Pilates Method Alliance Certification Program

What the Accreditation Means and What it Means for You

The Pilates Method Alliance (PMA) Pilates instructor certification program received accreditation from the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA)in May of 2012. But what does NCCA accreditation mean in general and more importantly, what does it mean to you?

The PMA is a not-for-profit Pilates organization for professionals in all areas of the Pilates industry. A large part of their mission is to promote Pilates as a profession, and to support that by helping to establish and maintain the professional standards of Pilates instructor education.

To that end, the PMA is currently the only Pilates organization to provide a professional, third party certification exam. Other Pilates certifications in Pilates happen through Pilates teacher training programs and those are considered educational certifications. That's a little confusing but you can read Pilates Certification Explained to catch up on the differences.

The PMA started the PMA certification exam in 2005 effectively making it a certifying agency. However, the PMA's certification program itself was not accredited -- which is how these things go. First you establish your organization. Then you create and administer the certification exam, which is a huge undertaking in itself. Then you run the whole thing for a while and build up policies and procedures and make sure you meet all kinds of professional standards of business, and then you get to apply for accreditation from an organization that accredits certification programs.

In this case, the PMA got their certification program accreditation from the NCCA. That means that they comply with all of the NCCA standards for being a certifying agency. A quote from the NCCA website sheds light on how those standards are applied: "Certification organizations that submit their programs for accreditation are evaluated based on the process and products, not the content; therefore, the Standards are applicable to all professions and industries."

Much of the point of this process is professional credibility through independent, third party monitoring. The PMA has a certifying exam but it is administered by a third party. Now, the PMA certification is certified by a third party the NCCA, which itself is monitored by a third party, the Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE).

The ICE says it created the NCCA "to help ensure the health, welfare, and safety of the public through the accreditation of a variety of certification programs/organizations that assess professional competence." Which sounds very close to the PMA's mission -- ensuring the welfare of the public through certification that reflects compliance with certain standards. And that is a big part of what all of this might mean to you.

As a Pilates consumer, if you choose a PMA certified instructor, the intention is that you have a level of assurance that your instructor has met certain standards and the organization that says the instructor has met those standards has the credentials to back that up.

Now there are a lot of details about what those teacher standards are and how they came to be, some of which you will find in my interview with the executive director of the PMA Elizabeth Anderson. You can also find out more at the PMA website. If you are a Pilates professional, it should benefit you if the public has confidence in your profession. If you are certified by the PMA, or considering certification, you now have extra assurance the PMA program has been declared fit to certify by a professional accrediting agency.

When I interviewed Elizabeth Anderson, the executive director of the PMA, in the fall of 2011, I asked her why the PMA was going for accreditation (they had just the day before finished filing all their paperwork) and what the implications were. In addition to what I've cited above about credibility for the profession, she talked about the need for the Pilates industry to be its own authority should the time come when state governments start looking at managing certification. If there is an accredited, professional organization establishing the criteria for Pilates instructor certification the states are more likely to accept their guidelines than try to establish new ones themselves; which could be a nightmare for the Pilates industry and unlikely to serve the consumer as well as having certification standards set by those who know something about it. Elizabeth also gave the example of gaining the confidence of large industries such as the U.S. military which has expressed interest in getting guidance on developing Pilates programs for the military but needed the PMA to be accredited first.

Finally, over the years there has been a lot of talk about the PMA certifying Pilates teacher training programs in addition to, or instead of, individual Pilates instructors. When I talked with Elizabeth Anderson about this, she assured me that the PMA was a long way from being able to do that, even if they decide they want to. However, having their certification program is one of the pieces that would have to be in place before they went on to address certification of Pilates instructor training programs.

As always, your comments are welcome.

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