Several spiritual movements offer courses and counselling for self-development. Their teachings form an inherent part of these. They claim we will gain increased emotional well-being and quality of life. Scientology is an example. It offers to remove hidden emotional pain within a person. The appeal is to those who wish to find psychological wellness, self-esteem and normal life.
If we sign up to a course of interviews, an ‘auditor’ asks us questions designed to lead back to a forgotten memory of a past incident. This is assumed to be causing current difficulty. It is said that one can begin to fully ‘remember’ the incident and eventually become ‘cheerful’ about it at which point another traumatic memory is tackled.
Some celebrities have given very positive tributes in defence of the organisation. At one time, Tom Cruise and John Travolta joined Scientology. However some ex-members have made trenchant public criticism concerning its manipulative stance and coercion. Professional bodies have expressed concern to do with the effectiveness and possible harm of ‘auditing’. So, does Scientology work? Is it good or bad?
The Dianetics theory behind Scientology was created by its founder, Ron Hubbard, a science fiction writer. He called forgotten troubling memories ‘engrams’. Our ‘reactive’ mind is said to store the trauma of every unpleasant thing that has ever happened to us. These include ‘prenatal impressions’ and ‘experiences during our past lives’. Furthermore, through association, what we might later see or hear could trigger a state of distress or shock or cause us to act in an irrational or self-defeating way.
Scientology says we also have an analytical mind that has the capacity to reflect on ‘engrams’. The function of ‘auditing’ interviews is to engage this ability. This is a two-person activity. One person, the “auditor”, guides the other. The auditor acknowledges what the individual says and controls the process through asking questions. Scientology says, in so doing, ‘auditing’ defuses the negative power of ‘engrams’ which would otherwise inhibit productive thinking and behaviour.
Catharsis and Scientology
Hubbard assumed that ‘auditing’ is a cathartic process. In other words, during these interviews one consciously re-lives an experience and expresses strong repressed emotions associated with it. Like all forms of psychological therapy, counselling and confession, ‘auditing’ probably works to some extent with obvious benefits. By unburdening themselves of guilt people feel better.
I would question however whether any re-experiencing of trauma always provides relief. Does it really release the person from troubling influences? Psychological trauma can leave you struggling with upsetting emotions, memories, and anxiety that won’t easily go away. It can also leave you feeling numb, disconnected, and unable to trust other people. When bad things happen, it can take quite a while to get over the pain and feel safe again. Is it really sensible during the course of one session to try to adopt a ‘cheerful’ attitude towards past tragic and abusive incidents?
Clear and Scientology
Following much ‘auditing’ we may be told that ‘auditing’ has successfully cleared us from ‘engrams’. Then we can be licensed by Scientology to operate a branch office and audit others. So, members acquire social status through individual achievement and a sense of belonging to its organisation. Advanced initiates are drawn very closely into an elite circle.
Levels of mind and Scientology
Hubbard’s notion of the mind having a reactive and an analytic level may have some mileage. At a natural level our mind reacts to sights and sounds according to how rewarding they are. Is this Hubbard’s ‘reactive mind’ at work? We escape from aversive memories by forgetting them. Repressed feelings are still around but not consciously acknowledged. Not tackled, they cause personal problems. The whole of psychodynamic counselling bases its work on the idea of unconscious repression.
In contrast, our mind also works using a higher rational ability. Is this something akin to the functioning of Hubbard’s ‘analytic mind’? From the general perspective of spirituality, for personal growth we need deeper insight and support as well as self-restraint. This means being in touch with a higher wisdom and compassion,
With these in place we might choose to subdue natural egoism and self-serving inclinations. These goals seem to fit in with Scientology’s orientation towards working on the quality of one’s communication in various so-called ‘dynamics’ of living as well as its engagement in ‘social outreach’.
Nevertheless, we might query whether it is advisable for laymen to ‘audit’ each other. Regarding psychological interventions in general there is testimony on the internet from therapy clients describing their experience of harm. The academic studies find that the quality of the relationship between the therapist/counsellor and the client is an important predictor of outcome. Most therapy trainers consider unconditional positive regard, warmth, genuineness and empathy as essential. Lack of these should be spotted in the course of professional training.
Another reason for asking the question is to do with the influence of the eleven prescribed steps of the ‘auditing’ process. Considering these steps, which take the form of questions, it seems that the process creates reduced awareness in the client of their surroundings. I suspect ‘auditing’ sessions induce something akin to a light hypnotic trance. In its instructions to auditors, Scientology refers to a “dianetic reverie” with a “tremble of the eye-lashes”. Auditors make, what are in effect, post-hypnotic suggestions. The light trance state probably leaves the individual feeling a buzz of well-being. It is then that the ‘auditor’ encourages the writing of report of the benefits of the session and pay a deposit for the next one.
Psychological researcher Jack Fox who studied dianetic ‘auditing’ thought that the leading nature of the questions “encourage fantasy”. This is a common issue commentators find with hypnosis. They claim some therapists form false memories. Scientology tells auditors not to make any assessment of a recalled memory’s reality or accuracy, but instead to treat it as if it were objectively real. One wonders whether the so-called pre-birth memories for example are false memories.
Unfortunately, one common public perception is that Scientology does not take criticism lightly. Perhaps if it did, it could have more to offer. However, controversy and constant litigation continue to be a part of its history and identity.
Copyright 2019 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems
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