What’s The Difference Between Coach Certification, Accreditation, and Credentialing?

May 25, 2020
Life Coaching

If you’re new to the field of life coaching, you might feel overwhelmed with all the zillions of specialized terms that seem to litter the field. There’s so many terminologies you’ll come across the moment you begin your research. There’s certification and accreditation and credentialing. Should you get all these? Do they matter? Which do you need to become a successful life coach? 

Each of these terms has its own definition and while definitions overlap, as a professional coach (or someone who wants to BE a professional coach), it’s important that you understand the similarities and differences. When presenting yourself and your business, it’s vital to do it in the right way. Imagine an architect showcasing his business but he labels himself as “interior designer” instead of architect. 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, in most cases - be it life coaching or other fields - often means “authorized provider.” When you are certified, it means you are authorized to provide certain services. Individuals, agencies, programs and organizations can acquire certifications so they can be authorized to provide services they wish to offer. 

In the world of life coaching, there is an option to acquire certification so you can call yourself “certified life coach” rather than simply going by “life coach” as a business title. But you cannot call yourself certified, if you’re not. This is akin to getting a college degree - you can’t just say you’re a licensed nurse if you earned a nursing degree but don’t have a license to practice. 

With life coaching, getting certified, or acquiring a certification has a process. 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 is the way to obtain a college degree, getting certified as a life coach also requires you to enroll in a coach training program and complete the program and meet the graduation requirements. There are a variety of programs you can choose from and they all have different methods of teaching and they vary in terms of duration as well. Some require in-person meetings, others are fully online.

It’s a good idea to find a program that is ICF-accredited and taught by high-level instructors. The ICF or International Coach Federation is an organization that sets standards to make sure programs that they accredit are quality programs that will train exceptional coaches. 

Once you complete your training and all graduation requirements, you’re now a certified life coach and ready to begin the process of 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 coaches by outside organizations and agencies (like the ICF) once they have completed coach training, paid an additional fee to the outside credentialing organization and undergone rigorous testing. 

Having credentials means you’ve been deemed capable of providing the services you offer not just because you say you are, but because you underwent rigorous education through a program, earned a certificate for it, and undertook the additional testing required to attain the credential.

Since the ICF has standardized levels for each of their credentials, if you obtain a certain level of credential you can be sure that everyone else who has that same credential has met the same rigorous standards as you!

How to get your coaching credential

Once you get certified by completing a life coaching program, then you’re ready to seek your credential. Most credentialing bodies such as the ICF have prerequisites such as 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 will most probably come across when doing your life coaching research is accreditation. Programs and institutions get the accreditation, not the individual themself. For instance, an ICF-accredited program means such a program has been checked for quality by the International Coach Federation and has met their high standards. Thus, when enrolling in a coaching program, be sure that it is accredited in some way if that is important to you, as it adds another layer of security in terms of quality education and training.

How to find an accredited program

You can always search the ICF website to see if a potential coaching program is accredited or not. You can also ask them directly if they are accredited and by which organizations. If a coach training program is not accredited -- they may have a good reason,

At JRNI Coaching, we are fully ICF accredited as a program, and we also offer a pathway for coaches to gain their life coach certification and then their ICF ACC credential. 

Do I Need Coaching Certification or Credentialing?

If you want to be an ethical coach, then you need certification through an official program at the very least to become a life coach. A good coach training program can provide frameworks, interventions, methodologies, introduce you to a variety of coaching techniques and give you a plethora of peer coaching opportunities as well. 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 NOT EVERY COACH NEEDS CREDENTIALING! Some coaches want to work with executives or more business oriented coaching, and in that world it’s useful to have your ICF credential -- it also opens the doors for more corporate work, and is recognizable in many organizations as the gold standard of 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 realm, you may not need credentialing. It’s all about deciding what works best for you and your coaching practice -- and that’s at the core of everything we do here at JRNI Coaching.


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