I am a female graduate student studying social work with an emphasis in counseling, and I am in my early 30s. Around 8 months ago a girlfriend of mine started describing an experience she had with a self-help workshop called "The Forum." She described her recently completed weekend seminar as the most enlightening, mind-altering, and groundbreaking experience of her life. She asked that I be present at what she called her "graduation." She said that she wanted me there because she would feel supported by having the people she loved the most attend this momentous occasion. I had never heard of The Forum before, and although my suspicions were slightly raised about someone graduating after attending a three-day course, I was eventually persuaded by her to show up.
After meeting her out front at the Forum building, where I was told to show up at a certain time--she took me inside into a large room with about 150 people. But then my friend told me that I could not stay there with her and had to go with one of the attendants. When I asked her when and where the graduation was, she just coyly smiled and said that that she had a surprise for me; I was actually going to attend a mini class. I would need to be patient and trust her and everything would be explained soon. Before I left with the attendant she firmly insisted that I should not leave the building until she picked me up in a couple of hours.
I was then ushered out of the large room, into a much smaller room, which was occupied by two other people who looked as bewildered as I did. Behind us, right outside the door was a white clothed table surrounded by an absurdly happy looking staff. After the attendant departed I was promptly given a nametag, and asked to fill out forms, which included such information as my work and home addresses and telephone numbers. Fortunately, even though I still did not know what was going on, I had enough sense to fill out this paperwork with false information.
In a few short minutes, two instructors came into the room, a man and a woman, who both had a glazed look in their eyes, and rigid smiles on their faces. Immediately they started a hard sales pitch as to why I needed to attend The Forum, and what amazing things it could do for my life. The instructors were very intently focussing in on our small group, and making me feel very uncomfortable and awkward. When I asked them what they were offering for their $500.00 weekend they continually responded with very vague answers, and just kept harping on the point that I would need to come down to experience it for myself.
The instructors testified about how much their lives had changed, and weren't there any things about my life which I would like to change and improve. When I told them that I am a reasonably secure and happy person, and that I am satisfied with the vast majority of my life, they gently rebutted, pointing out that it was possible that I was really lying to myself. They could understand why I would not feel safe to open up to them then and there, but that if I attended The Forum seminar I would understand things more clearly than I ever have in my life.
When I got home that night I felt tricked, ambushed, and lied to. But I eventually rationalized my friend's manipulation and lying by telling myself that her heart was in the right place. I convinced myself that she unintentionally manipulated me because of her own excitement and passion for something that gave her so much joy. I wanted to believe her motivation for lying was that she did not want me to miss out on something that was obviously so profound for her; and her actions were driven by love for me as a friend. I was wrong.
In the next few months that followed she began to hound me on the subject of joining The Forum. She would call me after she would complete yet another seminar, and tell me over and over again how this particular seminar changed her life forever. After each seminar she enthusiastically expressed the same sentiment again and again. How she now would never look at anything the same way ever again, how it was the most mind blowing experience of her life, how she met the most amazing people of her life who are incredibly successful, and how everything has changed positively in her life because of the seminar.
Interestingly enough, her life, in my observation has not positively changed even slightly since she has been doing these courses. In fact, quite the opposite has happened. Since she has done The Forum she has been living with a friend due to being kicked out of her apartment for not paying rent. She drives a car that is not registered, nor does she carry any insurance. And she has frequently asked if she could borrow money, or stay at my place if need be. I have not seen any of the glowing success from The Forum that she often raves about. However, I do see a connection between her financial difficulties and her exorbitant payments for her courses. I have maintained our friendship over the past few months hoping that she would eventually lose interest, but very recently her proselytizing has reached a feverish pitch.
A few days ago she called me and proceeded to use her Forum jargon [see Loaded Language], and some routine she had obviously learned at one of her last seminars. She went on to tell me that she has not really been "authentic" about her feelings with me. She continued that she had not been in "integrity" with me because she had not been honest about how much she wanted me to do the course. She wanted to preface by saying how much she loved me, what an amazing friend I have been to her, and that if I truly did love her or see any value in our friendship that I would do The Forum. She told me that she was not going to take no for an answer.
When I said no once again, her pitch went into an even more intense gear. She began attacking me, telling me that I was in a "racket," that I just didn't "get it," and that I was scared to be successful in my life. She continued, saying the very reason of why I did not want to do The Forum was why I needed to do it (these were her exact words). She began to assault every element of my life, and used things that I told her in confidence against me in a very violating way. She told me that I would never have a good relationship with my parents, or be successful in my career, or have a long term committed relationship with a man unless I did The Forum courses. This was the final straw. I realized the constant nagging, and manipulation was not going to stop anytime soon, and decided that our relationship would have to come to an end.
I find it both tragic and loathsome that this organization exists to prey on vulnerable and weak people by offering psychobabble and false hope [sic]. One of the most shocking revelations came when my friend told me a few months earlier that she had been misinterpreting the reason her mother had been so mercilessly cruel to her when she was a child. She told me that all this time she had been in a "racket" thinking in her own head that her mother did not love her. But the Forum taught her to take responsibility, that it really was my friend's fault that her relationship with her mother was so bad today.
But the most shocking of all was The Forum convinced her that the abuse that occurred to her as a child did not really happen to her the way she remembers. In other words, she was convinced that after all these years, she created the whole situation of the abuse in her head, and has just misinterpreted her mother's behavior.
Upon hearing her reveal this I immediately knew that the tactics of The Forum are not only irresponsible, but also downright dangerous [sic]. Not only does The Forum have the ability to financially devastate lives, more significantly it emotionally and morally bankrupts individuals just to turn a buck [sic]. I hope that you can find good use for this information--even if it helps only one person to first critically think before attending any Forum event.