Attention shoppers

Scientologists hail mall-goers to offer stress tests on E-meters

Sacramento Bee/July 23, 2005
By Jennifer Garza

For some, the first step toward Scientology is a stress test at the mall.

That's where church workers such as Cara Ledesma approach hundreds of shoppers a day with an offer many can't resist.

"Do you want a stress test?" she asks as they pass.

Ledesma's kiosk sits in the middle of Downtown Plaza next to the Sunglasses store and the booth that sells "luxury" perfumes for $20. It is decorated with photos of celebrity Scientologists - John Travolta, Tom Cruise and Isaac Hayes - that have been placed next to the dozens of "Dianetics" books by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.

The pictures of the celebrities may get their attention, but most passers-by politely turn Ledesma down and keep walking. Some, however, are curious about the gauge that can peer into their stressed-out souls.

Ledesma is giving stress tests on something called an Electropsychometer, or an E-meter. Scientologists swear by it. Travolta has said he uses it regularly, and for the past six months, church members have been demonstrating it at the Downtown Plaza kiosk, hooking up shoppers. The E-meter is part lie detector, part recruiting tool.

This summer morning, Ledesma greets shoppers, asking if they want a stress test. Among the first to stop are a young couple, Chris Myers, a Stockton high school football coach and teacher; and his wife, Nicole. The coach agrees to the test.

Ledesma hands Chris Myers two gadgets that look like soup cans connected, via an electrical cord, to a meter that sits on a table. Then she begins her questions.

"What causes you stress?"


"Is there something in particular?"

"Well, I wanted this promotion."

For the next few minutes, the 31-year-old teacher talks about work, financial worries and the challenges of being a newlywed. The meter moves back and forth like a scale.

Myers laughs during the test, so it's hard to see how seriously he's taking it.

"It was something that I was curious about," he says afterward. And, with that, he left, his future as a Scientologist doubtful.

Myers may have laughed through the experience, but Scientologists believe the meter can gauge energy in the body and read spiritual trauma through a process called auditing. By addressing that trauma, people can neutralize these charges, they say. Working their way through stages, they eventually reach a state they call clear. Scientologists believe auditing, using the E-meters, is a guide to self-discovery.

"When a person has stressful thoughts, those thoughts produce physical changes," says Mike Klagenberg, spokesman for the church in the Sacramento region. "The E-meter measures those physical changes."

Scientologists have now taken this instrument to the malls. Church workers take turns in the booth, which is open during mall hours every day. They used to run a booth at Town & Country Village but moved downtown because of higher foot traffic, says Klagenberg. The church pays $2,000 a month for the site.

Ledesma, 24, works two days a week. Typically, she approaches hundreds of shoppers. About 10 percent will take her up on her offer of a free stress test, she says. About a third of those will purchase a book. A handful will become interested enough to attend programs sponsored by the church.

Experts say the church has become more accessible in recent years. In his recent publicity tour for "War of the Worlds," Cruise made his religion a centerpiece topic.

"But I've never heard reports of the church using E-meters at a mall before," says David G. Bromley, a professor of sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va., who has written extensively about Scientology.

He says E-meters are a good way of reaching people because they touch on topics that many of the so-called New Age religions stress - healing and personal empowerment. "The E-meter has both of those elements," says Bromley.

While Bromley says he wouldn't endorse or come out against any religious movement, Rick Ross is firmly against Scientology and the E-meters.

"Why would someone want to allow a stranger to put them on what is basically a lie detector machine? What purpose does it serve?" asks Ross, founder and executive director of the Rick A. Ross Institute in New Jersey, which provides education to the public about hundreds of controversial groups. "Remember, they have an agenda."

Church members praise the use of the E-meters.

"All I can say is that the church and its practices have turned my life around," says Guy Martin of Sacramento. "And I know lots of other people who believe the same thing."

For the past month, thanks to Cruise's statements about his religion, Scientology has been the most frequently asked-about group on Ross' Web site. It is also the reason many of the people say they have stopped to take the test at the mall.

The use of E-meters has long been considered controversial. They were called "quackery" by some when they first came out in the late 1950s.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration seized vans full of E-meters in 1963, but the church fought the charges. A judge later ruled that the E-meters should be returned but also said that they could not be advertised as treatment for a disease. The church now calls the devices religious artifacts.

Bromley, who has studied the church, says that although E-meters look like and act like lie detectors, they have different goals.

"Lie detectors want to catch people in lies and imprison them," he says. "Scientologists believe the meters and what they do liberate people."

Most of the people who stop to have the test see it as harmless.

Jon Draffen, a Sacramento man who took the E-meter test at the mall, puts it this way: "They didn't make me do anything I didn't want to do ... and it made me forget about my stress."

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.