The Dark Side of the Coaching Industry


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By: Corry Robertson, PCC

Man investigating with magnifying glass

CBC Marketplace recently aired an episode called Testing Life Coaches: Undercover Investigation.

In 22 minutes, the feature did a great job exposing the dark side of the coaching industry.

If you are looking for a coach or for coach training, you should definitely watch this episode to understand what could go wrong if you don’t do your due diligence.

Marketplace only had 22 minutes to make the point that there are BAD coaches out there, and boy, they showed us the worst of the worst; they hit that point out of the park.

But they only had 22 minutes to make their point, so in my opinion, they left some significant issues unaddressed. I think it’s essential that we continue the conversation around these crucial coaching topics!

Here are a few of the things in the piece that I want to address:

1 – What Actually Is Coaching?

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”

People hire coaches when they want to talk to a professional about living their lives in the best possible way, achieving goals, finding solutions, taking on new challenges, and up-leveling their success, happiness, and well-being.

Coaching is not therapy, advice, training, counseling, or consulting.

Woman in therapy

2 – Coaching And Mental Health

The segment did an excellent job at revealing how unscrupulous people state that they can hold coaching conversations when the client wants to deal with mental health issues such as depression, trauma, anxiety and/or addictions. 

Coaching is not therapy. Full stop.

Professional Coaches are trained how to notice when the client may be suffering from issues beyond the scope of coaching, and we are trained to refer clients to the appropriate practitioners.

For example, here is a resource provided by the ICF that discusses when to refer a client to therapy.

Those who aren’t properly trained can easily venture onto the turf of a mental health professional, which we saw in this exposé.

This can harm both the client and the so-called coach.

Marketplace invited Lorraine Bennington to help reveal where the so-called coaches were crossing the line. They introduced her as a Psychologist and Life Coach.

Having her on as a guest to address how coaches are not mental health professionals was a good call. As posted on her website, her affiliations include: 

College of Psychologists
British Columbia Psychological Association
Canadian Society of Clinical Hypnosis

But what’s missing here? You’ll notice that Lorraine does not have the letters ACC, PCC, or MCC after her name. This means that she is not an ICF credentialled coach.

Although Life Coaching is said to be one of her offerings, she does not seem to have any professional coaching qualifications based on a look at her website. Although her affiliations may entitle her to comment on where the so-called coaches crossed the line into therapy, she was not the right person to comment on professional coaching.

3 – Industry Regulation

Throughout the segment, the coaching industry is referred to as “unregulated.” This statement really got my blood boiling. The coaching industry is self-regulated, not unregulated, and the ICF does a great job of laying out the regulations for the industry.

But the nature of a self-regulated industry means that there are no governments enforcing regulations if a practitioner steps out of line. So I often catch myself thinking: people, PLEASE! If you don’t have coaching qualifications from an accredited coach training program, please STOP referring to what you do as coaching!

I know this isn’t realistic. No law says you have to have coach training to hang a shingle, so too many people are still taking advantage of that and including the word ‘coaching’ in their offering.

Coach and client in a coaching session

4 – How To Find The Real Deal

While the segment mentions that there are many great professional coaches out there, which is true, Marketplace doesn’t tell viewers what to look for and how to find an actual coach.

You and I both know the answer to that question – make sure that before you hire ANYONE who claims to offer coaching of any kind, that they have credentials that the International Coaching Federation recognizes.

The ICF is the globally recognized governing body of the coaching profession. This includes all the types of coaches including life coaches, business coaches, leadership coaches, career coaches, communication coaches, productivity coaches, sales coaches, marketing coaches, love coaches, spiritual coaches, purpose coaches, ADHD coaches, parenting coaches, wellness coaches, style coaches; you name it, it includes them all.

If you are interviewing a person who includes coaching as a service: ask them this question: 

Do you have an ICF coaching certification? 

You will only want to hear one answer: Yes, I’m an ICF certified coach, and even better still: I have an ACC, PCC, or MCC.

These qualifications ensure that you will be hiring a legitimate coaching professional who has agreed to uphold the ICF Code of Ethics, so you know you will be getting quality and integrity. 

These are the words that protect consumers. If they don’t have the letters, they may be experts in the field and will probably provide consulting services and advice (hopefully good advice and services), but not coaching. 

Consulting and advice may be just what you need, but it is highly unlikely that you will be getting any kind of coaching without ICF coaching qualification.

Here’s An Example

Let’s talk about Tony Robbins. Tony says, “coaching is one of the most valuable tools in the world.” I agree with this 100%.

He is the self-proclaimed Father of Coaching, but Thomas Leonard is more likely to be considered the Father of Coaching by industry experts. Don’t get me wrong. Tony Robbins has lots of great qualities, and I have enjoyed some of his books, BUT he is not an ICF credentialed coach, and the ICF does not recognize his coach training programs. Buyer BEWARE.

And it’s not just Tony Robbins. 

There are many FAMOUS experts out there who offer coaching, coach training, and advice about how to start a coaching business and many of these experts are not ICF recognized. 

So again, Buyer BEWARE – just because a person is a famous Ph.D. in their field, it does not mean that they can coach or train you to coach.

How can you tell if someone is ICF accredited? For one thing, ICF accreditations usually feature pretty prominently on a professional coach’s website and social media profiles.

Why? Because we are very proud of them! We work darn hard, year after year, to earn and maintain these credentials. We are proud of them, we are proud of each other, and we are very proud of the great work that we do. 

Most of all, we honour our clients, and we do our part in making sure that we uphold the integrity of the profession to help ensure that our clients get the best of what coaching has to offer.

Summing It Up

I would have loved it if the CBC Marketplace segment had given the audience some direction on where to start the search to find a credible coach and coach training. But I’m here to fill in the gaps for you.

You can find an ICF accredited coach right here.

The segment also invested quite a bit of time exposing how fast and easy it is to get a bogus online coaching certificate, but they only made a passing comment that there are great schools out there but did not elaborate. Allow me.

Here’s information on comparing coach training schools, how to become an executive coach, how to become a leadership coach, and how to become a certified ICF credentialled coach.

And finally, you can find great information about coach education directly from the ICF right here.

Regulations and certification are a hot topic in the coaching industry right now. What’s your take? Let me know in the comments!


  1. Mark

    Great article, thank you! I ended up with a BCC coaching credential since it was my program’s process, but I acknowledge ICF’s excellent leadership in the industry. I still might pursue ICF, too. Regards, Mark

    • Corry

      Good for you Mark! If ever you have questions about the ICF process, we are now offering weekly calls where folks can ask me anything about becoming a coach. Hope to see you there one day!

  2. Michael Cioffi

    Tony Robbins was coaching more than a decade before rhe inception of the ICF in 1995 and honing his coaching methods all that time and was very succeasful and getting results so I’d not expect him to get certified with a startup group after all that time…

  3. Corry

    Hi Michael, Tony Robbins is a wonderful motivator and he has put a lot of inspirational content out there. His approach, as demonstrated in the Netflix original entitled “I Am Not Your Guru”, is his own form of guidance, but I would not consider it professional coaching.

  4. Devon Carter

    Cory! Thank you so very much for this article! I am an ICF, ACC. In my local business referral network I frequently find myself passionately sharing the differences between an ICF accredited coach and those that are really consultants or other professionals who prefer the word “Coach” as a marketing tool. I also agree about Tony Robbins who has been around before ICF, is a motivational speaker and written some good material but in my opinion watching him coach is a cringe-worthy experience. His lack of ICF training shows. I will be sharing this article with others in my business network for edification purposes.


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Sought-after coaching culture expert, Corry Robertson has been helping leaders uplevel employee retention and performance for over 20 years.

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