Schools bring in therapists to take children on spiritual journeys in imaginary spaceships. Michael Shaw reports - and, below, tries out the therapy himself
A New Age therapy in which children are taken on spiritual journeys in imaginary spaceships through their bodies, lives and, sometimes, "past lives" is starting to be used in schools in Britain.
Practitioners of "The Journey" claim the technique has near-miraculous healing powers and has helped improve children's exam results and behaviour.
Journey therapists have been trying aspects of their approach in schools in London, Wigan and Runcorn, and Worthing. Another expert in the therapy, Neil del Strother, has been hired by the national remodelling team, the group set up by the Government to help schools improve teachers' work-life balance. However, the team has denied that it will be promoting The Journey.
The Journey was invented by New York therapist Brandon Bays. She refused surgery when she was diagnosed with a tumour the size of a basketball in 1992 and believes she treated herself in six weeks through meditating.
The Journey organisation has since developed versions of the therapy for adults (see box), and a simpler 20-minute session for children involving spaceships and cartoon action heroes.
Ms Bays and Jayshree Mannie, a former primary teacher, write that the therapy for children is a "guided fairy-tale adventure".
"They begin by visualising a staircase with 10 magical steps, walk (mostly run) down them, where they open the door at the bottom and meet their favourite action or favourite cartoon figure who is their higher self. Then they get into their magical space vehicle and it goes into the body and lands in a particular organ."
The children pick out a memory from their past, which can be from a "previous life" if they wish, and then imagine discussing it with the people involved around a camp fire by the organ.
"The purpose of the camp fire is to empty out all the stored emotion and for forgiveness to take place so the child hears what the other person has to say from the level of the personality and also from the god within, from the diamond inside," Ms Bays and Ms Mannie write.
The techniques were piloted by pupils and teachers last year in a school in the Kwa-Zulu Natal region of South Africa, before being trialled in a further seven schools in the area.
Ms Mannie claims that in the first school the average exam pass rates were 67 per cent for those who received no Journey work, 76 per cent for those who received it occasionally and 92 per cent for those who received it every week.
None of the UK schools which have trialled Journey work wished to be identified. They insist it is too early in the process and point out that children were receiving counselling for confidential issues such as abuse.
Carole Hart, a reception teacher in Worthing, used Journey-based techniques with pupils at a school she taught at last year and is writing a book on how it can be used in the curriculum. "It's amazing, very deep and spiritual," she said.
"I've seen children use this process to change their lives for the better.
But it is difficult to bring into schools because people go 'Oh that's a bit cuckoo'." Her daughter, Paige, 14, said the Journey had made her more relaxed. "It was cool," she said.
A London girls' school which began using the technique this term with around five of its pupils said it was too early to judge the approach, but that it had not received any complaints.
Joanne Eilbeck, an education officer in Wirral, said projects in Wigan and Runcorn schools last year had been successful but ended early because teachers were suspicious. She is now applying for DfES funding for an official trial.
Mr del Strother, the writer on the national remodelling team, describes his experiences as a Journey therapist on his website, www.journeyhealing.com.
He trained with Ms Bays after dabbling in shamanism and now takes clients on emotional trips back "to the womb and beyond".
Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said that teachers should leave therapy to people who were professionally trained. "There are places you go to at your peril," he said. "That is why schools use educational psychologists."