Rebekah Lawrence stripped then leapt to death from office

AAP, Australia/August 10, 2009

It's called The Turning Point and it promises "a new way of living," but this self-styled personal development course could have triggered a psychotic state in a young woman who stripped naked and leapt to her death from an inner-city office window. Rebekah Lawrence, 34, completed The Turning Point, a four-day course run by People Knowhow in Cremorne, on December 18, 2005, with the aim of "resolving issues" in her life.

Two days later, the "shy, modest and gentle" PA took off her clothes in front of shocked colleagues, became abusive and aggressive and jumped to her death from the second storey window of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians in Macquarie St.

Deputy State Coroner Malcolm MacPherson will now determine if the course contributed to her "psychotic" state of mind leading up to her death and whether there is a risk of a similar episode occurring to someone else.

The inquest could lead to the establishment of a regulatory body to oversee the content of courses involving psychotherapy and counselling.

Counsel assisting the inquest Robert Bromwich said the manner of Ms Lawrence's death wasn't in question, but the contentious point was the reason for her state of mind.

A colleague described how the 34-year-old was "quite unstable in a manner in which I had never seen before".

Royal Australian College of Physicians executive officer Fairlie Clifton said Ms Lawrence began swearing and then said "I love you, I love you" before backing out onto a ledge of the Macquarie Street Tower.

Ms Clifton told the NSW Coroner's Court at Glebe she did not know who the comments were directed at.

The inquest heard the usually cheerful and good-natured woman arrived late for work on December 20, 2005, telling a colleague she had attended an "amazing" self-development course called Turning Point.

But the colleague, Christine Ernst, said Ms Lawrence later became agitated as she repeatedly tried to phone someone but was unable to get through.

She gazed at her computer screen and appeared to do no work at all, Ms Ernst said.

The phone number she had been trying to dial was later revealed to be the Turning Point office, the inquest was told.

Ms Lawrence's psychotherapist Helen Mitrofanis - who had completed the same course - told the inquest her client was a shy, anxious person who was a compulsive worrier.

In early December, about one week before she had begun the course, Ms Lawrence told Ms Mitrofanis her life had been pointless and she had feelings of hopelessness.

"She was conflicted about having a child," Ms Mitrofanis told the inquest.

"I got the impression she wanted to have a child but her husband did not and if she wanted to have a baby the relationship might end."

The inquest also heard Ms Lawrence had taken part in a Turning Point session on the Saturday before she died which had a component called The Inner Child where participants become extremely "regressed and young-like".

Her husband David Booth said she returned home in a dream-like state, appeared detached and seemed like somebody on drugs.

An autopsy found she had no alcohol or drugs in her system at the time of her death.

Turning Point, run by Zoeros Life Skills Training in Cremorne, was recommended to Ms Lawrence by a friend who said she felt uneasy after finishing the sessions, Mr Booth said.

Counsel assisting Coroner Malcolm MacPherson, Robert Bromwich, said Ms Lawrence's death was not a suicide "because she didn't have sufficient presence of mind to take her own life."

The inquest has heard Ms Lawrence had no psychological issues or personal problems prior to undertaking the course and no traces of alcohol or drugs were found in her body.

Her husband and parents described her as "a shy, modest, gentle and delightful young woman" with no personal problems known to them, Mr Bromwich said.

He said her behaviour changed dramatically after the course, particularly in the last two hours of her life.

"She was aggressive, abusive and foul-mouthed - all out of character," he said.

"She was modest to the point of being prudish but she took her clothes off twice and was naked when she fell to the ground."

The court heard Ms Lawrence had wanted to do the course for years, despite being warned by a friend that she would "feel out of balance" for a while after experiencing it.

Her husband, David Booth, said she wanted to "resolve issues in her life" through the course, which promotes itself as "a journey to the core of the human spirit."

Mr Booth said the night before his wife died, she had been in a "dream-like state...almost like someone on drugs."

The inquest before Deputy State Coroner Malcolm MacPherson continues.

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