Mon. Aug 15th, 2022

Emma (not her real name) shares her family’s experience.

My mother and father divorced when I was very young.

We grew up with my mom and my stepfather. There were five kids, so it was a big family.

When I was about nine years old, we moved to Australia.

Things were good here, but that was when my mother started getting into different kinds of beliefs.

It started with tame things like crystals and reiki and tarot cards.

I suppose my mother was attracted to the idea that her life had a deeper spiritual meaning and she was always trying to find the answers.

When I finished high school, my stepfather got cancer.

He and my mother also went through a divorce, so it was a very traumatic time for the family.

It was around this time that I first heard her mention a new group she was a part of.

She made many friends through this community. Good friends.

It was the first sign that something was wrong because she stopped seeing the friends she already had and just joined this new group.

We did not start seeing her very much because she would always be at an event or on a retreat or save money to go on a trip with them.

We knew it was more intense than reiki or crystals.

It sounded like a very strong religion and we were worried it would cause some damage.

It turned out we were right.

Tarot card on a marble surface with a green and clear crystal.
Emma says her mother became interested in “different beliefs” when she was a child.(

Unsplash: Only Theodore


Aliens, diets and past lives

When we first heard that the group was called Universal Medicine, I thought it was something scientific.

They have very strict rules about the food you are allowed to eat and the times you are allowed to sleep or be awake.

They say that if you follow their rules, you will be as healthy as you can be.

But it gets very strange.

They think these foreigners are controlling us.

And apparently if you burp, you release negative energy, and you release demons from your body.

Much of it is about the consequences of your actions.

They have a belief in children who have autism or a disability that they will be punished in this life because of something they did in the previous life.

To me, because I am an atheist and a very logical person, it sounds so judgmental and dangerous.

When you say their beliefs on a list, it’s all so incoherent. It makes no sense.

But they have books they have written and there is a course you can study – which you pay for, everything has a price – and they have gone really deep into making it seem very scientific and professional, and that “it’s all truth”.

Woman with blurred face and hair looking out of a security screen door.
Emma says her mother has referred to universal medicine as “her religion”.(

ABC RN: Nicole Cleary


An intervention

It’s not a religion, it’s not an organization, it’s not a community based on good things.

It is dangerous and harmful. This is what I would call a cult.

And when we had these revelations, our relationship with Mom became fuller.

We could not accept or ignore it anymore, so we kept what you might call an intervention of this kind.

All of us kids met with mom and said why we were worried about her.

But it did not work.

She began to feel that we were attacking her and that we were not listening to what she thought was the truth.

I had a four month old baby at the time and I was really worried that some of her beliefs would affect my baby.

I did not want my son to grow up around someone who could potentially harm him – if she cared for him and she did not feed him properly, or if he grew up with a disability, I would not want her to tell it him that he was evil in a previous life.

So I made the decision to make a boundary and step away.

Elderly lady sitting alone, surrounded by rows of chairs.
Emma fears that her mother will not have a safety net when she gets older.(

Unsplash: Jon Tyson


‘Sorgens slides’

Now I am eight months pregnant with our second child.

My biggest fear is that we have lost my mother.

The last few years have been a roller coaster of grief where we are aware that we have lost or are losing her and there is not much we can do about it.

Another thing I’m really scared of is that my mom’s going to have a lot of financial problems.

She is in her early 60s and she does not own a home and all her earnings – apart from the obvious things like rent and groceries – she puts into this organization.

I’m really worried she’s getting an older lady and has no safety net, no money and no help from anyone because she’s lost her whole family.

They have control over her whether she understands it or not.

I know that 10 years ago, if she did not have contact with all her five children, she would have done something about it.

But she’s not like that anymore. She has changed a lot.

We have tried so many things and we simply can not get her back.

‘The charlatan’ and ‘socially dangerous cult’

Universal Medicine (UM) was founded in 1999.

It hosts workshops and retreats, publishes books itself and offers “healing services” at its clinics in Australia and abroad.

Its founder, Serge Benhayon, is a former bankrupt tennis coach who claims to be the reincarnation of Leonardo Da Vinci.

Benhayon has no medical qualifications, but describes himself as a “teacher, general practitioner and trainer in therapies that supplement medicine”.

He has amassed millions of dollars since the founding of the group and attracted great controversy.

Serge Benhayon at a seminar on universal medicine
Serge Benhayon, who has no medical qualifications, has followers around the world.(

Facebook: Serge Benhayon


In 2018, a Supreme Court jury found that Benhayon was a “charlatan” who “cheats cancer patients” and deals with “curing scams that harm people”.

A former UM member, Judith McIntyre – a breast cancer survivor – left Mr Benhayon $ 800,000 before she died in 2014. In recent months, he has provided legal advice and advised Mrs McIntyre on her will, diet and dealings with her family.

The jury found that Benhayon exploited supporters by “targeting them for leaving him scholarships” and that UM was ultimately a “socially dangerous cult”.

Getting a loved one out

Rachel Bernstein is a marriage and family therapist who has worked with former cult members and their families for the past 30 years.

She is very aware of the impact these groups have on their loved ones, like Emma.

“They do not know what it takes to get their loved one out.

“Nor do they know why their loved one believes in history, why they believe in things that have not been proven.”

Bernstein advises family members in this situation “not to use the ‘C-word’ [cult]”as it” creates defensiveness “.

“Instead, try to maintain communication, even if it means you’re comfortable with what the person is doing, so you can keep having conversations.

“[That creates] sure enough dialogue where they will start to suggest that they are not so happy. You will not find out unless you take a step back, otherwise people will dig in their heels.

“What also helps is being kind. In a cult, people pretend, but in the end, they don’t care about you at all.

“Whose [other] people in their lives are kind, show interest and care that help destroy what the ‘cult’ presents about the rest of the world … so it creates a domino effect because [then the person realises] If the group is wrong about it, they are probably wrong about other things. “

The goal, she says, is for the client to realize for themselves that their community is a harmful cult. When they do, they are more likely to leave.

But these conversations weigh heavier on family members like Emma.

“The positive side of me wants to say, ‘Do not give up hope,'” she says.

“Keep trying. Keep showing this family member that you love them, that you support them, and that you want to be a part of their lives.

Emma says that if they have a connection to the outside world, there is always a chance that they can come back.

If this story has raised issues for you or someone you know, support is available from Lifeline on 13 11 14.

This story comes from ABC Radio National’s podcast RN Presents: This Much is True. Find it on ABC List, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, RSS or anywhere you listen to podcasts.


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