Large-group awareness training

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Large-group awareness training (LGAT) refers to activities usually offered by groups linked with the human potential movement which claim to increase self-awareness and bring about desirable transformations in individuals' personal lives. They have been described by Michael Langone as "new age trainings" and by Philip Cushman as "mass marathon trainings". LGAT programs may involve several hundred people at a time. Though early definitions cited LGATs as featuring unusually long durations, more recent texts describe the trainings as lasting from a few hours to a few days.

Quotes[edit]

Alphabetized by author
  • Landmark Education, as it's formally known, is hardly alone. There are any number of groups that foster change in an intense, supportive environment. Formally, they are gathered under the rubric 'large group awareness training.' A few groups are relatively new. some have been around for decades. Almost all owe a major debt to a Unity minister named Alexander Everett.
    • Black, Jonathan (2006). Yes You Can!: Behind the Hype and Hustle of the Motivation Biz. New York: Bloomsbury. p. 133. ISBN 9781596910003. 
  • est and Large-Group Awareness Seminars: Arising out of the human potential movement in the 1960s were a number of workshops, seminars and training programs. The most famous human potential program was erhard seminars training known as est. est was an intensive 60-hour workshop designed to alter a person's life view. There are a number of est clones including Life Spring, Actualizations and Forum, which is a successor to est. All of these workshops have several features in common. Participants are verbally attacked. The idea is to break down emotional defenses in order to allow new beliefs and attitudes to take over. There is a significant cathartic element in that emotional release is generated by the est techniques.
    • Eisner, Donald A. (2000). The Death of Psychotherapy: From Freud to Alien Abductions. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger. p. 60. ISBN 0275964132. 
  • More direct evidence comes from a careful study of Large Group Awareness Training programs, variously known as Erhard Seminars Training (est), Lifespring, or simply the Forum. The basic procedure of these courses parallels the group training workshops … but the emphasis shifts from group effectiveness to personal development. By talking through life challenges, aspirations, fears, and the like with fellow participants and professional counselors/teachers, individuals hope to change how they view themselves, their family and friends, and their prospects for a fulfilling life.
    • Gastil, John (2010). The Group in Society. Los Angeles: SAGE. pp. 228-229. ISBN 9781412924689. 
  • In the most rigorous independent study to date, a team of researchers led by psychologist Jeffrey Fisher obtained permission to study the impact of participation in a training process sponsored by Werner Erhard and Associates. The investigators assembled a sample of eighty-three people who took part in the Forum, along with fifty-two comparison groups of nonparticipants with comparable baseline characteristics. Fisher and his team assessed the Forum participant's traits and beliefs four to six weeks before taking part in the Forum, four to six weeks afterward, and eighteen months later. Based on the wide range of the Forum's purported benefits, Fisher's surveys measured life satisfaction, social competence, self-esteem, physical and emotional health, and a variety of character traits. In the short term, average Forum participants experienced a small but significant increase in their sense that the course of their life was under their own control—what psychologists call an 'internal locus of control.' In the eighteen-month follow-up, however, even this slight boost had disappeared and no other changes emerged. This suggests that even when participants subjectively sense self-transformation through a group process such as the Forum, one may not actually have occurred.
    • Gastil, John (2010). The Group in Society. Los Angeles: SAGE. pp. 228-229. ISBN 9781412924689. 
  • Dennison's dissertation, which categorizes the Landmark Forum as a 'large group awareness training' is a qualitative study based on interviews with Forum graduates. He also reports predominantly positive outcomes and in addition, briefly summarizes philosophical components of the Forum.
    • Steven R. McCarl, University of Denver - Department of Political Science; Steve Zaffron, Landmark Worldwide LLC and Vanto Group; Joyce McCarl Nielsen, University of Colorado at Boulder - Department of Sociology; Sally Lewis Kennedy, Graland Country Day School (April 2001). "The Promise of Philosophy and the Landmark Forum". Contemporary Philosophy XXIII (1 & 2).
  • The extensive research literature on 'large group awareness training' published in the 1970s and 80s (summarized in Finkelstein, Wenegrat, and Yalom) is framed in psychological more than philosophical terms, albeit there is some reference to the training as existential psychotherapy.
    • Steven R. McCarl, University of Denver - Department of Political Science; Steve Zaffron, Landmark Worldwide LLC and Vanto Group; Joyce McCarl Nielsen, University of Colorado at Boulder - Department of Sociology; Sally Lewis Kennedy, Graland Country Day School (April 2001). "The Promise of Philosophy and the Landmark Forum". Contemporary Philosophy XXIII (1 & 2).
  • Both est and Landmark Forum could be classified as LGATs (large group awareness trainings), a sociological grouping that includes neuro-linguistic programming, Insight Training Seminars (see the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness), and a whole plethora of sales and motivational courses.
    • Puttick, Elizabeth (2004). "Landmark Forum (est)". in Partridge, Christopher. New Religions: A Guide: New Religious Movements, Sects and Alternative Spiritualities. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 407. ISBN 0195220420. 
  • The LGAT format can have advantages, mainly in terms of affordability and the powerful support of being in a crowd of like-minded people. However, they have their critics, who say that they offer a 'one-size-fits-all' approach, where the group leaders make assumptions about clients' problems, and have an excessive focus on defining interpersonal relationships as the central objective in life.
    • Puttick, Elizabeth (2004). "Landmark Forum (est)". in Partridge, Christopher. New Religions: A Guide: New Religious Movements, Sects and Alternative Spiritualities. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 407. ISBN 0195220420. 
  • Between 1971 and 1985, in particular, a number of LGAT groups gained large followings and subsequent notoriety and some are still active in the 1990s. LGAT groups included est and its offshoots such as Transformation Technologies and the Forum (Werner Erhard); Lifespring (John Hanley); Silva Mind Control (Jose Silva); Direct Centering (Gavin Barnes, aka Bayard Hora); Actualizations (Stewart Emery); ONE (Oury Engolz); Life Training (W.R. Whitten and K.B Brown); Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness (MSIA) and Insight Seminars (John-Roger Hinkins); PSI World (Thomas D. Whilhite); and Arica Institute (Oscar Ichazo). This particular brand of New Age group gained significant access into the business world.
    • Singer, Margaret Thaler; Lalich, Janja (1995). Cults in Our Midst. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. p. 42. ISBN 0787900516. 
  • On federal court orders, I have attended six large group awareness training sessions (sponsored by est, the Forum, Lifespring, and PSI World) and have interviewed dozens of persons who have attended these and such other programs as Silva Mind Control, Actualizations, and Direct Centering, as well as the myriad of other programs now available, some started by former employees and even, on occasion, attendees of the larger well-known LGATs. I have studied the training manuals and videos used to train trainers and have interviewed a number of trainers.
  • The little research conducted on the outcomes of these seminars doesn't even find them effective at prompting positive change. Most participants find the experience profoundly moving — and many people believe that such an emotionally intense event must necessarily produce psychological improvement. Consequently, an overwhelming majority of participants, when surveyed afterward, say their lives were changed for the better. However, several studies (including one of Lifespring) have found that while participants say their LGAT experiences improve their lives, there was no positive effect, or a small, short-lived one, on their actual psychological problems and behavior.
  • est, Werner Erhard (aka John Paul Rosenberg): Personal transformation seminar promising individual growth, business management skills, and stress reduction. Through large group awareness training meeting in hotels and conference centers around the world, Erhard and his disciples sought to help their students to 'get it'—in essence, to achieve enlightenment. Personal responsibility and virtually limitnless human possibilities were promoted through slogans such as, 'You're a god in your universe. You caused it.' Many early participants reported strenuous emotional—and for some, physical—strain from the 60-hour sessions and confrontational tenor of the seminar. According to published reports, Erhard incorporated elements from a variety of religions, including Zen Buddhism and Scientology, into est. Controversy surrounded the movement including charges of tax evasion. A 60 Minutes television report aired in 1991 accused Erhard of spousal abuse and included the accusation of incest by several of his daughters (one of whom later recanted). In the midst of mounting troubles, Erhard decided to leave the United States. The seminar and organization have undergone numerous transformations and name changes through the years. Est was discontinued and replaced with The Forum, and in 1991, Werner Erhard and Associates (WE&A) was dissolved. In its place, Landmark Education was incorporated, with Erhard's brother, serving as CEO and overseeing the current seminar, which is called Landmark Forum.
    • Walker, James K. (2007). The Concise Guide to Today's Religions and Spirituality. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House. pp. 137-138. ISBN 9780736920117. 

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