Book Review - Cult Encounter

This article is an electronic version of an article originally published in Cultic Studies Journal, 1998, Volume 15, Number 2, pages 234-235. Please keep in mind that the pagination of this electronic reprint differs from that of the bound volume. This fact could affect how you enter bibliographic information in papers that you may write.

Book Review - Cult Encounter and An International Story of a Family’s Experience of Exit Counseling (Ethical “Deprogramming” of the Nineties) 

Helen & Rick Larsen, 1997,

PO Box 90, North Beach 6020, Western Australia. [ISBN 0 646 31154 9]

self-published manuscript, 150 pages.

Book Review by Joe Szimhart, April 1997

This story has many unique aspects, but what is most unique for me is to read about myself as a character in a book. The two major players in this family tale are the authors who describe and analyze their dramatic ‘rite-of-passage’ through a painful mid-life separation in December of 1992 and difficult reunion several months later. The story is as true as stories get, told by eye witnesses. It reads a bit like a play with didactic digressions that represent the insights the authors gained from the drama of a real life “cult encounter.”

Rick Larsen, a member of the Australian Psychological Society who works in the school system, plunged into the formidable task of writing this book soon after he successfully “rescued” his wife, Helen, of twenty four years from her brief life as “Xanthe” with the Extra-Terrestrial Earth Mission (ETEM). Helen, then in her early forties, had raised three children into their young adulthood and struggled emotionally to support a husband who suffered from “anxiety.” Often she had to be the “strong one” in the family. She was a realist, a practical woman who somehow responded to the bizarre teachings of a new age sect. If you ask what kind of people join cults, Helen will tell you it was not a matter of joining but one of esoteric interest and unfortunate opportunity. As her vulnerability is everyone’s vulnerability, Cult Encounter exposes the reader to a host of questions about freedom of choice that have no easy answers.

Helen began her cult passage with an interest in new age and channeled works introduced to her by a “beauty therapist.” Later, during a stay in England with her husband, Helen explored the abstruse writings of Theosophist Alice A. Bailey among other esoteric directions. Then Helen encountered the Extra-Terrestrial Earth Mission, an American group then centered in Arizona. Through them she was given an opportunity to “experience” higher states of consciousness at a workshop in Sedona, Arizona. ETEM’s leaders at the time were “interdimensional beings” who had taken over (walked into) the human bodies of a pudgy, middle-aged man named John, and a new age seeker named Ellen. The new names for these body-vehicles were Zavi and Ziva. Later, John and Ellen adopted other aliases from “higher dimensions” like Silarra, Akria, Arthea for Ellen’s body and DraKar for John’s.

By the time Helen left for Sedona, Rick knew his marriage was in trouble. When she came back she had had a transformational experience, a redefinition of self and purpose as a result of the ETEM sessions. She was now a “wake-up,” a soul that was alerted to the higher dimensional self-the leaders were “walk-ins” or completely new spirits in abandoned bodies. Hindsight humor from Helen about this occasion: “Rick dreaded the thought of calling me “Xanthe” and continued, as he had for twenty-four years, to call me by various pet names-even though I’m sure “Fruitcake” was one of the names high on his list.” Helen soon moved to Melbourne from Perth to live with a female member of the ETEM. Rick felt helpless to change her mind until he met with Joe A, another man in Perth whose wife was about to leave him and his children for an ETEM life.

Joe A had already contacted an exit counselor (me) from the United States and arranged for an intervention with his family. Joe A engaged Pat Ryan and I to fly down to help him in January of 1993. We took the non-coercive, educational approach (the only way we would work) over several days of meetings in their home and it worked very well. During our five days in Perth we met with Rick and planned his intervention, but we had to go home, regroup and return to Melbourne several weeks later. Rick knew his situation presented more difficulties than Joe A’s, but he had to try. Rick, Helen, and others involved describe this somewhat convoluted, tension-filled event that resulted in Helen voluntarily speaking with the exit counselors and eventually going home with her family. During the entire intervention, Helen slept at the ETEM house. Her internal, lonely struggles at night over what to do, what to think, whether to return to talk with her family are an incredible testimony to the human spirit, her spirit, to return to “reality.”

The Branch Davidian standoff at Waco began just prior to this family intervention. Pat Ryan and I appeared on a Melbourne radio show as many Australians were involved in the Waco event. That may have been a mistake. As Rick Larsen writes, before Ryan left Australia from Sydney he was served with a bizarre but legal restraining order. A Scientologist claimed she had evidence that Pat Ryan and I were there to “abusively deprogram” her. To this day I do not know who this woman is. After the Larsen case ended, I remained in Melbourne to work in a hospital with a pregnant, forty-year-old woman who had a psychological breakdown after channeling the spaceship commander, Ashtar-so I was never served. Ryan had to fly back to Sydney later to fight the accusation. He won his case handily, but to this day the Scientologist has not paid the thousands of dollars in fees awarded him by the court.

Rick and Helen Larsen give us a rare insight into, what they call “Exit Counselling: Ethical “Deprogramming” of the Nineties.” Their post-intervention struggles and resolutions are a testament to their love for one another and commitment to help others unduly impacted by cult activity. Rick Larsen is currently the Deputy Chairperson of CultAware Australia. The manuscript for Cult Encounter is in the process of being printed in book form.

Cultic Studies Journal Volume 15, Number 2 1998