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The Southern California Psychiatrist: Scientology III
In previous articles in this newsletter (July, 1990 and May, 1991), I described how the Church of Scientology strives constantly to gain the appearance of respectability and to attract new members, as well as to discredit its critics. What follows is a continuation of that account, with special emphasis on Scientology's front groups, the purposes of which are to improve its credibility with the public, and to create new avenues for recruitment of members and generation of income.
L. Ron Hubbard long believed that celebrities could be useful in helping to promote Scientology. He dictated special efforts to recruit the most viable and successful people. In the 1950s Scientology tried unsuccessfully to recruit such public figures as Marlene Dietrich, Edward R Murrow, Ernest Hemingway, Greta Garbo and Howard Hughes. Finally in the 1970s the actor John Travolta and the football star John Brodie credited their success to Scientology.
Since then other performers such as Tom Cruise and Kirstie Alley have publicly praised the Church. A network of "celebrity centres" has been established throughout the world for such members to gather and to help in the recruitment of new members. The most famous of these is Hollywood's Celebrity Centre International, formerly the Manor Hotel, an enormous and magnificent mansion built in the 1920s.
One of Scientology's latter-day developments has been its putative detoxification procedure, called "the purification rundown." Within Scientology proper it is employed along with the continual "dianetic" psychotherapy procedures as a health enhancement process. By Narconon (Scientology's drug rehabilitation front group) this is called "the Hubbard method." It is supposed to dislodge toxins and drugs from fatty tissues through a rigorous regimen of exercise, saunas (up to five hours a day, for up to 30 days), and progressively larger doses of various vitamins. There is no scientific basis for the claims about it. In fact, as noted in the previous article, the prolonged saunas can cause serious dehydration, and the high doses of certain vitamins may also pose a health hazard.
Nevertheless, the Los Angeles-based Scientology front organization named the "Foundation for the Advancement of Science and Education" (FASE), sponsors "scientific" studies (which are mostly conducted by Scientologists and/or Foundation officers) that predictably validate the Hubbard method. One beneficiary of FASE is the HealthMed Clinic, which is also run by Scientologists, and which administers the Hubbard treatment from its offices in Los Angeles and Sacramento. By using FASE-sponsored research findings to legitimize its treatment, HealthMed is able to attract new clients and thus carry out more "studies", to generate more income, and to steer more people into various Scientology courses from which still more money is harvested.
There are a number of other "front" enterprises through which the Church of Scientology attempts to gain influence in society, and even in the health-professional and scientific communities. For example, a branch of Scientology known as WISE (World Institute of Scientology Enterprises) has been pushing selected Scientologists to serve as "management consultants" to various professional entities. The plan calls for these consultants to promote the "management training techniques" of L. Ron Hubbard, and of course at the same time to recruit new members. This is done first by distributing a Scientology personality test (which inevitably detects major personality flaws) to businessmen and their employees, and later by encouraging clients to purchase progressively expensive Scientology courses that will correct those flaws.
Two such management consulting firms are located in the Los Angeles area. One, called The Advisory, operates out of Burbank. Its head, Arthur J. Maren, is also one of Scientology's three signatories on Narconon's Articles of Incorporation. The Advisory solicits physicians through advertisements mailed to their offices, with mailing labels purchased from the Los Angeles County Medical Association. The other, and much larger company, is called Sterling Management Systems. Sterling targets dentists, optometrists, podiatrists, physicians, veterinarians, optometrists, and other health care professionals.
It's main offices are in Glendale, but it reaches nationwide through attractively packaged seminars and mailings of expensive brochures. It has been expanding rapidly. A recent issue of the Los Angeles Business Journal ranked Sterling among the 35 largest management consulting firms in Los Angeles County. Sterling distributes slick promotional materials to health care professionals in private practice, such as Today's Professional: the Journal of Successful Practice Management, which contains (inter alia) articles by Hubbard excerpted from Scientology documents.
Sterling was founded in 1983 by a Scientologist Gregory K Hughes, a dentist in Vacaville, California. Dr. Hughes presents himself at "Winning With Dentistry" seminars as an example of how well the Hubbard technique works. He doesn't discuss the fact that a number of lawsuits have been brought against him and his dental associates by former patients charging them with negligence and malpractice, or that he has been under investigation by the California Board of Dental Examiners.
Sterling begins by offering a three hour introductory seminar to members of various health care professions in localities across the nation. At these seminars, attendees receive basic "management" advice and are strongly encouraged to sign up (along with their spouses) for a week-long array (at a cost of $12,000 - $14,000) of courses at Sterling's California facility. The program consists of daily 12-bour sessions (including the Communication Course, an entry level course in Scientology) and a menu of self-taught courses from which to select.
Clients are pressured to discuss their personal lives. Personal information divulged during auditing sessions has been used later to pressure clients into paying additional money. Pressure is also exerted on clients to enrol in dianetic auditing courses (starting at $3,000), aimed at correcting the problems inevitably revealed by the personality test, and to purchase Scientology text-books, framed prints of text from Hubbard's science fiction novels ($2,000), and $800 scheduling system, and other items, The additional courses can cost as much as $5,000 to $18,000 a piece, and the books can cost several hundred dollars. A case in point follows.
Dr. and Mrs. Robert Geary, a dentist and his wife from Ohio, claim that during a five month period in 1988 they paid Scientology $200,000. Under constant pressure in the context of a Sterling program, the couple was unable to resist signing checks and arranging for loans to pay for additional seminars. When Dr. Geary tried to break away, Scientologists allegedly kidnapped his wife and held her for two weeks while supposedly helping her to become a "Clear" (a Scientology term for someone without any remaining "engrams" or psychological problems). When Scientology officials refused to give Dr. Geary information about his wife or her whereabouts, he contacted the family lawyer, who promptly called the FBI in Ohio and California. Within a day Mrs. Geary was returned home, but she was "a physical and emotional wreck:" The Gearys are now warning fellow professionals to stay away from Sterling and Scientology.
Other traumatized victims of Sterling are also beginning to speak out about their experiences, and to warn of the harms and costs that are never imagined at the outset.
Interest in Scientology has recently been whetted by cover stories in TIME (May 6, 1991) and other periodicals such as CALIFORNIA magazine (June, 1991). However, the cult reacts by greatly increasing its expenditures on public relations and advertising, with full-page ads in USA Today and costly television commercials.
As a psychiatrist, who has for many years studied the practices of totalist cults, and noted the often harmful effects of these depredations upon cult members and their families, I continue to observe the actions of the Church of Scientologv to recruit new members, silence critics, and gain political and economic influence through deliberate deception, misinformation, concealment, distraction, and harassment. It seems to me that there should be potent social and legal remedies to combat the Church of Scientology, deriving both from the recent evolution of a consumer protection tradition (as exemplified in the health field) and from the older legal matrix of redress for damages and civil wrongs.
Our laws and codes of ethics accept the vulnerability of people to intimidation and deception. They also accept the possibility that relationships of special trust (such as those enjoyed by physicians, nurses, psychologists, social workers, attorneys, ministers, etc.) may be improperly exploited. Disillusioned and damaged "consumers" of the Hubbard method should be able to sue not only the Church of Scientology but also Narconon, Sterling Management, and other Scientology front organizations for damages done and losses endured.
Of course, in order to win a recovery for such damages or losses, plaintiffs must develop proof, which necessarily requires investigations, witnesses, and courtroom procedures. Nevertheless, if proof is forthcoming, then such lawsuits should lead to recovery of damages from which Scientology's claims of exemption as a religion should not make it immune.
Ten years ago such suits were very rare. Recently, however, they are on the increase, and some have been successful. Needless to say, Scientology's efforts to discredit expert witnesses for plaintiff's in these cases have been vicious in the extreme.
If lawsuits of this type increasingly lead to recovery of damages, the harms done by Scientology may begin to subside, as victims and their families are provided greater protection under the law. Unfortunately, it is often extremely difficult for people thus damaged to initiate tort actions. However, on behalf of those few who do seek legal remedies, and on behalf of their families, and also on behalf of all those still in bondage, or not yet recruited but currently exposed to risk, I hope that the legitimacy of such legal sanctions will increasingly be affirmed by the courts with the help of knowledgeable experts from the health-related professions. Progress in this field depends heavily on the prospect that psychiatrists and other mental health workers will take a greater interest in the psychopathology and psychotherapy of cult victims, as these unfortunate people and their families increasingly turn to us for help.