David Earl Johnson, LICSW

3 minute read

Tonight the New York Times reported on very sad story about an Australian woman who went to a self-help course called Turning Point with her husband in hopes of improving their marriage. Over the next few days, according to her husband, her behavior became increasingly strange until without warning, she jumped out of her office window and successfully committed suicide while stunned paramedics watched unable to move fast enough.

Professor Charcot (left) of Paris' Salpêtrière...

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According to the article, the Turning Point program by People Knowhow run by unlicensed staff and includes group induction of hypnosis and/or regression where persons in the audience are encouraged to imagine themselves as children and encouraged to re-experience trauma. Hypnosis and regression are powerful therapeutic techniques I have come to respect. One of my training experiences included a demonstration of group hypnotic induction. Most in the audience were thoroughly amazed including myself because in no way did we cooperate with an induction. We didn’t even know it happened until we went on break and became acutely aware of the change in perceptions in the beautiful atrium of the hotel. After the break, the workshop leader told the story of the previous conference he taught when a woman in the class was found after the break psychotic and nearly incoherent. The leader had to suspend the conference while the woman was hospitalized. Gradually, the reality of what happened dawned on me. The workshop leader, though highly regarded, was taking an unnecessary risk with conference attendees. Although, such an extreme reaction may be rare, in my experience, the techniques are so powerful that it is necessary to screen participants in this sort of workshop. But according to an inquest now in progress in Sydney, leaders had no relevant formal qualifications, the screening process to complete the course, and the support offered during and after the course as “woefully inadequate”.
“A member of the volunteer support staff present during the five-day Turning Point program attended by Ms Lawrence told the inquest the course was like a “pressure cooker”.”
This program uses techniques that should be reserved for intensive treatment programs like the one where I work. We screen people with a complete diagnostic work up, and then work with them intensively six hours a day for 16 days. I have witnessed amazing progress in some people. But without a daily intensive setting with psychiatric staff readily available, I would never attempt this sort of work with people who are already unstable. While it may be true that most healthy people could benefit from this sort of fearless self-review, some people cannot readily integrate this sort of experience. There have been three deaths associated with this program, the first 18 years ago in a group lead by the program’s founder, Walter Belin. These deaths were avoidable.
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