TAMPA — At first glance, Sandra Rovhana's business seemed official. She worked in a South Tampa office and had business cards identifying her as a Ph.D. and doctor of psychology.
But she's neither of those. She never even graduated from college.
Rovhana, 46, was arrested Tuesday night and charged with three counts each of unlicensed practice of a health care professional and unlicensed practice as a psychologist.
She says it's all a big misunderstanding. She's certified as a hypnotherapist, she explained. And she says she's a Ph.D. candidate — the business cardmaker simply left off the "candidate" part, she said.
Even if she were practicing simply as a hypnotist, the Florida Department of Health says she's still violating state law. Hypnotists have to be licensed with the state. And they have to follow certain rules: They can't diagnose ailments and they have to work under a "practitioner of healing arts," such as a psychiatrist or psychologist.
She worked in an office with a psychiatrist, but undercover investigators who made appointments with her say she diagnosed them — one with depression and the other with andropause, the male version of menopause.
At her Odessa home, Rovhana said she never diagnosed either man. She said she simply handed one man literature about andropause and told the other, who asked for a prescription, to visit his primary-care doctor if he wanted Cymbalta, which treats depression.
"I thought that I was operating within the scope of my certification and training," she said.
She wasn't, Tampa police say. Handing a client literature on a specific ailment or suggesting that someone pursue a specific type of medication would lead a patient to believe they've been diagnosed, police spokeswoman Andrea Davis said.
One of Rovhana's patients, Stephen Dixon, 55, said he was surprised to hear of the charges. Dixon, a Clearwater chiropractor who has been visiting Rovhana to learn relaxation techniques for managing his hip pain, said she never diagnosed him.
"I know what diagnosing is, and she was not," he said. "She was very helpful, but in no way was she diagnosing."
In their trips to Rovhana's MacDill Avenue office, investigators saw a placard that said "Dr. Sam," which is misleading, they say, because Rovhana often goes by the nickname "Sam."
Rovhana also had an explanation for that. She says "Dr. Sam" is written on the credit card machine used to bill her clients. She bought the machine from a former colleague, Sam Rhame, who was a chiropractor at a Safety Harbor practice where she worked at a couple years ago. "Dr. Sam" was written on the machine before she bought it, she said.
"I am not faking anything," Rovhana said. "I am Sam Rovhana, a clinical hypnotherapist."
But even that word — hypnotherapist — might create problems, said Dave Damon, president of the National Guild of Hypnotists. He said the group tells its members to call themselves "consulting hypnotists" so as not to be confused with therapists, who have college degrees.
"Those are two different people who do two different things," he said. "We do not diagnose, we do not cure."
The state's investigation started three years ago when the Florida Department of Health received a complaint about Rovhana's practice.
Several months ago, an investigator called Rovhana and made an appointment. A Tampa police officer also made an appointment.
Rovhana says she feels duped. She said the investigators asked leading questions.
"I feel set up," she said.
But Davis said officers think the case will stand up in court. Investigators have audio recordings of the appointments, she said.
"It's a very big deal," Davis said. "Her business card alone lists her as a Ph.D. You can talk all you want about a missing 'candidate,' but she identified herself as a doctor."
Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected]