A woman who is suing the Church of Scientology appeared to have been hypnotised while undergoing an auditing session by a member of the church, a psychologist told the High Court yesterday. Ms Mary Johnston appeared to have been subjected to "very curious" and "not very good" therapy.
Dr Peter Naish, a chartered psychologist who has written extensively on hypnosis, said it was his view Ms Johnston was very susceptible to hypnosis. He was giving evidence in the continuing action for damages taken by Ms Johnston (40), who operates a sports equipment centre at Westwood, Foxrock, Dublin, against the church and three of its members - Mr John Keane, Mr Tom Cunningham and Mr Gerard Ryan. She is alleging conspiracy, misrepresentation and breach of constitutional rights.
Earlier yesterday, Mr Michael Collins SC, for the church, concluded lengthy submissions to the effect that the court should not hear the evidence of Dr Naish. Mr Justice Peart held the evidence was admissible. To exclude it would potentially render an injustice to Ms Johnston which outweighed any possible prejudice to the defence, he said.
Beginning his evidence, Dr Naish told Mr Michael Cush SC, for Ms Johnston, of his qualifications, including a doctorate in experimental psychology from Oxford University. He was now engaged in research work for the British Ministry of Defence, lecturing in cognitive psychology for the Open University and providing therapy at Reading Clinic.
He had a particular interest in hypnosis and was one of the few psychologists in England with extensive experience in that area.
Dr Naish said he had no contact with Scientology prior to the case. He had heard most of Ms Johnston's testimony and read the transcripts of the case and Scientology books and documents.
Asked about hypnosis, he said there was nothing intrinsically harmful in the practice per se. However, when it was used as a vehicle for some kind of therapy, the person using it must be able to deal with the subject's reactions. There was a concern that if a subject became distressed, the hypnotist might retraumatise them. Not all people were susceptible to hypnosis. In his view, Ms Johnston was highly susceptible.
Mr Cush read extracts from Dianetics - The Modern Science of Mental Health, by the founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard, and also outlined extracts from Ms Johnston's evidence to the court.
He said the extracts from Dianetics indicated that what was involved in auditing was hypnosis. It appeared hypnosis was being used as a vehicle and that material was being developed in an emotional context.