If you open a practice as a lay hypnotherapist, are you violating any laws?

Many national organizations offer certificates in hypnosis or hypnotherapy.  What they don’t tell you is what your legal rights and obligations are as a hypnotherapist or hypnotist.

Most people think about malpractice and liability issues, but the hidden concern is not a private lawsuit by a patient so much as an action by a regulatory board for unlicensed practice.  For example, the medical board might decide that you are engaged in unlicensed practice of medicine.  Or, if you are licensed, your own regulatory board (i.e., chiropractic, acupuncture, massage therapy) might determine that you are engaged in unlicensed practice of another profession and beyond your own scope of practice.

It is helpful to consult an attorney familiar with laws governing the practice of medicine, psychology, and other professions.  Sometimes the laws are tricky or hard to find.

For example, California law has this provision in Business & Professions Code:

2908.  Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to prevent
qualified members of other recognized professional groups licensed to
practice in the State of California, such as, but not limited to,
physicians, clinical social workers, educational psychologists,
marriage and family therapists, optometrists, psychiatric
technicians, or registered nurses, or attorneys admitted to the
California State Bar, or persons utilizing hypnotic techniques by
referral from persons licensed to practice medicine, dentistry or
psychology, or persons utilizing hypnotic techniques which offer
avocational or vocational self-improvement and do not offer therapy
for emotional or mental disorders, or duly ordained members of the
recognized clergy, or duly ordained religious practitioners from
doing work of a psychological nature consistent with the laws
governing their respective professions, provided they do not hold
themselves out to the public by any title or description of services
incorporating the words "psychological," "psychologist," "psychology,"
"psychometrist," "psychometrics," or "psychometry," or that they do
not state or imply that they are licensed to practice psychology;
except that persons licensed under Article 5 (commencing with Section
4986) of Chapter 13 of Division 2 may hold themselves out to the
public as licensed educational psychologists.

Interestingly, the key word is "hypnotic techniques."  One cannot find this provision by searching for the word "hypnosis" or even "hypnotist" or "hypnotherapy" (let alone, Ericksonian hypnotherapy, which is what I studied).

Also fascinating is the carve out for ministers (but read the entire carve-out: they must be "duly ordained members of the recognized clergy," or otherwise compliant with laws — does a mail order degree really count)?  Members of allied health professions have legal sanction, as do persons receiving referral – which leaves open the judgment as to whether it is legally safer to work via referral, or whether this in fact raises legal risk by putting the practitioner more in the medical arena.

It is important to consult experienced legal counsel when venturing into a clinical practice such as hypnotherapy or hypnosis, or even naturopathy, natural medicine, homeopathy, herbal and nutritional practice, and other treatment modalities, particularly when one is an unlicensed practitioner who has nothing more than a certificate from a healing school and some training.  Various laws and regulations can apply and they are not always easy to find – nor are many corporate lawyers familiar with them or sufficiently experienced to provide the right guidance.

As well it is helpful to find an attorney who understands the therapeutic modalities themselves, and from the insight, so that the legal advice is targeted and can help provide the right level of guidance and protection.

See also

Nutritional and dietary advice can land practitioners in legal trouble

Unlicensed practice of medicine – advice on nutrition and diet

California law for non-licensed practitioners and nutritional advice

When Integrative Medicine Physicians Sell Dietary Supplements: Legal Issues

Michael H. Cohen is an experienced business law and health care law attorney.  He has taught health care law and policy at Harvard University and counseled many different kinds of practitioners and businesses, including:

  • entrepreneurial start-up ventures in many different industries
  • physicians (MD’s and DO’s)
  • physician groups, hospitals, and clinical facilities
  • integrative medicine centers
  • professional health care educational institutions and associations
  • dentists
  • registered nurses and advanced practice nurses
  • clinical psychologists
  • chiropractors
  • acupuncturists
  • massage therapists
  • homeopathic physicians and homeopaths
  • naturopathic doctors and naturopaths
  • energy healers, hypnotists, medical intuitives
  • dietary supplement manufacturers and distributors
  • cosmetics manufacturers
  • entrepreneurs and start-ups
  • publishers
  • wellness clinics
  • herbalists
  • bio-energy companies
  • medical device inventors
  • telemedicine enterprises
  • many different businesses

As an attorney  at the cutting edge of health care and business law, he represents enterprises whose leaders are conscious and committed to a better world.  He provides legal and regulatory expertise to a multitude of businesses and corporations, as well as to attorneys and law firms involved in various health care legal issues including:

  • fee-splitting, Stark and anti-kickback
  • corporate practice of medicine (including New York, California, Massachusetts, D.C.)
  • medical board disciplinary proceedings and other professional discipline
  • negligence, informed consent, and medical malpractice liability (negligence)
  • HIPAA and patient privacy and confidentiality issues
  • Medicare (including opting out vs. participation vs. non-participation)
  • professional liability insurance and insurance (billing and coding) issues
  • telemedicine, tele-psychiatry and telehealth
  • litigation (plaintiff’s counsel and defense) and negotiation
  • other legal and regulatory compliance issues.

To speak with a lawyer about health care law issues pertaining to complementary and alternative medicine, or to consult a business lawyer about laws and legal issues for entrepreneurs and new enterprises that are seeking legal advice, contact attorney Michael H. Cohen today.