There exists today some confusion around the term "Pilates certification". Briefly stated, the problem is that the term certification has been used to describe both the result of graduating from a Pilates instructor training program, and a professional status achieved by passing a 3rd party certification examination. These are actually quite different processes with differing parameters. Let me explain:
In the past, most Pilates instructor training programs offered the title "certified Pilates instructor" to students who finished their program of study and passed whatever examinations that particular school required. Many schools still refer to their teacher training programs as certification programs. However, technically, in professional terminology, these students have earned "certificates of education" which is different than a professional industry certification.
Professional certifications are important credentials in many industries. They represent an assurance from the industry to both consumers and those within the industry that the person who has that certification has met certain standards of education, skills, and professionalism. These standards are set by the industry. Sometimes professional certifications are required before one can practice in a specific industry - massage therapists, school teachers, and public accountants (CPA) are examples.
Learn more: What Is Professional Certification? from the Continuing Education site at About.com
Typically, a professional certification is achieved through passing an examination that is monitored by a 3rd party organization and there are prerequisites that must be met before one can sit for the examination. In Pilates, so far, the Pilates Method Alliance (PMA) offers the only professional certification exam for the Pilates industry. The PMA certification program is accredited by the NCCA. When Pilates instructors say that they are PMA certified, they mean they have passed the PMA professional certification exam.
Learn More About PMA Certification
Most Pilates instructor training programs are excellent, requiring many hours of study, practice, and examinations at a level that meets or exceeds the requirements for sitting for the PMA professional exam. However, Pilates training is not regulated. That means that some schools can offer substandard Pilates teacher trainings. It also means that people can call themselves Pilates instructors with no real teacher training. These cases are rare, but they do happen. Having a professional certification for the public to look to as a trustworthy standard is one way an industry can protect the consumer and the reputation of the profession.
In support of having a professional certification standard through the PMA, many Pilates schools have chosen to stop using the term certification to describe their training programs, electing instead to offer graduate diplomas or assessment based certificates. However, this is not uniform across the industry. Some people do not agree with the need for a professional certification within the Pilates industry, and some are not comfortable with the PMA exam. We can, therefore, expect the crossover in the use of the term "certification" to persist for some time. Some Pilates instructors will say they are certified meaning that they graduated from a teacher training program with a certificate of education, and some will be mean they completed a training program and went on to pass the PMA exam for a professional industry certification.
Prompted by this article, Jonathan Urla, The Pilates Method Alliance, and Rael Isacowitz have initiated an in-depth discussion of the Pilates certification issue in the Pilates Forum. Read and comment there: Certification Pros and Cons.