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Shh...Coach, It's a Secret: Coaching & Confidentiality

Updated: Oct 18, 2021

Don't tell anyone...but my client's SSN is XXX-XX-XXXX

How would you feel if, after a groundbreaking coaching session where you poured out your heart & soul and ugly-cried, your coach immediately told everyone they knew?

How would you feel if one day you saw your coach put up a testimonial, quoting you with a picture, and you didn't give your expressed permission?

Or what if you are a teenager who's parents got you a coach and you knew everything you said would be repeated verbatim to your parents after?

Probably not good!

In all three of these scenarios, there is a lack of one key aspect in coaching.


In the simplest of terms this means keeping your clients secrets and not sharing information that directly identifies them.

Things get tricky though when we look at examples and find ourselves in ethical dilemmas. That is why this week on CLCs

What is Confidentiality?

Buckle up language nerds, we are about to have some fun.

Confidentiality comes to us from the word confidence. Confidence is brought to us from the Latin word confidere - meaning having full trust. Confidere contains the Latin root fideles - meaning faith/trust.

All in all, when you break confidentiality, you break a persons trust.

How does the International Coaching Federation interpret confidentiality?

To the ICF, confidentiality means protecting any information obtained around the coaching engagement unless consent to release is given. This includes info that is either documented or verbal and is bound by the ICF Code of Ethics. What is not considered confidential is information that:

  • was in the coach's possession prior to it being provided by the client

  • is generally known to the public or in the client's industry

  • is obtained by the coach from a third party, without breach of any obligation to the client

  • is independently developed by the coach without use of or reference to the client's confidential info

  • is disclosed to the coach and the coach reasonably believes there is an imminent or likely risk of danger or harm to the client or others

  • involves illegal activity

Here's and important note: The Coach-Client relationship is NOT considered a legally confidential relationship (like the medical and legal professions) and the information you gather from your client has ZERO protections and legal privilege.

This means if you are ever subpoenaed, you are legally bound by oath to disclose any and all information pertaining to your client to the court.

Ok, So I'm not Legally Obligated to Maintain Confidence. So Why Should I?

Let's momentarily set aside the matter of personal ethics and scruples.

When you become an ICF accredited coach or a CLCI certified coach, you are always held to the standards both institutions set forth. This includes the Code of Ethics and the consequences faced when there are violations.

IF, you are ever found in violation with confidentiality, the injured party can file a complaint with the ICF’s Ethical Conduct Review (ECR) process. This provides a safe-space where clients, sponsors, or any individual can lodge complaints about alleged breaches of the ICF Code of Ethics by ICF Members and ICF Credential-holders.

This is a long and arduous process and we do not envy any coach that has to go through this as it could potentially mean a coach faces remediation or, at worst, losing their credentials.

Confidentiality Beyond the Client

As coaches, we need to be vigilant that we don't overlook other matters of privacy in our profession. What else do we need to consider?

  • Confidentially between the coach, client, and sponsor.

The sponsor is anyone who is paying for the coaching for another. Sometimes the sponsor gets to know everything, sometimes nothing at all. This will vary depending on if the sponsor is a large corporation or a parent of teenagers

The important part. Make sure all parties understand and agree to the same standards of confidentially.

  • Record keeping

How do you maintain records and keep them safe? Do you even maintain records? How long do you keep records?

A notepad left on the table of your office is far less safe than encrypted files secured on the cloud (your own server or Google Docs/ Dropbox/ iCloud/ etc.) In addition to this, how you store login credentials and maintain good computer security fall under maintaining confidentiality.

  • Colleagues and staff

You may have entered into a business partnership with a coach or have hired support personnel. Are they privy to client information and are they informed about maintaining absolute confidentiality?

Knowing all of this and including necessary provisions in the Coach-Client Contract can be the difference between a happy client vs one who is filing complaints against you.

Enough Hypothetical Mumbo-Jumbo. I Need Real Examples

Here are some helpful examples that will help you as a coach navigate the murky waters of confidentiality in practice.

Should I get a release of confidentiality in writing?

Yes. YES YES YES. While verbal consent is sufficient, no one can refute the release if it is signed and dated by the relevant parties.

Can I use former clients as references/testimonials?

Yes, as long as you have permission from relevant parties (clients and sponsors).

I'm providing information for research, interviews, or articles. How much info can I provide?

You can give information that does not trace back to any individual, client, or sponsor. You cannot give away contact info. You can also speak about coaching in generalities:

Yes: "I helped an executive client reach their confidence goals in 2013."

NO: "I helped one of the former C-Suite executives at Amazon regain confidence in his bald head in 2013"

Be safe & smart and get expressed permission for anything more detailed.

I'm coaching Mark. Mark's colleague/friend/significant other also wants me to be their coach. Do I need to inform Mark?

No. Unless Mark has discussed this prior arrangement, assume that neither Mark nor the other client are aware the other is working with you. Also be aware of potential conflicts of interest, Mark may disclose information about the other client that they would have otherwise not said, and vice versa

My client's manager has a coaching outcome that they do not want the client to know about. The manager is the client's sponsor.

Whatever is in the coach-client agreement must be accepted by all parties. This scenario causes a serious ethical dilemma and in no way can you coach a client for a goal they themselves are unaware of.

During class we breakoff into breakout rooms and I practice coaching with another student. We reconvene with the class after, am I allowed to share personal information gained during our session?

Not unless you have the other students expressed permission

During a coaching session a client discloses information that gives me reasonable cause to believe that they may cause harm to themselves or others. Should I say something?

Yes. You have an ethical responsibility to report threats of imminent danger or violence. This in no way is seen as a violation of confidentiality.


Here is confidentially summed up in three points:

  • Get permission

  • Get it in writing

  • Use common sense

Confidentiality shouldn't be a source of undue stress, and it's always easier to practice than it is to break.

If you need further guidance, just be like our old friend. Johnny Tight Lips


We want to let you all know that our very own Brooke Adair Walters (COO & Business Strategist) is being nominated for the Women to Watch Award for her accomplishments and success with Cunning.Marketing and CLCI.

This award is ceremony is hosted by the Connected Women of Influence and the 2021 National Women of Influence Awards,

The Women to Watch Award Recognizes a woman under 40 years of age who has significant accomplishments and/or success in their chosen industry or profession.

We would like to invite all of you to support Brooke in our nomination and join us for the virtual award ceremony on November 4th from 11:30am - 1:30pm

To join in the celebration of Women’s Achievements and Accomplishments in Business and support CLCI, register for your virtual seat here.


Thank you,

Lisa Finck, Brooke Adair Walters, Jerome LeDuff Jr., and Anthony Lopez!

Join us every Tuesday at 4 pm PST/7 PM EST for our CLCI Live Facebook Demos.

We now stream from our site! Watch by clicking here

We also now stream live on YouTube! Subscribe to our channel and don't miss out!

Don't miss out on our 3-day life coach classes, it's an education that is beneficial for life, not just for life coaches! Want to learn more click here.


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