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  • Chris Budde-Petch

Ethics in Coaching

Updated: May 28, 2019

Professional Standards

Life coaching is a self-regulated, international industry. It is essential that potential clients can have confidence in the standard of coaching provided. To allow the public such confidence, a number of professional coaching associations have developed. These associations established themselves to develop, implement and enforce professional standards for coaching. There are a number of associations worldwide, offering training, best practices, independent credentialing of coaches and accreditation of courses. The best known and most independent and credible of the life coaching industry associations, ICF, was founded in 1995 by Thomas Leonard. Regionally, associations are based in UK and EU. These bodies also offer a list of qualified coaches for mentoring or supervision.


Central to the standards of behaviour and practice by professional coaches is the adherence to ethical guidelines. The ICF has developed a Code of Ethics, offering protection for both client and coach, and setting out standards for attitude, confidentiality, data privacy, personal behaviour, conflicts of interest, financial and contractual issues.

Best Practices

Alongside ethics, legal issues also guide and enforce coaching practices. These laws are international and national. Such examples include European Laws on confidential data handling and National, Irish ethics expressed in national laws on privacy, social behaviour, gender respectfulness. Coaches must also abide by normative laws relating to accepted social behaviour, cultural and religious sensitivities, and company ethics and regulations, if working within a business environment

The need for participation in supervision and continuous professional development (CPD) ensures coaches can stay up to date with industry developments, and also gather useful feedback and analysis of coaching skills and practices. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), a professional body for human resource management, describes CPD as having three principles of:

· Continuing - continuous development of knowledge, skills and performance through regular investment of time and learning

· Professional - active interest in the internal and external environment, with clear learning objectives that serve individual, client and organisational needs.

· Development - meet the demands of ever-changing professional and business worlds by learning from all experiences, combined with reflection as key activities, working within and outside of the organisation.

CPD can encompass many different elements, such as supervision for coaches, training, mentoring, advanced course, accreditation (i.e. ICF accreditation), professional development events, associated skills training, (egg NLP, counseling), formal or informal Coaching Groups (that allow practice of skills in a supervised environment). CPD can also be used to develop new tools and models, or practice ones that are not regularly employed.

Supervision offers the coach a structured, independent method to reflect upon his/her practices, skills, and techniques. It allows clients cases to be discussed in a professional and confidential environment, offering protection to the client and advice for the coach, especially in situations where referral is appropriate. It also offers the opportunity to develop skills, judge limitations, and develop weaker areas. This reflective aspect will allow the coach to gain insights and improve self-awareness.

Contractual Arrangements

A contractual arrangement between coach and client sets out the expectations of the sessions, and lays down the ethical, legal and behavioural aspects to the sessions. A typical contract, as offered by ICF at Reference 5, includes a description of the client/coach relationship, and specifies who is responsible for what aspects of that relationship. It details the timescale, payments and procedures of the sessions. The contract will set out the confidentiality issues and detail the code of ethics. It should also identify retention, termination sand liability considerations. As it is a contact between a client and coach, both should sign it.

In a team or group situation, in particular when a client is not the coachee, the contract will be agreed and signed by the coach and the third party client. In these three party contracts, it is important that issues of the reporting of the sessions to the company and the possible outcomes from sessions (especially if not in the best interests of the company involved) are clearly explained and agreed upon.


It is crucial that coaches recognize that there are limits to what a coaching session can offer. They may well be occasions when a more appropriate intervention can be provided by other skills or techniques. On these occasions, a coach needs to recognize the merit of such alternatives, and offer the appropriate advice to the client. Judging one’s own limitations is key to being a professional and ethical coach. In such situations, the client should advise the client to seek another coaching professional or another professional for mentoring, counseling or psychotherapy.

#change #anxiety

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