An Assault on Hypnotherapy
by Tim Brunson PhD
If you use hypnosis, hypnotherapy or NLP in your practice, there are people and organizations out there who want to permanently shut you down! Even if you're a coach or consultant and not a hypnotherapist, if you ask someone to visualize a certain state of accomplishment – especially if they become glassy-eyed or shed a tear or two – someone may complain that you are practicing hypnosis and find a law somewhere that will justify incessant criminal or civil prosecution. Imagine helping someone improve their golf swing and then finding out that you have tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and may lose your right to practice. And, if you already have a mental health or medical license, don't think you are immune from persecution. Many authorities in those fields routinely use their ignorance of hypnosis to ban its use and would like to see any of their colleagues who cross the line permanently banned from practicing. Licensees who so ardently study the ways of the late Milton Erickson, MD, need not to be reminded that the good doctor's license was once threatened because he dared to use any form of hypnosis in psychiatry.
Recently I was asked to make a statement as an expert in this field so that I could support the defense of Zoilita Grant, a friend and colleague for which I have great respect. She also asked for help from Michael Ellner and Tony De Marco, two practitioners who I rate as being among the best in the world. It appears that Zoilita has been unjustly targeted by the Colorado Mental Health Board. They incorrectly claim that all hypnosis is either stage hypnosis or psychotherapy. Somehow they also found an "expert" witness who was willing – probably for a fee – to support their claim. (Michael, Tony, and I were not compensated for our support.)
This resulted in a request by the Board to the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA), which issued a "cease and desist" order to Zoilita. If I have my facts correct, somewhere along the line investigators from the Board or DORA attempted to entrap Zoilita by calling her on two occasions and insisting that they make appointments for clinical hypnotherapy. As always Zoilita referred them to a local clinical hypnotherapist, who was fully qualified – and licensed. She did this correctly. Yet she was still slapped with legal action. This started back in August 2011. Last month (November 2012), she was scheduled to appear in front of a judge. Realizing that this case can set a precedent, the judge decided to request that the Colorado Attorney General depose Zoilita and stated that he would make a final ruling sometime in January 2013.
This situation is important for numerous reasons. First, it will define clinical hypnotherapy and coaching in a state court of law. If the judge rules in Zoilita's favor, he will clearly declare whether hypnotherapy can be practiced outside the realm of psychotherapy – which means for performance enhancement/coaching, as well as medical applications (which may require a medical license – but that is another topic). As NLP is hypnosis-like in many ways (and even based partially upon the work of Milton Erickson), I suspect that the ruling will have an impact on NLP practitioners as well. Secondly, regardless which way the ruling goes, the judge may inadvertently state that hypnotherapy is indeed psychotherapy (at least to some extent) and possibly clear the way for hypnotherapists to become licensed as psychotherapists. Although many states have different qualifications for psychotherapists, Colorado apparently recognizes hypnotherapists as psychotherapists.
Although I am not an attorney and don't want to be accused of practicing law, I recall from my MBA-level Business Law course that in the English-oriented legal Common Law tradition once a case has been ruled upon, it may become the basis for other subsequent rulings unless overridden by legislation to the contrary or in the future another judge decides to take a different course. Thus if a judge is considering a case in the future regarding a hypnotherapist/NLP practitioner/coach's right to practice, as a standard practice a legal clerk uses law library resources to research any similar cases that were decided in the past. They will then use such precedents set by previous rulings by other courts to strengthen or justify their opinions. Of course, judges can disagree and set a different precedent. However, they feel pressure to comply with previous trends whenever possible. This Common Law tradition is called case law. The judge in Zoilita's case is following this tradition. His concern is that case law does not already exist. Therefore, he is relying upon expert testimony, a vague Colorado law that fails in its attempt to adequately define psychotherapy, and the insistence by one Mental Health Board official who appears to have a vendetta against Zoilita.
I look at this case as an assault on the future of hypnotherapy. As such, without the willingness of heroic practitioners like Zoilita, we run the risk of a body of case law being developed that will pretty much end the existence of our field as we know it while most likely also restricting its use by licensed mental health and medical practitioners. However, the cost of such heroism is not cheap. Zoilita and her husband have already incurred over $13,000 in legal fees as a result of their insistence to protect our right to practice. When I realized this, my wife and I began brainstorming ways to help her raise enough money to cover her legal costs. After all, even though I was not named in the action, I consider it as an attack directed at me. And, if you are a hypnotherapist, NLP practitioner, coach, integrative medical practitioner, and even a licensed mental health or medical professional who uses hypnotherapy, this is also an attack on you as well.
Therefore, based upon our experience in a few similar situations, we decided that The International Hypnosis Research Institute would create a special site dedicated to helping Zoilita and her husband raise enough money to cover their legal fees. As a result we created DefenseFund.HyponsisResearchInstitute.org. Money that is raised through this initiative will go directly to Zoilita without any visibility by this Institute.
Once we have taken care of Zoilita's legal needs, it is our intention to keep the site active as we will work toward developing a separate 501(c)(3) charitable entity that will allow our members and other interested parties to donate tax deductible contributions, which would then be available to assist with legal fees for those facing right to practice challenges. (Please note that current donations to help Zoilita and her husband will not be considered as tax deductible donations.) While we expect practitioners to be prudent and do their best to comply with any laws for their jurisdiction, it our hope that when someone like Zoilita is caught completely unawares that we will be able to help. Also, I firmly believe that once our rather reckless critics understand that we are not afraid of their legal challenges, just maybe they will not be so eager to file baseless charges. I also hope that a sufficient body of supporting case law will influence future legislative initiatives regarding our right to practice.
For now, please consider what you can do to help us relieve the financial burden on Zoilita and her husband. Hopefully, if you will take just a moment to make a small (or large) gift through DefenseFund.HyponsisResearchInstitute.org. Again, any donation that you make will go 100% to Zoilita (less any Paypal administrative fee should you make a donation on line). You can provide further assistance by helping us get the word out. If you have a Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or any other social media account, please create a post that links to our site. You will notice that on Facebook when you post http://defensefund.hypnosisresearchinstitute.org in your update, they will automatically enter a link, the Defense Fund logo, and other information. So, all that you need to do is include our Defense Fund website address on your Facebook update as we do most of the work. From that point, you can simply write a short endorsing statement and forward it to all your friends, colleagues, and followers. Hopefully, it will go viral by others who share your post. If you use Twitter, you may use our shortened URL which is: http://dld.bz/bTktb. If you have any sort of mailing or newsletter list, I encourage you to use it to contact all of your colleagues and former students and ask for their support. I sincerely feel that the international hypnosis, hypnotherapy, and NLP community is sufficiently large so that we should easily be able to raise the needed funds.
Lastly, I wish to point out that Zoilita and her husband have not asked for our help – although they are apparently welcoming it. After providing my expert opinion to the court over a month ago and then having a perchance conversation with one of the others who had likewise helped, I decided to follow up by e-mailing Zoilita. Once she provided an immediate update, during lunch one day I began discussing the matter with my wife. We then started exploring ways to help. I mentioned a possible fund raising effort. When I broached the subject with Zoilita, I sensed that she was not the kind of person to ask for assistance. However, I had a distinct impression that she would be extremely appreciative of our support. It was not until much later that I learned that they had already racked up over $13,000 in legal fees – while she is/was protecting not only her right to practice, but ours as well.
In a few weeks those of us who observe Christian traditions will celebrate Christmas. This brings to mind a movie that I have watched each and every Christmas morning for as long as I can remember. It never ceases to bring a tear or two to my eyes. It is called It's a Wonderful Life. In that movie, George Bailey suddenly finds out on Christmas Eve that he is facing financial ruin and legal problems. He even considers the inconceivable, until a rather comical angel named Clarence convinces him how wonderful his life has been after all. In the movie his wealth of friends banded together to resolve his dilemma. I am asking you to join me in doing the same for Zoilita.
Over the years, Zoilita and hundreds of her fellow practitioners have paved the way, taught and mentored us, and even protected our right to practice. Now I think that it is the time to show them that they are appreciated as we demonstrate what we are capable of doing on their behalf. People get into this field because they are compassionate, caring people. Now it is up to us to earn our wings by showing that we too have the capacity to become angels. Please support Zoilita by donating and spreading the word today. Just perhaps you will hear a bell ring as yet another angel gets its wings.
Thank you and Merry Christmas.
Tim and Annie Brunson
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