Fly away: Nordin ruins hypnotic picnic

Meet the Porter brothers: Patrick, Michael, and David. They're all certified hypnotherapists, and they're passionate about their ability to help people overcome bad habits through hypnosis. More precisely, they're passionate about the benefits offered by Positive Changes Hypnosis, the company Patrick has led since 1993.

I wrote about Positive Changes last month ["Disappearing Hypnotist: The $59.08-a-pound diet," January 30] after a former client complained to me about the Charlottesville center, which suddenly closed November 1.

Hoping to lose weight, she had signed a one-year, $1,500 contract and was pleased with the results– until four months later, when owners David and Heidi Porter disappeared. Her e-mails to their website went unanswered. She had lost 25 pounds– and a thousand dollars.

Now I've heard from a second client, who's even unhappier than the first.

Not only did she see no results, but she lost almost $400 on her six-month contract. I'm going to call this woman Pat Foster, because her complaint largely involves sensitive medical information she entrusted to Positive Changes.

"My main concern is the ethics of the company," she said in an e-mail. "On each visit with the hypnotherapist many things were discussed"– such as early addiction to diet pills and a history of psychiatric care.

Where, Foster wants to know, are all the "notes and forms" on which this intimate info was recorded? "These things," she says, "are so private to me, and I am so embarrassed that these papers could just be sitting in a box somewhere for anyone to read."

According to Patrick Porter, the reason his brother and sister-in-law never contacted any clients– even though they had posted a note on the center's door promising to do so– was that they had no access to their clients' records– they'd been "locked out of the office."

Geoffrey Kilmer, owner of the building that housed Positive Changes, refutes that. "They were not locked out of their office," says Kilmer. "They moved out over a weekend"– and took everything with them.

Since I hadn't been able to find David or Heidi, I called Patrick again and urged him to help Foster retrieve her records.

"I don't have anything to do with it," he said, claiming that he had found out the Charlottesville office was closing "the same way the clients did." Later in the conversation, however, he admitted that he'd actually found out a month before that. When I pressed him about the money Charlottesville clients had lost, he finally said that they could contact him at 757-499-0047.

David now works in the company's Newport News location (all centers are owned by individual franchisees), but I was unable to connect with him there. He did, however, leave a voice-mail message in which he said that he had been "an employee" of the corporation that owned Positive Changes of Charlottesville. That's an odd way to describe his role; as franchisee, he would also have owned the corporation.

He also claimed that he and his wife had incurred about $50,000 in debt "trying to help the people of Charlottesville." I would suggest that any former clients who'd like to get "help" in the form of their records should call the Newport News center at 757-249-3082 and ask for David.

Finally, there's Michael, the brains behind the nutritional wing of the business. Clients who come to Positive Changes hoping for weight loss are given 42 pages of small, densely packed type, the fruits of Michael's "research" on a dizzying array of topics. His formal education consists of an associate's degree in business communications and psychology from a community college in Michigan, and he gets touchy fast if you question his expertise.

"Do you know how to read?" he demanded in a heated moment. "You can't hold water– it's flowing right out." He then likened me to "a little fly or a mosquito" at a "beautiful picnic."

He was, however, a lot quicker to come to the aid of former clients than either of his brothers, and is offering free hypnosis sessions to interested former clients. He can be contacted locally at 263-4331.

Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer, write her at 100 Second Street NW, 22902, or call 295-8700 ext. 406.