Certificate VS. Certification: Credentialing Terminology Matters

This post was originally written and published by Whitney Lowe of Academy of Clinical Massage on January 9, 2018.

There is a great deal of confusion in our profession (as well as many others) about the terms certificate and certification. We have an abundance of marketing and promotional materials in our field which advertise for “certification” in particular modalities or technique methods. However, this illustrates a common misunderstanding about the distinction between a certificate (which is what these programs are) and a certification. There is currently one major Certification program in our profession and that is the Board Certification offered by the NCBTMB. There is also a certification program offered by the Lymphology Association of North America and one by the Certification Board for Myofascial Trigger Point Therapists. While many other CE programs use the term certification  associated with their training, most of them are actually certificate programs. It would clear up a great deal of confusion for professionals in our field and other stakeholders to understand the distinction between certificate and certification programs, so let’s take a look.

The flowchart included below shows how these programs relate to each other. There are two main types of credentialing programs: Certificates and Certification Programs. There are also two types of Certificate programs: 1) Certificates of attendance or participation, which in our profession are called Certificates of Completion and 2) Assessment-Based Certificate (ABC) programs, which in our field are called Certificates of Achievement. The major confusion exists between ABC programs (Certificates of Achievement) and Certification programs and that is what this post covers. Yet, we need to clarify the two types of Certificate programs first.


Certificate of Attendance or Participation
In this program an individual gets a certificate simply for attending an educational event. There is no test or assessment method to determine successful achievement of learning outcomes. Attendance or participation is enough to achieve a certificate.

Assessment-Based Certificate (ABC)
An assessment-based certificate (ABC) program requires a specific learning course or program. There is an end-of-program assessment which determines that an individual has successfully achieved the designated learning outcomes associated with the course. The participant can’t receive the certificate from simply attending the course, but must complete the final assessment process.

Assessment-Based Certificate vs. Certification
In order to fully understand the difference between ABC programs and Certification programs, let’s take a look at some of the key features of each. The information in the tables below comes directly from the report titled, Defining Features of Quality Certification and Assessment-Based Certificate Programs published by the Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE). That report has been paraphrased in the tables below and the full copy is accessible here: www.credentialingexcellence.org/d/do/71

Credentialing is an important part of helping stakeholders and other professionals recognize education or training benchmarks that have been achieved. It would be helpful if we can develop a greater degree of consistency within the profession around the naming of our credentialing programs so they follow these defined standards. That would greatly help reduce confusion among professionals and the public as well.

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