Coroner: self-help course led to woman's suicide

AP News
Posted: Dec 07, 2009 10:57 PM

A coroner said Tuesday that participation in an intense self-help course led a woman to suffer a psychotic breakdown before she stripped naked and leaped to her death from an office window in front of horrified co-workers.

The coroner's findings come four years after 34-year-old Rebekah Lawrence's death, providing a sense of relief to family members who had long argued the young woman never would have killed herself if not for her participation in a seminar called The Turning Point.

"The evidence is overwhelming that the act of stepping out of a window to her death was the tragic culmination of a developing psychosis that had its origins in a self-development course known as 'The Turning Point,'" Deputy State Coroner Malcolm MacPherson said as he read his findings.

In Australia, a coroner investigates the circumstances of unusual deaths in court-like proceedings called an inquest and can recommend further action by police or prosecutors if warranted.

MacPherson did not recommend any charges be filed against Turning Point officials. But he did suggest that laws be drafted to require that those offering self-development seminars be qualified and accredited.

Lawrence's death on Dec. 20, 2005, came two days after she completed The Turning Point, a seminar run by the Sydney self-development company People Knowhow.

Turning Point officials acknowledged during inquest hearings in August that the course was intense and included the controversial technique of childhood regressive therapy. Such therapy uses hypnotic techniques designed to emotionally regress people to childlike states so they can confront issues from their past.

Lawrence was exhibiting childlike behavior in the hours before her death, including being unable to dress herself.

Lawyers for People Knowhow officials argued that Lawrence's psychotic state and subsequent death were likely caused by an undiagnosed mental condition, worsened by conflicting feelings she had recently had over whether to have children. But MacPherson rejected that argument.

Turning Point officials did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

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