New age 'medicine' of Serge Benhayon leaves trail of broken families
JOSH ROBERTSON AND LIAM WALSH
The Courier Mail
September 8, 2012
AN alleged new-age cult, run by a former bankrupt who claims to be Leonardo da Vinci reincarnated, is expanding its multimillion-dollar enterprise with the help of Brisbane's medical mainstream.
Universal Medicine, whose practitioners offer controversial treatments to ward off cancer including "esoteric breast massage", is drawing a growing number of clients to its Brisbane clinic via referrals from eye and lung surgeons, rheumatologists and GPs.
family members of devotees, who say Mr Benhayon holds a Svengali-like sway
UniMed Brisbane is based in a historic $1.75 million, 10-room former Fairfield homestead from the 1860s, now co-owned by Universal Medicine founder Serge Benhayon.
The one-time tennis coach founded the group, which has 2000 mainly female followers, after emerging from bankruptcy over an unpaid lease on a Sydney tennis centre in 1998.
He now boasts interests in property worth $7.4 million and an enterprise that turns over at least $2 million a year, extending from its NSW base in Goonellabah to north Queensland and Europe.
Mr Benhayon's supporters include Kenmore dentist Rachel Hall, whose "holistic" clinic, dotted with da Vinci illustrations, attracts Universal Medicine followers from as far as the UK and Germany.
Universal Medicine, which teaches followers to avoid the "negative energy" in everything from cheese and alcohol to sleeping late, sells merchandise from books to pillow cases, holds concerts, Vietnam retreats and "relationship workshops" that gross up to $36,000 a session.
But the group has come under fire from family members of devotees, who say Mr Benhayon holds a Svengali-like sway over members' patterns of diet, sleeping, exercise, the music they listen to and sexual behaviour.
They claim Universal Medicine has led to the breakdown of at least 42 relationships.
One man said his wife had spent $50,000 on Universal Medicine in the past three years, another said his wife had spent $40,000 in four years.
A Brisbane father blamed his marriage breakdown on radical changes in his wife's behaviour encouraged by Universal Medicine, and was concerned about its influence on his daughter, 7.
"There is absolutely no question it's a cult," he said.
"She used to come home from the workshops like she was on drugs."
Cult Counselling Australia director Raphael Aron said the number of marriage breakdowns, if true, was "probably unique in my experience in relation to the history of organisations, be they cults, sects or sub-sects, in Australia".
"That's an absolutely devastating figure, catastrophic," Mr Aron said. "We have parents, husbands, coming to us concerned about the wellbeing of their wives, and certainly about the wellbeing of their children."
Mr Aron said CCA had also counselled breakaway UM followers, who were still "battling" to withdraw emotionally from the group.
Mr Benhayon told The Courier-Mail it was absurd to suggest Universal Medicine was a cult and his students were not compelled to do anything. He said the reported 42 marriage breakdowns "if accurate, is terribly disappointing" but Universal Medicine was not to blame.
"I'm not causing the divide, the divide is being caused by the situation (which) as far as I know, factually, has always been there," he said.
Dr Hall said there were "no grounds for saying it's a cult" and that media scrutiny of Mr Benhayon "feels like a witchhunt". She knew of "a few" couples who split after joining the group as lifestyle changes were "very confronting" for some partners.
"But were there cracks in the relationship beforehand?" Dr Hall said. "Maybe the woman decides she's feeling more confident to go ... the other rejected party feels hurt and blames (Universal Medicine).
"A lot of them hide behind Serge. They play 'Serge said'. I've known Serge for eight years and he's never said 'stay' or 'leave'."
- System of ‘healing, health and wellbeing’ devised by a former tennis coach with no medical qualifications
- Followers told to avoid dairy food, gluten, caffeine, alcohol, drugs and most modern forms of music, except for Universal Medicine’s in-house music as it has ‘negative energy’
- Sleep recommended 9pm to 3am
- Treatments include ‘craniosacral massage’, ‘esoteric connective tissue therapy’, and ‘esoteric breast massage’. All lack mainstream medical endorsement
- After breast massage, clients told to use Universal Medicine cream to deter bad energy, and to not allow their partners to touch them without permission
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