CAMLAW: Complementary and Alternative Medicine Law Blog

California law governing energy healers

Many energy healers and other non-licensed CAM providers are aware of the California law authorizing practice with appropriate disclosure. There are several important aspects of this law to bear in mind(relevant portions of the statute are reproduced below):

1. It is important to have a disclosure and informed consent form that complies with the statutory requirements. The form should be stated in formal yet understandable language so that the message is unmistakably in conformity with the statute.

I usually like to add assumption of risk language. Even though the statute suggests an assumption of risk defense may not work, it is useful to have in an agreement as a way of having the client acknowledge a deliberate and voluntary decision to undertake certain services. Metaphorically, I see it as a kind of legal speed bump rather than a red light.

2. The healer should refrain from making statements that could be construed as promises, guarantees, or broad claims. The disclaimer should also address this issue.

3. The law deals only with a limited protection against charges of unlicensed medical practice, but does not necessarily offer immunity against charges of illegally practicing other professions (such as, for example, a charge of unlawful practice of psychology). In general the statutory language licensing the healing professions is very broad, so that, roughly speaking, the medical doctors have dominion over the body and the psychologists have dominion over the mind. This is hardly a holistic approach, but it is the law we have to deal with. Ideally, the legal rules will evolve (along with consciousness).

4. References to physical healing should be avoided, as they could be construed as crossing the line into unlicensed medical practice. If clients decide to add testimonials concerning physical healing, this is a different matter, and can potentially be dealt with through an appropriate disclaimer on a website, which will be different than the consent form.

5. There is not necessarily any magical language that can transform a practice from legally unsafe to legally safe, although there are language choices than can change the extent of the risk, and in general, a more conservative, prudent approach is recommended (without sliding into fear).

Here are snippets of the relevant California law:

CALIFORNIA CODES, BUSINESS AND PROFESSIONS CODE, SECTION 2050-2079

2050. The Division of Licensing shall issue one form of certificate to all physicians and surgeons licensed by the board which shall be designated as a "physician's and surgeon's certificate."

2051. The physician's and surgeon's certificate authorizes the holder to use drugs or devices in or upon human beings and to sever or penetrate the tissues of human beings and to use any and all other methods in the treatment of diseases, injuries, deformities, and other physical and mental conditions.

2052. (a) Notwithstanding Section 146, any person who practices or attempts to practice, or who advertises or holds himself or herself out as practicing, any system or mode of treating the sick or afflicted in this state, or who diagnoses, treats, operates for, or prescribes for any ailment, blemish, deformity, disease, disfigurement, disorder, injury, or other physical or mental condition of any person, without having at the time of so doing a valid, unrevoked, or unsuspended certificate as provided in this chapter or without being authorized to perform the act pursuant to a certificate obtained in accordance with some other provision of law is guilty of a public offense, punishable by a fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars ($10,000), by imprisonment in the state prison, by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or by both the fine and either imprisonment.

(b) Any person who conspires with or aids or abets another to commit any act described in subdivision (a) is guilty of a public offense, subject to the punishment described in that subdivision.

(c) The remedy provided in this section shall not preclude any other remedy provided by law.

2052.5. (a) The proposed registration program developed pursuant to subdivision (b) shall provide that, for purposes of the proposed registration program:

(1) A physician and surgeon practices medicine in this state across state lines when that person is located outside of this state but, through the use of any medium, including an electronic medium, practices or attempts to practice, or advertises or holds himself or herself out as practicing, any system or mode of treating the sick or afflicted in this state, or diagnoses, treats, operates for, or prescribes for any ailment, blemish, deformity, disease, disfigurement, disorder, injury, or other physical or mental condition of any person in this state.

(2) A doctor of podiatric medicine practices podiatric medicine in this state across state lines when that person is located outside of this state but, through the use of any medium, including an electronic medium, practices or attempts to practice podiatric medicine, as defined in Section 2472, in this state.

(3) The proposed registration program shall not apply to any consultation described in Section 2060.

(b) The board may, at its discretion, develop a proposed registration program to permit a physician and surgeon, or a doctor of podiatric medicine, located outside this state to register with the board to practice medicine or podiatric medicine in this state across state lines.

(1) The proposed registration program shall include proposed requirements for registration, including, but not limited to, licensure in the state or country where the physician and surgeon, or the doctor of podiatric medicine, resides, and education and training requirements.

(2) The proposed registration program may also include all of the following: (A) standards for confidentiality, format, and retention of medical records, (B) access to medical records by the board, (C) registration fees, renewal fees, delinquency fees, and replacement document fees in an amount not to exceed the actual cost of administering the registration program, and (D) provisions ensuring that enforcement and consumer education shall be integral parts of administering the registration program....



2053.5. (a) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a person who complies with the requirements of Section 2053.6 shall not be in violation of Section 2051 or 2052 unless that person does any of the following:

(1) Conducts surgery or any other procedure on another person that punctures the skin or harmfully invades the body.

(2) Administers or prescribes X-ray radiation to another person.

(3) Prescribes or administers legend drugs or controlled substances to another person.

(4) Recommends the discontinuance of legend drugs or controlled substances prescribed by an appropriately licensed practitioner.

(5) Willfully diagnoses and treats a physical or mental condition of any person under circumstances or conditions that cause or create a risk of great bodily harm, serious physical or mental illness, or death.

(6) Sets fractures.

(7) Treats lacerations or abrasions through electrotherapy.

(8) Holds out, states, indicates, advertises, or implies to a client or prospective client that he or she is a physician, a surgeon, or a physician and surgeon.

(b) A person who advertises any services that are not unlawful under Section 2051 or 2052 pursuant to subdivision (a) shall disclose in the advertisement that he or she is not licensed by the state as a healing arts practitioner.



2053.6. (a) A person who provides services pursuant to Section 2053.5 that are not unlawful under Section 2051 or 2052 shall, prior to providing those services, do the following:

(1) Disclose to the client in a written statement using plain language the following information:

(A) That he or she is not a licensed physician.

(B) That the treatment is alternative or complementary to healing arts services licensed by the state.

(C) That the services to be provided are not licensed by the state.

(D) The nature of the services to be provided.

(E) The theory of treatment upon which the services are based.

(F) His or her educational, training, experience, and other qualifications regarding the services to be provided.

(2) Obtain a written acknowledgment from the client stating that he or she has been provided with the information described in paragraph (1). The client shall be provided with a copy of the written acknowledgement, which shall be maintained by the person providing the service for three years.

(b) The information required by subdivision (a) shall be provided in a language that the client understands.

(c) Nothing in this section or in Section 2053.5 shall be construed to do the following:

(1) Affect the scope of practice of licensed physicians and surgeons.

(2) Limit the right of any person to seek relief for negligence or any other civil remedy against a person providing services subject to the requirements of this section.

2054. (a) Any person who uses in any sign, business card, or letterhead, or, in an advertisement, the words "doctor" or "physician," the letters or prefix "Dr.," the initials "M.D.," or any other terms or letters indicating or implying that he or she is a physician and surgeon, physician, surgeon, or practitioner under the terms of this or any other law, or that he or she is entitled to practice hereunder, or who represents or holds himself or herself out as a physician and surgeon, physician, surgeon, or practitioner under the terms of this or any other law, without having at the time of so doing a valid, unrevoked, and unsuspended certificate as a physician and surgeon under this chapter, is guilty of a misdemeanor.

(b) A holder of a valid, unrevoked, and unsuspended certificate to practice podiatric medicine may use the phrases "doctor of podiatric medicine," "doctor of podiatry," and "podiatric doctor," or the initials "D.P.M.," and shall not be in violation of subdivision (a).



Here is the psychology licensing language. Note its breadth. It is unlikely that someone would make the case that a healer guiding a client through a healing visualization is practicing psychology, although note how the law is broad enough to encompass "hypnosis" and almost any advice affecting behavior, emotions, relationships:

2903. No person may engage in the practice of psychology, or represent himself or herself to be a psychologist, without a license granted under this chapter, except as otherwise provided in this chapter. The practice of psychology is defined as rendering or offering to render for a fee to individuals, groups, organizations or the public any psychological service involving the application of psychological principles, methods, and procedures of understanding, predicting, and influencing behavior, such as the principles pertaining to learning, perception, motivation, emotions, and interpersonal relationships; and the methods and procedures of interviewing, counseling, psychotherapy, behavior modification, and hypnosis; and of constructing, administering, and interpreting tests of mental abilities, aptitudes, interests, attitudes, personality characteristics, emotions, and motivations.

The application of these principles and methods includes, but is not restricted to: diagnosis, prevention, treatment, and amelioration of psychological problems and emotional and mental disorders of individuals and groups.

Psychotherapy within the meaning of this chapter means the use of psychological methods in a professional relationship to assist a person or persons to acquire greater human effectiveness or to modify feelings, conditions, attitudes and behavior which are emotionally, intellectually, or socially ineffectual or maladjustive.

As used in this chapter, "fee" means any charge, monetary or otherwise, whether paid directly or paid on a prepaid or capitation basis by a third party, or a charge assessed by a facility, for services rendered.



Again, it is important to have sound advice before embarking on a practice and to have the requisite forms in place so as to appropriately minimize legal risks.
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Michael H. Cohen is Principal in Law Offices of Michael H. Cohen and also President of The Institute for Integrative and Energy Medicine, a nonprofit organization exploring legal, regulatory, ethical, and health policy issues in the judicious integration of complementary and alternative medical therapies (such as acupuncture and traditional oriental medicine, chiropractic, naturopathic medicine, homeopathy, massage therapy, energy healing, and herbal medicine) and conventional clinical care. Michael H. Cohen is author of books on health care law, regulation, ethics and policy dealing with complementary, alternative and integrative medicine, including Healing at the Borderland of Medicine and Religion, Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Legal Boundaries and Regulatory Perspectives (1998), Beyond Complementary Medicine: Legal and Ethical Perspectives on Health Care and Human Evolution (2000), and Future Medicine: Ethical Dilemmas, Regulatory Challenges, and Therapeutic Pathways to Health Care and Healing in Human Transformation (2003).
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Health care and corporate lawyer Michael H. Cohen has been admitted to the Bar of California, Massachusetts, New York, and Washington D.C. In addition to qualifying as a U.S. attorney, he has been admitted and to the Bar of England and Wales as a Solicitor (non-practicing). For more information regarding the law practice of attorney Michael H. Cohen, see the FAQs for the Law Offices of Michael H. Cohen. Thank you for visiting the Complementary and Alternative Medicine Law Blog.
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