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I’ve often wondered what would happen if an undiagnosed manic-depressive participates in The Landmark Forum, receiving counsel from a Forum leader with no education on mood disorders. The result could be devastating, I would think.

In real life, let’s take Rebekah Lawrence from Sydney who burst into song while standing naked in her downtown office building, her final words being “I know I am going to jump.” And then leaped out the window.

An Associated Press story published a few months ago tells the details. A few days before her jump Lawrence participated in an intense self-help seminar called The Turning Point, comparable to the Forum in the US.

Says the article:

The course had pledged to change her life. Instead, some say, it led to her death.

For nearly 40 years, the mental health community has kept a wary eye on the explosion of self-help groups around the world. But despite concerns they can push the fragile too hard, too fast, these groups operate unmonitored and unregulated, most run by people with no formal mental health training.

In the four years since Lawrence’s fatal plunge, investigators for an inquest into her death have focused on a key issue: Was a course to blame for her psychosis and death? Or did the 34-year-old woman’s descent into madness begin earlier, triggered by an ungranted wish to have a child?

My overriding concern with these groups is that the leaders have no training whatsoever in mental health matters. Because self-development or self-mastery programs consider their courses as educational versus therapeutic, they are not held to the same regulations as psychologists.

I mean, here’s an example.

A friend of mine participated in the Forum and had some real breakthroughs. One was acknowledging that she was smoking too much marijuana … and that she was using it to numb herself of the pain of being alive. Great for her, I thought. But then she said, “Just like the antidepressants take the edge off for you.”

I explained to her that my antidepressants aren’t comparable to a joint or a bong hit … that they aren’t mood altering in that way. She didn’t buy my explanation. No biggie. I don’t have to report to her every time I take my Zoloft. However, in that moment, I thought to myself, My God, if she becomes a leader in this thing, she will be dispensing advice like that: get off the happy pills like I got off pot. Furthermore, when a person is severely depressed, the last thing you want to do is to indict them for their suffering. “You’re miserable because you want to be miserable,” like the leadership program preaches.

Am I overreacting maybe?

A second friend of mine who took the Forum said she was finally able to come to grips with her father, and accept him as a fundamentally weak person. “I mean,” she explained to me, “he is on medication for his depression and all that.”

Once more I tried to defend those of us impaired by bad brain chemistry. But I don’t really don’t care if she puts me and her dad in the pathetic camp. However, I do care if she becomes a leader and starts promoting those opinions to folks in the room not strong enough to know the difference between their psychiatrist/therapist and the Forum, and God forbid, dump the shrink because the Forum has taught them a way to do it without weekly counseling and some help in the form of medication.

Hey, if self-help programs foster integrity, leadership, and happiness, then let’s all enroll. But if they make people jump out of windows in Sydney, well … I have a real problem with that.