Dubliner Des Martin says he paid almost €250,000 to the Roebuck Counselling Centre in Rathgar over the course of a year after initially approaching the centre for counselling. The money was eventually refunded, but Mr Martin has said he was left in debt and suffering from depression after his dealings with the centre.
Mr Martin is one of several ex-clients of the centre that The Irish Times has discovered were asked for large sums of money for counselling and other services. He first approached the centre for help in 1999 because he is a recovering alcoholic.
He was later offered a place on a three year part-time Diploma in Counselling and Psychotherapy course for €3,000, which included extra counselling and group therapy.
"I remember thinking it made no financial sense to the centre but it was a bargain so I jumped in straight away."
Claire Hoban, a counsellor, was a tutor on the course.
"Two years ago she made an approach to me and said that if I gave her money then I could realise all my dreams," he said. Mr Martin was running a building company and wished to get into property development to achieve some kind of financial security.
He said he was asked first for €5,000, which he paid. He said he was then pressured to pay €30,000.
"Claire suggested I go and find somebody who would be able to loan me funds and I did but it just dragged me deeper into problems," he said.
Mr Martin said Ms Hoban asked "what are your dreams worth to you?" and once called him out of a group therapy session for a two-hour meeting during which she asked him for €50,000.
"There was a lot of pressure put on, I trusted her totally and utterly. This woman was privy to information about me having worked with me on the course so she knew where my vulnerabilities lay," he said.
By the summer of last year he had paid out €235,550 to the centre after selling his house and running up massive company debts. He has since been refunded the money but is now on medication for depression and has had to stop work.
On RTE's Liveline yesterday, a man suffering with depression described his experience with the centre and Ms Hoban.
He said: "I initially had to pay €2,500 upfront, I had no idea why. She said paying upfront motivates people more and people are less likely to cancel."
The man also said his partner, now his wife, joined him at a counselling session and was also asked to pay €2,500.
When asked whether he felt pressurised into paying the money, he said:
"Very much so, I was ill at the time. She was very manipulative . . . It was more or less said that if we didn't come up with the money there was no way she could help us, and we were very desperate . . . We said why can't we just pay every time we come. She said it was an issue of motivation."
Since news of Ms Hoban's resignation from the centre's "Life Mentoring" programme was published in The Irish Times last Saturday, the company has made amendments to its website, noting that earlier this year the name of the centre was changed.
"In May 2007 the name was changed to Roebuck Consulting Ltd, since the breadth of work had developed to encompass aspects of self-development and 'wellness' mentoring," the site now reads.
The director and main shareholder of the Roebuck Counselling Centre, Bernie Purcell, declined to comment yesterday. Ms Hoban has told The Irish Times that the large sums of money requested by people were in relation to a "Life Mentoring" programme where participants invested €100,000 with the view to it being refunded if they did not become millionaires within two years.
Ms Purcell is a co-founder of the Dublin-based organisation Wealth of Women (WoW).
Director of WoW Anna Ross said yesterday that Ms Purcell is not involved in the work that WoW does.
There are "no connections between WoW and Roebuck House in Rathgar", she said.