Beware of the dark side
At first glance, Ian Haworth is an average British man who wouldn’t seem different from you or me.
However, unlike the average person he has an incredible story to tell.
It was back in 1978, when Ian decided to quit smoking and, after some research, decided to go to Toronto, Canada, for a four-day seminar guaranteed to fix all levels of addiction.
As it turned out the PSI Seminar (Personal Success Institute) he attended was not quite what it seemed and had absolutely nothing to do with smoking , but would still become the most memorable excursion of his life.
The PSI Seminars are run by a private organisation which offers large group awareness training courses, or so they claim. Set up by Thomas and Jane Willhite in 1973, the programme promises self-help and training in order to nurse people out of their issues, charging a large sum of money in the process.
Some customers who have attended PSI seminars in the past claim the programme works like a cult, where peer group pressure and removal of privacy become daily routine in the life of a PSI member.
Within four days Ian was ready to dedicate his life to the group and proceeded willingly to hand over all his wealth, and he resigned from work.
According to Howarth, the idea of joining a cult voluntarily is absurd, most of the CIC members are carefully hand picked through a recruitment process. He said: “Each individual character’s weaknesses and interests are detected and exploited for maximum possible result.”
During the recruitment process a heavy was on the door, limiting everyone’s movements in the seminar; a time when people are most likely to realise what is happening and try to escape. Although ironically once you become a member of the group, there is no fortified barricade, allowing free flow in and out.
During his two-and-a-half weeks in the cult, Ian recalls a massive personality change, going from a passive and relaxed young man to a very violent and aggressive character. “I would drive home at speeds of up to 105 mph,” he said, fuelling his feelings of invincibility.
This strange disposition led to his friends and family being scared and concerned, and even resulted in his girlfriend’s confrontation with the PSI itself, demanding to know how it was possible that Ian could have such a rapid personality transformation in such a small period of time.
Ian’s moment of realisation came when his neighbour, who previously he had targeted for recruitment, showed him the front page of the Toronto Star Newspaper, a very respected broadsheet, where the journalist Sidney Katz had written an investigative piece condemning the PSI and all of its tactics.
The story came about when one of the cult members was found to have psychiatric problems and ended up being admitted to a mental institution.
After reading the appalling article, Ian contacted the journalist in search of some answers, and was invited into his office. After being greeted with tea, biscuits and friendly conversation, Ian’s perspective started to change when to Katz offered to help him get his life back on track.
After this revelation, Ian decided to leave the PSI in July of 1979. Thankfully down to his boss’s kindness, his resignation papers (that were never filed) were torn up, reinstating his previous position in the company after he had completed an 11 month recovery period.
In June 1987, Ian created the CIC, the Cult Information Centre, which is focused on offering aid and counselling to cult victims and their families.
With his own story in mind and after becoming aware of events in Jonestown, Guyana which claimed the lives of 918 members of the People’s Temple cult, Ian realised it could easily have been him. Due to its continual success, the CIC was finally granted charitable status in 1992.
Cult victims can suffer hallucinations, amnesia, violent tendencies, rapid weight change and insomnia to name but a few. The type of counselling that takes place during recovery involves friendly conversations and talking through issues in order to make the person feel normal and take the weight off their shoulders.
According to Haworth, “In order to begin the process of recovery, victims are given booklets and handouts to learn how to read again”, an ability that is commonly lost among cult members.
Throughout the years Ian has met several people with similar stories to tell, themselves recovering group members. “The people who are mainly targeted are those who come from wealthy backgrounds and those who are of average to above average intelligence."
"Members of the Jewish community are also targeted but people with mental illnesses are almost never chosen as they are by far the hardest to convert,” Haworth claims.
He doesn’t view himself as a success despite the many people he has helped, saying: “I would only consider myself successful if I was out of a job because there would be nobody left to assist.”
Despite all efforts, the cult phenomenon is still growing, with TV shows such as Doctor Who and vidoe game World Of Warcraft attracting huge following, and without the correct education it will continue to grow.
However, France seem to have found a way to combat the situation. In 2001 we saw the implementation of the Picard Law, a legislation set up with the aim of undermining cult movements, which is slowly but surely making a difference.