To Be or Not To Be a Licensed Pilates School

My name is Iris Burman, a licensed Massage Therapist since 1976. I founded a school for Massage Therapy in 1981 and oversaw its operations until I sold it in 2017. As a school owner and director, I took part on the national level with my peers to assess, envision and implement the development of my profession from a fringe occupation to a respected profession.  

When I entered the field, there were only 20 states that had any regulation regarding massage. Today, all states have some form of regulation. Massage Therapy is well-respected and seen for its role in supporting, maintaining and recovering good health.

My school was a member of the Council of Schools (COS), a group of massage school owners and directors whose mission was to work together for the betterment of our profession. We looked at the field, saw the opportunity to take control of our future and intentionally design it on our terms. We realized that if we did not, other forces would take the lead and we might not be as happy with the results.

We saw the schools as the front line of professional development since we were preparing the future practitioners; we were therefore responsible to see the road ahead and incorporate this wisdom into our programs. 

As a school owner, I was vested in improving the educational arena so I participated with the group that focused on the development of an accrediting body for schools. At the time, the COS already had a long-standing approval process that did rudimentary oversight into the quality of the programs we approved (all schools in the COS were approved schools). This committee spent years researching the accreditation standards held by other professions, contemplated what was appropriate for ours and eventually created COMTA, the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation.  

As for my interest and involvement in Pilates, I have been engaging off and on for nearly 40 years as a student and proponent of the Pilates Method, which originally could only be found around my town in dance studios. Today, Pilates is quite prevalent and available in nearly every community and in many settings.  And yet, as a profession, Pilates is about where the Massage profession was over 30 years ago, still a fledgling fringe occupation. 

As a profession, you have the opportunity to design it as you see fit, with standards that reflect what you hold dear as a tribute to the founders, Joe and Clara Pilates. Part of this process is to set educational standards and to implement procedures to recognize schools that maintain those standards. There currently exists an approval process whereby a Pilates school can get a “seal of approval” for complying with these guidelines.  It is the Pilates School Approval Program (PSAP) and it provides the current standards that must be met.

Among these standards is the recognition that Pilates schools are part of the world of vocational education and thus are required to acquire licensing as a vocational school in their jurisdiction.  

So, what does it mean to be a Vocational School?

A vocation is, in its most simple terms a trade, occupation or profession. Vocational education therefore prepares people to work in a given occupation or profession. Also known as career education, it is usually taught at the post-secondary level and presented at specialized schools or as a program at a community college or other institutions. Every state has a department or division of oversight for vocational schools. This government entity sets standards for vocational training that evaluates the long-term viability of the school and the effectiveness for graduates to find work in their field of study.

In the 1990’s, the massage therapy profession was such that all schools were licensed by their state. This allowed the industry to take further steps in development.

The benefits of licensing allowed for:

  • 3rd party validation

  • Accreditation

  • Embrace of Title IV 

  • Recognition by the public and state & local governments

What about Pilates? 

Pilates schools are vocational schools: they train people to go out and get paid to provide their newly learned skills. They prepare graduates to work as Pilates teachers, usually within a studio, health club or community center.

In the Pilates landscape, there are currently twenty-six schools that have become licensed as state vocational schools. Two have held this distinction for more than a decade.  

So, what is the process to become a state licensed vocational school?  

For those who have been through the Pilates School Approval Program, it will seem very familiar. It involves most of the same steps, information and forms to fill. It really is just a matter of paperwork: declaring your curriculum and demonstrating fiscal viability as well as transparent and fair business practices. Much of the documentation can be used for both PSAP and local licensing, so the same work can have two applications.

What is the benefit of becoming licensed as a vocational school in my state?

  • Compliance with legal requirements

  • Make a stand for professional status

  • Indicate to the consumer your seriousness and professionalism

  • Accreditation requires compliance with local law

  • Access to Title IV Federal Financial Aid requires accreditation


If you have not yet done the PSAP, you may find the process very helpful for your school. Both the licensing and PSAP processes clarify your thoughts, philosophy and intentions, fine tune curriculum, policies and procedures and can support a more effective program. One can look at both the PSAP and state requirements to simplify the process of doing both credentials either sequentially or concurrently.


Don’t wait for your state to crack down and come after your school for non-compliance. Do it voluntarily on your terms, self-directed. Do it now while you have time to comfortably complete the paperwork. If the process seems daunting, you can hire a consultant who can gather your documents and organize them as needed and assist you in writing your narratives.


Take a leadership role in Pilates education. Make a stand for quality validation. Become the next one in your area to be state licensed and PSAP Approved.

Iris Burman, LMT

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