Scientology’s ‘volunteer ministers’ at work in Japan

I got a press release today from the Church of Scientology, promoting the work of Scientology’s “volunteer ministers” in Japan since the disaster.

The release includes this: “Since the disaster struck, the Scientology Volunteer Ministers Japan Disaster Response Team has helped more than 48,000 displaced persons in dozens of shelters distributing food, water and supplies and providing Scientology assists. Assists, often described as “spiritual first aid,” help the individual overcome the effects of loss, shock and trauma and speed recovery by addressing the spiritual and emotional factors in illness and injury.”

The work of Scientology’s “volunteer ministers” at disaster sites has long been controversial. Back in early ’02, I wrote about their work at Ground Zero.

At the time, the chief of the National Mental Health Association told me: “”What Scientology is doing can be very dangerous if people think they are going to see legitimate mental health counselors. Their volunteer ministers are not trained in mental health services and actually reject science. We really believe that harm can be done here.”

No one questions (I think) the general support offered by Scientology volunteers: passing out food; helping people find shelter; listening to people in crisis; etc.

The issue is the “spiritual first aid” provide by their “ministers,” who only read some Scientology materials and take an exam.

This is what I wrote in ’02:

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Scientology uses technical terms to describe counseling techniques that, on the face of it, sound impossibly simple. At Ground Zero, for instance, volunteer ministers often offered “touch assists,” which involve touching injured body parts as a way to open communication between the brain and the injured area.

For someone still focused on Sept. 11, volunteer ministers may perform a “locational.” This involves having someone focus on something in the present.”

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A volunteer told me at the time: “If someone keeps seeing the image of the World Trade Center falling again and again, you ask the person to look into the environment – at a clock or whatever. Instead of looking into the past, they look into the now. That’s not to say they won’t think about the past again, but they’re not as stuck on it.”

The press release about Japan includes this: “A man whose business was swept away in the tsunami began his assist in sorrow and walked away humming, telling the Volunteer Minister he plans to rebuild his inn as soon as he can.”

Scientology, by the way, is opposed to the practice of psychiatry and psychology.

Meet a Scientologist

The Church of Scientology seems to have a new PR strategy.

In recent weeks, I’ve gotten a bunch of emails asking readers to “meet a Scientologist.” Then I can read a brief introduction to an individual and what brought him or her to Scientology.

It turns out that the church has 200 or so profiles on its website, complete with videos.

It’s often been said if a new or little-understood group of people want to be “accepted” by the mainstream, the key is for  people to get to know individuals. I guess the Church of Scientology is taking this tack.

One profile is of 28-year-old Ryan Rieben, a Michigan firefighter, who says he looked into Scientology because all Scientologists he knows are doing well. He says: “I bought a Dianetics book. It made sense. I went to the Church to check it out and I have been involved ever since. I found out that what I suspected was true—Scientology does help you accomplish your goals.”

At the heart of Scientology, founded by the late science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard (that’s him), is “dianetics,” a system of teaching and actions that is supposed to help people overcome negative experiences stored in the mind.

I also got a release addressing the question of how Scientologists celebrate the holiday season.

It says, in part:

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Because the Scientology religion is practiced in 165 countries and territories, Scientologists come from a wide variety of faiths and cultural traditions, so observances of the holidays are as diverse as Scientologists are.

But no matter their religious or cultural tradition, Scientologists observe the holidays in a manner similar to the members of all other religions: they gather with their loved ones, whether they observe Christmas, Chanukah, Yule or Kwanzaa, enjoying the warmth of friends and family and celebrating the joy and love of the season.

No matter their religious or cultural tradition, Scientologists embody the spirit of the season as expressed in the universal message, “Peace on Earth and goodwill toward men.”

Scientologists live by a code which includes: “To use the best I know of Scientology to the best of my ability to help my family, friends, groups and the world.” During the holiday season, Scientologists are especially active in this respect, volunteering in a wide range of endeavors to improve the lives of individuals and the community and bring joy to those who may need assistance.

In the news: Scientology!

Back from furlough.

Watched some Olympics. Read many magazines. Taking my time through Democracy in America.

I’ve been playing catch-up today. One thing that caught my eye:

A real interesting story in the Wash Post today about the Church of Scientology hiring three prominent journalists to “study” how the St. Petersburg Times covers Scientology, which is based in Florida.

The St. Pete Times has written extensively about Scientology — much of it less than flattering — and the church has been quite critical of the paper.

Apparently, Scientology may not make the report public. Depends what it says, I guess.

Two of the reporters said in a statement: “We were hesitant. That’s why we insisted on being paid in full before we started our work, total editorial independence and having someone with the reputation of (investigative reporter) Steve Weinberg involved. Every entity has the right to receive fair treatment in the press.”

The Church of Scientology has received some international attention of late for sending a bunch of volunteers, including John Travolta and wife Kelly Preston, to Haiti, where they are providing a “form” of therapy to survivors.

A few months after 9/11, when Scientology’s “volunteer ministers” were quite visible at and around Ground Zero, I wrote about widespread criticism of their treatment methods. The mental health establishment has long been at odds with Scientology over a bunch of things (including Scientology’s dismissal of much of what makes up modern psychology and psychiatry).

At the time, I wrote:

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Volunteer ministers must only read a Scientology textbook and pass a short exam to be certified by the church. They are not ordained ministers.

But they have worked with Oklahoma City survivors, Kosovo refugees, earthquake victims in Kobe, Japan, and many other disaster victims around the world since Hubbard created the volunteer program in 1976.

Scientology uses technical terms to describe counseling techniques that, on the face of it, sound impossibly simple. At Ground Zero, for instance, volunteer ministers often offered “touch assists,” which involve touching injured body parts as a way to open communication between the brain and the injured area.

For someone still focused on Sept. 11, volunteer ministers may perform a “locational.” This involves having someone focus on something in the present.

“If someone keeps seeing the image of the World Trade Center falling again and again, you ask the person to look into the environment – at a clock or whatever,” said Beth Salem, 22, of Ossining, a volunteer minister. “Instead of looking into the past, they look into the now. That’s not to say they won’t think about the past again, but they’re not as stuck on it.”

For those who stay beyond initial counseling, there is the world of “dianetics,” the heart of Scientology. The goal of dianetics is to help people overcome negative experiences stored in the mind so they can reach a level of enlightenment that Scientology calls “clear.”

Scientology rejects traditional forms of mental health treatment and particularly disdains the use of medication to treat mental illness.