As 5 Keys grows, we are exploring the possibility of being featured by a local news outlet. Working with a generous friend in PR, Emily Phelps, we've been crafting some policies for the way we handle our clients' personal health information. This was an important consideration for us when we were interviewed by the Chicago Tribune in 2012, and continues to be pertinent as we look forward. Although a typical yoga studio might not be exposed to much personal health information (PHI) beyond an old injury, as a studio that also provides Yoga Therapy services, 5 Keys has to be mindful of the way we treat our clients' PHI.
Yoga Therapists working with people with medical conditions and special needs need be aware of their clients' diagnoses and other PHI, to be effective partners for their clients. This information is usually protected under the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which requires organizations with access to our PHI to keep health records secure, give us reasonable access to them, and to not disclose them to other people or organizations without our permission. As Yoga Therapy is not yet universally recognized as a healing modality, Yoga Therapists are not technically required to follow HIPAA protocol. However, many Yoga Therapists (including the International Association of Yoga Therapists or IAYT) are working to establish Yoga Therapy as a recognized and respected modality, which might involve adopting many standard medical protocols - including privacy protections, such as HIPAA.
Imagine a Yoga Therapist working with a client with Schizophrenia. The Yoga Therapist would need to know the client's diagnosis, in order to avoid techniques which might worsen hallucinations. Or a therapist working with a client with epilepsy, who would need to reduce the practice of certain exercises and be aware of other situations that might trigger a seizure. A therapist working with a client with high blood pressure would need to know this, in order to modify various practices and honor the client's limits. Yoga Therapists specialize in understanding the implications of PHI on their clients' practice of yoga. A Yoga Therapist can provide a deeper level of service to their clients by knowing PHI and by having a formal policy to keep that information protected. Therefore, it seems reasonable that American Yoga Therapists should abide by HIPAA protocol. Protecting PHI and applying appropriate techniques based on this information are two significant ways that a Yoga Therapy studio differs from a typical yoga studio. In light of this, 5 Keys has developed an internal HIPAA policy and will now issue HIPAA policy notifications to our Yoga Therapy clients.
This decision feels especially poignant given Yoga Alliance's recent announcement that yoga teachers registered with Yoga Alliance (YA) may not use the words "Yoga Therapy" or "Yoga Therapist" on their profile listing in the YA directory. Yoga Therapists are also now required to disclose on their website that their Yoga Therapy credentialing does not derive from their registration with YA. (See our bio pages for our disclosure.) Many in the Yoga Therapy community are upset that we cannot refer to ourselves as Yoga Therapists on the YA website. Some are concerned that having a disclosure on our websites might signal that YA doesn't condone the practice of Yoga Therapy. As Yoga Therapy distinguishes itself from typical yoga instruction, growing pains are inevitable. I feel that making a distinction between Yoga Therapists and yoga educators (and a person can be both), is a sound decision on the part of YA - although perhaps there could have been been greater coordination between YA and the IAYT before the statement was released. Once the new C-IAYT credentials are awarded to practicing therapists later this year, I suspect much of the confusion over who can call themselves a "Yoga Therapist" will resolve.
In the meantime, when you're looking at Yoga Therapy providers, make sure their training includes instruction in applying Yoga Therapy to your particular needs. Many Yoga Therapy techniques for specific populations have accredited training programs. You can find credentialed practitioners through these training programs. For instance, I am credentialed with Yoga for the Special Child to teach children with special needs. There are accredited programs for all sorts of conditions and classes: yoga for depression, yoga for cancer, yoga for arthritis, chair yoga, adaptive yoga, etc. I believe clients receive our highest level of service when we work like specialists, providing Yoga Therapy and stress management techniques that were developed to address our clients' specific needs. This specialization will provide Yoga Therapists with additional credibility and our clients with better care.
What are your thoughts about the new Yoga Alliance policy on Yoga Therapy? Does it change your view of Yoga Therapists?
Erin Haddock is the director of Five Keys Yoga, LLC.