Rebekah Lawrence of Sydney was said to have been an upbeat, happily married woman who decided in December, 2005, to take a four-day self-help course known as The Turning Point to help her deal with her husband's refusal to have children. Created in 1979 by American-born Walter Bellin, a former lecturer in psychology at the University of California who was deeply involved in the transcendental meditation movement of Maharishi Mahesh, the course uses guided meditation, regression therapy and body work (such as punching mattresses to release anger).
"Its ethos is transpersonal psychology, based on the work of Abraham Maslov and Karl Rogers," Bellin once explained, "and it's for people seeking self-knowledge, who want to free themselves from the limited way in which they'd been brought up."
According to one participant who took the course and was in the same working group as Mrs. Lawrence, participants underwent "intense" therapies that included childhood regression sessions and visualizations. The therapy employed hypnotic techniques designed to emotionally regress people to childlike states so they could confront issues from their past.
Unfortunately, none of instructors involved in the course were qualified to use these dangerous techniques.
As a result, Rebekah's husband, David Bloom, said she began acting strangely, exhibiting child-like behavior and trying to command the family dog with her mind.
On Dec. 20, the day of her death, co-workers said she became increasingly erratic and placed dozens of calls to Turning Point officials for help. A normally shy and quiet woman, she then stripped off her clothes, cried out, “I love you, David” and burst into song just before hurling herself out the window.
An autopsy later found no drugs or alcohol in her system, and she had no history of mental illness.
"The evidence is overwhelming that the act of stepping out of a window to her death was the tragic culmination of a developing psychosis that had its origins in a self-development course known as 'The Turning Point,'" Deputy State Coroner Malcolm MacPherson said. "Those persons were simply ill equipped to know that this was a serious situation and Rebekah needed medical — or at least psychological — intervention," the coroner said.
Forensic psychiatrist Michael Diamond concurred, testifying that Mrs. Lawrence had been displaying regressive, child-like behavior immediately before her death, which he attributed to the "intrinsically unsafe" course. "The petulant behavior, the sing-song voice, the taking off of her clothes, the coquettishness, the child-like voice ... these are clear descriptions of regressive behavior," Dr Diamond said. "It was something that was actually participated in during the course, so it's difficult not to see a causal link."
MacPherson did not recommend any charges be filed against Turning Point officials, but did suggest that laws be drafted to require that those offering self-development seminars be qualified and accredited.
This is not the first time a student died as a result of Turning Point. In August, 2009, a Korean student died from multiple self-inflicted stab wounds three days after attending the course.
In 1987, Darren Hughes, 24, plunged to his death while taking another course run by Bellin.
"Rebekah's death isn't in vain,” her husband said outside the courtroom yesterday. “It has helped a lot of people who may have come to the same grim end in the future. I'm not angry, because they didn't mean to do it. It's just unqualified people doing damaging things to people's minds."
Lawrence's sister, Kate Lawrence-Haynes, said she hopes the results will help create more awareness about the lack of regulation of the self-help industry.
"Tread carefully — look what is in the courses," she said. "If they don't tell you what is in the courses before you attend them — they promise you the world, promise you happiness — then that's a red flag for them not being genuine. They're businesses."