum has been quality checked by the International Coach Federation and has met their high standards. When enrolling in a coaching program, find out if it is accredited in some way. Doing so protects your investment by adding another layer of security in terms of quality education and training.

How to find an accredited program

You can search the ICF website to see if a coaching program that you're interested in is accredited or not. If a coach training program is not accredited it's always worthwhile to ask before discounting it -- they may have a good reason.

At JRNI Coaching, our program is fully ICF accredited. We also offer a pathway for coaches to gain their life coach certification followed by the ICF Associate Certified Coach credential. 

Do I Need Certification or Credentialing?

If you want to be your most effective as a coach, then you'll want to get your certification. Anyone can say they're a life coach, but it's not something we're actually born knowing how to do well. A strong coach training program will provide frameworks, interventions, methodologies, and an introduction to a variety of coaching techniques. You'll also get ample peer coaching opportunities to put what you're learning into practice.

Certification is the first step in your coaching journey, and from there, you can consider credentialing as a possible next step.

This is a controversial stance, but we firmly believe that NOT EVERY COACH NEEDS CREDENTIALING! Some coaches want to work with executives or more business oriented coaching, and in that world it’s particularly useful to have your ICF credential. Credentials opens additional doors for corporate work, and is recognized in many organizations as the gold standard for coaching. As more coaches enter the workforce, credentialing may be a good way to stand out as well.

However, if you are becoming a coach to level up your existing skills and work with those outside the corporate sector, you may not need to go to the extra time and expense of earning the ICF credential as you're starting out. It’s all about deciding what works best for you and your coaching practice.

Ready to Get Started?

Launch your coaching practice right! Check out JRNI Life Coach Training - a program that's every bit as unique as you are. Grounded in science, our ICF accredited program features authentic instructors, a robust curriculum, business instruction to prepare you for liftoff as an entrepreneur, and fellow students dedicated to becoming a collective force for good.

JRNI Coaching: Vibrant community. Evidence-based life coach training. Lifetime support.

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