Coaching Integrity in Business

ICF Code of Ethics
When to Terminate the Client Relationship, Part 2
A Series of Articles based on Ethics FAQs

By Vicki Escudé, M.A., M.C.C., B.C.C.
Executive Leadership Coaching, LLC

(Note: Send your Ethics questions for clarification to , and please include the number of the ethics code relating to your question.)

In this series of articles, we are considering the deeper implications of the Code of Ethics. The 20th Code is concerned with the ethics of terminating the client when the needs of the client might best be served by someone else or another resource. We must also ask ourselves when or if we may offer additional services and information to our clients outside of the realm of pure coaching. If we did, how might that affect the coaching relationship?

The 20th Code is the following: I will encourage the client or sponsor to make a change if I believe the client or sponsor would be better served by another coach or by another resource.

What are the gray areas that require further consideration and discernment? Ask yourself these questions:

  • What if my client wants specific information of a consultative nature, and I have some ideas and expertise that might be helpful? May I share my ideas with my client?
  • My client wants to explore her early childhood relationships to understand why she developed her limiting beliefs and past personal issues. May I approach the exploration of this topic with her in coaching?

These questions are addressed below in two scenarios.

The following questions and answers are quoted from the ICF Code of Ethics Frequently Asked Questions, used with permission of the ICF:

Scenario one – providing consultation: I know a lot about nutrition from dieting and taking vitamins and my client has a goal to know more about nutrition. May I share with her what I know?

Answer: More appropriate than giving her information would be to encourage her to find an expert or consultant who is trained in that area. Recommending a professional nutritionist, websites, literature, books would all be acceptable.

Scenario two – exploring past relationships: My client wants to explore how her past relationships have formed her beliefs about current relationships. I have a degree in psychology and learned a lot about that topic. Can I devote time to coaching her about this?

Answer: If you are not a practicing psychologist or therapist, it is not appropriate to bring this information into the coaching relationship and you should encourage your client to find another professional to help.

If you are trained, you could consider creating a separate agreement to deal with this after your coaching relationship has ended. Whereas you might be clear enough in the role differentiation, likely it would be confusing to the client to have you as a therapist and coach at the same time.

Becoming a credentialed coach involves learning about and discussing the standards of behavior and ethics as set by the International Coach Federation. Indeed, having clearly defined ethics as well as a means for reporting violations and providing consequences supports coaching to be a respected profession.

The ICF Code of Ethics takes on a richer meaning when it can be applied to specific situations with clarity. Almost every guideline has a gray area – a point needing interpretation. As we explore the published FAQs, perhaps we can support the further refinement of our profession’s standards of behavior.

If you have an ethics question that you would like to have answered, please let me know and I will initiate discussion and hopefully help you find clarity. Your questions will enhance our professional progress!

Warm regards, Vicki Escudé

VICKI ESCUDE, M.A., MCC, Mentor Coach, is a pioneer in the coaching profession, promoting the professionalism of coaching to several areas of the country for over 15 years. She was among the first coach educators for UTD, Success Unlimited Network®, LLC (SUN), and Strategic Executive Coaching Alliance (SECA). Escudé served on the Board of Directors for the ICF, and was Board Liaison to the Ethics Committee. She has subsequently been a member of the Ethics Committee for several years, and was on the subcommittee to develop the ICF Ethics’ FAQs. Escudé has an active executive coaching and corporate coach training and mentoring practice, and is author of several coaching books: Getting Everything You Want! Coaching for Mastery; Create Your Day with Intention in English, Portuguese and Spanish, and the Fast-Track Leader series published by Get-to-the-Point Books.