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Ethics in Life Coaching

Near the end of my life coaching course with Life Purpose Institute, while studying for the certification exam, I came across a section in our manual that discusses the board certified coach code of ethics as put forth by the Center for Credentialing & Education.

As I studied the section, it occurred to me that although coaches need to abide by ethical and legal standards, coaching clients, and prospective clients also have a right to be aware of these coaching ethics, since this piece could serve as one of the guidelines for them in choosing a coach.

In life coaching, as in any profession, it is critical to work with clients from a place of integrity. If client issues arise that the coach is not qualified to work with, they are supposed to refer the client to an appropriate professional and remain within the scope of their coaching practice. Benefits-of-Life-Coaching

Life coaches are obliged to truthfully inform clients of their credentials and experience without overstepping their boundaries or advising a client in any area in which they are not trained and legally qualified.

Coaches by definition do not give advice to their clients. They partner with their clients and collaborate with them by offering strategies to help them break through blocks and to reach their goals.

Coaches are facilitators but the client is the one responsible for determining what their goals are, and for following (with the coach’s support and use of professional coaching tools) their agreed upon action steps to reach those goals. Coaches cannot and should not make promises or guarantee results to clients or potential clients.

From the outset, clients should be clear about what they can expect regarding responsibilities, results, confidentiality, and financial agreements. This is generally done through the use of a written client agreement signed by the both coach and client.

If a client asks a coach for a professional referral to a third party, the coach is supposed to disclose to the client, any commission or compensation they receive from making the referral. Coaches are supposed to maintain good client records which are to be kept and kept confidential regarding the content of the coaching sessions.

Though client goals can change, the coach should not continue to work with a client who is not progressing under their guidance. Coaches are supposed to avoid pushing their own agendas on the client. Competent coaches are trained and certified professionals but they are not therapists or gurus and must not misrepresent themselves or the coaching profession.

Coaches should receive training through a reputable, accredited coaching organization to learn the particular skill set that coaches use to best serve their clients’ needs and they must not allow their own biases to affect their work with clients.

If you choose to work with a life coach to help you move through a life transition of any kind, or a spiritual life coach to learn spiritual tools which you can then apply to your daily life, such as connecting with your own intuition and using it to live your life more intentionally, the most important thing is to find a coach with whom you feel a comfortable rapport, someone with whom you feel invited to work in a focused and sacred space, and someone trained and qualified to coach you in the area you choose.

That said, information on coaching ethics provides added insight into the coaching profession, and what you as a client can expect when hiring a professional coach.

30 Responses to Ethics in Life Coaching

  • Larry Lewis says:

    Congratulations on taking such a wonderful step on your life journey by becoming a coach. The very same decision changed my life, and now I have the honour of coaching others on what I call their life reinvention. It is important to share with your client your code of ethics and your standard practices, because the relationship has to begin with total transparency, both partners knowing exactly the route your path together will take you on.

    • I couldn’t agree with you more, Larry Lewis. Trust and integrity are created between client and coach when there is transparency and a bond of sacred space between them.

  • Ilaria says:

    Hi Michele, I didn’t know there were some standards for life coaches. I think it’s a very good thing that will help your sector to improve service quality! I don’t know if here in Italy there is any code.

  • Jeri says:

    I wasn’t aware there were standards for life coaches either, but of course it makes complete sense and is something I will keep in mind when I am ready to seek more coaching in the next phase of my career when the time comes.

  • Carl says:

    Good to know there’s a code for Life Coaches. Responsibility should fall on both parties, like in all fields. Good to know there’s some awareness of that.

  • Bindu says:

    Wow!, I didn’t know there was a certification process for being a coach. do anybody know the Miracle coach Joe Vitale’s credentials?

  • I’m glad that there is certification for life coaches and a code of ethics. Anyone who hires a coach should be sure they are certified. A lot of people are hanging their shingles as life coaches when they have absolutely no training. They probably can’t do much to help a client and could actually hurt them with bad advice.

  • Pamela Heady says:

    Great information. Making the decision to hire a life coach is a very personal choice. Aside from integrity and professionalism, I agree that rapport would be the most important factor in choosing a coach as you so stated at the end. Without that, you have a less than productive situation and what’s the point in that?

    • For coaching to be effective, coaches establish sacred space with their clients. This way, the client knows and feels they are truly being heard. Without this type of partnering, coaching does not and can not occur.

  • Donna Janke says:

    You’re right. Clients should know this to help them understand what to expect from a coach and how to avoid those who are less than ethical.

  • Mina Joshi says:

    Thank you for sharing this Post. I have often thought of talking to a spirtual life coach but never had the courage to trust one.

    • Hi Mina, I offer a complimentary session as do most coaches. This is important because it gives you the chance to see if you get a good feeling about partnering with a particular coach. It also gives the coach a chance to feel out whether the client would be a good fit for them or to possibly refer them elsewhere. I am currently working with clients via Skype and over the telephone. Please drop me a line at if you are interested in discussing this further or scheduling a complimentary session.

  • Catarina says:

    Ethics is obviously fundamental when it comes to all kinds of coaching. Why would anyone use a coach that doesn’t keep what they hear confidential? Trust is fundamental when it comes to such relationships.

  • Hi Michele,
    Everything rises and falls on leadership, and as you’ve inferred, integrity is crucial to the coaching-client relationship. Without ethics, who could trust what they share in confidence?

    Kind Regards,

  • Coaching is becoming a more regulated profession. I loved this post because it really gives potential clients an outline of what they need to know before selecting a coach and embarking upon a process that can be both motivating and life changing. Thanks for your enlightening and empowering post.

    • Yes, the profession has become more regulated over time and this is important for the client which is why I feel clients should know about the coaching code of ethics. Thank you for your commemt, Teresa.

  • Carolyn Field says:

    Hi Michele, great post! I found that coaching others lead me to become aware of my own limitations – in a good way. It is a reciprocal relationship I think, learning about myself through helping others learn about themselves.

  • Beth Niebuhr says:

    When I was a flight instructor, I always assumed that if a student wasn’t progressing well that it might be my fault and suggested another instructor. It usually wasn’t true but I wanted to give the person another option. Kind of the same thing. It’s good to know about this.

  • maxwell ivey says:

    Hi Michele; Thanks for sharing the details of a professional coach’s code of ethics. It not only shows that you take your commitment to being an ethical professional seriously, but that you want to help those who cannot hire you, to find someone they will be able to trust. great work, Max

    • Thanks Max. Along with my classmates, the tools we’ve learned to use as coaches are so powerful that as a student, I had a good number of pro bono clients who volunteered to be coached multiple times, in fact, we all did. That said, it doesn’t cost much to invest in yourself over 6 or 12 weeks for the value coaches bring to a person’s life. Hiring me or any trained coach should not be a problem. Coaches also receive coaching and I too have received immense insight and benefit as a result of being coached by others with this skill set and the tools that align with it.

  • As with any relationship that involves confidentiality, it is good for life coaches to abide by some basic rules. I have a life coach and she is very ethical and I trust her implicitly. She must follow the rules you outline above. Good information to know for people who are new to the life coaching business – as a client.

  • Susan Cooper says:

    A past company I was at, worked with life coaches for the Leadership Team. I didn’t know there was a board certified coach code of ethics, but it does make sense. Thanks for making us aware of it.

  • It stands to reason, though I really didn’t know that there were written standards for life coaches. It’s good to know about the ICF!

    • Yes, Jacquie, all coaches are aware of the ICF and other credentialed certified coaching programs recognized by the ICF but obviously not all clients are, which is why I wrote the article.

  • Tim says:

    That’s good to know Michele as I never really knew what boundaries existed in this field. It is good to hear that coaches like you abide by the ethics laid out for your profession as I am sure it would be easy enough to mis-guide someone who is vulnerable.

    • It is easy to misguide someone in the coaching field as many people are still unaware of what coaches do and the type of training and education the field entails. Thankfully, the ICF holds coaches accountable to their code of ethics and coaches carry professional liability insurance as well.

  • Eve Koivula says:

    With respect we go a long way: respect your client, and yourself, too.
    That’s how I see it.

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