Heath J. Sommer, a clinical psychologist that specializes in treating patients with post-traumatic stress, was ordered to stand trial on Monday, after being charged with raping several female service members under his care. Sommer pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Sommer was hired by the U.S. Air Force to work at David Grant Medical Center on Travis Air Force Base. Aside from treating patients with combat related post-traumatic stress, he began treating patients for stresses related to being victimized by sexual assault. If the allegations against Sommer are correct, those patients, who sought help recovering from sex crimes, found themselves victimized once again by Sommer.

Sommer’s attorney, Thomas Maas, reportedly did not refute the Sommer had sex with some of his patients during the hearing on Monday, though he claimed that it was not only consensual, but actually “part of his therapy work.”

Heath J. Sommer. Sommer, a clinical psychologist who treated military veterans with post-traumatic stress, has been charged with raping female service members who were in therapy as victims of sexual assaults. | AP

Prosecutors reportedly echoed Sommer’s claims that he approached having sex with his patients as a part of their treatment — a technique referred to as “exposure therapy” that Sommer claimed would help them overcome negative feelings associated with sex. Three female service members and former patients provided testimony regarding incidents in which Sommer exposed himself to them, had them perform oral sex on him in his office, or even relocating the session to his home to “re-experience” every facet of her sexual assault before having sex with him in a “positive and loving” way.

Exposure therapy has been proven effective in treating some forms of phobias and anxiety disorders, though it rarely is considered as a viable treatment for trauma recovery. Often, exposure therapy for veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress will include retrospective analysis of the traumatic event, like writing about one’s experiences as vividly as possible.

Sommer was hired via a third-party contracting company in 2014 and underwent a background check prior to starting work, though the background check reportedly produced nothing that would suggest the man was unfit for his position in the medical center. Air Force officials claimed they immediately suspended Sommer when allegations against him surfaced.

“We take sexual assault very seriously,” Tonya Racasner, a spokesperson for Travis Air Force Base, told the press.

She went on to address the defense Sommer mounted, saying, “we don’t really condone exposure therapy,” even when executed properly and professionally.