Interpretive Statements - International Coaching Federation

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INTERPRETIVE STATEMENTS

The ICF Code of Ethics Review Team prepared the following interpretive statements to support ICF Members and Credential-holders in understanding the revised ICF Code of Ethics and applying them in their practice.

The Ethical Interpretive Statements (EIS) are provided to suggest a variety of ethical factors that may need to be taken into consideration for understanding alternative ways of approaching ethical behavior for the standards of the ICF Code of Ethics. The EIS is meant to be suggestive in nature only. The specific language of the ethical standard in question is used by the IRB when it performs an Ethical Conduct Review process involving the standard.

If you have comments or questions regarding the EIS, please send them to ethics@coachingfederation.org. The EIS is a dynamic resource. Updates will be made on an ongoing basis.

Last update: July 15, 2020, at 1:44 p.m. (New York)

  • Standard 1

    Section I—Responsibility to Clients

    As an ICF Professional, I:

    1. Explain and ensure that, prior to or at the initial meeting, my coaching Client(s) and Sponsor(s) understand the nature and potential value of coaching, the nature and limits of confidentiality, financial arrangements, and any other terms of the coaching agreement.

    Ethical Interpretive Statement to Standard 1

    This standard invites the ICF professional not to assume that clients or sponsors understand the scope of the coaching interaction. This means explaining it in a meeting prior to the beginning or at the beginning of the process. The initial interview offers the opportunity to clarify expectations about the possibilities and benefits of coaching and to correct them if necessary.

    In keeping with ICF’s definition of coaching being a partnership with the client, the ICF Professional should verbally explain to all stakeholders (client, sponsor, and other related parties) the details surrounding the coaching engagement and the content of the articles of the coaching agreement to be signed/agreed. By doing so, all stakeholders have an opportunity to ask questions and fully understand their rights and responsibilities prior to signing the coaching agreement.

    The ICF Professionals might use one of the two Sample Coaching Agreements in the ICF Member Toolkit (follow the link below, ensuring that you’re logged into the ICF website as a member) as a base in this initial meeting if they do not have a standard agreement of their own to ensure that all articles of the coaching agreement are included.

  • Standard 2

    Section I—Responsibility to Clients

    As an ICF Professional, I:

    1. Create an agreement/contract regarding the roles, responsibilities and rights of all parties involved with my Client(s) and Sponsor(s) prior to the commencement of services.

    Ethical Interpretive Statement to Standard 2

    ICF defines the “Coaching Relationship” as a relationship that is established by the ICF Professional and the Client(s)/Sponsor(s) under an agreement/contract that defines the responsibilities and expectations of each party; i.e. without an agreement/contract the coaching relation is not accepted as established.

    ICF recommends that having a written agreement/contract is the best practice and best supports both the client and ICF Professional. A written agreement/contract is encouraged if culturally appropriate. A written agreement/contract is important to evoke at any time in the professional relationship the rights and obligations of the parties regardless of their legal character both for the ICF Professional and for the client and/or all parties in the process. (see definitions) The advantage of a written agreement also becomes clear in an appeal case.

    It is best practice for an ICF Professional to have a standard coaching agreement which can be modified to the needs of a particular client/sponsor. This is also an opportunity for all parties to be clear of the nature of the involvement of managers, supervisors, HR personnel etc. In all cases, coaching agreements/contracts should clearly establish the rights, roles and responsibilities for both the client and sponsor if the client and sponsor are different people.

    The ICF Professionals might use one of the Sample Coaching Agreements in the ICF Member Toolkit (follow the link below, ensuring that you’re logged into the ICF website as a member) as a base for preparing their own standard coaching agreements, and ensuring that they have included all the necessary articles in their agreement.

  • Standard 3

    Section I—Responsibility to Clients

    As an ICF Professional, I:

    1. Maintain the strictest levels of confidentiality with all parties as agreed upon. I am aware of and agree to comply with all applicable laws that pertain to personal data and communications.

    Ethical Interpretive Statement to Standard 3

    Confidentiality in the coaching relationship is absolutely critical for creating the safe space for the client to succeed. Besides this, personal data protection is becoming an issue of highest importance with the emerging and growing technological developments.

    The confidentiality rules apply to any situation in which an ICF Professional interacts with clients, sponsors, and all confidentiality issues should be addressed and clarified during the initial meeting before an agreement/contract is signed/agreed between the parties.

    Confidentiality does not end with the client, but extends to all parties involved in the coaching engagement as outlined in the coaching agreement. The strictest levels of confidentiality infer that the ICF Professional has a set of best practices in place, including:

    • Overarching personal/office policy on confidentiality (an understanding, written or otherwise that all client information and communication will be held private prior to being hired by the client, during the coaching engagement, and after the conclusion of the engagement).
    • Policies on record keeping (safe physical storage, secure cloud storage, etc.)
    • Training staff or support personnel (including virtual assistants) on the importance of maintaining absolute confidentiality on all client matters.
    • Maintaining strict confidentiality applies to all parties and includes all technology, off-site storage, application platforms, software, and social media owned/operated by third parties (i.e. cell phones, computers, tablets etc.).

    ICF Professionals should make sure that their documentation of the coaching process is protected to safeguard confidentiality and in compliance with the relevant data protection rules. This applies in particular to the use of digital media and means of communication. They should make sure that they have access to legal advice in order   to consult on the EU’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) or similar regulations for other areas.

    The ICF Professional should keep in mind that notes, messages, text messages kept on a company-owned computer, company-accessible platform, company-owned email or company-owned mobile phone are the property of the company and is therefore, not confidential. Unless otherwise determined in the coaching agreement, internally employed or contracted coaches should be particularly aware that IT resources and equipment that are owned by the organization, may give them (the organization) full rights to access information and communications that were assumed private.

  • Standard 4

    Section I—Responsibility to Clients

    As an ICF Professional, I:

    1. Have a clear understanding about how information is exchanged among all parties involved during all coaching interactions.

    Ethical Interpretive Statement to Standard 4

    ICF Professional should make sure that everyone involved in the coaching process clearly agrees on when, how, what and the ways in which coaching information, including confidential information is shared.

    The rules of confidentiality must be clear to all participants before the coaching process begins. It may need to be re-clarified at any point in the process for the parties involved. It is also important to clarify the framework and procedures for sharing possible reports, evaluations, and results of assessments that are administered.

    In many countries written agreements take precedence over verbal ones and are considered a best practice. The ICF Professional should take into consideration local cultural norms and even in a verbal agreement, make sure that the terms of information sharing are clearly understood by all the parties involved.

  • Standard 5

    Section I—Responsibility to Clients

    As an ICF Professional, I:

    1. Have a clear understanding with both Clients and Sponsors or interested parties about the conditions under which information will not be kept confidential (e.g., illegal activity, if required by law, pursuant to valid court order or subpoena; imminent or likely risk of danger to self or to others; etc.). Where I reasonably believe one of the above circumstances is applicable, I may need to inform appropriate authorities.

    Ethical Interpretive Statement to Standard 5

    In the coaching profession, confidentiality is not just a skill, but an expectation. Coaches occupy a unique and powerful position where individuals and organizations share and trust sensitive and personal information to them. Anyone communicating with a coach must be comfortable to open themselves completely and know without a doubt that their communications to the coach are protected. Therefore, a coach must have a very high standard of confidentiality in all interactions:

    • When information is shared before the coach is hired
    • When information is shared or learned intentionally or otherwise
    • At any point in the coaching relationship
    • At any time after a coaching relationship ends

    A coach may divulge confidential information in the following circumstances:

    • Reasons, set by law (ICF Professionals should make sure, that they know the details of local law):
      • When a person has made a credible threat to harm themselves, their organizations or others
      • When the coach is compelled by a court order or subpoena (Coaches have no client privilege in a court of law. This means that if coaches are asked for information, they must provide it. This is different for physicians and psychiatrists and some other professions.)
    • Reasons, defined by contract with client or with client and sponsor:
      • When the coaching agreement allows for it
      • When the sponsor agreement allows for it, and the client agrees
      • When the coach is required to substantiate basic information about the coaching process for the coach’s credentialing or re-credentialing without sharing any personal notes or other personal information. The coach is responsible for getting the clients acknowledgment for signing that the clients gave permission.
      • When the Coach needs to talk about a case (without indicating names of the client or sponsor) with the coach’s mentor or coach supervisor.

    ICF Professionals should make sure, that they know the details of local law and should establish the legal venue for the contract. Make sure that there are experts in your network (e.g. lawyers) who you can refer to in case of doubt.

    It is the responsibility of the ICF Professional to ensure the client knows when the ICF Professional is required to breach confidentiality. The best way is to speak about before the beginning of the coaching process and to document this is in the written coaching agreement.
    Example: if the ICF Professional is a mentor coach working with another coach, they must be clear about when confidentiality may be breached. The mentor coach or supervisor is, as a supporter (see Standard #15), bound to confidentiality.

    Our unregulated industry has no special legal protection. In the event of a dispute, individually concluded contracts are judged according to civil law. If possible in your country, try to get a professional services insurance policy for coaches.

    In coaching the under age (children/teenagers) there is an additional coaching relationship which has to be honored. There is presumably done with a Sponsor (parents, guardians, etc.) for minors. All questions about confidentiality has to be cleared in the same way with the client and the sponsor.

    As an internal coach please see No. 6 too.

  • Standard 6

    Section I – Responsibility to Clients

    As an ICF Professional, I:

    6. When working as an Internal Coach, manage conflicts of interest or potential conflicts of interest with my coaching Clients and Sponsor(s) through coaching agreement(s) and ongoing dialogue. This should include addressing organizational roles, responsibilities, relationships, records, confidentiality and other reporting requirements.

    Ethical Interpretive Statement to Standard 6

    An internal coach could have roles of an HR employee, a non-related manager or direct manager besides that of being a coach, or no other roles than being a coach.

    As the success of coaching depends on the client’s trust on the coach, it is recommended that, in the beginning of appointment as an internal coach, a confidentiality agreement is signed between the company and the internal coach and shared with the coaching client, defining what is going to be shared and with whom, when and how, and what is not going to be shared.

    Internal privacy rules of the company, information in the computers, right of a manager to reach any information through IT, information on company phones, reports to be shared should all be considered.

    Whatever is determined by the organization, ICF Professionals should be sure all parties are privy to the agreement and aware of all the relationship dynamics to ensure transparency, and talk about it continuously.

    As an internal coach, the ICF Professional should pay particular attention to conflicts of interest arising from former, current or potential future leadership relationships (e.g. line or matrix organizations, agile systems, etc.)

    Possible conflicts between the ICF code of ethics and an existing corporate culture or internal company regulations should be identified and taken into account by the coach.

  • Standard 7

    Section I – Responsibility to Clients

    As an ICF Professional, I:

    1. Maintain, store and dispose of any records, including electronic files and communications, created during my professional interactions in a manner that promotes confidentiality, security and privacy and complies with any applicable laws and agreements. Furthermore, I seek to make proper use of emerging and growing technological developments that are being used in coaching services (technology-assisted coaching services) and be aware how various ethical standards apply to them.

    Ethical Interpretive Statement to Standard 7

    Many coaches keep written, spoken, electronic or otherwise made records of the content and progress of their coaching sessions. The careful handling and retention of these records in the broadest sense of protecting this information and thus the identity of the client and the sponsor, are the subject of this standard.

    Records are all documents created in connection with the coaching process. This includes, but not limited to, written notes, files, audio or video notes, entries in support databases or tools (e.g. for customer administration etc.).

    Data protection must be ensured in particular when using technical services/tools of any kind. The constant technological development of these tools / platforms requires vigilance and, if necessary, actions by the coach.

    ICF Professionals should make sure, that they know the details of local law and should establish the choice legal venue for the contract.

    Data protection must be ensured when using the client’s / company’s own infrastructure.

    ICF professionals, should take appropriate security precautions when using electronic communications such as e-mails, online mail, online chat sessions, mobile communications and text messages, such as encryption, firewalls with passwords, etc.

    The client is to be informed about the fact of the written, electronic or otherwise made recordings and their protection, but not about their content. The client’s consent must be obtained before audio or video recordings are made. This also applies to the use of artificial intelligence devices that automatically record the sound in a room (e.g. Alexa, Siri, etc.).

    When using external service providers, it must be checked whether the handling of data and information (general standard terms and conditions) by this service provider matches the ICF’s ethical requirements.

    Should unauthorized persons have access to client data or information despite all preventive measures, the clients must be informed immediately.

    The ICF Professional should be aware that the use of social media and the information they leave behind might also be seen by potential clients and might influence the coaching process.

    ICF Professionals should avoid posting any identifying or confidential information about their clients on professional websites or other forms of social media.

    Careful handling of records is important at the end of a coaching process when records are destroyed. Written documents should be shredded if possible. There are deletion programs for all types of electronic data which largely prevent reconstruction. It is expected that effort is made towards deletion of such data especially when data storage devices are discarded or passed on.

  • Standard 8

    Standard 8

    Section I – Responsibility to clients

    As an ICF Professional, I:

    8. Remain alert to indications that there might be a shift in the value received from the coaching relationship. If so, make a change in the relationship or encourage the Client(s)/Sponsor(s) to seek another coach, seek another professional or use a different resource.

    Ethical Interpretive Statement to Standard 8

    The ICF Professional should be willing to recuse themselves if and whenever their coaching services do not benefit the client and/or appear to go against the clients or sponsors interest. The ICF Professional has a responsibility to encourage the client in this case to make a change or seek the services of another professional.

    ICF Professionals are expected to establish a customer orientated review process with the client and the sponsor (if involved) which helps determine the value of the coaching relationship. If a shift in the perceived value of coaching is evidenced, the ICF Professional is expected to find out what is driving the shift.

    ICF Professionals are expected to remain alert for indications which go beyond their capabilities as a coach. Therefore, it is particularly important to learn as a coach how to recognize in a timely manner whether a client will be best served by another professional service provider. If they are unable to support the client,  they may need to refer the client to other modes of support such as counseling, therapy, legal, tax, medical, nutrition, etc.  In case of doubt, the ICF professional should seek expert advice. (See the resources below.)

    It is useful to build a network that includes coaches of other orientations as well as therapists, etc. in the event a referral is requested.

    The ICF Professionals should disclose to the client and the sponsor(s) any referral fee that might be paid to them by any of these professionals.

  • Standard 9

    Section I – Responsibility to Clients

    As an ICF Professional, I:

    1. Respect all parties’ rights to terminate the coaching relationship at any point for any reason during the coaching process subject to the provisions of the agreement.

    Ethical Interpretive Statement to Standard 9

    A clear coaching termination clause in the agreement should clarify that either or both parties may cancel the agreement at any time for any reason. The ICF Professional must be alert to indications that the client is no longer benefiting from the coaching relationship and explore other possibilities with them. In the coaching process, it is important to determine why the client wants to end the coaching. The ICF Professional must support and encourage the client to seek the services of another ICF Professional or professional resource when it is mutually agreed that they would be better served with such a change. It may also be a solution to encourage the client to engage more intensively with the coaching content, possibly with another ICF Professional. A best practice is to have a clear refund policy in the written agreement.

    The ICF Professional must respect and accept the clients request to end the relationship; however, it is okay to invite a closure session for the client to provide feedback. The ICF Professional might want to consider doing this as complimentary and voluntary. A closure session functions the same as any other coaching session in which the ICF Professional is involved.

  • Standard 10

    Section I – Responsibility to Clients

    As an ICF Professional, I:

    1. Am sensitive to the implications of having multiple contracts and relationships with the same Client(s) and Sponsor(s) at the same time in order to avoid conflict of interest situations.

    Ethical Interpretive Statement to Standard 10

    In every situation of the coaching process, it is necessary to ensure that the ICF Professionals’ current role is unambiguous and that it is recognizable from which contract they are acting. The intention of this standard is to address potential conflict of interest when an ICF Professional holds multiple contracts (e.g. having a coaching and trainer relationship) with the same individual. Furthermore, some ICF Professionals coach a client 1:1 and at the same time coach the client’s team. Even though this may be on one contract, this might be a multiple relationship.

    When an ICF professional is a trainer in a coach-training program, they may be one of the people who decide whether a student fulfills all responsibilities of the training program, including performance on written and oral exams. They may also be a designated-adviser for a student and/or their coach as required for student completion of coach-training programs and/or their mentor coach as required for student completion of coach-training programs.

    In such a case the ICF professional would need to be aware of any biases and if a conflict exists in having multiple roles, make a decision that would be in the best interest of the student to resolve any potential conflict of interest. For ICF Professionals who teach, mentor, assess, and coach those in coach training programs, if your program has enough ICF Professional staff members, then ideally, to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest, you would have only 1 role with each participant during the program: teacher, mentor, assessor, or coach. (For more information about the role of the Mentor Coach, please follow the link below.)

    Separate contracts are recommended for an ICF Professional who has consulting expertise; (e.g. nutrition, chiropractic, professional organizer) and is asked by the client to receive this expertise. Having separate contracts allows the coaching client not to be confused as to what role the ICF Professional is assuming. This is also important regarding the public view of our profession being distinct from other professions (e.g. therapy, counseling, consulting, etc.)

  • Standard 11

    Section I – Responsibility to Clients

    As an ICF Professional, I:

    1. (Am aware of and actively manage any power or status difference between the Client and me that may be caused by cultural, relational, psychological or contextual issues.

    Ethical Interpretive Statement to Standard 11

    An ICF Professional is aware of, explores and manages interpersonal coach-client power differences and aims to co-create coach-client relationships of partnership and equality unless superseded by an opposing context of the client’s identity, environment and culture. Coaching takes place at the level of equivalence; i.e. lack of power distance in the coaching relationship. A feeling of superiority, or inferiority, on the part of the coach burdens the coaching relationship and should be clarified in supervision.

    The coach-client relationship might be seen by the client as a hierarchical relationship that involves coach-client power differences. Coach is a dominant social-group identity and Client is a marginalized social-group identity. Sustaining the coach-client partnership means the coach has an ongoing task of acknowledging and working to reduce the impact of rank, status, and hierarchy in the working alliance between coach and client. If such a “partnership” cannot be maintained, the coach and/or client should consider terminating the relationship.

  • Standard 12

    Section I – Responsibility to Clients

    As an ICF Professional, I:

    1. Disclose to my Clients the potential receipt of compensation, and other benefits I may receive for referring my Clients to third parties.

    Ethical Interpretive Statement to Standard 12

    A transaction, in which the third party who is for example, a coach, therapist, provider of a personal assessment instrument, attorney, professional, or other referring person, may give an ICF Professional a referral fee, or commissions in monetary or some other form that has benefit or advantage, personal and professional benefits for referring a client to them, sets up a conflict of interest or potential conflict of interest for the ICF Professional. A reasonable outside person might infer that the ICF Professional is acting in their own benefit rather than in service of their client.

    Disclosing in an open and frank discussion with clients and allows clients to choose, as well as demonstrate/preserve a coach’s integrity – it is all above board and transparent, and it is asking clients to take ownership of their choice about acting on the referral or not. Giving the monies back to the client, or to a charitable group, might be an alternative.

    An example of compensation received where a disclosure is needed might be when an ICF Professional directly refers the client to a personality assessment like MBTI, DISC where the ICF Professional receives a commission. If the names of all such assessments in the market are given and a recommendation is not made, disclosure may not be needed. If the client is referred to a consultant from whom the ICF Professional receives a referral fee, this must be disclosed.

    An option for ICF Professionals is not to accept monetary or non-monetary benefit from third parties for referring our clients to them.

  • Standard 13

    Section I – Responsibility to Clients

    As an ICF Professional, I:

    1. Assure consistent quality of coaching regardless of the amount or form of agreed compensation in any relationship.

    Ethical Interpretive Statement to Standard 13

    The intention of this standard is to ensure that ICF Professional Coaches provide equal quality of professional-coaching services specified in the coaching agreement, regardless of client’s race, gender, and other social-group identity and of form of compensation — whether monetary, pro bono or barter or any other form of compensation agreed to.

    Bartering is an equal exchange of goods or services without involving money.

    Applications

    1. Some business agreements involve the provision of coaching service in exchange for services or products in a reciprocal barter arrangement. Others may provide very low-cost coaching services to those who would benefit from coaching, but have limited resources at the time. The ICF Professional must only barter for services, goods or other non-monetary remuneration when it does not impair the coaching relationship.
    2. This includes any coach/client relationship, business relationships between ICF Professionals, training schools etc. that involves barter, pro bono, or any other types of agreed upon compensation.
    3. Equal quality also must be delivered when coaching a student, businessman, or executive.
    4. ICF Professionals should always deliver 100% of their benefit, regardless of the amount of compensation. A price-dependent difference in quality contradicts the ICF Professional mindset and practice.
    5. ICF Professionals should not knowingly use their position to take any personal, professional, or monetary advantage or benefit beyond the coach-client agreement.
    6. ICF Professionals should know the tax laws of the country in which they are working if they choose pro bono and bartering.

    Here the connection between the offer of the ICF Professionals to make their coaching service available on the basis of the competences described (training, experience, etc.) for an amount X and the actual service provided is important. According to the contract, the client is entitled to this service.

  • Standard 14

    Section II – Responsibility to Practice and Performance

    As an ICF Professional, I:

    1. Adhere to the ICF Code of Ethics in all my interactions. When I become aware of a possible breach of the Code by myself or I recognize unethical behavior in another ICF Professional, I respectfully raise the matter with those involved. If this does not resolve the matter, I refer it to a formal authority (e.g., ICF Global Assist Line) for resolution.

    Ethical Interpretive Statement to Standard 14

    This standard reflects individual responsibility and accountability of the ICF Professionals once they recognize unethical behavior.

    ICF Professionals who accept the Code of Ethics strive to be ethical, even when doing so involves making difficult decisions or acting courageously.

    Implicit here is that the ICF Professional be self-aware of potential code breaches. Responsible ICF Professionals look at their own behavior and attempt to correct those things in oneself that might be unethical. Coaching supervision can be used for support.

    This standard also calls on the ICF Professional to recognize and acknowledge potential unethical behavior by another ICF professional. Direct contact should be made as soon as possible between the two parties to discuss a potential violation of the code and cooperatively discuss the next best course of action. If direct contact does not resolve the matter, then a formal authority (e.g. ICF Global Assist Line or local ethics committee) should be referred to in pursuit of resolution. If you have questions regarding the ICF Code of Ethics, contact the ICF Ethics Hotline at ethics@coachfederation.org or 1.859.226.4245.

    When someone believes that an ICF Professional is in violation of the code, they may also formally initiate a complaint to be considered in the conduct review process.

  • Standard 15

    Section II – Responsibility to Practice and Performance

    As an ICF Professional, I:

    1. Require adherence to the ICF Code of Ethics by all Support Personnel.

    Ethical Interpretive Statement to Standard 15

    This standard is about the people we work with, or employ, or we are associated with, who could from time to time have access to clients and their information.

    These could be people in our office, virtual assistants, as well as the companies that we might use for speech to text conversions or language to language translations, or other such service providers.

    It is recommended to have a written and signed agreement with them regarding ethical practice. (Note: Some cultures do not prefer written agreements.) Nonetheless, the ICF Professional is held responsible, in respect of the ECR process, in case of misconduct by these people.

    One best practice is for those who work with ICF Professionals to read and review the ICF Code of Ethics regularly and to occasionally discuss the ICF Code of Ethics with all ICF Professionals involved. A commitment written by the Support Personnel creates security for all parties involved.

  • Standard 16

    Section II – Responsibility to Practice and Performance

    As an ICF Professional, I:

    1. Commit to excellence through continued personal, professional and ethical development.

    Ethical Interpretive Statement to Standard 16

    A best practice is for the ICF Professional to commit to lifelong learning to develop and continuing development of their professional skills in the coaching space to include the latest personal and professional development information such as books, videos, supervision, mentoring, newsletters, conferences etc. This commitment must include continued self-reflection and exploration of ethics in coaching. ICF Professionals should be knowledgeable and forthright about their strengths and areas for development; develop new skills and competencies; own and be accountable for their personal, professional, and ethical development.

    Personal development

    ICF Professionals should work continually for self-knowledge and emotional, physical, social, and spiritual health and well-being. One should be active in learning about one’s conscious and unconscious bias. ICF Professionals should know who they are and what they stand for by identifying their life-purpose, values, vision. These should be congruent with them in their behaviors, words, thoughts, feelings, body experiences, sexuality, and intentions.

    They should seek deeper cultural, emotional, and social self-awareness and understanding of themselves as a racial and cultural being. They should own their personal biases and prejudices involving; race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, rank/status/class, nationality, spiritual practice, age, ability, and other human differences, and their effects on their behavior.

    They should know and own their personal history and culture. These include their stage of life, their addictions their dominant and marginalized-group identities, their areas of internalized privilege, superiority, and subordination.

    They should know how these may impact their behavior; identify limiting beliefs and reclaim repressed, disowned, and projected parts of themselves with information gained through disclosure, feedback, bodywork, coaching, supervision, therapy, and mediation and through their dreams, memories, body sensations, and emotions.

    Professional development

    ICF Professionals should engage in continual professional development; continuously expand their knowledge base.

    This can be done by:

    • Improving their competence and practice
    • Maintaining awareness of new coaching approaches
    • Staying up to date with current scientific findings
    • Being aware of new professional information
    • Participating in ongoing education, workshops and training and having a personal coach
    • Taking advantage of regular case supervision to maintain and improve their coaching quality
    • Having a Mentor Coach
    • Engaging in research

    Ethical development

    The ICF Professional adheres to the first Core Competency: Demonstrates Ethical Practice.

    The discussion of ethical questions arising from all standards of the Code of Ethics begins in coaching training and is continued in all certification processes and in practice. Ethic appreciation is improved by answering questions from practice which should be regularly reflected upon in discussions with ICF professionals and others outside of ICF.

    The Ethics Community of Practice and the Ethics Watercooler discussion events offered in various languages are particularly suitable for this purpose. Efforts in this direction continue to include the open exchange of coach-related knowledge, case studies, leadership and participation in knowledge-sharing platforms through webinars, peer coaching, mentor coaching and ICF ethical awareness workshops.

    The ICF Professional should continually “think outside the box” and be aware of ethical developments outside the ICF.

    ICF Professionals should, in addition to their personal and professional development, wholeheartedly support the further development of the profession of coaching and the coaching organization. ICF Professionals should endeavor to be a role model of good ethical practice in all situations.

    For this purpose, the ICF professional should know the ICF documents that define coaching: Core Values, Code of Ethics, Core Competencies, PCC Markers etc.

  • Standard 17

    Section II – Responsibility to practice and performance

    As an ICF Professional, I:

    1. Recognize my personal limitations or circumstances that may impair, conflict with or interfere with my coaching performance or my professional coaching relationships. I will reach out for support to determine the action to be taken and, if necessary, promptly seek relevant professional guidance. This may include suspending or terminating my coaching relationship(s).

    Ethical Interpretive Statement to Standard 17

    An ICF Professional must perform their duties without encumbrance from any relationship conflict. Such limitations could be extrinsic as well as intrinsic. For purposes of awareness and monitoring, each ICF Professional would benefit from having a mentor or supervisor as well as participate in personal coaching, technical discussions, community of practice, etc.

    This standard calls on the ICF Professional to ensure that the client has full access to the ICF Professional within the parameters of the agreement. The ICF Professional should be fully present, be aware of internal conflicts within self, and use awareness of self and their intuition to deal with any limitations or circumstances impeding performance. Examples of these could include conscious and unconscious personal and professional bias and triggers of the coach’s personal/professional situations that may cause them to lose presence. They should avoid becoming judgmental or emotional to the point that they impair their coaching performance.

    This standard also calls on the ICF Professional to reach out to trusted third parties for counsel and advice. If the conflict cannot be otherwise resolved, the ICF Professional must remove self from the coaching engagement. ICF Professionals’ self-awareness and responsibility needs to include their physical and mental well-being.

    A further aspect on the subject of consistent quality concerns the ICF Professionals’ responsibility to ensure their physical and mental performance. For example, are they as fit and attentive with the fourth client on the same day as with the first? How does the ICF Professional behave in the event of illness?

  • Standard 18

    Section II – Responsibility to practice and performance

    As an ICF Professional, I:

    1. Resolve any conflict of interest or potential conflict of interest by working through the issue with relevant parties, seeking professional assistance, or suspending temporarily or ending the professional relationship.

    Ethical Interpretive Statement to Standard 18

    This standard applies also to internal as well as external coaches who are ICF Professionals.

    ICF Professionals need to be conscious about conflicts of interest and potential conflicts of interest as they are in positions vulnerable to conflict or potential conflict of interest between the client, the coach and the management of the company, or organization, or agency they are part of. (See Interpretive Statements for standard 14.)

    Conflict or potential conflict of interest may include financial or non-financial, personal or professional advantage for ICF Professionals. Such conflict of interest may arise from recommendation to specific resources such as psychometric assessment firms, coach training schools, specific tools, partners for transcribing services for recorded sessions, or research projects assistance, etc.

    Best practice for ICF Professionals is to establish clear agreements between all relevant parties and, when in conflict, take personal responsibility to voluntarily suspend or remove themselves from the relationship.

    Coaching supervision is useful to identify case-related potential conflicts of interest.

  • Standard 19

    Section II – Responsibility to Practice and Performance

    As an ICF Professional, I:

    1. Maintain the privacy of ICF Members and use the ICF Member contact information (email addresses, telephone numbers, and so on) only as authorized by ICF or the ICF Member.

    Ethical Interpretive Statement to Standard 19

    ICF Professionals should not infringe on the use of contact data belonging to another ICF Member, nor their right to privacy.

    This standard calls on the ICF Professional to adhere to the privacy policy of the ICF. Any contact or exchange of contact details of another member ICF Professional should be done within the boundaries and policies established by the ICF. Review ICF policies by following the link below.

    Coaching profiles on the ICF / Coach website are public. Further data are usually only available to chapter leaders who are bound by the Chapter Leader Ethical Guidelines.

  • Standard 20

    Section III – Responsibility to Professionalism

    As an ICF Professional, I:

    1. Identify accurately my coaching qualifications, my level of coaching competency, expertise, experience, training, certifications and my ICF Credential.

    Ethical Interpretive Statement to Standard 20

    This standard calls on the ICF Professional to correctly represent self, in the interest of the Client and other ICF Professionals. This includes titles, certifications, credentials, coaching related experience (e.g., coaching, mentor coaching, training, supervision), higher education degrees, and the like. All identifying descriptions of an ICF Professional should be verifiable by the respective bodies. If a previous coaching related qualification is no longer valid, the ICF Professional must drop this description. Refer to the ICF Brand Manual for proper use of ICF branded designations.

    There is a notable confusion in that the words “credential” and “certification” are sometimes used interchangeably.

    ICF Credential

    ICF Professionals can follow one of three paths to obtain an ICF credential: Associate Certified Coach (ACC), Professional Certified Coach (PCC) and Master Certified Coach (MCC). ICF Credentials (ACC, PCC, MCC) are for individuals.

    Individuals seeking ACC or PCC credentials can either a) apply directly via the ICF Portfolio route, or b) enroll for Coach Training with any of the ICF accredited third party training providers. Please note that credentialing for MCC has only one application type.

    Under the ICF Portfolio route, learners are required to submit an application which clearly demonstrates that they have completed a comprehensive training program including the ICF definition of coaching, the Code of Ethics and the Core Competencies, and is organized in a scope and sequence that encourages the growth of the coach.

    ICF-accredited third-party training providers

    The word “accreditation” can also be connected with the words “credential” and “certification.”

    ICF provides three forms of accreditation to third-party training providers:

    Accredited Coaching Training Program (ACTP) accreditation is for third-party training providers who are “all inclusive” training programs which offer start to finish coach training. Graduates of an ACTP program may apply for an individual ICF Credential via the ACTP credential application path.

    Approved Coaching Specific Training Hours (ACSTH) program accreditation is for third party-training providers who are “al la carte” training programs which may or may not offer start to finish coach training programs. Graduates from an ACSTH program may apply for the Associate Certified Coach (ACC) Credential or the Professional Certified Coach (PCC) Credential using the ACSTH application path if they meet the credentialing application requirements.

    Continuing Coach Education (CCE) accreditation is for third-party training providers of supplemental and advanced education for those wishing to acquire new learning and/or those who are renewing their ICF Credential.

  • Standard 21

    Section III – Responsibility to Professionalism

    As an ICF Professional, I:

    1. Make verbal and written statements that are true and accurate about what I offer as an ICF Professional, what is offered by ICF, the coaching profession, and the potential value of coaching.

    Ethical Interpretive Statement to Standard 21

    When ICF Professionals represent themselves as an ICF Professional or a member of the coaching profession, their representation must be portrayed truly and accurately.

    This standard calls on the ICF Professional to know what the ICF stands for and what coaching as a profession means to the marketplace and to the world. An over-inflated representation of the potential value of coaching is considered deceptive and unprofessional. This standard thus calls on the ICF Professional to offer only what can be delivered. ICF Professionals are ambassadors for the profession and are responsible for their contribution to the reputation of coaching to the public anywhere in the world.

    The standard is about maintaining truth in any form of marketing, including word-of-mouth sharing of the services by the ICF professional. It invites the ICF Professional to reflect on the conceptual distinction of different resources of professional practices (e.g., mentoring, counseling, psychotherapy) and to be able to accurately share the differences between these, in comparison to coaching. The standard calls on the ICF professional to be able to accurately share and demonstrate added value of the discipline of professional coaching. This includes establishing and acting towards achieving goals, deepening levels of learning, building personal awareness, and supporting improvement in specific skills to meet desired goals, etc. The coach should make clear to the client that the success of the coaching depends on the client’s ability to move forward and willingness to challenge themselves. For example, the client may want to try something new, and the coach can enable this to happen. The coach manages the process, the client manages the progress. Therefore, the client is solely responsible for the results and must be able to be accountable for achieving their own objectives. In sum, the ICF Professional should never make guarantees regarding the client’s success.

    ICF Professionals should always be aware that they are seen as ICF’s calling card and as an example of professional coaching and behave accordingly. This also includes knowing and representing the ICF understanding of coaching, the ICF values, the core competencies and the code of ethics. The presentation of the potential benefits of coaching also includes pointing out the limits of coaching processes. This Standard 21 complements Standard 20 which also addresses ICF professionals’ coaching qualifications, competency level, credentials, training, and so on.

    This standard applies to ICF Professional’s own behavior as an ICF Professional and to the behavior of ACTPs, ICF, and other coaching organizations of which ICF Professional is a part. It also means that ICF Professionals have a responsibility in the case of a breach of this standard to respectfully raise the matter with those involved.

  • Standard 22

    Section III – Responsibility to Professionalism

    As an ICF Professional, I:

    1. Communicate and create awareness with those who need to be informed of the ethical responsibilities established by this Code.

    Ethical Interpretive Statement to Standard 22

    Each ICF Professional has a responsibility to let others know that professionalism is of the highest importance.

    In the interest of professional coaching, it is recommended that ICF professionals draw attention in detail to the standards of ICF. This standard calls for the ICF Professional to communicate in writing or verbally the Code of Ethics which supports conformance to the standards through the Ethical Conduct Review (ECR) process. Addressing the ECR process during the initial meeting with the client(s) and sponsor(s), and pointing out the complaint possibilities to the client, increases the credibility of our claim to professional quality. The same goes for the ICF Pledge of Ethics located at the end of the ICF Code of Ethics.

    The standard invites an ICF Professional to share the Code of Ethics and the ECR process with all those who need to know. This might include organizations, employees, sponsors, coaches, students, support personnel, and others. [See Section I, Responsibility to clients]

    One recommended best practice is to provide all constituents with the entire ICF Ethics Code and highlight those sections.  In addition to them being informed about the ICF Professional’s responsibilities, they are also getting the message that the profession of coaching takes ethics seriously.

  • Standard 23

    Section III – Responsibility to Professionalism

    As an ICF Professional, I:

    1. Hold responsibility for being aware of and setting clear, appropriate and culturally sensitive boundaries that govern interactions, physical or otherwise.

    Ethical Interpretive Statement to Standard 23

    The purpose of this standard is to create awareness of appropriate boundaries of all stakeholders in the coaching environment. This includes cultural, physical, sexual, emotional, and other boundaries. The coach should be aware of how religion and tradition might affect the coaching relationship.

    Working worldwide requires the ICF Professionals to actively engage with the culturally determined local customs in the cultures in which they work. Before undertaking a coaching engagement in a territory new/unknown to the ICF Professional, this Standard invites them to seek information regarding cultural nuances that underpin inter-personal interactions. These include professional physical interactions (what is permissible, e.g., hug, handshake, touch), professional arrangements (e.g. boundaries with the manager/HR for sharing client progress a.k.a. reporting).

    The assumption that the understanding of situations, the experience with well-known coaching tools, or the expectations of the reaction to different intervention methods are the same worldwide can prove to be wrong and hinder the coaching process. This applies analogously to all standards of this code.

    ICF Professionals should make sure to include the above when moving between modalities (bodywork, counseling, mentoring, consulting, etc.). In such cases, they must ensure that the client understands which roles the ICF Professional is in, that these are appropriate and do not cross sensitive boundaries in any of their interactions.

    In keeping with Standard 10, which deals with being sensitive to the implications of having multiple contracts and relationships at the same time, this Standard invites ICF Professionals to learn how to separate boundaries in such multi-roles relationship which they might have entered with their clients, and to ensure that their clients know when they are in the different roles during their interactions.

    This Standard encourages ICF Professionals to work with a mindset and a framework that identifies and mitigates their biases and support those beliefs that work for them. It calls on the ICF Professional to work on recognizing any conscious and unconscious personal bias by engaging in one or more of the numerous ways of dealing with it, such as coaching supervision and practicing self-reflection.

  • Standard 24

    Section III – Responsibility to Professionalism

    As an ICF Professional, I:

    1. Do not participate in any sexual or romantic engagement with Client(s) or Sponsor(s). I will be ever mindful of the level of intimacy appropriate for the relationship. I take the appropriate action to address the issue or cancel the coaching engagement.

    Ethical Interpretive Statement to Standard 24

    The primary objective of this Standard is to protect the client, the coach, and the coaching profession.

    In order to protect the client and in the interest of the ICF Professional, it is important to pay attention to any dependencies and expectations, unspoken contracts etc. which  may arise as a result of the coaching process and the relationship as a whole.

    Sexual attraction, or falling in love, are common human experiences. This standard provides guidance in the event that one of these experiences occurs during the coaching engagement. An ICF Professional should be aware of the causes of intimacy for the relationship and must be aware of the potential for cultural differences that could be misinterpreted.

    Coaching requires trust and is particularly successful when the clients can open up and talk freely about their situation and feelings. Experience has shown that this can lead to strong feelings: “Finally someone who listens to me, someone who understands me,” or “This coach is like a father/mother to me and creates security.” This can lead to very personal feelings which are not automatically obstructive, but which have to be recognized and addressed by the ICF Professional. This is especially true for “transference” and “counter-transference,” and becomes very sensitive, requiring great vigilance and self-reflection by the ICF Professional. It is also possible that an ICF Professional becomes romantically enamored with the client during the coaching journey.

    Recognizing that sexual or romantic feelings might not be mutual, and might cause discomfort to any party (including when the safe space being threatened or violated), the ICF Professional has a responsibility to initiate an appropriate action when the attraction is first noticed. Such actions can include getting coaching supervision, clarifying the stance with the other party, and ending the coaching relationship while maintaining the Client/Sponsor interests as paramount. In all such situations, the ICF Professional must support the Client or Sponsor to transition to another ICF Professional and/or allow for cancellation of the coaching arrangement.

  • Standard 25

    Section IV – Responsibility to Society

    As an ICF Professional, I:

    1. Avoid discrimination by maintaining fairness and equality in all activities and operations, while respecting local rules and cultural practices. This includes, but is not limited to, discrimination on the basis of age, race, gender expression, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, disability or military status.

    Ethical Interpretive Statement to Standard 25

    Discrimination by ICF Professionals is unacceptable and is unethical and is a breach of this standard.

    Discrimination is prejudiced and biased behaviors of individual ICF professionals including those that are:

    • Based in, but not limited to, race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, spiritual practice, class, ethnicity, rank and status, ability, age, nationality, and other social group identities
    • Expressed with behaviors that can be conscious and unconscious, intentional and unintentional, and overt and covert
    • Demonstrated by providing unearned rewards and benefits to clients with dominant-group identities and penalize and harm clients with marginalized-group identities in ways that might have fierce outcomes which are life-diminishing, life-deadening, life-threatening, and life-ending
    • Explained and justified on legal, constitutional, scientific, cultural, religious, statistical, values, beliefs, profitability, medical, psychological, philosophical, emotional, physical, sexual, authority, superiority, systemic, and other “reasonable discrimination” grounds.

    The attitude of ICF Professionals is to be neutral. It is about the client’s perception and assessments and options for action and not about the coach’s values and views. It is not the task of the ICF Professionals to transfer their value systems to clients or their environment. However, nobody is free of prejudices. The ICF Professionals must therefore know their own reservations and work on themselves through self-reflection. If they find that reservations are so strong that they affect the quality of the coaching process, it is not right to start the process. If the assessment is made during an ongoing process, the ICF Professional should take the case to supervision and if necessary, end the relationship.

    An ICF Professional may turn down offering service to a client for personal reasons, such as value conflicts. However, these reasons should not be based on local legal definitions of discrimination. This standard also calls on the ICF Professional to consciously ensure that this Code will be followed unless it is superseded by local law or statute or organizational policy. ICF Professionals need to know the local laws regarding which people groups are legally protected and which people groups are often in danger of being discriminated.

    ICF Professionals must act with awareness of the cultural filters which affect their views of the world, respect cultures different from their own, and be sensitive to cross-cultural and multicultural differences and their implications. Discrimination experienced by coaching clients from ICF Professionals and others, needs to be addressed in the coaching process.

  • Standard 26

    Section IV – Responsibility to Society

    As an ICF Professional, I:

    1. Recognize and honor the contributions and intellectual property of others, only claiming ownership of my own material. I understand that a breach of this standard may subject me to legal remedy by a third party.

    Ethical Interpretive Statement to Standard 26

    Intellectual property (IP) is a work or invention that is the result of creativity giving one the rights to apply for a patent, copyright, trademark etc. IP allows for the protection against brand misuse or abuse.

    This standard calls on the ICF Professional to recognize and honor the contributions and intellectual property rights of other’s published or originally created material. If someone else owns it, the ICF Professional cannot borrow, replicate, or duplicate it in any form without the explicit written permission of the owner or publisher.

    As local copyright laws change, it is expected of ICF Professionals to inform themselves about the current requirements and fully comply with them. This applies in particular to references, citation rules, etc.

    It is an expectation that those working with ICF (speakers, vendors, contractors, service providers, etc.) abide by the copyright laws of the applicable local legal venue and give proper attribution.

  • Standard 27

    Section IV – Responsibility to Society

    As an ICF Professional, I:

    1. Am honest and work within recognized scientific standards, applicable subject guidelines and boundaries of my competence when conducting and reporting research.

    Ethical Interpretive Statement to Standard 27

    ICF Professionals are encouraged to conduct coaching research in order to advance the knowledge gained in coaching as coaches. However, they should always be aware that they are seen as ICF’s calling card and as an example of professional coaching and behave accordingly. This also includes knowing and representing the ICF understanding of coaching, the ICF values, the core competencies and the code of ethics.

    If an ICF Professional chooses to engage in formal research under the banner of coaching, it should be done according to professional standards. Sharing honestly how the research will be used and made available, protecting the identity of the respondents, or obtaining their written consent for their identity to be included in the research, is an integral part of this standard.

    Coaching research should be conducted and reported with an approach that provides participants with informed consent and protects participants from any potential harm. References to contributions listed in other publications, or obtained from other sources, must be explicitly mentioned in accordance with professional guidelines for conducting and reporting research.

    This standard applies to a variety of coaching research methodologies including: descriptive and analytical, applied and fundamental, quantitative and qualitative, and conceptual and empirical research. Conducting and reporting coaching research includes:

    • Sharing results of coaching research and coaching knowledge and expertise
    • Adding to the knowledge base and practices of coaching and the coaching profession
    • Presenting, writing, publishing, and educating about coaching and coaching knowledge and skills
    • Honoring, acknowledging, and crediting the efforts and contributions of others
    • Promoting the sharing of coaching knowledge and skills widely among dominant and marginalized people and communities

    This standard calls on the ICF Professional to be sure to adhere to local laws (e.g. HIPAA, GDPR, etc.). If ICF Professionals are unsure about the proper way to conduct proper research, they should consult a qualified academic or scientific source for guidance.

    For a review of ICF’s Privacy Policy, Research Policies and Spam Policy, please follow the link below.

  • Standard 28

    Section IV – Responsibility to Society

    As an ICF Professional, I:

    1. Am aware of my and my clients’ impact on society. I adhere to the philosophy of “doing good,” versus “avoiding bad.”

    Ethical Interpretive Statement to Standard 28

    This standard refers to a basic attitude of the coach, a mindset that goes beyond the practice of coaching. This calls on the ICF Professional to exhibit ethical maturity. Professional coaching is a profession that has an impact on society. ICF Professionals should seek to be aware of this and rely on the Code of Ethics to reflect on their actions within the framework of professional development.

    The ICF Professional should work with a consideration of the larger-system impacts of coaching; i.e. impacts beyond individuals, groups, and organizations. The ICF Professional should act with sensitivity that coaching may alter the lives and well-being of people within client systems and the larger systems of which they are a part. The ICF Professional should apply this code of ethics in a global context.

    ICF Professionals should think systemically; have a multiple levels-of-system perspective: individual, family, group, organization, community, nation, world. They should understand their interdependence with clients, coach-client relationships, other individuals, groups, organizations, and other systems and their co-creation of system issues and innovations.

    ICF Professionals are open, accepting, and curious which means they learn about both differences and commonalities. ICF Professionals refer positively or neutrally to colleagues. ICF Professionals should not engage in belittling comments about a coaching colleagues’ level of competence or point of view in verbal, written, and electronic communications. This does not mean that ICF professionals should shy away from general discussions about quality in the coaching industry.

    This standard calls for more than “avoiding bad.” Also, “doing good” means being aligned both with ethical standards as well as with the ICF core values and principles.

    It involves contemplating one’s action/behavior towards others. “Doing good” in all such interactions calls for not doing any harm to the other person even if there is no specific Standard within this Code. Do no harm” is an underlying principle of this standard. It applies with a multiple levels-of-system perspective. Do no harm to clients, other ICF professionals, ICF staff, support personnel, families, groups, organizations, the communities of which they are a part, and the larger society.

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