[Note: One mention of Scientology in body of article, sidebar on Scientology at end.]
Louise Samways has spent the past decade investigating the many mind-control techniques of Australia's cults, gurus and personal development courses. She is also familiar with their tactics to keep critics quiet.
The brick that slammed through the psychologist's car windscreen recently was a reminder that there are other, older methods of persuasion.
She was frightened: "I'd like to hope it was just schoolkids playing stupid games, but when these things come one on top of the other, I don't think I'm being paranoid."
In the 12 months since she began writing 'Dangerous Persuaders' (released this months), Ms Samways, 42, has been harassed, followed and threatened with legal action and physical injury. Prowlers have been at her home, cultists have masqueraded as patients and she believes there was an attempt this month to set her up for a criminal offence.
"Personal development courses alone are attracting a turnover of $1 billion annually in Australia," she says. "Nobody knows exactly what the financial turnover of cults is worth. But the more they push me, the more threatened I know they are and the more determined I become."
Ms Samways says she has seen the effects of contact with such organisations - marriage and family breakdown, job loss, suicidal depression and psychotic episodes - for much of the 20 years she has been practising, but a multi-national "healing" cult known as Reiki turned a concerned interest into an obsession.
A woman in her late 60s was brought by a neighbor to Ms Samways' rooms. "She said: 'My friend insisted I talk to you before I mortgage my house ... A Reiki master told me that if I pay him $10,000 I can become a Reiki master too and I'll be able to do Reiki on my grandson who has leukemia - and cure him'.
"I was livid. It was just sick. You can't sit by and watch people being emotionally bashed up without doing something, you have to do something. They are emotionally and spiritually mugging people. They are thugs, real thugs."
Louise Samways is more concerned, though, by their use of psychological tricks and hypnotic mass persuasion and mind control - without the informed consent of their "clients".
These, she says, grew from studies by western and Soviet secret services into how Hitler so successfully manipulated the German people, as well as from discoveries in changing human behavior.
In the early 1960s, numerous cults using techniques such as group hypnosis and neuro-linguistic programming, which manipulates people through subtle language tricks, subliminal messages and body language tricks, began to emerge in America. Ms Samways says these methods are now used by nearly all cults, personal development and even fortune tellers and white witches.
"Some groups or self-styled gurus have just copied things that they've seen to be successful, but others have studied in a very systematic way. A lot are doing courses, in things like neuro-linguistic programming, which is widely used in marketing and sales to find out how to tap into a person and access that person's beliefs. That's a very deliberate, sophisticated process to use and their motivation is money and power."
In Australia, she says, cults that have used these techniques include Hare Krishna, the Children of God (now known as the Family), the Church of Scientology, Sannyassins (formerly the Rajneesh Movement or Orange People) and Kenja. The personal development courses she considers the most dangerous are Landmark Education, EST, Forum, Money and You and Hoffman Process. All, she says, are "misusing the psychological techniques allied to hypnosis in order to make behavioral changes".
Increasingly, she claims, similar strategies are being used by direct marketing organisations, particularly Amway. "Amway is adopting similar techniques to many cults in order to attract recruits, then to keep them involved and committed to the cause," she says. "The approach ... is usually quite evangelical. It asks if there is something missing in your life and offers all sorts of emotional inducements: 'reach your full potential', 'find the real you' ...
"In many ways Amway is more like a fundamentalist religion than a direct marketing business, with money as the god ... The 'upline' distributor - who has recruited others and therefore takes a percentage of their sales - functions as a priest, to whom failures to fulfil Amway commitments and expectations can be confessed and absolved, and further commitments made as a way of paying penance."
Marriage and personal problems are dealt with by going "upline" to an Amway superior. There is a strict dress code, jacket and tie for men, smart dresses and jackets for women - no slacks. Large regular meetings are held employing cult-like techniques such as confessions, success-sharing and singing.
"In the present economic climate, people who have been retrenched are turning desperately to Amway to find some kind of income. Because of their situation they are often extremely vulnerable emotionally and Amway uses this mercilessly."
The most powerful weapon in the armory of these cults, gurus, direct marketing giants and personal development courses, according to Ms Samways, is mass hypnosis.
"Hypnosis is not a state resembling sleep in any way," she says. "It is a special, altered state of mind, subjectively different from the natural alert state, where the subject's beliefs and perceptions ... (even their most fundamental values) can be changed." If people are not informed hypnosis is being used and the right conditions are created, hypnotising a subject or even a group is extremely easy, she says.
Cult-like groups create these conditions using techniques that dampen a subject's critical faculties and arouse emotional responses.
These include being made to focus for long periods on some idea, symbolic sound or object. Mantras - simple sounds repeated over and over - are a favourite device. Lighting, sometimes patterns of different colors of varying intensity, is used to disorientate and to distort time. Stirring music is used to increase arousal and, Ms Samways says, "slow music, of about 60 beats per minute, can induce decreased arousal and trance-like states very quickly".
The way newcomers are seated at meetings is manipulative. "Followers" often surround newcomers to inhibit them from asking questions, and restrictive or uncomfortable seating is used to deliberately produce fatigue. A highly charged emotional atmosphere - from intensely loving to hostile and bullying - is created to inhibit critical thinking. "Advertisers have known for years that the most effective advertising causes an emotional, not a logical response," Ms Samways says.
Live-in courses are potentially extremely dangerous, she says, "Isolated from all the usual reference points, such as family, friends and normal responsibilities, it is much easier to shed old beliefs."
Much more insidious, though, is neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), the use of "language and body clues". Psychologists developed it in the 1970s to change behavior and beliefs. Cults and similar groups now use it to arouse emotions or even as post hypnotic triggers to control behavior.
As well, people are manipulated to reveal secrets about themselves, usually as a sign of "trust" or "honesty", to be used as emotional blackmail - and sometimes much less subtly.
"I have had people coming to see me who are in a real mess after even just going to one weekend seminar ... I have seen suicidal depression, distress within the marriage, alienation from families, loss of employment. I have knowledge of three cases where rebirthing has triggered schizophrenia. There are also strong undertones of racism and sexism."
[photo] Louise Samways: "They (cults, gurus and personal development courses) are emotionally and spiritually mugging people." Picture: CRAIG SILLITOE
Annette Stephens still winces at the memory of her first session with Kenja, an Australian cult. She remembers everyone revealing personal secrets, the confronting eye-contact exercises and "flugging" - the cult's code word for hugging.
"It ended up being quite emotionally violent," she says. "A whole lot of people ended up in tears."
But somehow Ms Stephens was converted to the cause. She devoted the next 10 years and an estimated $80,000 to the cult, recruiting converts and subjecting them to the same techniques she had undergone.
Ms Stephens, 50, a former primary school teacher, now understands the powerful techniques used to hook her. Disassociation, confusion, isolation, dependence, group pressure. Energy conversion courses with one hour of confessing your deepest secrets and another hour of hypnotising eye contact.
"They're extremely dangerous because they're not honest about what they're doing. Their motivation is to make money. Money and power. And I think they are as high on power as on making money."
Ms Stephens left the group two years ago and is trying to rebuild her life and her relationship with her children, but the effects of her dalliance with the cult linger.
"I still have nightmares, always about trying to rescue people from Kenja. But I have no illusions that I can really do it."
[photo] Annette Stephens: "They're extremely dangerous because they're not honest about what they're doing."
Between late 1990 and 1992, an unemployed musician called "Joseph" was sucked into a cycle during which he gave more than $15,000 - three-quarters of his life savings - to the Church of Scientology.
Suffering from a hypersensitivity to noise, Joseph approached the Melbourne Church of Scientology after other forms of treatment had failed. He was keen to see if "engrams", the Scientologists' name for the scars of past experiences, were the cause of his problems.
"I was aware that Scientology was a bit dicey. But I trusted my own discrimination, that I wouldn't get sucked in more than I could handle," he says. "I was gradually to find out the very elaborate, carefully worked out scheme they have to handle precisely that type of person."
For 12 months, on and off, Joseph was processed through tests and expensive courses. He took an IQ test, used the infamous E-meter (a type of primitive biofeedback machine) and was taken to an initial stage called "clear". When it was learned he had used marijuana and prescription drugs, he was told he would have to go through a "purification run-down", but only after paying for other courses to prepare him.
Joseph left the church when a session of purification triggered a massive infection in his leg, but not before paying $7000 for a 12-week "Auditing" course.