Is there recourse if your healer doesn't balance your chakras?

Arizona Daily Star/October 24, 2009

Arizona has no shaman licensing board, no reiki review center and no sweat-lodge inspection department.

That means that in Tucson's booming alternative-healing sector, the practitioners operate in a largely unregulated environment.

For customers, word of mouth, the Internet and the free market tend to guide their decisions about whom to see for sessions that can cost $100 or more per hour, local practitioners said. If something goes wrong, the practitioner won't have a license revoked, but customers can take some recourse by voting with their feet, spreading their opinion, complaining to the Better Business Bureau, or in extreme cases, filing a civil lawsuit.

Perhaps the most extreme case of something going wrong happened in a crowded sweat lodge near sedona on Oct. 8, leading to the deaths of three people and the injuries of about 20 others. Sidney Spencer of the Patagonia area was one of the people in the lodge during the multi-day Spiritual Warrior seminar led by James Arthur Ray, said her attorney, Ted Schmidt. She is recovering in Tucson after suffering what appears to be neurological problems in the two-hour sweat lodge session, Schmidt said.

Schmidt could not envision a regulatory structure that would work for the variety of practitioners working today, he said.

"You could single out sweat lodges and say, 'Let's establish licensure regulations for running a sweat lodge,' but there are so many other activities that these shamans and such do, that it's hard to imagine licensure for all the different activities that they do," he said.

A few alternative approaches are licensed: acupuncturists, massage therapists, naturopathic physicians, homeopathic physicians and chiropractors all have state boards regulating their practices. But the unregulated alternative healing methods available in Tucson are numerous. There are shamans, energy workers, sound healers, reiki practitioners, life coaches, and medicine men and women, among many others. And healers' services are available in places ranging from small home offices to large wellness resorts like Miraval Life in Balance. "Tucson is quite a spiritual mecca," said Nancy Newton, who opened A Wild Purple Ranch and Retreat on the Northwest Side last year. "When I got to Tucson (in 2001), I knew it was going to be a place for me to become spiritual."

Some Tucson practitioners bridge the unregulated and regulated worlds: Lynne Namka is a licensed psychologist using mainstream approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy, but she also maintains a practice as a shaman carrying out "soul extractions" and other alternative activities. To stay in good standing with the Arizona Board of Psychologist Examiners, Namka keeps the two activities separate, she said. She has one Web site,, for her alternative practice, and another,, for her psychological practice. She has separate fee structures for the two activities, and she only files insurance claims for her psychological practice.

In an industry without broadly enforced standards, practitioners work to highlight the validity of their training. Often that comes in the form of abbreviations after their written names that can be hard for the untrained eye to discern.

"CSP," for example, stands for Certified Shamanic Practitioner. "CHTP" means Certified Healing Touch Practitioner.

"We're such a degree and certification-based society," said Tamra RowlandZaher, a certified shamanic practitioner in Tucson, explaining why people use the titles. "You're talking about an area where people are using their gifts."

On the Web site of Newton's ranch, she spells out her qualifications in more direct words: "Nancy Newton is an adopted medicine woman of the Nemenhah Tribe."

The Nemenhah band, as leader Philip "Cloudpiler" Landis calls it, is not a federally recognized tribe. Rather, Landis said, it is a branch of a Native American church. Using that status, Landis offers "spiritual adoption" in exchange for a donation.

Through this adoption process, he explained, the adoptee can become a medicine man or woman and be protected by the Native American Freedom of Expression and Religion Act, or NAFERA. As part of the adoption, the Nemenhah Web site says, the adoptee takes part in a "Sacred Giveaway" in which they make an "offering" of $250 at the outset, and $100 per year thereafter.

But some question the legitimacy of Landis, the Nemenhah and the titles he bestows, which also include "principal stone carrier." One critic is Al Carroll, who operates the Web site

Asked whether being a Nemenhah medicine woman would protect a person under the act, Carroll wrote: "No. I doubt any lawyer would argue that either. Legally, Indian is a legal term that only applies to those enrolled in a federally recognized tribe."

Alternative practitioners say many of their clients come to them through word of mouth, referred by friends who have benefited from seeing the practitioner. RowlandZaher said she only takes new clients by referral these days.

Some clients find practitioners by attending fairs and open houses that happen occasionally and are attended by a variety of practitioners, said Newton. Her ranch and retreat has hosted several such fairs to show people the services the ranch and its main healer, Darrell Hicks, offer. She and others suggested that potential clients use their intuition - an important power for many alternative healers - in deciding whether to go with a given practitioner. Then afterwards, they can judge whether they got what they wanted.

It may not be easy argue with a practitioner that your chakras weren't properly balanced, but it is possible to file a complaint if an agreement or contract isn't followed, said Nick Lafleur, of the Better Business Bureau of Southern Arizona.

"If they came to us with a complaint, we'd contact the business and mediate so that both sides reach some kind of understanding," Lafleur said.

In the case of a greater problem, such as sexual abuse or fraud, attorney Schmidt said, that's what county prosecutors and the Arizona Attorney General's Office are for.

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