Skeptic News: Weight Loss Hypnotist accused of sexual assault

A woman who sought out hypnotherapy treatment for weightloss and help to quit smoking in  Kalkaska County, Michigan has accused her hypnotherapist of sexual assault. Thomas Steler who runs Boardman Health and Wellness originally used hypnosis to help the woman loose weight and later to quit smoking. The woman initially believed she had managed to quit after one session but the habit returned.

Given she felt that the hypnosis had been reasonably successful she scheduled another session with Stetler. It is during this session that the woman testified on Monday that she believes she was sexually assaulted whilst under hypnosis. This testimony prompted the judge to order Steler to stand trial on a felony second-degree criminal sexual conduct charge.

Steler is currently in jail awaiting his trial date and the Boardman Health and Wellness Centre is currently closed for business.

To date one further victim has come forward to make similar claims and police believe there could be more.

Steler has no previous convictions for sexual assault and his guilt or innocence in this matter is still to be determined.

The case illustrates some of the issues inherent in seeking out or practising alternative medicine. A lack of regulation and appropriate disclosure procedures for most alternative healthcare modalities means that almost anyone could set themselves up as a practitioner without qualification, experience or good intentions. This lack of regulation potentially leaves vulnerable people who seek complementary and alternative therapies at risk from unscrupulous individuals. It allows such individuals access to vulnerable people.

It also illustrates the issues that lack of regulation and appropriate training can cause for practitioners. While on the whole they are probably no more likely than other groups to abuse their clients their methods and lack of formal training in consultations and examinations may lead to misinterpretation of their actions. While it is not clear that this is the case here and we await the courts examination of all the evidence before drawing a firm conclusion.

More stringent regulation of CAM therapists and mandatory training in acceptable examination or consultation practices might eliminate some of these issues. Though as we are aware the medical profession themselves are not free from occasional abuses.

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