Intense journey that left a woman on the edge

The death of Rebekah Lawrence has focused attention on the Turning Point course

The Sydney Morning Herald/August 15, 2009

Before he offered courses in "finding your inner child", before he worked for US Army intelligence in West Germany, and way before he appeared in the Coroner's Court in Sydney's Glebe last week giving evidence on the death of one of his clients, John Geoffrey Kabealo played football in the early 1960s for Michigan. At 6'1 (185 cm) and almost 100 kilograms, the young Kabealo, known to his friends as Geoff, must have cut an imposing figure, capable of tackling almost anything.

But nothing could have prepared him for the death of Rebekah Lawrence, who, in December 2005, stripped naked and jumped from Sydney inner-city office building, just two days after completing one of Kabealo's Turning Point self-development courses.

As the owner of People Knowhow, the company that offers Turning Point, Kabealo apologised in court to Lawrence's family and friends. He also noted that ''some 40,000 people have come through the course and we haven't had any episodes like Rebekah Lawrence."

But the 34-year-old's death has highlighted the dangers of high-intensity self-development courses such as the Turning Point, which uses guided meditation, regression therapy and body work (punching mattresses to release anger) to take its participants on a "journey to the core of the human spirit".

It also raised questions as to whether Kabealo, who has been variously described as "highly intelligent" and "someone who wants the best for everyone", was equipped to deal with the powerful emotions stirred up in the course's participants.

Born in 1944 in Columbus, Ohio, Kabealo joined the army in the mid-1960s, serving four years in the elite signal intelligence branch, the Army Security Agency. After tours in Korea and West Germany, he left the ASA and travelled to Spain, where he met and married an Australian named Julie, with whom he moved to Sydney. Following his divorce in the early 1980s, Kabealo attended the Turning Point, a self-development course run in Sydney by Self-Transformation Seminars, a company owned by an American psychology lecturer, Walter Bellin, and Robert Meredith, an Englishman who had trained in the theatre before studying transcendental meditation under the Maharishi Mahesh.

"I designed the Turning Point," Bellin says. "Its ethos was transpersonal psychology, based on the work of Abraham Maslov and Karl Rogers, and it was for people seeking self-knowledge, who wanted to free themselves from the limited way in which they'd been brought up."

Even then, the course could be "very intense. You were taking people back to experiences from their past, experiences with a parent or authority figure, that for some reason they had been effected by and wanted to overcome''.

When Bellin left the business in 1988, Kabealo became a director, rebadging it as People Knowhow and continuing to offer, together with Meredith, the Turning Point course. But whereas Bellin had left to pursue the corporate market, People Knowhow remained steadfastly committed to the consumer market.

"I don't think Geoff ever made a huge amount of money from it," David Zeltner, who once marketed Kabealo's courses, says. "He was very passionate, he lived and breathed it, but the bottom line was that as business it wasn't worth it. I told him a million ways to do it, to go corporate, that's where the money is. But he didn't want to do it because he wanted to help people."

Kabealo lives with his second wife, Fiona King, in a house in Sydney's Frenchs Forest, which he bought in 2001 for $463,000. In 2007, they spent $290,000 on a three-bedroom home in Bilambil Heights, near Tweed Heads. For all the tens of thousands of people who have attended the Turning Point, Kabealo's lifestyle remains relatively modest.

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