Florida, Reiki and the Board of Massage

by William Lee Rand

There has been a lot of concern and confusion about practicing Reiki in Florida since the Board of Massage Therapy interpreted the definition of "massage" in its licensure law to include Reiki. People have had different opinions about what they actually did, what this means for Reiki people and what can be done to solve the problem.

To find out the facts and get an opinion concerning this issue, I contacted Deborah Miller, a Florida attorney who is active in the health freedom movement. Deborah has practiced for many years in professional licensure law. She has been following the actions of the Florida Board of Massage Therapy and was able to explain the situation to me.

The Problem: The Florida Board of Massage says that Reiki is Massage
The following information is based on documents she sent, and emails and phone conversations I've had with Deborah. The Florida Board of Massage Therapy may interpret the Massage Practice Act - the law which regulates its profession. Therefore, the Board may decide whether a practice is "manipulation of the soft tissues of the human body" and, thus, is massage. Under Florida law, the unlicensed practice of Massage - and of any other licensed health care profession - is a crime. While a court may disagree with the Board's interpretation of its Practice Act - and has done so in the past with various Boards - to date, the question of whether Reiki is massage has not been decided by a court.

In 1999 and 2000, the Board voted that Reiki is massage and that anyone practicing Reiki for compensation must have a massage license or other license to touch (such as a nursing license). During the Board's deliberations, Reiki practitioners noted that Reiki doesn't always involve physical touch of the client's body. It is unclear whether the Board accepted this fact and, if they did, why they found that off-the-body Reiki is "manipulation of the soft tissues".

When the question was again brought to the Board in 2001, then Board member Karen M. Harrison wrote a letter to her fellow board members outlining her understanding of the Board's past reasoning. Their conclusions were: (1) that touch for compensation requires a license. While Reiki is a spiritual practice, it is also a money-making business; (2) Although most Reiki techniques are administered over clothing, the public might not be protected from practitioners who do not understand boundary issues; (3) if Reiki does not require a massage license, many other modalities will want to be "deregulated"; (4) while a Reiki practitioner may not be manipulating soft tissues in the true sense of the definition, they are manipulating blood flow, soft tissues, and fascia by touching the body and leaving their hands in place for a period of time; (5) Reiki practitioners are "treating" conditions yet they do not want to be licensed; and (6) some Reiki practitioners may incorporate Cranio Sacral therapy into their Reiki practices. Finally, the Board does not look favorably on Reiki practitioners who become ministers in an attempt to shield themselves from prosecution. They feel that this misleads the public.

Unlicensed Reiki Practitioners May be Fined or Criminally Prosecuted
The Florida Board of Massage may interpret its Practice Act, but it does not enforce it against unlicensed practitioners. Enforcement is up to the Department of Health (DOH). If someone complains to the DOH that an unlicensed person is giving Reiki treatments, the DOH has four options. First, it may issue a Cease and Desist Notice to the practitioner. If the person continues practicing, the DOH must go to court to enforce its Notice.

Second, the Department may issue a Citation imposing an administrative penalty not to exceed $5,000 per incident. The practitioner may contest the citation in a trial-type proceeding before an administrative law judge (ALJ). The losing party may challenge the ALJ's decision before an appellate court.

Third, the DOH may ask a civil court to impose a civil fine against an unlicensed practitioner. The Department must prove that Reiki is massage, as defined by Florida law, and that the practitioner is not a licensed massage therapist.

Finally, the DOH may seek the arrest and criminal prosecution of an unlicensed Reiki practitioner. To date, this has not happened to a Reiki practitioner. However, other unlicensed practitioners - such as homeopaths and traditional naturopaths - have been criminally prosecuted.

Once the case gets to court, the Board's interpretation that Reiki is massage could be challenged and overturned. However, court battles are expensive and there is the risk that the judge will not rule in your favor. On the other hand, there are good arguments against the Board's interpretation of its Practice Act.

One consideration is that the DOH has limited resources; they might feel that they have more important things to do than to prosecute a Reiki practitioner who is neither pretending to be licensed nor is threatening significant harm to a client. However, there is.no guarantee that a complaint will not be acted on.

Some people believe that they may legally practice Reiki for compensation if they become a minister through the mail or over the internet, by filling out some papers and making a donation or paying a fee. These persons believe that they may legally practice Reiki for compensation if they claim that Reiki is a spiritual practice and part of their religion, and that they received a "donation" rather than a fee for their services. However, the Universal Life Church has warned of the risk of this practice. Read more. Further, a court may rule that money paid to an individual practitioner, rather than directly to a religious institution, is a fee for the Reiki service, rather than a donation to a church.

A Good Solution
Deborah Miller is the president of the Florida Health Freedom Action (FHFA), a group of both licensed and unlicensed health care practitioners who believe that the public has the right to choose their health care therapies and practitioners - and people have the right to work in their chosen occupation - without unnecessary governmental regulation. FHFA believes that low and no risk health care therapies should be available to both licensed and unlicensed persons, as long as the public knows about the practitioner's training and whether or not they are licensed.

FHFA is working to pass the "Consumer Health Freedom Act". The Act would change Florida law to allow practitioners of low or no risk therapies, including Reiki, to practice even though they are not a licensed health care provider. This legislation will solve the above mentioned problem the Florida Board of Massage Therapy has created for Reiki practitioners and allow them to practice Reiki without needing to get a massage license. It will also establish Reiki as a legal unlicensed practice and prevent others from attempting to license or regulate Reiki.Under the proposed law, unlicensed persons must inform clients that they aren't licensed and describe their training and the therapy that they are offering. The purpose is two-fold: To allow consumers to make informed health care choices among low and no risk therapies without the government's interference, and to allow practitioners of Reiki and other gentle therapies to work without having to train and become licensed in a profession, when licensure isn't necessary to protect the public from significant harm. The Consumer Health Freedom Act is a viable solution that is being promoted by competent people who understand the legal system in Florida and have a high likelihood of success.