Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 3, 2011

Hypnotist accused of sexual assaults

Thomas Stetler was in Kalkaska County Jail Friday


KALKASKA — Thomas K. Stetler used hypnosis to help smokers break addictions to tobacco.

Authorities believe he also used hypnosis for more nefarious purposes. Stetler, 54, a physician assistant, is accused of sexually assaulting two women during hypnotherapy.

Stetler, owner of Boardman Health and Wellness, and who also works at Kalkaska Memorial Health Center, faces two felony counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct.

Michigan State Police arrested Stetler at his home on Friday, Trooper Rich Hall said. Stetler remained in the Kalkaska County Jail Friday afternoon on a $250,000 cash bond.

Two women who tried to break smoking addictions told police Stetler sexually assaulted them during hypnosis.

“Somebody misusing a professional relationship for some improper purpose, that’s always serious,” Kalkaska County Prosecutor Brian Donnelly said. “The allegations are serious and now there’s a growing body of information that suggests there’s other victims.”

Donnelly encouraged Stetler patients who might have information to contact state police in Kalkaska.

Police initially arrested Stetler last week and a judge arraigned him on Aug. 26. Kalkaska County prosecutors charged him then with a single count of second-degree criminal sexual conduct, then added an additional count this week. He remained free on bond until Friday afternoon.

“He’s denying the allegations,” said Suttons Bay attorney Jeffrey Slocombe, Stetler’s lawyer.

His preliminary examination is set for Wednesday in Kalkaska.

Stetler was a part-time physician assistant at Kalkaska Memorial Health Center. Officials there suspended him pending further investigation.

Stetler is licensed by the state as a physician assistant and had no open formal complaints against him as of Friday afternoon, according to Michigan Licensing and Regulatory Affairs records.

State officials on Friday weren’t aware of Stetler’s pending charges and said he doesn’t have to report problems unless he’s convicted of a crime. But the state could launch its own investigation and suspend Stetler before the case concludes.

“If we have confidence in the evidence that we can gather and we feel there’s a threat to the public, we can request a summary suspension,” said Rae Ramsdell, acting director of the Bureau of Health Professions. “We might open up our own investigation.”

A summary suspension, if issued, would immediately revoke Stetler’s license. He then would have 30 days to appeal the suspension, Ramsdell said.

Authorities also seized Stetler’s computers to determine whether he improperly billed hypnotherapy sessions to insurance carriers, Donnelly said.

Amelia Hasenohrl, a licensed professional counselor and certified hypnotherapist at Grand Traverse Hypnotherapy & Counseling, said she often works with smokers to help break a tobacco addiction. Hasenohrl creates a relaxing environment, and once her patients are relaxed, she reinforces positive messages in an attempt to help them quit smoking.

“You have to be willing to quit and do the hypnosis,” she said.

Her hypnosis sessions last about 25 minutes, and she said most of her patients successfully quit smoking after the first session. But when hypnotherapists abuse their skills, Hasenorhl said the entire profession gets a bad rap.

“You’re giving your trust to another person,” she said. “You certainly don’t expect them to take advantage of that trust.”