About 20 people have become devotees of a New Age “healer”, Matthew Meinck, who owns a retreat property in Chittering Valley.
Meinck, an Australian-born former monk, believes that people retain in their bodies memories of abuse that can be retrieved during intense deep-tissue massage, regressive therapy and gruelling meditation sessions lasting up to two weeks.
The Sunday Times has interviewed eight people who were under the influence of Meinck from about 2003.
During long retreats at the property, they became convinced they had been sexually abused by parents, extended families, workmates and – eventually – each other.
Several laid complaints to police and one man even confessed to “raping” his children and a babysitter before being admitted to Graylands Hospital and realising the memories were not real.
Another man was so convinced he was a dangerous rapist that he almost committed suicide.
An investigation by The Sunday Times has revealed allegations of assault, threats and intimidation at the Chittering property.
It is believed that a core group of a dozen people, including a child aged 10, are still involved in the cult.
The estranged husband of one woman believes she has spent all her money on Meinck’s “therapy”.
The former members, most of whom left the group in the past year, did not want to be publicly identified because they were concerned about the impact on their employers and children.
They signed legal documents swearing their statements to The Sunday Times were true.
Most work in responsible professions and have paid Meinck tens of thousands of dollars.
Some have spoken to police and made formal complaints to the Department of Commerce. They hope the department will shut down Meinck’s retreats and counselling business, Real Intelligence.
“Matthew made me start to doubt what was real in my life,” said a woman in her early 30s, who is living overseas.
“I didn’t see my parents for two years. Matthew talked me into needing space from them, that they were doing damage to me.
“I trusted Matthew so much, I believed that anything he said was true.”
The woman, who initially found Meinck’s therapy helpful for controlling anxiety attacks, said she now saw his group as a cult and believed she had been “brainwashed in a subtle way”.
“It’s a belief system in what Matthew believes,” she said. “It’s like he’s playing God, telling people who they can talk to, what they can do.
“There’s the isolation (and) being scared to leave. If people leave, they’re `doing a runner on themselves’, `not facing up to themselves’.”
In 1994, Meinck wrote and published the book Discovering the Nature of Mind: A Healer’s Guide to Enlightenment. In it, he recalls incarnations and gives detailed descriptions of his birth.
The head of the School of Psychology at Edith Cowan University, Craig Speelman, evaluated recordings of Meinck’s “counselling” sessions and transcripts of interviews for The Sunday Times.
Prof Speelman, who specialises in the field of memory, said the “repressed memories” elicited by Meinck were highly implausible.
He said it was understandable that people involved in a tight group with a charismatic leader over several years could believe in false memories, particularly if they were looking for reasons why they had been unhappy.
“They seem intelligent and articulate, but it is quite bizarre,” he said.
“The fact that it was happening in a group situation, upping the ante each time (with more traumatic and recent “memories”), helped everyone believe it.
“I suspect that this Matthew doesn’t allow any critical questioning so it all seems to keep reinforcing itself. It becomes the only way to think.
“The long meditation sessions break down resistance. It’s a very intense environment.
He pushes them through the pain barrier and they are trying to please Matthew by doing this.”
Prof Speelman said there were “certainly sinister elements” to Meinck’s group, similar to other cults around the world.