That someone is asking this question indicates that there is a doubt about coaching being a true profession. Nobody asks whether medicine is a “real” profession. They might question whether a doctor was a qualified MD but people in 2017 take it as a given that medicine is a profession.
Before we explore this question any further, let’s consult an authority to determine the definition of the term “profession.” According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, the fourth definition of “profession” is:
A: a calling requiring specialised knowledge and often long and intensive academic preparation
B: a principal calling, vocation, or employment
C: the whole body of persons engaged in a calling.
“A calling requiring specialised knowledge and often long and intensive academic preparation.” Many coaches consider their work to be a calling. They have come to this work later in life and have felt spiritually or psychologically called to do this work.
When coaching first originated over twenty years ago, it drew on the work of others in Financial Planning, Human Resources/Career Planning and the Human Potential Movement. Today, there are many links between Positive Psychology, Spiritual Direction, etc. It is to coaching’s credit that it can honour and utilise the work of other disciplines without losing its own boundaries. Coaching respects the training required for all of those other disciplines. It catalyses the intelligence of these disciplines in the service of supporting our coaching clients.
What qualifies as “long and intensive academic preparation?” Originally, coach training had no academic connection at all. It started in a business setting. As coaching became more popular in the United States, various universities and colleges became interested in adding coaching courses to their curriculums. Today, it is not uncommon to find either a Certification Program or other form of coaching training in university settings. Yet, the training in most instances is not long. Students might experience it as intense, however, as the work is intimate and demands that coaches be aware of their own processes and their impact on their clients. Compared to other professions, the basic training is quick and additional training can last at least six months. Yet there is no coaching program that requires years of training such as doctoral or even masters level training.
Based upon this definition, we can’t yet completely call coaching a profession. Still, many people around the world are employed in either part or full-time coaching positions. They identify themselves as coaches and, as listed in Part C of this definition, are part of “the whole body of persons engaged in the calling of coaching.”
As a coach, I can’t help but be curious about the origin of this question. What occasioned this doubt in the authenticity of the coaching profession? Perhaps the questioner is unfamiliar with the widespread use and acceptance of coaching in business today. Perhaps they are only familiar with the jokes people made about life coaches twenty years ago when coaching first garnered the public’s attention.
Or, maybe the question is an indirect way of defending another profession’s turf. Psychologists, social workers, counselors and other mental health professionals have had to battle those who came before them to establish their rightful place in the world of psychological healing. Maybe another group of professionals feels the need to defend their turf now.
Perhaps, one or more coaches breached their oath and did not uphold their ethical responsibilities. In this case, the State would be justified in investigating our monitoring of our profession’s behaviour. Are the ICF and other coach associations doing their due diligence concerning monitoring their coaches, and providing oversight and training? It is likely that they are. In the service of our coaching clients and of its coaches, the ICF is committed to having all of their members follow its high ethical standards.
What does professionalism represent to the person asking the question? Do they want to make sure that they will be safe while working with a coach? Do they want to insure that they are getting what they signed up for rather than psychotherapy or consultation? Or perhaps they want coaching because it seems to be a good thing but it also seems hard to distinguish it from things your friends might say when discussing your problems with them.
As someone who has been doing this work for over twenty years, I can honestly say that coaching doesn’t completely fit the definition of “profession” that Merriam–Webster offers us. No doubt many coaches will find this conclusion controversial. However, I do know that the majority of coaches who are trained in Certified Training programs and who are dedicated to providing excellent service to their clients, act professionally. These coaches maintain high ethical standards. They are committed to their own ongoing education to increase their knowledge and to practice their coaching skills. These coaches have a wealth of curiosity and practice an experimental mindset, always looking for the powerful possibilities in their clients’ circumstances. They attend conferences in order to share with and train other coaches to maintain the high standards worthy of a profession.
Coaching is a multidisciplinary profession. It spans the techniques of various professions. Therefore, it allows its practitioners to work with people in many different settings with many different needs. There is not one theoretical base or experimental model that ties all of coaching together. There are, however, common beliefs that all coaches share. People have the creativity and resources within them to visualise and strategise exactly what they need in most situations. A coach’s job is to listen deeply, ask questions, co-create successful strategies and hold their clients to succeeding at their goals.
Coaching may be a relatively new idea. But, it stems from an old human passion to help people live the lives of their dreams. Coaches are also experts in successfully navigating change. In these days of tumult, uncertainty, and violent planetary change, it is a worthy profession of and belief in possibility, hope and evolution.