Mother raises concerns over claims of a “cult-like” approach at Shalom House

Peter Lyndon-James. Picture: David Baylis www.communitypix.com.au d468014
Peter Lyndon-James. Picture: David Baylis www.communitypix.com.au d468014

THE mother of a resident at a strict, faith-based rehabilitation centre has raised concerns with senior government ministers over claims of a “cult-like” approach by Shalom House.

Michelle* said despite being nominated by her son to be involved with his rehabilitation, she had had no contact with him since he entered the Swan Valley facility for depression in November 2017.

She has written to senior government ministers, including Health Minister Roger Cook, raising her concerns about Shalom House.

“It wasn’t until my son went into this facility, unbeknown to me, that I started to delve deeper into the nature of this facility,” she said.

“As shown on TV, the founder of Shalom House, Peter Lyndon-James, is an ex-drug addict, dealer and criminal.

“Now a born-again Christian, he has created a program based on his own personal experience whereby treatment is based on religion.

“Since my son went in there he has become a ‘missing person’ to his family, (since) I raised concerns about what qualifications Mr Lyndon-James and his staff have to treat people with mental health conditions.

“Most mental health facilities involve family to support the client, not alienate them.”

Shalom House’s homepage states they work closely with residents’ families to restore all relationships.

“We often have to say that for a short period of time there is no contact so that the individual has time to work on themselves before reuniting with family; every case is different,” it said.

“Most of the time it is no longer than a few weeks.”

However, Mr Lyndon-James said Michelle* and her son had not been reunited due to the “unhealthy nature” of their relationship.

“We have been advised by both the son and his psychiatrist that it would be premature to reunite them,” he said.

“The psychiatrist is working with the son to get closure and healing, to help him get ready to confront the issue in their relationship.

“Given that this was the decision made by the son and supported by his psychiatrist, we will never push a resident to do something they aren’t ready to do.”

Curtin University’s National Drug Research Institute professor Nicole Lee said the involvement of families is generally “extremely important” in treatment.

“We know it improves outcomes of the person in treatment and families also need support,” Professor Lee said.

“They are often the main support post-treatment and play an important role in preventing relapse.”

Michelle* said she supported rehabilitation being available to help people recover and lead positive lives, but she was worried about her son’s well-being at the facility.

“I believe my son went into the program when he was at a low point,” she said.

“[My son] has already lost a year of his life when he should be playing footy and going out with his mates.”

Michelle* claims Mr Lyndon-James shows some traits of a self-styled guru with his self-promotion and gathering of supporters and public sympathy which she says creates a ‘cult-like’ approach by Shalom House.

“Critics of Mr Lyndon-James are shot down by the frenetic support he has built up in the community and any negative stories are ignored,” she said.

Michelle* said she believed there were enough concerns to warrant health authorities asking questions of Shalom House.

“Shalom House is not an accredited centre and some health professionals are critical of its practices and approach to treating drug addiction and other behavioural problems,” she said.

“Shalom’s successes are all hearsay because there is no data to say whether it has significant or long term success.”

Mr Lyndon-James said Shalom House had multiple levels of consultation.

“When a resident first enters the program, they are booked in to see a GP and where necessary, the GP will refer the resident to our clinical psychiatrist for further assessment and ongoing treatment,” he said.

“In these cases, we work strictly under the guidance of the psychiatrist.

“Certain mental health issues are beyond our ability to assist, such as schizophrenia.

“This is something that we vet during the intake process over the phone and if the person is diagnosed with this, we bring the process to a close, advise them we aren’t able to assist and to see a health professional who will be able to give them further advice.”

In response to the concerns raised by Michelle*, the WA Health Department’s Licensing and Accreditation Regulatory Unit (LARU) inquired into the services provided at Shalom House to determine whether the facility should be licensed.

“In response to LARU’s enquiries the barristers and solicitors acting on behalf of the owners of Shalom House have advised that none of the premises fall within the definition of a private psychiatric hostel,” the Health Minister’s office told Michelle* in response to her complaint.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said LARU was satisfied with the legal advice and did not intend to take further action.

Shalom House has about 140 men spread across 14 properties.

* Michelle is not her real name.