Soul Strip Tease

The advertisements sound tempting, what personality trainers promise. For example, "more success in profession and studies." Caution is advised: the psychological market has its share of charlatans.

Stern Magazine, Germany/April 2, 1998
[English translation of a German article]

The trilling whistle brings the sixteen men and women out of their deep sleep with a start. The night was short. Work had gone until the early morning hours. The order is to show up in athletic gear and double-time up and down the mountain. Every morning the same ritual. This is followed on the schedule everyday by the soul strip tease. In group sessions, for hours on end, the participants talk about their weaknesses and expose their innermost fears. The dams burst and tears flow. The goal of the five-day psychological drill is the heightening of self-awareness.

Personality training is part of the trend. Whoever is looking for a job today or wants to professionally advance himself needs, above anything else, a personality. He is supposed to be capable of handling conflicts, flexible yet decisive, socially competent and emotionally intelligent. Some seminar providers make tempting promises: they talk of breakthroughs to success, of more energy and joy of life, and of overcoming individual obstacles. All that in just a few days: psycho-training as a miracle weapon.

The offers range from a self-awareness course on a sailboat and fire drills for power training to bizarre psychological exercises. However, caution is advised. This field employs many who have co-trained and whom have been trained by people ranging from management trainers and self-declared soul healers to dangerous psychological gurus.

Before one agrees to psychological training, a few points need to be checked out. Does the trainer consider each person individually, or are all participants sold the same recipe? In a seminar, each person must be able to decide for himself whether he wants to participate, or if he would rather leave. What education does the person who is giving the seminar have? (Basic therapist training lasts several years.) If these questions are cut short or answered only unwillingly, one should look around for a different provider.

Otherwise, psychological training can quickly turn into a nightmare of the sort experienced by Martin Lell. Frustrated by his studies and a poor job outlook, the physics student took a three-day seminar from Landmark Education. Afterwards he was enthused: "I felt limitlessly free, all restrictions were gone. The world belonged to me, and everything was possible." Then came his psychological collapse. "I suddenly noticed how absurd it all was." "Brainwashing is an insidious process of destabilization and modification by manipulating social and psychological factors of influence," wrote acknowledged sect expert and psychology professor Margaret Singer. Nobody can defend themselves against the application of subtle methods of manipulation. "It was a type of hypnosis from which you could not escape," verified Martin Lell. The tricks of the process are known. They include strict rules, long work hours, food and sleep deprivation, bans on communication, physical exercise, cumbersome emotional exercises and a clever application of group pressure. It is the combination of these individual factors which makes even the strong give in. Only those who submit will advance personally, promise the providers. The choreography of the seminar has been worked out perfectly. The euphoria at the end is a hard and fast component of psycho-training.

The accomplishment, however, is not usually an individually tailored, voluntary modification, but a coerced tractability. In many psycho-courses, this subordination is part of the system. "The participants are supposed to learn to accept indisputableness in order to be able to live with it," stated Hans-Christian Doering, business manager of Block Training, a rigid psycho-drill which is supposed to have already taken in several thousand participants. That does not differentiate Block from other controversial providers. They consistently promise total control to the same people whom are then subjected to total control. A good example to read up on in regards to this is Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.

"We finally have to get away from the concept of "sects," Juergen Keltsch, member of the Enquete Commission "Sects and Psycho-groups" has demanded. "The decisive factors are the methods which are used." American journalist Paul Keegan stated how people are affected by behavioral psychology after a visit to the U.S. psycho-cult, Lifespring: "We gave up control of our lives and we felt liberated. We said that we felt fantastic because that was how we were conditioned to feel."

Baerbel Schwertfeger

How does one recognize dubious psychological providers? Author Baerbel Schwertfeger ("Der Griff nach der Psyche") has researched for years. A selection of providers on her list of those not recommended:

  • Block Training. Founded 1981 by political economist Walter Kauffmann. Alleged to have more than 8,000 participants, among them numerous board members and top managers. Four and a half days psycho-drills [psychological exercises], sold as "Cognitive Problem-solving" training. Kaufmann was inspired by Randy Revell, the co-founder of the American psycho-cult, Lifespring. Cost: about 3,000 marks.
  • UPT. Hans Schuster & Partner structured five day psycho-training. The participants have to undergo dangerous breathing exercises (Rebirthing) and fill out sex questionnaires. Founded 1985 by merchant banker Hans Schuster. The company seat, since 1996, has been on Sedlbrunn manor near Augsburg. Cost: about 4,000 marks.
  • Institute for Individual Psychology for career advancement (IIP). Founded 1981 by Karlheinz Wolfgang in Neuss. Made headlines in 1993 when its psycho-course resulted in considerable unrest in a corporation. In its main seminar, the former IBM manager cleverly ferrets about in the psyche of the participants, using pseudo-scientific statements to influence. Cost for the eight and a half day basic course: about 4,000 marks.
  • Landmark Education. Worldwide active "training company." Successor to the controversial Erhard Seminar Training (EST), a mixture of positive thinking, hypnosis, Buddhism and Scientology. Claims 65,000 participants per year worldwide. Offices in Munich and Frankfurt. Cooperates with large corporations in the USA and Australia. The core offering is the three-day "Forum," a mammoth gathering of up to 200 participants. Cost: about 850 marks.
  • Hoffman Quadrinity Process. Abstruse seven-day psycho-course. Hypothesis: The cause of all problems lies in the negative programming which one has received as a child from the parents. The participants write hate mail to their parents, mourn their loss at the cemetery, then celebrate with a children's birthday party. Cost: 4,490 marks.
  • Infinity Training & Methods at the Ayura Center and Breakthrough is the newest cover name used by psychoguru Hannes Scholl. The ex-model gets his inspiration from controversial psycho-concerns including EST/Landmark, Lifespring and Osho.

For your info, five questions which you should ask before psychological training: What is the duration of the training? What conditions have to be met? Are individual problems looked at? What is the theoretical background? What education does the seminar leader have?

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