The Certification Lie

What is Certification

In many professional fields there exist bodies of licensure or certification created to verify who has demonstrated competence in that area. Certified Public Accountants and Board-Certified Surgeons are examples. But experience teaches us that taking courses and passing exams doesn’t necessarily result in a higher level of performance or better results. In fact, in many fields the most human and caring providers may be the ones who are least skilled in jumping through bureaucratic and academic hoops. Certification is based on the willingness of a professional to spend time and money and take an exam. Compassion, creativity, intuition, etc. are a lot harder to measure. But in some fields, having a license or certification may be requirements to practice.

Certification in brain training

Fortunately, since brain training—like meditation—is a non-invasive technique that allows a person to change himself, there is no requirement of licensure or certification to use it. There are, at least so far—despite the best efforts of some in the field—no licensing bodies, but in 1981, early in the field’s development, a self-appointed group of academics got together to define reading lists, knowledge blueprints, ethical standards required in order to “properly” practice.

In the late 90’s the Biofeedback Certification Institute of America (BCIA)—the name has changed since then—began certifying in neurofeedback. The rules were set up largely by psychologists with a few other mental health professionals, so it was no surprise that they decided that no-one who wasn’t a licensed mental health professional would be eligible to apply for certification. The real benefit of certification is more economic than quality-control: you can block entrance to the field so there is less competition. But that really only works if someone outside the field recognizes the process.

So how did that work out

Noticing that there was no great rush for their approval—even among the group who were eligible—BCIA has opened up its requirements a bit. It changed its name to Biofeedback Certification International Alliance and began trying to attract practitioners from other countries. Most importantly, it has out-sourced its marketing and training. 11 for-profit companies—most of whom sell neurofeedback systems—now market BCIA certification and charge to provide the courses. BCIA collects for giving the exams.

Even with all that, however, the last count I made from the BCIA website showed just 735 of the thousands of eligible trainers worldwide who’ve bothered to become BCIA-certified in neurofeedback. There is a heavy representation of academics as opposed to practicing trainers. Organizations which formally “recognize” BCIA are primarily universities with Biofeedback programs.

What’s the problem

It costs around $2,500 to take the course and the exam for certification. Then you work under a BCIA-certified supervisor for a period of time. It’s costly and time-consuming. And what are the benefits? Financially, none. No insurance company will pay you because you are BCIA-certified that won’t if you are not. No licensure body recognizes BCIA. There are other less-restrictive certification groups that offer malpractice insurance and informed consent.

As for getting sued and needing malpractice insurance, to date I’m aware of 19 such cases in the history of neurofeedback. 18 of them were brought by other providers (many of them BCIA-certified) against colleagues! All 18 of those were either dropped or thrown out, but not without damaging the person accused financially or otherwise. With colleagues like these, who needs enemies? !

Staying out of trouble

If you have the time and money to spend, and you are willing to wait before you start helping people change their lives, then go for certification—BCIA or Natural Therapies Certification Board. Otherwise begin working in a system where you have some support, train yourself and some family members to gain a level of confidence and experience, and get started helping people change their worlds.

Unless you are an MD or a PhD psychologist, though, don’t talk about diagnoses. Don’t talk about curing (though mental health clinicians rarely offer that). Anyone can offer a service to help others improve their focus or feel safer or happier or play their favorite sport or instrument better. But only MD’s and PhD’s can “treat” “ADHD” or “generalized anxiety disorder”, etc.

Whether or not you decide it’s worth your time and money to go through the certification process, keep in mind that there’s no real benefit to it. Read on as we present another way of training brains—yours or others—and helping those with whom you work change their lives.

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