Is hypnotherapy the unlicensed practice of medicine or psychology?  Is life coaching legally safe?

A new case in Colorado suggests that hypnosis and hypnotherapy are not legally safe, and that practicing these modalities in the coaching setting can result in legal action.

A legal defense fund has been established by the International Research Institute, LLC for a life coach and hypnotherapist in Denver:

Zoilita GrantThe Colorado Mental Health Board, which incorrectly believes that all hypnosis is either stage hypnosis or psychotherapy, issued a cease and desist order.

Deciding to fight this abusive action, Ms. Grant has incurred a tremendous financial burden just considering the over $13,000 in legal fees, which have already been billed to her and her husband. She did so not only to fight for her right to practice as a coach. She also realized that if she did not contest their action, all hypnotherapists, NLP practitioners, and coaches who may use any type of imagery or suggestion could have their right to practice curtailed. The case law that could result from a negative finding may be used as legal justification for action in any jurisdiction in the United States and may be cited in cases considered in courses around the world.

The hypnosis organization notes that in August 2011:

The Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies at the request of the Colorado Mental Health Board, filed a cease and desist order against Zoilita Grant using as evidence an advertisement for her state licensed occupational school, Colorado Coaching and Hypnotherapy Training Institute.

At that time Zoilita sent a letter to Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) explaining that the advertisement was for her school and that she was a teaching approved trainings and that in her private practice she was a coach who specialized in working with small business owners. She referred DORA to both her school site and personal site

DORA then opened an investigation and Zoilita retained legal representation. DORA continued to allege that Zoilita Grant, a coach who operates out of the Denver area, was practicing psychotherapy without a license. Their claim was due to the fact that Ms. Grant, who was formerly licensed by the board while performing as a clinical hypnotherapist and hypnotherapy trainer, was practicing hypnotherapy in her activities as a coach. Ms. Grant regularly uses hypnosis as a training tool with her coaching clients.

The Board’s allegation further stipulated that all hypnosis is either stage hypnosis or psychotherapy and therefore Ms. Grant was violating the law requiring psychotherapists to be licensed in the State of Colorado.

Laws involving hypnotherapy diverge across states.  Some states explicitly mention hypnosis and/or hypnotherapy as a medical (or psychological) modality, and restrict lay use of these practices.  Others are silent or ambiguous.

Medical and psychological licensing statutes define the scope of their licensed professions very broadly, so that unlicensed practitioners can easily run afoul of regulatory tripwires.

A number of states, such as California, Rhode Island, and Minnesota, have enacted statutes protecting non-licensed practitioners from prosecution for unlicensed medical practice, so long as they make a proper disclosure to their clients, and do not engage in medical diagnosis or treatment.  These statutes, though, are relatively untested; and usually do not provide any explicit carve-out to the legal definition of psychology.

In any life coaching or hypnotherapy practice, be sure to check with an attorney experienced in legal issues involved alternative therapies, complementary medicine, and integrative medicine.  Contact the Michael H Cohen Law Group if you have legal questions or concerns about your practice, whether it involves life coaching, hypnosis, naturopathy, natural medicine, dietary supplements, or other holistic health practices.