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The increasing number of unqualified 'sect' therapists

Video by Willy BRACCIANO

Text by Willy BRACCIANO

Latest update : 2009-05-19

In the last ten years, the number of sects has tripled in France to reach the number of 600, a report says. In today's Focus, we look at the increasing number of unqualified therapists which have all the signs of a sect.

A garden-level room in the residential suburbs of Paris: this is where Laurence studies and practices her moves. She is neither an osteopath nor a podiatrist but a former bank employee who has switched to the field of health and well-being and is studying hard to become a foot reflexologist.

Foot reflexology is an alternative therapy: areas on the foot correspond to areas and organs in the body and relief can be achieved through massaging, pushing and squeezing certain points.

In France, the state doesn't acknowledge reflexology as a medical practice and it has no professional recognition, yet Laurence wants to master this discipline. Throughout the country there are hundreds of so-called training centres where you can obtain a certificate - but this is not an official diploma. Laurence decides to sign up at one of these reflexology programmes but is quickly disappointed by the low quality of the training.

The setting of these classes could have sounded the alarm; they took place in the instructor's two-room apartment in downtown Paris. Sylvie, a registered auxiliary nurse, was one of the six students attending the programme. At first she thought the small workgroups and a feeling of intimacy were a plus. But she decided to stop everything the day she felt she was being manipulated - but not in a medical way…

"We realised after three months of training that this person was playing with our minds. We were here as professionals but he was using some sort of reading grid-ready-made sentences to link medical conditions to personal aspects of our lives… This had a negative impact on the people around us," said Sylvie.

In one of these documents, it is written that rectum related illnesses can be linked to the inability to finding one's space within the family,i.e. to be between two stools. The instructor asked students to apply these methods and ask their patients to repeat such sentences as a form of therapy.

"Some days we had the feeling we were no longer students but actual patients… She would use her reading grid on us… Some of my colleagues were traumatised by this experience, some cried, some vomited… It really went very far… I don't know what the ultimate goal behind this is, but this is some very dangerous mental manipulation…," said Sylvie.

It is to prevent these situations that the French authorities set up a special government agency in the mid 90s called the Interministerial Mission for Monitoring and Combatting Cultic Deviances. It serves as both a watchdog for the government and a source of information for the public.

"We are concerned by the fact there are so many of these training programmes which are absolutely not monitored and which are not part of the professional training framework. The problem is some outfits use the word 'professional training' but are not even registered officially… And when it comes to alternative medicines, it clearly is a danger zone. We're dealing with a field where psychotherapeutic tools play an important part. Unfortunately these tools can be used to manipulate and influence minds".

All six women attending this training course decided to quit. They had all paid about 2,000 euros. We tried to get an interview with the instructor but the person refused to comment. The women have pressed charges and the case is now in the hands of the French justice.

Date created : 2009-05-19