How does it feel... to be brainwashed by a cult?

Over four days I was repeatedly hypnotized. I felt invincible. I drove home at 115mph. If the police had a speed camera, I believed it would malfunction as I drove past. If they chased me, they would get a flat tyre. I had special powers. I could throw “white light” at people and make them turn their heads and look at me. The next day I resigned from my job. People around me were concerned – I had changed radically and I was the only one who didn’t realise.

It started innocuously. I had been working over in Toronto when I was approached by an attractive young lady holding a clipboard. She said she was doing a survey. She was very beautiful and I was very single so I stopped. I answered half a dozen questions and was about to walk away when she said my answers made her think I would be interested in the community she belonged to. I wasn’t interested but then she said, “Isn’t it time you started considering other people instead of just yourself?”

It got to me. I was selfish. She suggested I come along to an introductory meeting of her group. I agreed, partly out of curiosity and partly because it would be an opportunity to see the woman again.

The meeting consisted of a talk followed by a short film. I thought the talk would be about the group, but the woman giving it focused on herself. She said she had struggled with alcohol and drug addiction, and her life only acquired purpose and meaning when she got involved with the PSI Mind Development Institute.

During the coffee break I went outside for a cigarette. As I lit up, another young woman came up to me and recommended a PSI course that would help me give up smoking in just four days. It sounded too good to be true so I called the Better Business Bureau. They said they had received no complaints against PSI. In reality they had, but the company had repeatedly changed its name to remain under the radar.

On the Thursday, I paid the $225 for the course and by Sunday night I had spent a total of over $1,550. It was all the money I had. On the plus side, my nicotine cravings had evaporated.

Two and a half weeks later, a Canadian newspaper called the Star ran a front page story exposing the activities of the organisation. I was lucky this came before I was programmed to disbelieve the media. The journalist was highly respected. The story was damning and clearly backed up with evidence. It reactivated the critical part of my brain, the part the cult had shut down.

I had been with the group for just two and a half weeks but it took me 11 months to completely recover. They had made me feel like a superior being, one of the elite. I came crashing down to earth. I experienced amnesia and insomnia as I slowly became reacquainted with my former self. Months after reading the article, I felt a craving for a cigarette. I was relieved. The old me was back.

Ian Haworth is the founder of the Cult Information Centre, which can be reached on 0845 4500 868.