Licensing Psychics and CAM Practitioners

Regulation and licensing of businesses is considered a normal part of government bureaucracy. Some libertarians may disagree with any form of government interference in commercial activities, however, it is generally accepted that regulation is a proper government function, even if the type or level of regulation is controversial.

One area that has created some discussion is the licensing of psychics. In Canada, the act of pretending to practice witchcraft falls under the Fraud section of the Criminal Code of Canada:

365. Every one who fraudulently
(a) pretends to exercise or to use any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment or conjuration,
(b) undertakes, for a consideration, to tell fortunes, or
(c) pretends from his skill in or knowledge of an occult or crafty science to discover where or in what manner anything that is supposed to have been stolen or lost may be found,
is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.

The last time this law led to an arrest was in 2009, when Vishwantee Persaud allegedly defrauded a Toronto lawyer of tens of thousands of dollars by telling him she was the embodiment of the spirit of his deceased sister. Ultimately, she plead guilty to fraud and the witchcraft charge was dropped.

In the US, the situation varies by state. In Oklahoma and New York, and several other states the practice is illegal except for those expressly identified as exclusively for entertainment purposes. In others, those laws have recently been repealed. In some areas, psychics of all sorts are required to be licensed. In Salem, Mass, there are several different types of business licenses for different categories: those who have stores, selling over 75% metaphysical items, those without storefronts, and visitors for psychic fairs.

In law, cases where large sums of money are involved are treated as instances of basic fraud without invoking any anti-witchcraft laws. Even in the existence of these laws, the possibility of enforcement is completely ignored by both the practitioners and the various justice departments. Licenses, on the other hand can really only be used to limit competition as there is no possible way to determine who may, or may not, have actual supernatural powers.

Wendy Kramer in Free Inquiry Magazine examines the issues from a US constitutional point of view,. but her conclusion is much more general

It’s hard to know if licensing schemes are effective in deterring intentional scams. It might be better simply to prosecute individual instances of fraud when they occur (and the victims are willing to report them). Focusing on the criminal conduct of particular fortune-tellers and not the practice of fortune-telling in general respects the right to believe, which includes a right to be deceived.

This is the crux of the issue: it is impossible to limit any but the most egregious cases of deception. In the minds of many of us, it would eliminate all types of pseudoscience, magical thinking, and religion; however, establishing and policing the level of proof required to determine the validity of claims would necessitate a huge bureaucracy, and would not serve society in any positive way. In fact, this approach provides a veneer of official support for the licensed practitioners. Besides, any large scale testing of psychic power would be subject to gaming and manipulation lending the most effective frauds the most legitimacy.

Even some psychics are concerned about allegations of fraud and pseudo-psychics. Here’s a breakdown from a psychic who wants you to know the difference,

She talks about hot reading, releaving curses, returning lovers, claims of fame, manipulation, and continual requests for money that are common among con artists of all stripes.

Then she adds information on how to recognize a real psychic.

  • Genuine psychics give you the good news and the bad news; they do not leave out the bits they think might lose them precious reviews or rating points. A genuine psychic will give you an honest reading that does not sound like something straight out of a fairy tale. A genuine psychic will not mind you testing them by asking them a few questions of your own choice.
  • A genuine psychic will give you some personal information about you that is not common knowledge to prove they are truly connected with you.
  • Genuine psychics do not give you false hope; they do not charge high prices or promise you anything more than an honest reading. A genuine reader will never try to manipulate you into returning to them for other readings, a genuine psychic will not ask for any information other than your first name, real psychics don’t ask questions, they give answers.
  • Genuine psychics never talk of evil spirits or energy attached or around a person – a real psychic is not out to scare you or make you afraid.
  • A genuine and professional psychic does not divulge information like deaths, accidents or anything like this during a reading – this is unprofessional behavior for any psychic and is another fear and manipulation tactic of the fake psychic.
  • Genuine psychics do not need your date of birth, star sign or the country you live in, because a psychic reading is very different to an astrology reading, if the information given sound like its astrology from a newspaper or magazine then you have found a fake psychic. A genuine psychic will only ever recommend a reading every 6-12 months.

Of course, anyone familiar with the techniques of cold reading would recognize what is happening here. Many people truly believe they have psychic abilities and do this subconsciously. These people will treat their clients with the respect she describes above. All this demonstrates is that the psychic is either a believer or an expert con.

There is just no practical way to determine a criteria for licencing psychics.

Another area where the issue is almost exactly the same is the licensing of CAM practitioners. They may truly believe in the treatments they are giving and the nonsense they are saying, but that doesn’t mean there is any validity to their claims. Naturopaths are licenced on several US states and Canadian provinces, and looking to legitimize themselves more. They have achieved the ability to legally prescribe certain medications and are attempting to gain coverage in employee medical plans. This would increase their reputations as well as their incomes. Naturopaths do have educational standards, as weak as they are. Homoeopaths and practitioners of TCM don’t have that much.

Naturopaths, Homoeopaths, and others know that licensing and attaining professional status adds credence to there claims, just as psychics know the same. What is important to remember is that there is no qualitative difference between the claims of psychics and alternative medicine, no way to determine the effectiveness of any practitioner, and no recourse when you realize you’ve been taken.

Rather than giving them legitimacy, the best approach is to save your money and avoid them all together.

Cross posted from my own blog.

10 Responses to “Licensing Psychics and CAM Practitioners”

  1. Jean Hixson says:

    I read a book about the psychic epicenter, Lillydale, NY a few years back. One psychic was given the most credibility by far from the skeptical journalist. I thought, ‘Hmmm…could be interesting.’
    I called from work and made the appointment. I drove from Hartford, CT, 400+ miles, and had my reading the following day. She shut her eyes, waved her hands around and said, ‘You’re a builder, an engineer.’ I said, truthfully, that I was not. She said, ‘I see tools, a hammer, a ruler.’ Nope. She was getting frustrated. ‘Who in your family built things?’ I said that my maternal grandfather who died long before I was born, was an engineer. Satified, she said he was in the room, blah blah, spirit guide, watches over me. $100.

    My grandfather, from all reports, wouldn’t bother to watch over those he cared for most, let alone a grandchild he never saw.

    Only on the drive back did I remember that I’d called from my phone at the Army Corps of Engineers- where I work in wildlife habitat issues. She noted the caller ID! Fraud, all fraud. I think some, few, people have occaisional psychic experiences that can’t be accounted for and can’t be forced to happen again. But psychics for hire are just shameless frauds.

  2. Ian Moore says:

    Regulation and licensing of physics can result in the the reputable physics to survive and the others would be shut down. Generally I hate regulation but in this case to save people from being ripped off it is vital.

  3. Ian – the point of the article is that there is no way to determine who is reputable and who is not. What possible criteria could be used?

  4. Nic says:

    I am taken aback that you put psychics and CAM (in particular naturopaths) in the same basket.
    Before laying such claim, you should check your facts, or else face the ridicule of these particular statement, which you are most certainly not aware of.
    You have no idea of what you are talking about when it comes to the level of education these people get, the effectiveness of their treatment and the validity of their claims.
    Just for your information, and one example amongst aplenty, thousands of RCTs have been done on hundreds of medicinal herbs, showing a positive effect on the human body.
    There is a difference between being a skeptic and lacking sufficient knowledge to voice an opinion about a particular matter.
    Your grasp of the field I am convinced is confined to bar talk, hearsays and skeptical litterature. This is sad.

    • Actually, if you read around this site some, you will find that I, and others, do have a pretty good about the education involved in becoming a homoeopath or naturopath and what they believe. Many of us have looked at these studies and the so-called science behind them and found them wanting.

      It is easy to ridicule, not so easy to explain why you think that there is a gap in our collective knowledge. Yes, I agree there is a difference between being skeptical and lacking knowledge, but again, I think you will find that knowledge base here, and at other sites such as Science Based Medicine, Quackwatch, etc.

      We have done our homework.

      • Seth says:

        If you have in fact done your homework, it doesn’t show at all in the article above. You state no evidence whatsoever to support your claims that TCM and the like are “quackery”. Furthermore, the article talks about liscencing someone in a field that is considered by the writer to be essentially unquantifiable. This is contradictory.

        I personally am not drawn to psychics, but when it comes to TCM (acupuncture and herbal treatments), I am an advocate….and they are, by the way, liscenced to practice (at least in the US)! Without doing any of your “homework”, the simple fact that healthcare facilities across north America and Europe have been including this form of treatment as “alternative medicine” should be reason enough to realize that from a pragmatic standpoint, it works.

        Check your sources or start from scratch.

  5. Seth says:

    I don’t have much to say other than that you have proven yourself a fool. I actually appreciated your article on Dr Sarno and your skepticism therein, however, bunching acupuncturists and psychics in the same barrel is ridiculous and simply dumb.

    Take some time and research a bit more before you completely discredit yourself altogether. As far a TCM practitioners are concerned, there have been hundreds of scientific studies performed which have shown their efficacy. Try google sometime and read for yourself.

    Seth

  6. Sorry to burst your bubble Seth, but there have been very little, if indeed any, evidence to suggest that TCM and other forms of Alt-Med are useful.

    My comparison of the regulation of these practitioners to those of psychics is that there is no way to determine who is a fraud and who is practising imaginary medicine under the mistaken belief that it is useful.

    • Seth says:

      John,

      Perhaps things are different in Canada as opposed to the US where we actually do regulate our TCM practitioners for acupucture and herbs. They are required several years of schooling as well a National Board Certification at least as to the safe health practices involved within. As for knowing who is a “fraud” as you call them, again going through at least some schooling and regulation here does prevent complete fakes from being able to open shop anywhere and treating people like voodoo dolls.

      As far as determining who is actually skilled in their craft remains at the discretion of a patient. Read reviews of a particular acupunctuist and try them out. If you see good results, then they’re good :) . It’s called “pragmatism”, an approach that any common-sense human being should adopt. The same pragmatism goes for Western Medical Doctors as well. Just because they’ve gone through rigorous schooling doesn’t make them a skilled physician. I have my doctor that I’ve been with for years because I used the same method to find him as I would an acupuncturist. He WORKS, hence I continue to go to him. I have seen other doctors that I’d call “quacks” as well. You have to be your own judge.

      TCM, in particular, seems to be viewed by people like yourself as something akin to shamanism and faith-healing. Nothing could be further from the truth, however, in fact it is the cornerstone to health for an entire nation (China) and has been for millennia. Again, here we have evidence in the form of pragmatism yet again. It works and continues to work.

      As far as your studies are concerned, I will find links for you to review in the near-future, but again, a simple adventure in googling will show studies that above all else validate acupuncture as a method of pain-management as well as stress-management. These are medical modalities that (at least in the US) are actually incorporated into western medical facilities as “complementary health-care.”. Evidence as to TCM’s effectiveness at treating other ailments especially chronic can be more readily found in the reports from successfully treated patients, and to a lesser extent in medical literature as well. One could argue the placebo effect for some of this, but one could also do the same for most traditional western methods as well, John.

      I’ll end this long counter-argument by discussing your addition of psychics into the mix. I’ve personally never seen one or care to, I don’t care to know the future. However, if I did, it would be quite easy to figure our which ones are “frauds” or not. See which ones actually CAN tell the future. If you jump in with a healthy skepticism and a pragmatic mind, you wont be fooled, I promise.

      Again, I’ll find some medical literature for your reading pleasure and get back soon.

  7. In the US, the situation is much the same as it is here in Canada. Education and board certification are not particularly useful if the education is not science based and the boards are made up of practitioners of these fields.

    Unfortunately, potential patients are not the best arbiters of the usefulness of the treatments they receive. They are subject to confirmation bias and non-causality in results. For a major example, see the people who are convinced of the dangers of vaccines.

    There is something called the argument from antiquity in which people say that because something has been used for decades, centuries, or millenia, it must be true. Nothing could be further from the truth. Modern medicine through scientific analysis has rejected most of TCM. Certainly enough to put the rest into question.

    Using Google as a source is only useful if you know which results to accept and which to reject. Before you bother posting any links here, I suggest you read more on this site or the site-www.sciencebasedmedicine.org. Perhaps you will find that your beliefs have been debunked already.

    Practitioners of alt-med do not have any standardization in treatments, thus preventing any regulations based upon a standard of care. This makes them as impractical to license as psychics.

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  • John Underhay

    John Underhay, also known as Peicurmudgeon, is just your average atheist, left leaning, SCUBA diving, snorkeling, biker. He lives on PEI and spends some of his time attempting to point out the flaws and or dangers in promoting ideas that run contrary to the laws of physics, chemistry, or biology. He has a BSc (Biology) and an MSc (Pharmacology) from the University of Prince Edward Island, and is currently retired. You can read more of his posts at http://peicurmudgeon.wordpress.com/