One of our absolute core values is to advocate for the professional practice of divorce coaching and yet we keep coming up against 2 things that make us crazy. The first one, we talked about in podcast episode #74, and and that is individuals using the title of divorce coach without the proper training.
In this post and in follow up episode #76, we really wrestle with the idea that there is no oversight in the divorce coaching industry. There’s no organization that determines which training programs meet minimum standards. Hell, no one has even defined what those standards are. And this is creating some buyer beware issues for people looking to get training as a divorce coach. If anybody can say anything, teach anything, or sell anything - how will we ever gain credibility as a profession?
Let's go over the 4 areas where divorce coaching is feeling like the wild west compared to other professions:
If you want to become an attorney, a doctor, a nurse, a licensed mental health professional, a CPA, a plumber, or just about any other professional that the public relies on for services…there is either a state or federal organization that governs what those practitioners must know and approves educational providers.
Let’s use medical doctors for an example. Someone can’t just call themselves an MD because they’ve dealt with some difficult health problems. It’s an intentional pursuit of the right kind of training from the right providers and then a licensing process.
The first step for aspiring doctors is to take rigorous prerequisite courses and the Medical College Admission Test® (MCAT®). They then proceed with submitting formal applications to accredited medical schools. According to the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges), each medical school develops its own curriculum, in part, to meet the health care needs of its community, the unique mission of the school, and the learning needs of its students while also meeting the Liaison Committee on Medical Education’s rigorous requirements for accreditation.
So after getting an undergraduate degree and taking the MCAT, students apply to the medical school or schools of their choice. They go through a 2-way interview and evaluation process to determine if they are a good fit. If all goes well, it’s a match and the student gets a letter of admission.
So notice this model right here. There is one body that determines the standards or requirements for accreditation, that’s the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, but many educational providers, that’s all the different medical schools. The organization that sets the standards and does the accreditation is NOT the same organization that provides that education. There is no scenario in which someone has the authority to accredit themselves. They are separate to provide accountability and a balance of power.
This is the first place where things go a little sideways in the divorce coaching industry. There simply is no group setting educational standards. Anyone can say they train divorce coaches without regard to content, quality, examination, or standards of learning. The Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar is the recognized national agency for the accreditation of programs leading to the J.D. degree in the United States. We have the Liaison Committee on Medical Education to provide that for medical schools. The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) accredits master’s and doctoral degree programs in counseling. These are independent organizations made up of professionals with expertise in those fields. Now there are companies out there that say they “accredit” training programs, but would you trust someone without any medical experience to evaluate the quality of a medical school’s curriculum?
Divorce coaching is the wild, wild west. Our profession has no Board of Standards. And we certainly don’t have an entity that is separate from our educational providers. Every single program is self-policing. That’s why we see 4-week self study divorce coaching programs advertised for $149 that don’t seem to have any practicing, professional divorce coaches as faculty. There are programs like the CDC aligned with ICF and programs like DCA aligned with the ABA and the world of alternative dispute resolution. We see trainings that are focused on co-parenting, custody litigation, emotional wellness, divorce recovery and more. While it’s important for students to have options, they should be able to feel assured that they’ll get the minimum required education in any program they choose. That’s simply not the case right now. Every training program decides for themselves what is and isn’t important.
If we continue along with our medical example, doctors are required to complete at least 3 years of residency. This is supervised, hands-on training training as part of a patient care team under the guidance of experienced attending physicians. They learned in the classroom in medical school, but can they apply what they learned with patients? Plumbers must complete an apprenticeship of several years (depending on the state) under the supervision of a licensed journeyman or master plumber before they are licensed to work on their own. Therapists must work a certain number of hours under clinical supervision.
This is the second place where the divorce coaching industry runs into trouble. Some divorce coaching programs do require a period of mentorship, others don’t. And the programs that do include this component vary in level of skill and experience they require from their mentors. Many programs have no supervisory requirements at all. We can tell you with 100% confidence that putting theory into practice requires practice and professional guidance. Even after a solid 40 hours of fundamental learning, our students are not yet prepared to work with clients. They need time to try out their new skills under the watchful eye of an experienced teacher who can both encourage and give feedback. Coaches grow exponentially in competence and confidence throughout a professional mentorship and skipping this critical step is doing them and their future clients a disservice. Excellent mentoring is what teaches coaches the all important skill of reflective practice so they have the ability to self-assess and self-correct when they are practicing on their own.
Next, most professionals take some sort of licensing exam to demonstrate that they have mastered the knowledge and skills required to do the job they’ve trained to do. They are not certified or qualified to practice until they have passed this exam. To become an MD, in addition to medical school and residency training, individuals must pass 3 levels of the United States Medical Licensing Examination®. In addition to coursework and work experience, accountants must pass the Uniform CPA Examination in order to receive the designation of CPA. Attorneys have to pass the bar exam. Massage therapists, nurses, electricians, real estate agents and more have to pass competency exams. My son recently got a drone for his business and he had to pass an FAA drone pilot test.
Now this is where things get really hairy for us. Because there are no educational standards, what testing would apply to the profession of divorce coaching? Right. We can’t do it. So for now, it’s left up to the individual training organizations to take on this responsibility. And frankly, some really don’t. As long as students showed up for the coursework, voila! They passed. And that’s a big problem. What we do is far too important for our training to be attendance rather than performance based.
The truth is that some students don’t master the skills the first time through. The pass rate for the 2022 bar exam in the US was 59%. CPA exam pass rates varied from 44% to 61% depending on the section. Are these numbers low because the exams are super hard? Maybe, but don’t you want them to be? Don’t we want the professionals we entrust with our physical and emotional health, our money, our homes, and our legal matters to be held to a high standard? Why is divorce coaching any different? Until there is something different in place, DCA will utilize a multi-layer assessment process including attendance and completion of work, participation in mentor coaching, evaluation from the mentor coach and rigorous review of a final coaching session. If and only if a student is found to demonstrate competency in all areas of the DCA curriculum will we offer them the designation of divorce coach. We will not have a 100% pass rate and we’re not sorry. It’s our obligation to the profession to keep that standard of practice high.
Almost every profession realizes 2 things. First, that the foundational education a practitioner starts out with is not sufficient to make them a master at their profession. And second, that the world is constantly changing. What we learned at one point may no longer be considered best practice, laws or knowledge have changed, or new innovations have come along.
Depending on the state, medical doctors are required to pursue an average of 12-50 hours per year of continuing education. Licensed professional counselors must average between 10 and 40 per year and most states include an ethics component. The CPA requirement is 40 hours per year with some states on a rolling 2 or 3 year term. These continuing education activities are reported to the certifying body, not the educational institution. A medical doctor reports their continuing ed to the State Medical Board of Ohio, not to The Ohio State University Medical School.
What continuing education requirements are in place for divorce coaching? Again, they vary by program. Some programs have requirements and some have none. And not only do the number of hours and types of continuing education differ, but there are no standards or qualifications in place in terms of which programs qualify for CE credit. Medical doctors must submit approved CME credits. Attorneys must submit approved CLE credits. We have no such standards.
A Word About Trademarks
Before we wrap up, let’s just talk for a minute about trademarks and what they mean. While having little ™ or circled © or ® after a name looks cool, it doesn’t really mean much. For about $250, you can submit some paperwork to the United States Patent and Trademark Office to essentially protect a logo, brand name, slogan or other source identifier. Having a trademark registered is not an assurance of quality, standards, recognition or status - it’s just branding. Coke and Pepsi both make cola and as a consumer, You get to choose which you prefer. Trademarks distinguish brands and sources. Period.
So, recall from our medical example…both The Ohio State University and The University of Michigan have medical schools. Same product from a different source. There are a variety of sources for divorce coach training too. The big difference is, it’s not the same product. Medical schools are accredited so there is an assurance that the Liaison Committee on Medical Education’s educational requirements are being met. That gives aspiring medical doctors confidence that either school will provide what they need for their intended career path. There is no accreditation in the divorce coaching world, no single organization that sets standards and a trademark certainly doesn’t infer that. A trademark is paperwork that protects a brand name, nothing more.
So, Now What?
All this to say that being pioneers is hard. Everybody is out here doing their own thing and meanwhile students don’t know what they’re getting and clients don’t know who to trust. Now don’t get us wrong. We’re not saying we have all the answers or that we should own the divorce coaching world. We believe there should be lots of educational options. What we’re struggling with is the confusion it causes for those seeking training as a divorce coach.
There are no universally accepted standards, there’s no governance, and there’s no barrier to entry. That means anyone can call themselves a divorce coach and anyone can say they train divorce coaches.
It’s the wild, wild west right now and anybody can say anything. So all we do for now is continue to remind both potential learners and clients to pause before they believe everything they read. Encourage them to take responsibility for their own process and do their research, ask questions, and make sure they’re getting what they think they’re getting. A name, a trademark, fancy language, or a title doesn’t mean a thing in this world. As they would say in the wild west, you gotta watch out for cow patties, coyotes and outlaws. It’s buyer beware.
Thanks for being here.