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Was it a Psychotic Episode in L. Ron Hubbard That Led Him to Found the Church of Scientology?

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A French Psychoanalyst, Dr Thierry Lamote, claims in a book (La Scientologie déchiffrée par la psychanalyse. La folie du fondateur, Universitaires du Mirail Press), and in a paper just published in the academic Journal 'L'Évolution Psychiatrique', that L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the religious group, The Church of Scientology, suffered a psychotic episode, which appears to be the foundation for the multi-million pound worldwide movement.

Scientology claims a host of celebrity followers, such as film star Tom Cruise. The unswerving devotion of many adherents alarms some people. Jenna Miscavige Hill, said to be an ex-Scientologist whose uncle is a Scientology Church leader, is quoted in The Daily Telegraph Newspaper on 6 July as having publicly warned Katie Holmes, currently divorcing Tom Cruise, that Scientology was "no place for an innocent child", like her daughter Suri. Cruise and Holmes are said to be starting a custody battle, and it's possible that Cruise's high profile following of Scientology, might become a factor in the dispute.

Analysing the founder of Scientology's writings and biographical material, Dr Lamote's research contends it was Ron Hubbard's battle with psychotic symptoms that partly drew him to therapy approaches advocated by psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. It seems he then exploited Freud to create a movement which its adherents would find difficult to leave.

In his paper entitled 'Scientology: A systematized delirious inspired by Breuer and Freud's Studies on hysteria', Dr Lamote claims Hubbard subsequently re-named various old techniques and ideas used by Freud (some dating from before Freud founded psychoanalysis) and incorporated them into Scientology. Part of the continuing power of the movement may lie in these Freudian approaches, Dr Lamote's analysis suggests. Supposedly unlocking and exploring the unconscious, can become psychologically 'addictive', explaining why so many find themselves drawn into Scientology, become dependent on it, and then are unable to understand why so many others remain suspicious of the movement.

Towards the end of the 1930s, Dr Lamote writes that Hubbard had a tooth extracted under nitrous oxide, also referred to as "laughing gas", used during general anaesthesia, but which can cause disturbing mind-altering effects. Lamote then points out that Hubbard, in a letter written on 1 January 1938, and other writings, relates a set of strange experiences as result, including hearing voices repeating enigmatic sentences such as, "Do not let him know!". They could sound like the kind of hallucinations Doctors associate with a psychotic illness.

Lamote found that Hubbard frequently returned to this painful experience, indicating how profoundly important it was to him, maybe a turning point.

Dr Lamote contends a psychotic process within Hubbard's mind had begun, but lay largely undetected by the outside world until possibly 1943 when Hubbard was a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy. He was put in charge of a naval gun ship, the USS PC-815, a submarine chaser. In what remains a controversial episode, Lt. Hubbard, shortly after setting to sea, appears to have heard things through the sonar and hydrophone indicating contact with an enemy submarine.

Over the next three days, he launched 37 depth charges, and claimed to have sunk an enemy submarine, while critically damaging another. But no other official in the Navy seems to have agreed. Instead Dr Lamote's research suggests that Hubbard was fighting a battle with delusional enemies.

Dr Lamote wonders if this was part of his developing a paranoid picture of the universe?

Around this crucial time, Dr Lamote's paper points out, the exploding of the Hiroshima bomb perhaps profoundly shook and maybe further destabilised him. Formerly a science fiction writer, Hubbard appears to have become disillusioned, even perhaps frightened by the power of science. This combined with his mounting anxiety that society needed to be controlled, otherwise war and total annihilation was inevitable, possibly laid the seeds for the controlling nature of the movement he founded.

Lamote's paper contends that Hubbard turned to the science of cybernetics of control, in order to build a religious movement at the heart of which would be control over large numbers, in order to reduce the risk of self-destruction, which appeared to him to be mankind's destiny.

Into this mix Lamote believes Hubbard threw in teachings from psychoanalysts' Freud and his colleague Breuer, who were some of the earliest proponents of the idea that psychological distress arose out of repressed memories from earlier in life, which required access, through therapy, in order for us to achieve well-being. Hubbard had many physical symptoms and Lamote wonders whether the early psychoanalytic idea, that some physical symptoms had a psychological cause buried deep in the unconscious, may have influenced him. Through this approach, he may have found relief from his own physical symptoms.

Dr Lamote argues that Hubbard pioneered an idea of an 'engram' which is a kind of memory of pain which goes back so far into the past to include the pain of cell division, when we first started as an organism, but could retreat even further, to past or parental lives. The techniques of Dianetics, contends Dr Lamote's paper, include many which resembled counterparts in psychoanalysis such as hypnosis and abreaction, where past trauma is encouraged to be emotionally ventilated.

Tom Cruise did jump up and down in apparent agitation on Oprah's sofa during a televised interview.

It is this borrowing from psychotherapy and psychoanalysis that Dr Lamote work suggests partly explains the powerful appeal of Scientology to so many, and ironically enough, its founder Ron Hubbard. Just as therapy can be addictive, so can Scientology, because it borrows similar techniques but re-labels them. Like psychoanalysis it offers a universal therapeutic method, supposed to solve all human ills.

Dr Lamote points out there is almost a sense in which Freud has been re-discovered and re-packaged by Scientology.

Back in 2005 Tom Cruise was reported to have condemned the actress Brook Shields after she went public on the benefit she received from anti-depressant medication, while suffering from serious postpartum depression. Scientology is traditionally virulently anti-psychiatry, and anti-psychiatric treatments such as its medication.

It might be ironic, therefore, if Hubbard, founder of a strongly anti-psychiatric movement had been heavily influenced right back in the beginning, by what some would regard as the most famous psychiatrist of all, Sigmund Freud.

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