Turning Point self-help course 'like a pressure cooker'

AAP, Australia/August 12, 2009

By Katelyn Catanzariti

A woman has described feeling "fantastic" and "energised" after completing the same self-help course as Rebekah Lawrence, who jumped naked to her death from a Sydney office building two days after completing the program.

Human resources worker Lisa Coulton told an inquest into Ms Lawrence's death she was feeling "on top of the world" in the days and weeks after attending Turning Point, described as a "journey to the core of the human spirit".

"I felt fantastic for weeks," she told Glebe Coroner's Court.

"I felt absolutely on top of the world, I felt really connected with myself and with the people who did the course and I made some really good friends out of it ... I felt really energised."

It was a very different story for Ms Lawrence whose husband described her as being in a detached and "dream-like" state when she returned home from the five-day course in December 2005.

The 34-year-old cried out "I love you" and was singing as she plunged to her death from the second storey of a Macquarie Street building at the end of her first day back at work.

An autopsy found she had no drugs or alcohol in her system.

An inquest has been set up to investigate whether the self-help course was in any way to blame for the psychosis that prompted her to jump.

Participants in the course underwent "intense" therapies including childhood regression sessions and visualisations, Ms Coulton - who was in the same working group as Ms Lawrence - told the inquest.

But counsel assisting the coroner Robert Bromwich has told the inquest the "teachers" looking after the group of 19 "students" - at $695 a head - had no relevant formal qualifications.

He has described the screening process to complete the course - run by Cremorne company People Knowhow - as well as 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".

"People need strategies to adapt back to their day-to-day lives," Franco Vittozzi said.

Mr Vittozzi agreed with Mr Bromwich that the course was about "loosening people up and breaking down their resistance to change".

He also acknowledged such therapies could have some unwelcome side effects.

"Would you accept that a course such as this for some people could be quite dangerous," Mr Bromwich asked.

"I suppose so, yes," he answered.

Senior apprentice teacher Joanna Woutersz, who helped lead Ms Lawrence's course, admitted that with only limited therapeutic training and no formal psychological qualifications she was not in a position to identify or treat any mental health issues.

"I suggest to you that none of the training, skills or experience that you had equipped you to deal with either the presence or the development of more serious mental conditions ... or psychosis," Mr Bromwich put to her.

"Yes, I agree with that," Ms Woutersz responded.

"I suggest that given that it's difficult to screen out vulnerable people of that kind, it either would be appropriate for the course to be run by people with adequate levels of training and experience, or courses be changed in terms of content and duration," he said.

"Yes, it could be appropriate," she answered.

The inquest has adjourned until next week when Deputy State Coroner Malcolm MacPherson is expected to hear closing submissions.

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