Husband tells how course changed his 'perfect' wife

The Sydney Morning Herald/August 21, 2009

When a Sydney woman living an otherwise "perfect" life reached out for help as she struggled with the prospect of a childless marriage, she turned to a group of counsellors she thought she could trust.

But instead of helping, the "teachers" she paid for guidance led her down a destructive path and into a "lethal psychosis", which prompted her to jump naked to her death from a Sydney office building, an inquest into her death at Glebe Coroner's Court has been told.

Rebekah Lawrence was in a "lovie dovie" marriage with her "soul mate"; she was happy and successful at work and enjoyed an "excellent" relationship with her parents.

She loved her sister and nieces, her dog and cat, her friends and work colleagues and was counting down the months until a trip to Europe with her husband.

In early December 2005, one of Ms Lawrence's biggest worries was when she was going to find time to finish her Christmas shopping.

However, she was finding it tough to accept that her long-standing desire to be a mother might not be realised because her husband did not want more children - he already had a son from a previous relationship.

On the recommendation of a friend, she signed up to a Turning Point course - described as a "journey to the core of the human spirit" - run by Cremorne company People Knowhow.

Husband David Booth said she wanted to participate on the course to resolve the emotional problems she faced over her "fear of losing friends and the child issue".

But over the five-day course, Mr Booth said he saw his "perfect" wife deteriorate into someone alternately vague and intense - like "someone on drugs".

"I thought that she seemed a little strange in terms of being unusually euphoric ... her affection was unusually intense and long in duration," Mr Booth later told police.

"I was confident that she would grow out of it."

Two days later, on her first day back at work after completing the course, Ms Lawrence stripped naked twice in her boss's office and, while singing in a child-like voice, she jumped to her death from the second storey of the Macquarie Street building.

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

Mr Booth blames the course for his wife's actions.

Lawyers for the course director Geoff Kabealo and Ms Lawrence's "teacher" Richard Arthur have argued she must have had a pre-existing and undiagnosed mental condition before she underwent the program.

They said she was "consumed" by her "loudly ticking biological clock", to the point at which it was significant enough to cause an emotional disturbance.

But counsel assisting the coroner Robert Bromwich has told the inquest there was no evidence to support this claim and that Ms Lawrence would have had to put on an "Academy Award-winning performance" to disguise such a serious mental condition.

He said the "lethal psychosis" Ms Lawrence endured must have been a result of the course - which has been linked to a second possible suicide of a Korean student in 2006.

"The evidence has revealed that it was the course, and not Rebekah Lawrence, that was extreme and abnormal ... Participants were put through a psychological wringer," Mr Bromwich said.

"[The course involved] intensive psychotherapy regression - and in my submission, it was that therapy that propelled her into psychosis and nothing else.

"How much more dangerous, or how much more risky, would it be for somebody who does [have a pre-existing condition]?"

Forensic psychiatrist Michael Diamond told the inquest that Ms Lawrence had been displaying regressive, child-like behaviour immediately before her death, which he attributed to the "intrinsically unsafe" use of childhood regression during the course.

"The petulant behaviour, the sing-song voice, the taking off of her clothes, the coquettishness, the child-like voice ... these are clear descriptions of regressive behaviour," Dr Diamond said.

"It was something that was actually participated in during the course, so it's difficult not to see a causal link."

Regression sessions were a normal and good part of therapy but they must take place in a safe, trusting environment, Dr Diamond said.

Undertaking them in the "risky" and "reckless" manner the Turning Point program had done was "a dangerous thing", he said.

One of the biggest criticisms of the course was the "woefully inadequate" support offered to participants after its completion.

Ms Lawrence was given the telephone numbers of two "support staff" who she rang late on the night before she died, wanting help "working through the issue of death".

But they "simply didn't have a clue" how to help her because they were completely unqualified, Mr Bromwich said.

"These people should not be conducting this course and some means need to be found to stop this happening," Mr Bromwich said.

"Ms Lawrence made many attempts to speak to someone - several attempts.

"When she finally found [People Knowhow boss] Mr Kabealo, he not only didn't realise something was going wrong, but he took what she said [as a positive reaction]."

Mr Kabealo told police that when he spoke to Ms Lawrence - just minutes before she jumped from her office window - he had been impressed with how "full of life" she sounded.

"She sounded full of life and profoundly happy," he told police.

"I even told my wife later that evening how well Rebekah had done on the Turning Point course."

Mr Bromwich made three recommendations to the coroner, including greater regulation of the professional use of the terms "counsellor" and "psychotherapist", and an Australia-wide registration and accreditation system for similar courses.

Deputy State Coroner Malcolm MacPherson is expected to deliver his findings later in the year.

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