According to the California Code, Business and Professions Code - BPC § 2903:

(a) No person may engage in the practice of psychology, or represent himself or herself to be a psychologist, without a license granted under this chapter, except as otherwise provided in this chapter.  The practice of psychology is defined as rendering or offering to render to individuals, groups, organizations, or the public any psychological service involving the application of psychological principles, methods, and procedures of understanding, predicting, and influencing behavior, such as the principles pertaining to learning, perception, motivation, emotions, and interpersonal relationships; and the methods and procedures of interviewing, counseling, psychotherapy, behavior modification, and hypnosis; and of constructing, administering, and interpreting tests of mental abilities, aptitudes, interests, attitudes, personality characteristics, emotions, and motivations.

To me, this sounds like it would cover a lot of behavior that people who market themselves as coaches engage in.

WeTrainLifeCoaches which trains life coaches in California suggests:

There are no legal requirements to become a general life coach in California, so the best way to show your legitimacy to clients is by receiving certification from an agency. The best-known certification agency is The International Coach Federation (ICF), which offers different levels of life coach certification.

As they speak about there not being a legal requirement, it seems like the coaches they train are not automatically licensed via the above-quoted profession code.

In actual case law, where's the line between what coaches can legally do and what they require being licensed under that section?

  • "coaching" usually is sports training, right?
    – Trish
    Jun 24, 2022 at 14:27
  • 1
    @Trish I'm not so sure. There are "life" coaches, "education" coaches, "career" coaches, etc. In my mind it's not always clear where coaching stops and counseling begins.
    – jwh20
    Jun 24, 2022 at 14:39
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    @Trish : There's also a lot of life coaching that's not sport focused. I added a link to make that more clear in the question.
    – Christian
    Jun 24, 2022 at 15:45
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    "Life coach" is a contemporary metaphor based on sports coach.
    – user6726
    Jun 24, 2022 at 15:50
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    Life Coaches don't offer medical psychology services and don't present themselves as psychologists
    – Trish
    Jun 24, 2022 at 16:03

1 Answer 1


In California, psychologists are regulated under Ch 6.6 within Division 2 (Healing Arts) of the Business and Professions Code. §2902 identifies the essential restriction on the business practice, stating that "A person represents himself or herself to be a psychologist when the person holds himself or herself out to the public by any title or description of services..." using various forms of the word 'psychologist', as well as "when the person holds himself or herself out to be trained, experienced, or an expert in the field of psychology". In order to say that you are a psychologist, you have to hold a professional psychologists's license. Likewise to hold yourself out as a nurse, you need a nurse's license. A consequence of being a licensed psychologist is that under the Confidentiality of Medical Information Act, you may assess a patient's mental state, and you must keep that information confidential. A life coach cannot make a diagnosis, and cannot prescribe cures for mental conditions.

§2908 in particular allows other people to do some of what psychologists do:

Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to prevent qualified members of other recognized professional groups licensed to practice in the State of California, such as, but not limited to, physicians, clinical social workers, educational psychologists, marriage and family therapists, licensed professional clinical counselors, optometrists, psychiatric technicians, or registered nurses, or attorneys admitted to the State Bar of California, or persons utilizing hypnotic techniques by referral from persons licensed to practice medicine, dentistry, or psychology, or persons utilizing hypnotic techniques which offer avocational or vocational self-improvement and do not offer therapy for emotional or mental disorders, or duly ordained members of the recognized clergy, or duly ordained religious practitioners from doing work of a psychological nature consistent with the laws governing their respective professions, provided they do not hold themselves out to the public by any title or description of services incorporating the words “psychological,” “psychologist,” “psychology,” “psychometrist,” “psychometrics,” or “psychometry,” or that they do not state or imply that they are licensed to practice psychology; except that persons licensed under Chapter 13.5 (commencing with Section 4989.10) of Division 2 may hold themselves out to the public as licensed educational psychologists.

Analogously, we can talk about the law here without running afoul of UPL laws, because "talking about the law" is not the same as "practicing law". It is a fairly formalistic distinction, but I or a life coach can talk about what would be good for your soul, as long as I don't claim to be a psychologist dispensing professional advice.

  • One point were a life coach and a psychologist are different is in regards to health insurance. A psychologist may diagnose you with say depression and then you can get your health insurance to pay for the counseling by a psychologist. A health insurance will not pay for a life coach.
    – quarague
    Apr 21 at 9:33

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