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The Great Coaching Epidemic – and how to navigate it

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It's become the career du jour, so how can you find a coach you trust?

They say that you’re never more than six feet away from a rat in London. And it’s the same with coaches on Instagram. Break-up coaches. Make-up coaches. Made-up coaches. They’re everywhere – and the good ones can be life-changing… but how on earth do you find them? 

The problem is, coach has become a trendy buzzword to cover expertise of many different kinds – and sometimes very little expertise at all. And the “proper” coaches – we’ll explain what this means in a moment – are at risk of getting drowned out by swathes of well-meaning imposters, many of whom could do well to rebrand themselves before this great coaching epidemic gets any more out of hand.

Here at Discoco, we love a good coach. Heck, one of us is a (good, soon to be qualified) coach. We want to shine a light on the transformative powers of proper coaches, make their expertise more accessible to a wider audience and help people find who or what they need – but it’s a jungle out there.

According to The Observer’s fascinating recent exposé into the people who feel they’ve been “exploited” by dodgy career coaches, there’s been a 153% increase in people citing their profession as “life coach” over the last year. It makes sense and is in many ways a positive thing – for the coaches, it’s a rewarding and potentially lucrative career that lends itself well to working flexibly and for the coachees it can provide some much-needed encouragement and insight. Plus, the increase in coaches means there’s more choice – whatever your niche, or whatever the problem you want to solve is, as long as you’re prepared to invest in it, chances are there’s a coach out there for you. We even found a coach on Instagram who specialises in helping “introverted real estate agents” (who we assume just enjoy sitting in big empty houses all day praying nobody will turn up for a viewing). 

OK, so what’s a “proper” coach then?

But what is a qualified coach, and is it important that one you might sign up with has all the certificates? It’s a confusing subject and, since coaching is an unregulated profession, anyone can assume the title if they fancy it. We asked Keith Tanner – who qualified as a coach way before it was trendy – to explain.

“Anyone can call themselves a coach, no accreditation needed,” he confirms. “There are a range of courses that give certificates that you just get for completing study. The next level is formal certificates issued by accredited bodies. So, that course could get approved and accredited, giving a level of quality assurance and rigor to the content and process of assessment.” 

“The next level are formal qualifications, such as the CMI and ILM which are recognised internationally. These go through internal and external verification and have a greater sense of substance to them – they aren’t easy to get just from attendance, and they’re well-respected. With or without a formal qualification, you can apply for coach accreditation with the ICF or the EMCC/EIA, which requires evidence, recognised hours, client feedback, meeting particular standards and ethical policies – and this can cost into the thousands. You can also become a member of a body like the AoC or EMCC which also provides some credibility.”

Yep, there are a lot of acronyms in the coaching world – but in short, many coaches (including some of our Discoco course creators) are “qualified” but not necessarily “accredited”. Qualified is enough to know that someone has jumped through hoops to become a coach; accreditation is how you know that person is still doing what they were taught to do and accessing ongoing development to improve their practice. You might even encounter coaches who have a supervisor – this is worth extra points because it means that, like therapists, they have to work with another professional to help them keep on top of their game and improve in real time. 

But how on earth do you find a good one?

Of course, many potential clients don’t dig so deep and tend to go on instincts when they encounter a coach they click with. And that’s OK. But if you meet a coach you like and they haven’t got all the certificates, can you trust them? Well, probably – but it might be worth asking why they haven’t gone through the process. 

“Ultimately,” adds Keith, “if you’re a coach who’s good at what you do and people will pay for your services, then it’s down to you to decide what you want to join or be accredited for to have proof of your professionalism and ability.” It’s possible that many working coaches do so well via word of mouth and their social media footprint that they just don’t feel they need the quals – but as the market gets more and more saturated, taking a few official steps to stand out from the crowd could be a good way of future-proofing. 

When is a coach not a coach?

One of the things we’ve noticed online is that coach has become a cover-all term for professionals offering any kind of 1:1 expertise. With more and more people slapping this career du jour on their Instagram profiles, we’d urge anyone working in the self-development field to consider whether coaching is really what they do. Are you a social media coach, or are you actually teaching people how to use social media more effectively? That’s hugely valuable, so why not call yourself an expert, a tutor, a consultant? If you’ve labelled yourself a “career coach”, that may well be accurate, but is there more to it than that – are you a mentor, a counsellor…? 

It’s worth noting that the true definition of a coach is quite specific – it’s a form of development in which a client is supported in achieving a specific personal or professional goal – that could be leadership at a big corporate, or that could be getting over a divorce. But support is the key word here – coaches listen, they probe, they question, they help you find the answers rather than providing them. If they’re providing them, they’re not a coach, they’re something else.

So what does this mean for Discoco?

We have a few wonderful coaches amongst our course creators on Discoco and we will always tell you if someone is certified (and who they’re accredited by). If it’s relevant, we might also tell you how long they’ve been coaching for. You might also come across course creators here who call themselves coaches on their profiles elsewhere. We feature them because we like them and think their courses are great, but if they’re not qualified, on Discoco we’ll be referring to them as “experts” in order for there to be some meaningful differentiation. 

If you’re thinking of becoming a coach, don’t let all this put you off – there might be a lot of you out there right now, but there are a lot of potential clients too. With the pandemic decimating so many people’s lives – whether professional, personal or both – and with the increase in remote working meaning that many people feel they’re lacking the nurturing they need at work, coaches can be hugely valuable. And we hope the fact that you’re bothering to read this means you’re determined to be one of the good ones. 

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