There is a lot of training available for health and wellness professionals, both in person and online. Many trainings advertise themselves as offering “certification” in a particular way of working, or describe themselves as “certificate” programs. There’s a natural appeal there—you would come out of the training with a document attesting to your new level of expertise. Especially for newer professionals, these programs can quickly beef up your resume.
At the same time, a lot of these trainings make their money through precisely that appeal—despite the fact that what they offer often doesn’t have a substantive impact on your career. To be sure, many “certification” or “certificate” programs are simply marketing gimmicks. And some supposed “certifications” exist primarily as sales funnels for the training courses they require. It’s a way of getting you to pay twice for the same thing: Once for a course itself, and again for the “certification” that relies on completion of that same course. But not all of them are and they may still hold good value for you.
Here’s how to tell the difference, and make sure that you’re getting the most for your time and money when it comes to professional training.
A certificate is not a certification
The words are so similar that it’s easy to confuse them, but a certificate is not the same thing as a certification.
A certification is generally a document attesting that your individual skills in a particular area have been assessed and found to meet a set of defined standards. Certification programs may involve significant one-on-one training and performance assessments.
A certificate, on the other hand, is just that: A piece of paper. Most often, it just verifies that you attended a particular training program. It does not provide any assessment or verification of your individual skill set.
Think of it this way: You might attend a seminar on sex therapy and get a certificate for attending that training, but that doesn’t make you a certified sex therapist. For that, you need to go through more significant training and have your individual skills evaluated.
Key questions to ask
Whether the training you’re considering offers a certificate or a certification, it’s worth asking a few key questions to determine whether it will be worth your while.
Will employers care?
While there are certainly exceptions, in most cases you don’t need to be certified in a particular professional skill set to perform those tasks in practice. Couple therapists like me can get certified as Emotionally Focused Therapists or as Gottman Therapists, but neither certification is necessary to use EFT or the Gottman model in treating clients. Obviously you can’t ethically advertise yourself as being certified in a technique for which you aren’t certified, but you can still use the technique as long as you have adequate education, training, and experience to do so competently.
Employers typically do not require certifications in specific skills or techniques to do health and wellness work. However, there are many exceptions here, particularly in more specialized employment settings where they may have higher standards or expectations for expertise in particular ways of working. For example, a general therapy clinic is unlikely to require that its employees have AASECT certification (a certification available for sex therapists). But a group practice that specializes in working with couples on sexual issues may very well require that certification for any prospective employee. If you’re unsure whether a particular certification is likely to be required by employers, it may be worth reviewing job listings for the kind of job you eventually hope to have and focusing in on their required qualifications.
Will clients care?
To be sure, clients care about your effectiveness in your professional work, and they may be more confident in you if you can demonstrate that you’ve had a good amount of professional training. But most clients don’t care about the letters after your name or the framed documents on your office wall. They care about whether you can help them. A certification may help support their belief that you can help them, but it isn’t a necessity. There are a lot of ways to instill client confidence in your work, the most important of which being the client’s initial impression of you.
Will the knowledge and skills you gain be valuable?
Here’s why it might be worth it to attend a certification program, even if you don’t need it for employment and your clients don’t really know what it means. Many of these programs are quite rigorous. The fact that they are difficult to get through can be precisely the thing that makes them worthwhile. You have to apply new knowledge and new skills to get certified. That new knowledge and those new skills might make you a more confident and effective clinician.
The same can be true for certificate programs or more general continuing education, even for programs that don’t directly assess your skill development in that area. You still might learn a great deal from them. I’ve talked previously about how you can get the most out of continuing education.
Ultimately, you should choose trainings on the basis of what they’ll actually do for you. Don’t go through the expensive and time-consuming process of a certification program out of anxiety that you don’t have enough letters after your name. Do it because you want the knowledge and the skills that the program will deliver.