Window was nude Rebekah Lawrence's turning point

The Daily Telegraph, Australia/August 15, 2009

At the end of an ordinary Tuesday, Rebekah Lawrence, a mild-mannered personal assistant to the CEO of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, waited until her city office was almost empty before shedding her clothes in the bathroom.

Emerging completely naked, she made her way to the desk of senior executive Peggy Sanders and called out her namein a sing-song voice.

"Peggy, I love you," she said. "I'm all right Peggy. I'm all right, don't worry."

But Peggy was very worried. Her younger colleague, known to most as ashy woman who was "modest to the point of being prudish", had been acting strangely all day. The pretty 34-year-old had arrived at work on December 20,2005, appearing "alight" after completing a self-development program called The Turning Point. She told Peggy she had had "a wonderful, life-changing weekend" at the course run by People Knowhow, in the lower North Shore Sydney suburb of Cremorne. But the normally conscientious worker had spent the rest of the day staring into space and making phone calls from a private office to People Knowhow at regular intervals.

Treading gently, Peggy found Rebekah's clothes and helped the younger woman to get dressed, pulling on every garment as if she were a child. But soon after, Rebekah began to scream and pushed her away with a force she "never imagined possible" and fled up the stairs. Now frantic with worry, Peggy tried to contact Rebekah's husband, David Booth, before calling an ambulance but she couldn't raise him.

Upstairs, she found Rebekah sitting beside a large open window in her boss's office, facing out to Macquarie St. She was "lulling and singing in a repetitive manner", but when Peggy approached her, she lashed out, screaming "f... off".

By the time the paramedics arrived, Rebekah had become more agitated, swearing and hurling abuse at anyone who tried to walk through the glass door. She took her clothes off again as the paramedics stood out of her line of sight preparing a sedative. But before they could subdue her, she cried out passionately, "I love you David", and then said to herself in a calmer voice: "I know, I'm going to jump."

She then leapt feet-first out the window to her death as her horrified colleagues looked on. Last week, Deputy State Coroner Malcolm MacPherson began an inquest into whether The Turning Point course contributed in any way to Rebekah's "psychotic" stateof mind on the night she died.

If a link is found, the case could result in an overhaul of the multi-million dollar personal-growth industry, which is currently self-regulated. It is a move the profession says it would welcome in order to stamp out those providers who label themselves as therapists without havingthe appropriate training or skills.

"We have been asking for regulationfor years because this is exactly the typeof fear we have always had," says Dr Colin Benjamin, the CEO of the Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia. He adds that "without proper regulation, the public is at risk".

Of the 16,000 psychotherapists and counsellors practising in Australia,only 6000 are listed on the new national accreditation register. Benjamin confirms the directors of People Knowhow, Richard Arthur and Geoff Kabaelo, who do not have formally recognised qualifications in psychology, are not listed on it.

Rebekah Anne Lawrence grew up on Sydney's Northern Beaches with her parents, Ron and Joan Lawrence, and her elder sister, Kate. Prior to her introduction to The Turning Point, she had no known mental-health issues. However, she saw a counsellor eight times in late 2004 to discuss her need to become a mother.

Psychotherapist Helen Mitrofanis told the inquest that Rebekah's husband who has a son from a prior marriage didn't want another child.

"Rebekah was uncertain as to whether she wanted a baby or not, but felt that if she really did want to, she would have to leave her husband. This was distressing to her given that leaving him felt catastrophic and overwhelming in terms of her issues of abandonment and feeling alone in the world," she said.

Rebekah's husband, David, a senior officer at Woollahra Council, told the court his wife had stopped the counselling because it was ineffective. He said they had had many "heated arguments" about having a baby, but that Rebekah was coming to terms with his decision.

"I knew she was trying hard not to bring it up and I was trying my best to understand and be patient,'' he said. The Turning Point was suggested to Rebekah by a friend who had completed the $695 four-day course and warned she was in for "a powerful emotional experience and quite a rough time".

David said his wife wanted to address issues in her life and become more in touch with herself but the woman who came home to him after the final Sunday session was vastly different to the wife he knew.

The Turning Point is the first of a range of progressively intense personal-growth courses offered by People Knowhow.

According to director Geoff Kabealo, 40,000 people have undergone the program, both here and abroad, since itwas created in the US in 1980.

In a statement to the court, he said the course was "an introduction to meditation, emotional management, life and relationship-skills training". In addition, it was about "coming home to yourself and realising that you are OK".

He also said he personally read each of the two-page enrolment forms filled out by prospective participants to ensure that theywere suitable. But he conceded in court the process, which relied on volunteered information, was inadequate for detecting people whose deeper mental-health issues may have been triggered during the course.

Kabealo also said he did not have the necessary qualifications in psychology to detect the onset of a mental breakdown.

"I'm very concerned about the screening process and we're putting things into effect," he told the inquest. His business partner, Richard Arthur, also admitted the screening process had failed Rebekah,who he said may have had a pre-existing condition. He added: "I think there was a certain vulnerability with Rebekah [that]we weren't aware of."

On the course, Rebekah took part in a range of activities such as yelling at a partner to "practise assertiveness", pummeling a gym mattress to release pent-up emotion and visualising herself forgiving people. But the session that seemed to affect her the most was called the Inner Child. Participants are taken back to their childhood by visualising themselves at younger and younger ages until they begin to remember things they had forgotten.

At least two support staff members noticed Rebekah "teary and upset" onthe last afternoon of the course. Susan Young told the inquiry Rebekah had told her that she ``realised she was happy being by herself, that she didn't need to spend her time filling up her life with social engagements and that what she really wanted was to be a mum".

As recommended, Rebekah took the next day off work, with her husband, to helpher "re-adjust" back into her life. One of the first things David noticed was the "unusual intensity" of her affection.

"During brunch, she stared at me with an unusually long, intense, loving look," he said. "She appeared somewhat vague and not herself.'' And early next morning, he woke to the sound of her deep breathing as she lay beside him in bed trying to``work through the issue of death".

At 3.30am, she telephoned the office of People Knowhow and left a messageon the answering machine. "I've just had a really awful experience surrounding death," she said. "I'm just so open. I fear I may be too open."

Driving into work later that morning, Rebekah told David the course had "helped her resolve issues in her life". As they pulled up outside her building, she turned to him and "intensely" told him she loved him. He said that she ``was in a detached, dream-like, happy state".

It was to be the last time he saw his wife alive. And three years later, David remains adamant that Rebekah was not responsible for her own death.

"Prior to The Turning Point, Rebekah was perfectly normal and was looking forward to the holidays and Christmas," he told the Coroner.

She was especially excited about a tripto Italy they were taking in April and had already paid for, and added: "I am certain that she would not have committed this act prior to the course."

Forensic psychologist Dr Michael Diamond is expected to tell the inquest this week that in his expert opinion there is evidence linking the course to Rebekah's state of mind when she died. Meanwhile, psychologist Dr Jim Bright says vulnerable members of society who are lured by the promise of improved quality of life and career success are placed at considerable risk if the staff members supervising the program are not appropriately trained.

"When dealing with some of these issues you can profoundly disturb people, which can lead to very unfortunate outcomes," he says. "It's not something to be taken lightly by people and it shouldn't be done by people who aren't qualified."

However, Maxine Rosenfield, the president of the Counsellors and Psychotherapists' Association of NSW, doesn't believe that a psychology degreeis necessary for teachers who are conducting self-help courses.

"Psychology and psychotherapy are similar fields. We're all trying to help people change their behaviour and self-discover, but we're coming at it from different modalities," she says.

Rosenfield says it is impossible to ensure the total safety of vulnerable people in suchprograms and adds that strong emotions are often triggered after the course has been completed.

"It depends on how self-aware a person is when they start the process," she says.

"If something deep is triggered, you would think the course teachers would see it and do react accordingly. But they might not see any evidence of it because a person might go away and then feel it. In such a case, you can't blame the course and the structure. A lot of this is adults taking responsibility for adult behaviour."

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