Life coaching is an important job, not just because you provide guidance to those in need of it, but also because your clients will trust the advice you give. Because your clients trust you, ethics and confidentiality are two key elements of the profession you need to fully grasp before you start building up your clientele.
Ethical Principles for Life Coaches
All life coaches have to adhere to a handful of key ethical principles to become trustworthy and to do their jobs legally. These are:
- Put another way, you need to focus on promoting the well-being of your clients, even if it means making less of a profit
- Non-maleficence, or avoiding harm to your clients. This ties into the above ethical principle
- You should respect your clients’ rights to make their own decisions regardless of what you advise
- Fidelity, or maintaining trust and loyalty in the relationships you have with each of your coaching clients
Overall, these four ethical principles will guide your actions and ensure that you don’t take advantage of your clients, particularly in moments of vulnerability. Every good life coach will ensure that each exercise, development plan, and other service they provide to their clients includes all of these principles, not just one or two.
Confidentiality in Life Coaching
Confidentiality is another key topic in life coaching no matter your niche or focus. In a nutshell, confidentiality means that you protect your clients’ personal information no matter what (with very few exceptions) and that you establish boundaries between yourself and your clients.
One good example is relationship closeness. As a life coach, you have an ethical obligation not to form close attachments to any of your clients. Don’t talk about your personal problems, for example, since you’re supposed to be providing a professional service, not the other way around.
As far as confidentiality is concerned, you must:
- Keep your clients’ information safe and private. For example, if a client tells you that they feel bad about a personal issue, you should not reveal that information to the person concerns
- Prevent your clients’ information from being leaked. This means keeping your life coach notes under lock and key and not putting important client notes on a computer where they can easily be stolen
Confidentiality is so important because it impacts client trust. If you don’t do a good job of keeping client information confidential, you’ll find it difficult to keep and retain clients over your life coaching career.
Navigating Ethical Dilemmas
As a life coach, you’ll occasionally encounter ethical dilemmas. Put simply, an ethical dilemma is a situation where the ethical answer or course of action isn’t very clear. You might have two different competing ethical principles at play, for example.
Say that you have a life coach client who is skipping their vital work as a parent and nurse to visit you during your office hours. You have an obligation to keep that information confidential and work for your client. But at the same time, many life coaches might wonder whether it’s ethical to allow someone to abandon parental responsibilities just for a life coaching session. This ethical dilemma will require careful consideration on your part.
Furthermore, some life coaching niches have their own specific ethical challenges and dilemmas. As an example, when you coach a very young person, like a freshman in college student or a teenager/minor, you have to ask yourself:
- Should their parent be present?
- What information should you tell a minor client’s parents about your meetings since they aren’t full adults?
Or maybe you primarily offer your life coaching services to businesses. If a client tells you that they’re committing a minor crime, like embezzling from the company, should you tell the corporation they work for, even though this would be a violation of confidentiality?
In general, it’s best to err on the side of caution and obey the law (for instance, in the above example of the employee stealing, it would be more ethical to report the violation than it would to retain confidentiality). Still, you’ll have to develop and use your best judgment as you progress through your life coaching career to navigate these ethical dilemmas.
Since that’s a skill you can only build up with practice, you should continue to read more about life coaching ethics and confidentiality exercises over time.
Professional Ethics Codes and Standards
Many life coaches adhere to sets of professional ethics codes and standards. For example, if you try to acquire a certificate from the Life Coach Certification Institute, you’ll have to adhere to ethical principles like:
- To act ethically and with the benefit of your client in mind when working as a coach
- To maintain a professional relationship with your clients at all times
- To make truthful and honest statements to your clients and in all marketing materials
- And so on
Most life coaches use guidelines sets like these so they always know how to act ethically in any particular situation. Professional associations in the life coaching industry can help you stay ethical and trustworthy among your clientele.
To foster a relationship of honesty and trust between yourself and your clients, put up a list of these ethical principles in your office and make sure that each of your clients gets a copy of the principles you adhere to. This is a good way to demonstrate your commitment to ethical action and integrity to your clients right from the beginning of your business relationship with them.
In summary, practicing your life coaching services ethically – and ensuring that you are always confidential with your clients and their information – is vital for the long-term success of your business. Your clients will only trust you if you are ethical in all of your dealings with them.