What’s the Difference Between ICF & NBHWC

Are you a qualified coach who is wondering how to gain professional credibility and endorsement? You might have been looking at ICF and NBHWC accreditation but aren’t sure which way to go. By the end of this episode, you’ll be clear on the difference between ICF and NBHWC as professional associations, what the process is for getting accredited by either, and perhaps some clarity on which option is better for you.

In this episode, we’ll cover

* Presence and resonance
* The inspiration for the book: The Connoisseur of Time
* How changing your relationship with time supports better coaching and business growth
* How being present creates more satisfying relationships

If you’re a qualified coach of any type, then being a member of a respected industry association gives you professional credibility, visibility and a measure of competence as a coach. There are various professional coaching associations around, and the two most talked-about in health and wellness coaching are ICF – the International Coaching Federation – and the NBHWC – the National Board-Certified Health and Wellness Coaching Association. Let’s compare the two.

What is the difference between ICF and NBHWC?

Let’s start with the International Coaching Federation.

ICF is a global organisation for coaches and coaching, which has been around since 1995 and has over 50,000 members. ICF aims to advance the coaching profession by defining and upholding coaching ethics, standards, core competencies and professional conduct. ICF also provides independent certification and a worldwide network of trained coaching professionals.

ICF members are typically life coaches, executive coaches, leadership coaches and similar.

Having been around a long time, ICF is well known in Australia and in corporate settings, having at least a PCC qualification helps you get in the door as a coach at executive level. ICF promotes itself as “the most globally recognised, independent credentialing program for coach practitioners.”

Now let’s compare the National Board-Certified Health and Wellness Coaches Association.

NBHWC is an American-based association that has collaborated with the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) in the US, to provide a robust board certification exam that assesses competencies in trained health and wellness coaches. NBHWC defines and upholds health and wellness coaching standards and core competencies at an international level, allowing the profession to advance in all aspects of healthcare and wellness. NBHWC was developed and endorsed by some of the major players in health and wellness coaching.

NBHWC has been around since 2016 and is linked to the medical and Medicare system in the US – but not elsewhere. Still, NBHWC is considered by many to be the gold standard of credentialling for health and wellness coaches specifically, and at an international level.

NBHWC is not as well known in Australia as ICF at the time of writing but is becoming better known as more coach training organisations register as recognised providers with NBHWC and promote this status of their program.

Aside from advocacy and maintaining standards of training and coaching competency, both associations play key roles in advocating for our professions, creating a community for coaches, and approving training courses that qualify coaches to sit the respective exams.

What is the process for getting accredited by either?

ICF Accreditation process ICF has recently (early 2022) updated their credentialing exam, process and levels. What I am about to describe covers this new process.

The ICF accreditation process involves submitting a portfolio of evidence first and an application fee. ICF assesses your application and then decides whether you are eligible to sit a three-hour multiple choice exam which they call a Coach Knowledge Assessment.

The portfolio of evidence varies according to the level of qualification you are pursuing, but all levels include certain types of information:

  • Proof that you have successfully completed an ICF-approved course of a certain number of live (real-time) hours and evidence of successful completion*,
  • A coaching log with a certain number of hours depending on the level you are applying for,
    • At least 75% of hours must be paid hours
    • At least 25% of hours must have been completed in the 18 months prior to your application
  • Completion of at least 10 hours of mentoring with an approved ICF mentor, and
  • Submitting 1 recording of a coaching session and a transcript, which demonstrates you have met the ICF core competencies (this is a different session structure to HWC). This only applies to PCC or MCC-level applications.

As you go higher up the qualification levels, you need more hours of everything before you can sit the exam.

The bottom level is Associate Certified Coach or ACC, where you need to show evidence of completing 60 hours of coach-specific education and 100 hours of client coaching experience (e.g. coaching log).

The middle level is Professional Certified Coach or PCC, where you need to show evidence of completing 125 hours of coach-specific education and 500 hours of client coaching experience.

The top level is Master Certified Coach or MCC, where you need to show evidence of completing 200 hours of coach-specific education and 2,500 hours of client coaching experience.

*Note that If you have not completed ICF-approved education, you may choose the portfolio pathway for any of these three levels. This requires you to provide specific details of all the courses you have completed, including continuing education courses and the number of hours related to each core competency.

For example, I completed the PCC application process. I had completed one ICF-approved course, but to make up the 125 hours of coach-specific training, I also provided evidence of four other courses I completed, each showing the curriculum, number of hours on each competency, and learning outcomes. It was a BIG job to do this, but I got through.

If your application is accepted, you will be notified and invited to sit the exam which can be done online from your home computer. The range of possible scores is 200 – 600, and a passing score is 460 or more.

I’d recommend about 4 weeks of study for the exam, given that your 10 mentoring sessions and private client coaching should have prepared you adequately, and there are no health metrics that need to be studied and learned.

Your application and the exam are all entirely accessed by a secure online portal on the ICF website.

NBHWC Accreditation process

The NBHWC accreditation process is similar to ICF’s.

You are required to submit a portfolio of evidence first and an application fee. Then, NBHWC assesses your application and decides whether you are eligible to sit a 4.5-hour multiple-choice exam. NBHWC lists a calendar that shows exam application periods each year. They have 3 intakes per year at the time of writing.

Once you have applied you have a window of time to submit a portfolio of evidence and then, if that is accepted, to book in and sit your exam and pay the associated fee.

The portfolio of evidence includes certain types of information:

  • Proof that you have successfully completed an NBHWC-approved course of a certain number of live (real-time) hours (e.g. Wellness Coaching Australia’s Professional Certificate course),
  • A coaching log showing 50 hours of health and wellness coaching sessions
    • at least 20 minutes long,
    • at least 75% of the session was coaching and not education,
    • not including sessions with friends, family or classmates, and
    • must have been completed AFTER completing your recognised training course.
  • Submitting evidence of a health-related Bachelor’s degree, or alternatively, that you have completed 4,000 hours of work experience in any field.

The NBHWC website includes plenty of great resources including a sample coaching log.

>> Here is a link to the exam study materials and information

If your application is accepted you will be notified and invited to sit the exam, and will need to find a secure test centre location near you.

I’d recommend allowing about 12 weeks of study, 2 – 3 hours per week, covering their core competencies and learning the American medical metrics (these are tested).

Once your exam is completed, you will receive your score about 8 weeks after the closing of the testing window.

In both cases, the multiple-choice exam asks you to answer questions about specific situations.

For example, in the NBHWC exam, you might be asked what you would do if your client in their 10th session came in and was lacking motivation to continue. There are also specific questions about US medical metrics.

In the ICF exam, you might be asked what the best possible or worst possible action might be as a coach if your client presented with low motivation and reluctance to discuss specifics.

In other words, knowing the theory of coaching isn’t enough – the exams are testing your knowledge of how to implement the skills you’ve learned in real-life situations, and related to the stage of change, size of obstacle, scope of practice and ethical considerations.

This is an overview of the two assessment processes – visit their websites to gain more specific details of what is involved.

Which option is better for you?

The best option depends on your situation.

For some health and wellness coaches, NBHWC is more relevant as it is more specific to health and wellness coaching and is often desirable or essential for international coaching companies who employ health and wellness coaches (e.g. Noom – though they have an internal training program for this, possibly BetterUp).

While the general public in Australia doesn’t recognise NBHWC at this point in time, the credential is becoming better known. Plus, it is more specific to health and wellness coaching and the assessment considers a more specific model around habit change.

For some health and wellness coaches, ICF is a better fit. This is probably relevant if you want to break into corporate coaching, where ICF is recognised, and PCC is often the minimum standard.

ICF is more broadly recognised, although the credentialing system does not specifically assess knowledge of health and wellbeing metrics or the development of habits.

Either way, being credentialled by ICF or NBHWC is good for your credibility but possibly involves a whole new suite of qualification courses, time and cost.

For many coaches starting out, it is better to work with clients and get proof that you can help people to build credibility and trust, before considering a formal credentialling process.

A Third Option

There is a third option – joining HCANZA; Health Coaches Australia and New Zealand Association.

This industry association is not a credentialing body, but it performs many of the same functions as ICF and NBHWC and upholds the standards of ethics and education of those two associations.

HCANZA provides community and connection in our local area, as well as advocacy for health and wellness coaching professionals and creating visibility and employment in our field.

HCANZA does not have a lengthy, costly examination process, just a requirement to show successful completion of:

  • an NBHWC-recognised training program, or
  • an ICF-recognised training program plus appropriate health and/or lifestyle education.

Other levels of membership are available if you:

  • Are an allied health professional with an advanced degree and coaching experience and training
  • Are a current or prospective student of a health and wellness coaching course, or
  • Have completed a coaching program with health and lifestyle training meeting the criteria set by NBHWC.

There are three levels of membership:

  • Professional membership
  • Associate membership, and
  • Student membership.

To apply for HCANZA membership, you need to provide evidence of training as mentioned above, professional indemnity insurance (or cover note), code of conduct and scope of practice documents, and an online application form and fee.


It’s clear that you can bolster your professional standing, credibility and visibility by being credentialed by an industry body such as ICF or NBHWC, or by being a member of an industry association such as HCANZA.

Any path you take requires you to have completed a certain standard of training by a training provider who teaches and assesses core coaching competencies.

In the case of NBHWC and HCANZA, evidence of health and lifestyle training is also required.

For ICF and NBHWC, allow around 4 – 12 weeks of study and evidence preparation.

If you are new to the industry and not sure where to start, your best option may be to simply join HCANZA, get some practice and experience as a coach, and then decide on your future direction before committing to a credentialling process that costs time, energy and money.

Ready to get clarity on your pathway to success?

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