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Book Review - Dangerous Persuaders

This article is an electronic version of an article originally published in Cultic Studies Journal, 1996, Volume 13, Number 1, pages 115. Please keep in mind that the pagination of this electronic reprint differs from that of the bound volume. This fact could affect how you enter bibliographic information in papers that you may write.

Book Review - Dangerous Persuaders: An Expose of Gurus, Personal Development Courses and Cults, and How They Operate in Australia. Louise Samways. 

Penguin Books/Australia, 1994, 148 pages. (Order for Australian $12.95 from Penguin Books Australia, Ltd., 487 Maroondah Highway, P.O. Box 257, Ringwood, Victoria 3134, Australia.)

Louise Samways is a Melbourne psychologist and best-selling author. I met her in Melbourne shortly after this book was released at the 13th annual meeting of the International Society of Hypnosis. We spoke at length about "dangerous persuaders" and cult activity in both the United States and Australia, comparing the two. Taking into account the population disparity (Australia's population is about 10% that of the United States), destructive cult activity seems to be equally prevalent, according to the author. Samways wrote Dangerous Persuaders after readers responded to her warning about manipulative techniques used in illicit therapies and personal development courses.

The warnings appeared in her 1992 book, Your Mindbody Energy (Australia: Viking O'Neil), which gives practical advice on how to use Western and Eastern relaxation and selfhealing techniques. The latter text would appeal to a "new age" oriented market; nevertheless, dozens of her readers came to her for help after experiencing abuse in a group or under a guru.

In Dangerous Persuaders, Samways profiles many groups, gurus, and therapies, including Rajneesh/Osho (Orange People), Scientology, Children of God, Transcendental Meditation, Unification Church, Hare Krishna, and Reiki. Samways told me that the Church of Scientology tried to block the publication of her book. She suffered considerable harassment by phone both before and after its publication. During that period someone threw a stone through her automobile windshield.

This book is especially good in relating how low- and high-arousal techniques (hypnosis) work to disengage critical thinking. In the wrong hands these techniques can be dangerous to naïve devotees or clients. "Under the right circumstances anybody is vulnerable to [these] techniques," Samways tells us. In several case histories she explains how "mind control" worked with her clients and how they emerged from under it. She also gives practical advice to anyone interested in avoiding the pitfalls of pseudotherapies and powerful but deceptive religious experiences. The book is geared for the general public and reads easily, while offering dozens of useful references.

Joseph Szimhart

Cult Information Specialist

Pottstown, Pennsylvania

Cultic Studies Journal, Vol. 13, No. 1, 1996