The Mary Polaski "L" Series

Index - The Mary Polaski L Series


Preface and Summary
1. My Mental Breakdown Directly Related to Landmark Forum
2. Cases of Mental Breakdown Related to LGAT
3. Psychological Research on LGAT Outcomes
4. List of a Few Training Programs Considered to be LGATs
5. Recent Business Events and Lifespring
6. Analysis of Landmark Education Public Statements
7. Comparison of Lifespring Marketing to Independent Observations
8. Response to Raymond Fowler's Report on The Landmark Forum
9. Personal Conclusions
Appendix A: Text of Court Ruling in Ney Case
Appendix B: Text of Court Ruling on Erhard's Tax Fraud

Preface and Summary

The Mary Polaski "L" Series is intended to provide my opinion about Large Group Awareness Training (LGAT) programs such as The Landmark Forum, Lifespring Basic, and others. My opinion is informed by extensive research that I have conducted on the topic, as well as my own first-hand experience.

Participation in such programs is not recommended. Case histories suggest that the powerful psychological techniques and emotional stressors used in LGAT can in some cases overwhelm the coping mechanisms even of "normal" people who otherwise were functioning well, leading to decompensation, mental breakdown, or transitory psychosis (#2). There is little to suggest that these mental breakdowns lead to long-term patterns of psychopathology. However, the outcome of transitory psychosis by itself is a severe injury. Although some people seem to enjoy the psychoactive effect of their LGAT participation, others who decompensated as a result of their participation have described it as "hellish". Even though the benefits sought by many participants are those of personal growth and psychological well-being, to my knowledge there is no credible evidence that LGAT participation leads to significant improvement in core measures of mental health. If it were not for the intangible nature of the psychological process, this form of amusement product would most likely be banned as unsafe.

Opinions about LGAT are polarized, with some people experiencing a "conversion" or becoming promoters of a particular LGAT system, while others may decry the same program as destabilizing, dangerous, or detrimental (#7). Those who do become converts or proponents of the particular LGAT they participate in, often seem to pay a significant cost in unpaid labor they perform for the LGAT corporation. This cost is usually not accounted for when deciding whether or not to enrol. One might also question whether such converts have been distracted from lifelong goals that they may have focussed on instead. While similar questions may be raised with respect to extreme religious conversion, the lack of labeling for the secular LGAT conversion process is especially problematic.

This polarization seems to exist within the mental health professions no less than among the general public. However, aside from case reports of psychological injury and the lack of evidence that LGAT has any real benefits (#3), consideration of professional ethics (#8) clearly mandates that mental health professionals should avoid LGAT involvement.

I have entered this document into the public domain in the year 2000 under the pen name "Mary Polaski". Please feel free to copy and redistribute this work. (Making a copy of this HTML file is preferable to creating a hyperlink to it. Use File / Save As to make a complete copy.)


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1. Mental Breakdown Directly Related To Landmark Forum

This section reports my experience of mental breakdown related to the Landmark Forum program. Information provided here is according to a clinical opinion I received on the episode.

A number of years ago I participated in a Landmark Forum training session. I decompensated starting toward the end of the sessions, with symptoms worsening over the subsequent few days. My condition improved substantially over the following weeks but did not completely disappear for several months. Extensive psychotherapeutic intervention was required; no medications were prescribed. Eventual recovery was complete.

I experienced ideas of reference, depersonalization and derealization, and paranoid delusions. I cried at length, experienced extreme fear, was extremely anxious, and sometimes incoherent to the point of forsaking language altogether. Diagnosis of transitory psychosis was made under DSM.

Some premorbid anxiety and difficult recent life events were evident on examination, including for example some experienced pain with no evident physical basis. However, there was no previous psychiatric history and no history of any similar episodes or in fact of any mental disorder. A non-immediate family member was treated for depression, and another non-immediate family member may have had a drinking problem. I was not taking medication or other drugs, and drank only very lightly.

The evidence clearly indicates that the Forum training was directly and substantially related to the metal breakdown. The relationship is evident from the timing of the episode, the thematic content of the symptoms, and the lack of any previous or subsequent history of similar disorder. Overall, the structure of the episode was analogous to post-traumatic stress disorder, except that onset was immediate.

Of course, the premorbid anxiety and difficult life situation were also relevant. However, without participation in the Forum training, it is highly unlikely that a psychotic episode would have been experienced. Most likely things would have continued with little change (i.e. no psychiatric diagnosis). If the situation had eventually worsened to a clinically significant degree, then it would be more consistent to have developed depression or an anxiety disorder rather than a brief psychosis.


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2. Cases of Mental Breakdown Related to LGAT

The following are some publicly reported cases of psychological disorder that subjects or their clinicians viewed as significantly related to participation in a Large Group Awareness Training (LGAT). Quality and verifiability of the reports relied on here may vary. As well, cases could conceivably overlap if the subject's name is not reported and if the reported symptoms or other details are similar. It is reasonable to assume that other cases have occurred that have not been reported.


  • Seven cases of treatment required for psychological disturbance after "est" training were reported as early as 1977 [1, 2] and another was reported in 1983 [3]. Subjects evidenced ideas of reference, and in some cases grandiosity. Reportedly, one group of researchers estimated the rate of self-reported breakdown after "est" as about 0.5% [4].
  • A "transitory psychotic episode" and other stress reactions were reported in a study of Lifespring trainees [5].
  • A 35-year-old Australian woman required a week of psychiatric hospitalization and medication following the third day of her advanced Landmark Forum experience, according to the anonymous report [15].
  • Extended participation in a "mass therapy encounter group" was viewed as a cause of one subject's subsequent derealization, attempted suicide, and inability to function, according to a published case report [6].
  • A participant-observer study of a Lifespring training reported that one of the subjects suffered a psychological decompensation during the training and had to be removed from the session [7].
  • A case of mental disorder related to Landmark Forum participation was referred to in court testimony in Berlin [8].
  • A psychotic break and extensive delusions were attributed to the subject's participation in the advanced Landmark course, requiring hospitalization and medication [9].
  • A Landmark Forum participant reported extreme negative after-effects of the training in a popular book [10].
  • Depression, hospitalization, and attempted suicide following the Landmark Forum were attributed to the training by another participant, who reported functioning normally before participating in the Landmark Forum [11].
  • This author experienced a mental breakdown diagnosed as directly related to Landmark Forum participation [12].
  • A twenty-year old woman was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in connection with her Landmark Forum experience. At the time of the report she was not able to return to her previous level of functioning [14].
  • A Virginia woman brought suit over extensive psychiatric intervention and hospitalization required three days after her Landmark Forum participation. The court found, among other things, that psychological injury was not covered by the state law unless it was due to a physical injury [13].


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References for this section

[1] Glass, Kirsch, and Paris, "Psychiatric Disturbances After ..." American Journal of Psychiatry, v. 134, n. 3, 1977.

[2] Kirsch and Glass, "Psychiatric Disturbances Associated With ..." American Journal of Psychiatry, v. 134, n. 11, 1977.

[3] Higget and Murray, "A Psychotic Episode Following ...", Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, v. 67 n. 6, 1983.

[4] Finkelstein, Winograd, Yalom, "Large Group Awareness Training", Annual review of Psychology, v. 33, 1982.

[5] Leiberman, "Effects of a Large Group Awareness Training on ...", American Journal of Psychiatry v. 144, 1987.

[6] Solomon, "Psychotherapy of a Casualty ...", Cultic Studies Journal, v. 5, n. 2, 1988.

[7] Haaken, Adams, "Pathology as Personal Growth ...", Psychiatry, v. 46, 1983.

[8] Administrative Court of Berlin, VG 27 149.95, 1997.

[9] Anonymous, 1999, in /reference/landmark/landmark26.html

[10] Lell, "Das Forum: Protocoll Einer Gehirnwasche ... " ("The Forum: Record of a Brainwashing ... ") ISBN 3-423-36021, Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1997.

[11] Anonymous, 11 Oct 1996, posting.

[12] Mary Polaski "L" Series #1, My Mental Breakdown Related to Landmark Forum, this series.

[13] Ney vs. Landmark Education et al., Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, 92-1979, LEXIS 2373.

[14] Anonymous, 1999, in (now a dead link)

[15] Anonymous, August 2000, in /reference/landmark/landmark39.html


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3. Psychological Research on LGAT Outcomes

Selected research on LGAT process and outcomes is discussed here. This does not include individual cases of disturbance; see the "L" Series #2. This review is meant to provide examples of the state of research; it is not exhaustive.

Fisher and others [1] studied the psychological impact of Landmark Forum participation, using mail-in tests. The sample size was 135. The authors used peer-nomination to select a control group. The authors found no significant outcome, whether positive or negative, of participation. The only exception was a short-term effect on perceived control, which the authors cautioned could be an artifact.


The study is not as conclusive as it seems to be. The study could not determine whether negative effects of participation might have led to early termination of the training and therefore exclusion from the study. A significant drop-out rate was experienced. The sample size would not be adequate to determine negative effects occurring in a small percentage of the population.

Leiberman reported on Lifespring in several studies [2,3,4]. Five high stress responses were found among 289 Basic participants, including one transitory psychosis. Six out of thirty-three Advanced participants were DSM diagnosable after the training, but all were also diagnosable before. The author concludes that the training does not result in lifelong psychopathology. Some positive long-term shifts were found in some measures of values and adjustment, but no long-term changes in core measures of pathology were found.


The overall results suggest that no long-term injury is caused by LGAT. The reported possible long-term peripheral benefits could be attributable to factors coincident with LGAT training rather than the training itself. The author's interest in lifetime psychopathology seems to lead him to discount the importance of the transitory psychosis and other negative high-stress reactions which he himself noted in connection with the training.

Langone [5] reported on an "est" prison trial conducted by other researchers [6]. 313 inmates were randomly allocated to trial and control groups. Positive changes perceived by the "est" participants were not confirmed by behavioral or physiological tests.


The results are consistent with those of Fischer et al and Leiberman. Sample size had similar characteristics to that of Fisher et al, but drop out and control group issues were eliminated by the controlled prison setting. Subjective belief in the training did not translate into measurable behavior changes. The study reference is obscure, and the secondary source is relied on here.

Haaken and Adams [7] conducted a participant-observer study of the Lifespring Basic training. They concluded that although many participants experienced a sense of enhanced well-being due to the training, these experiences were essentially pathological. They found that the training undermined ego functions and promoted regression, submission and surrender.


The report is interestingly consistent both with negative accounts that view such trainings as premeditated attacks on the self [8] and with positive participant stories that view the trainings as a source of elation. Applicability of the results to other LGAT trainings is a matter of judgement. See the "L" Series #7 for further discussion of this paper.

References for this section

[1] Fisher, Silver, Chinsky, Goff, Klar, and Zagieboylo, "Psychological effects of ... ", Annual Review of Psychology, v. 33, 1989.

[2] Leiberman, "Effects of Large Group Awareness Training..." American Journal of Psychiatry, v. 144, 1987.

[3] Leiberman, "Perceptions of Changes in Self ...", in "Self Change ... ", Klar, Fisher, Chinsky and Nadler eds., 1992.

[4] Leiberman, "Growth Groups in the 1980's ...", in "Handbook of Group Psychotherapy, ...", Furhriman and Burlingame, eds., 1984.

[5] Langone, "Essay: Large Group Awareness Training", Cult Observer, v. 15, n. 1, 1998.

[6] Hosfor, Moss, Cavior, Kerish, "Research on Erhard Seminar ..." Manuscript 2419, American Psychological Association, 1982.

[7] Haaken, Adams, "Pathology as Personal Growth ...", Psychiatry v. 46, 1983.

[8] Cushman, "Iron Fists, Velvet Gloves: A Study of a Mass Marathon ...", Psychotherapy, v. 26, 1989.


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4. List of Training Programs Considered to be LGATs

Large Group Awareness Training is perhaps most easily delineated by simply referring to the programs which people consider to be LGAT. While this does not provide a definition for the purpose of social control or psychological research, it may still be helpful for general discussion.

Of course, each of the programs is unique. Most training processes have important features that are difficult to quantify. Therefore, observations and commentary about one program cannot be applied directly to others. Furthermore, many programs constantly change and evolve. By listing these programs as a group, one only means that various community members have labelled a version of them as large group awareness trainings. Most are currently listed under the heading of Large Group Awareness Training by a significant organization interested in the topic, while the others have been referred to in the literature as examples of LGAT. The trainings and the groups that sponsor them are quite diverse.


- Lifespring Basic Training
- est
- The Forum (Landmark Forum)
- ManKind Project
- Context Associated program
- Sterling Institute of Relationship
- Momentus
- Silva Mind Control

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5. Recent Business Events at Lifespring

This brief section reports on recent business events at Lifespring.

A major business information service reports that the former Lifespring central office is closed.

The Lifespring office in Texas indicates that they have purchased the name from the former organization, subsequent to illness of the Lifespring founder.

Lifespring Basic Training seems to have been replaced by The Lifespring Adventure, while the old Lifespring Advanced course has become Lifespring Challenge. The third-level course is now Lifespring Quest. There are numerous other courses and programs, ranging in cost up to $15,000. Free promotions have been offered for the Lifespring Adventure, suggesting that the Texas office wishes to build membership.

The Awareness Page ( lists several organizations as former Lifespring regional offices.


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6. Analysis of Landmark Education Public Statements

This note gives opinions on a few of the public statements of Landmark Education Corporation, which operates one of the most prominent LGAT programs.

The specific statements by Landmark analysed here concern their founder, the nature of their program, and the "cult" label. These topics have little interest in themselves; the interest is in how Landmark interprets and presents matters. Landmark's attitude to fact and opinion is of interest because Landmark's dominant market position makes them central to the LGAT industry. Therefore the emphasis in this analysis is on Landmark's use of the marketing license, rather than the specific topics.

Quotations here are from the Landmark Education "controversies" web page, a dead link) and immediately linked pages, as of 5/2000, except as noted.

The items discussed here in detail should be viewed as only a few examples. The reader is invited to analyse other Landmark statements if interested further.

Analysis of LEC statements: Landmark's portrayal of the inventor of The Landmark Forum

Landmark states, "Recently some of those misconceptions and misunderstandings have begun to be corrected in the mainstream media. For example, in the March 16th, 1998 issue of Time Magazine, false allegations about tax fraud and Mr. Erhard abusing his family were laid to rest." Landmark refers to articles in the LA Daily News (9/12/96) and Time Magazine (3/16/98).

This is a statement of opinion, that the Time Magazine article laid some public concerns to rest. The phrasing suggests that there have been many misconceptions that could be rectified. In this way the exoneration of Erhard is made to stand in for repair of an untold number of slanders against Landmark or Erhard.

A casual reading of the second sentence - referring to "false allegations about tax fraud ..." might give the impression that Erhard did not tax commit fraud or abuse his family. Reading more carefully, though, the statement only says there were some false allegations "about" these topics.

While Landmark may have the opinion that allegations of tax fraud were laid to rest by the Time Magazine article, others might well feel that Erhard's taxes were laid to rest by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in the ruling on cases 93-70357, 93-70359, and 93-70360 filed Feb 8 1995 (Appendix B). The judge thoroughly rejected Erhard's arguments, and upheld the imposition of penalties for "understatement of tax" based on the law concerning "any sham or fraudulent transaction". Appeal to the Supreme Court was denied, making the ruling final. It is hard to imagine a more plain assessment that Erhard did use fraudulent transactions in an illegitimate attempt to reduce his taxes.

One wonders whom the Time Magazine reporters relied on for information, as the Time article is clearly misleading and imbalanced. Time only reported that Erhard's tax fraud "proved false and won him $200,000 from the IRS". The article does not mention that Erhard was found to have understated his tax by engaging in sham transactions and that penalties were imposed on Erhard as a result. (The two statements can be reconciled: early reports of tax fraud might have mistaken some particular detail, might have been unprovable at the time they were made, or might have involved wrongful disclosure -- all such faux paux would be consistent with the Court's finding against Erhard.)

It is amazing that Landmark cites a "lack of thorough research" as the cause of "misleading and imbalanced stories" while also citing the Time article as correcting misunderstandings of Erhard. If Landmark knows of the ruling against Erhard -- and it is reasonable to think they might, given that Erhard's brother has been the long-time Chief Executive, that Landmark has held a long-term licensing agreement with Erhard, and that Landmark considers Erhard to be a "friend" -- then one may well question Landmark's promotion of this misleading and imbalanced story on their web page. Of course, it could simply be an oversight.

A detailed analysis of Erhard's alleged abusiveness is not attempted here, except to note that the allegedly repudiating daughter was not the only one to have commented negatively on Erhard. His other daughter made the same or similar allegations at or about the same time (see Newsweek Feb 18, 1991, p. 72).

Analysis of LEC statements: Landmark's statements on their program

Landmark writes, "... a few people in the 1980's without researching, characterized Mr. Erhard's programs as psychological in nature. The facts are clear that Landmark's programs do not constitute and are not based in psychology or psychotherapy. Dr Raymond Fowler, the head of the American Psychological Association, speaking personally about his experience of the Forum, said, '... what I experienced was nothing remotely like psychotherapy.'"

The first sentence refers to "psychological in nature", while the second and third sentences refer to "psychology or psychotherapy". These are two quite different things. The first refers to actual psychological impact, use of techniques, etc. The second seems to refer to a practice of psychology or psychotherapy, commonly regulated by law, and having certain traditions and practices.

By juxtaposing these two senses of very similar words -- "psychological" and "psychology" -- Landmark is near to equivocation. A true equivocation would be the use of the very same word in two different senses, in a single context. An equivocation tends to unify the two statements; a casual listener might transfer the sense of the word from one statement to the other. In this example, one might carelessly transfer the fact that Landmark's program is not a professional practice of psychology, and use this unjustifiably to support an opinion that the program is not psychological in nature.

It is a matter of fact that LGAT is not a legally prescribed practice of psychology, and it is undisputed that LGAT is not conducted according to the traditions of psychotherapy. It could still be, however, that the program is psychological in nature, utilizes an understanding of the human psyche developed through psychological research, has a powerful psychological effect, is sought by clients in order to achieve psychological change, etc. While some psychological effects may be testable, these latter claims are often a matter of judgement (i.e. opinion) concerning the nature and perceived effects of the program.

Certainly a number of professionals have viewed the Forum process as significantly psychological in nature. Indeed, before reports of negative psychological impact began to appear in professional publications, some psychologists felt that "est" might prove a useful adjunct to psychotherapy. (Although The Forum is not identical to "est", a number of professionals have viewed them as very closely related. As well, The Forum training product was a business successor to the "est" program and was designed by the same person as "est" was.) While a few people who _didn't_ do research might have characterized The Forum as psychological in nature, it's also true that other people who _have_ done a lot of research have viewed the programs from the perspective of psychological impact. See "L" Series #1, #2, and #3. The courts have also viewed the psychological impact of the Forum as worthy of discussion; see for example the Ney case (Appendix A) in which it was found that psychological injury was not actionable absent of physical injury. Finally, the origins of LGAT as a type of "encounter group" has extensive connections to the origins of group psychotherapy. For example, one popular textbook series discussed encounter groups as an alternative type of therapy whose goal of "happiness" is broader and more diffuse than the goals originally associated with psychotherapy.

Landmark's repeated reference to Dr Fowler as head of the APA, merits some scrutiny. It is clear that Fowler is writing in his personal capacity. As such, his comments carry no more weight than that of any other psychologist. Yet, Landmark's repeated reference to his capacity in the APA cannot help but entwine the authority of the APA in Fowler's personal commentary. The APA itself, however, does not endorse such programs. There is no reason I know of to think that any important fraction of professionals views LGAT favorably. One psychologist I spoke with exclaimed "that's reckless!" when he realized that no pre-encounter psychological testing is required. Referring to Landmark's conduct, a psychiatrist commented "it makes me angry". Both are members in good standing of their respective professional organizations.

Such comments are not solicited and promoted by Landmark. On the contrary, one well-known professional -- a psychologist specializing in persuasion, LGAT, and cults, Dr. Singer -- could only speak her mind about LGAT at the cost of extensive legal correspondence. Many individuals are not willing to take such risks or to pay the dollar or emotional costs of encountering a multimillion-dollar corporation. As Landmark states, their policy is to "take appropriate action" concerning their representation in the public eye.

Analysis of LEC statements: Landmark's statement concerning the "cult" label

Landmark claims, "The allegation that the work of Landmark Education is cult-like has been shown to be completely inaccurate in every sense". They cite Dr. Fowler, Lowell Streiker, Dr. Singer, and a legal settlement with Cult Awareness Network.

The statement is one of opinion. The phrasing is absolutist, stating their opinion as having been proven, complete, and covering every sense. The evidence cited by Landmark fails, on the whole, to convincingly support the immoderate nature of this statement.

Landmark's hyperbole is of interest because it could be viewed as a use of the "anchoring" effect. Psychological studies have shown that people are influenced by an initial presentation even if they know the presentation to be irrelevant. For example: when presented with a small random number and then asked to guess the date on which a certain historical event occurred, people tend to guess a much earlier (i.e. smaller) date than they do if initially presented with a large random number -- even if they are told the initial number was chosen randomly. In the present example, one can assume that Landmark's opinion about their own program should be taken with a grain of salt, since it is in their own interest to promote the program. Yet, one might still unwittingly use this extreme and absolute view as a kind of "anchor" in subsequently evaluating opinions of the program. That could result in a more favorable ending opinion than would otherwise be the case.

What then of the evidence cited by Landmark?

The citations of Dr. Singer and of the CAN agreement are examples of, in a sense, co-opting the enemy. Both parties were actual or potential legal adversaries of Landmark Education.

Landmark currently promotes a single sentence by Dr. Singer stating that in her opinion Landmark and its program is not a cult. Hardly an endorsement on its own right, this sentence does not reveal Dr. Singer's complete opinion. In her book she expressed the view that LGATs differ from cults in their economic structure, in the fact that participants are used to enrol their family members, and in the length of time that LGATs retain participants -- but that LGATs may have some important similarities to cults in some of the psychological techniques used during indoctrination. Far from supporting Landmark's claim, Dr. Singer seems to have the view that programs like the Landmark Forum, while they are not cults, do in fact have some coercive features that can be usefully compared to cult coercion.

It certainly is odd to cite the former CAN as an authority stating that Landmark is not cult-like. After all, Landmark brought a suit against CAN essentially for giving the impression that it is cult-like. The CAN agreement must be understood in the context of a series of lawsuits by Scientology, and one by Landmark Education, leading to bankruptcy proceedings. In any case, the CAN agreement does not support Landmark's extreme statement above. Under the agreement, CAN did not claim that Landmark is a cult -- nor did they say it isn't. The agreement certainly doesn't say that all cult allegations have been shown to be false. Indeed, according to one transcript, CAN leader Cynthia Kisser testified in court that Landmark "might be" a cult or might have cult-like features.

However, another version of the transcript of Kisser's testimony, reportedly received from Landmark, omits this part of Kisser's testimony. Likewise, the citation of the CAN agreement currently promoted by Landmark on their web site is also an extract. It does not include such information as the reference to Steve Pressman's book -- a book which Landmark reportedly prefers not be made available. Nor does this extract contain the description of how CAN provided information titled "Destructive Cults" and "Who Are They" and included The Forum in a list of groups. In these cases, Landmark seems to show a willingness to selectively edit documents so that only information favorable to Landmark is presented. (Note: these documents were obtained from D. Chase's web site; some documents were provided in multiple versions, one or more of which were referenced as being provided by Landmark.)

Landmark's citations of Fowler and Streiker are less retrograde: Fowler and Streiker are supporters rather than detractors.

While Dr Fowler's report does state his view that Landmark Forum is not cult-like, it is primarily concerned with other issues such as the applicant screening process. See the "L" Series #8 for a detailed discussion of his report.

The 1993 letter from Lowell Streiker, provided by Landmark, is of interest in a number of ways. First of all, the letter is addressed to "Herr Kristensen" and begins "I have been informed that Landmark Education is listed by your organization as a 'cult'"; the letter then proceeds with a rebuttal. On whose behalf is Streiker writing? Who informed him about Kristensen? It almost sounds as though Streiker is writing on behalf of Landmark Education, as if he were an employee or assistant of theirs. If so, his independence is in question. In any case, Streiker's sense of judgement is certainly under question. He is filed under "Cult Apologists?" by Rick Ross (), with a quotation from the "new CAN" newsletter (Vol. 1, Issue II) describing him as "of invaluable help to the new CAN". According to Rick Ross's other reports, the new CAN is operated by the Foundation for Religious Freedom, listed as a "Scientology-related" entity under an IRS-Scientology agreement. The Scientology-related take-over of CAN after its bankruptcy was widely publicized. If these reports are accurate, Streiker's involvement with Scientology completely negates any credentials he might have had in the matter of judging what is or isn't a cult.

Landmark's citation of Streiker is also interesting for the extensive annotations and interpretations which Landmark provides. For each cult characteristic in Streiker's letter, Landmark attaches their own claim of why the Forum does not have the characteristic. Although consisting primarily of opinions, these statements also have some true but largely irrelevant facts interspersed. The truth of the factual statements may incline one to accept the statements of opinion, even when the two are actually unrelated. As just one example, consider Streiker's statement that "cult initiation techniques are frequently based on deception and psychological coercion". To support the opinion that there is no deception or coercion, Landmark adduces the following claims:

(1) To show a lack of deception or coercion, Landmark cites a study as showing high customer satisfaction and high customer belief that the training was valuable.


The study as reported does not have any direct bearing on the use of deception or coercion. Furthermore, no information was given about the methodology of the study, making it impossible to assess its worth. Finally, on the face of it, a high degree of belief among members could be taken as evidence that the system is cult-like, rather than that it isn't.

(2) To show a lack of deception or coercion, Landmark claims "There is no deception."


This statement of opinion just reasserts the original claim without any other support. Whether or not deception occurs depends, of course, on many factors. For example, would a false understanding arise if a reader encountered Landmark's discussion about Erhard's taxes? (see above). Not if the reader already was prepared with supplementary information about the court ruling against Erhard. But a casual reader who did not have such information might come to a wrong conclusion about Erhard's honesty in tax matters. There is only a fine difference between asserting a false fact, and providing true facts that could lead to a wrong impression. Ultimately, the term "deception" refers to the speaker's intentions -- whether they intend the listener to reach a correct conclusion or an erroneous conclusion. As the speaker's intentions are not objectively verifiable, ultimately the matter of deception is one of opinion.

(3) To show a lack of deception or coercion, Landmark claims that no participants are separated from their family or environment, "and the notion of being coerced to take the Landmark Forum is ludicrous."


The last statement is again simply a statement of opinion, restating the claim to be proved but not adding any evidence or discussion. Separation from family and workplace is irrelevant to the question of deception. Although coercion could involve separation from family or environment, such separation is not strictly necessary for coercion to occur. Not all coercion is physical, and it may be either strong or mild. Much like deception, "coercion" refers ultimately to important subjective elements - such as the participant's evaluation of what their alternatives are at any given time. For discussion of coercion in the Forum program, see the "L" Series #8. Finally, to my knowledge no-one has studied whether LGAT participation leads to increased or decreased family cohesion.

Analysis of LEC statements: Landmark's enrolment process

Landmark requires that each attendee to complete a disclosure and enrolment form prior to attending the training sessions. The form refers to "stress", but does not describe in detail the techniques used in the Landmark Forum.

It is common for the prospective client to verbally agree to attend the Landmark Forum and to provide their credit card number for the purpose of payment, prior to receiving the enrolment and disclosure forms. In fact, this seems to be Landmark's standard procedure; when I asked for a copy of the enrolment and disclosure information prior to agreeing to attend The Forum, my request was refused.

Under such procedures, the client has a prior commitment to attending when reading the disclosure form. This could lead the client to psychologically discount any negative features of the disclosure, given the only other alternative of retracting their prior commitment. How can the disclosure be instrumental in deciding to participate, if the client has already agreed to participate before receiving the disclosure? Furthermore, the "disclosure" fails to plainly state the nature of the program itself; terms such as "a rigorous inquiry" are hardly adequate descriptors. Unfortunately, practicalities prevent a full discussion; however, see the "L" Series #8 for further comments on consent and intimidation in The Landmark Forum.


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7. Comparison of Lifespring Marketing to Independent Observations

Lifespring is a prominent LGAT corporation, perhaps the second best known after Landmark, and one of the few that has been studied in the psychology literature. See the "L" Series #5 for information about recent corporate changes at Lifespring.

This section of the "L" Series compares Lifespring marketing materials to the independent observations made by Haaken and Adams in their participant-observer study. This is not simply a study of dichotomies; of interest are the points at which the two perspectives coincide.

Lifespring marketing materials quoted here are drawn from their recent web site ( The Haaken and Adams study dates from 1983, raising the question of whether the two can be compared. While programs do change over time, and Lifespring has recently undergone corporate changes and has revised its offerings, it seems doubtful that these changes could be extensive enough to account for the very substantial difference in perspective of the two sources. This is all the more the case as the marketing materials are of a general rather than detailed nature.

The Haaken and Adams study, titled "Pathology as Personal Growth: a Participant-Observer Study of Lifespring Training", appeared in Psychiatry v. 46, August 1983; a transcript is available online at /reference/lifespring.

In general, and not surprisingly, Lifespring marketing materials promote the training in very favorable terms as "empowering" and "allowing you to fully engage your heartfelt commitments with freedom and passion". In contrast, Haaken and Adams argue that

"[...] while many participants experienced a sense of enhanced well-being as a consequence of the training, these experiences were essentially pathological. First, ego functions were systematically undermined and regression was promoted by environmental structuring, infantilizing of participants and repeated emphasis on submission and surrender. Second, the ideational or interpretive framework provided in the training was also based upon regressive modes of reasoning -- the use of all-or-nothing categories, absolutist logic and magical thinking, all of which are consistent with the egocentric thinking of young children. Third, the content of the training stimulated early narcissistic conflicts and defenses, which accounts for the elation and sense of heightened well-being achieved by many participants. The devaluation of objective constraints upon a person's action promoted grandiose fantasies of unlimited power. A corollary to this devaluation of the external world was that interactions with others laced substance. People appeared to be interchangeable, so that ephemeral, indiscriminate emotional contacts were experienced as profound and meaningful. Identification with Lifespring necessitated considerable idealization so that any threat to this experience was aggressively defended against".

Lifespring describes the training as "designed to enhance the individual's effectiveness and satisfaction". Haaken and Adams describe the training as having a "disinhibitive effect" in which "[r]easoning and intellectual processes were minimized while affective states were intensified". Arguably, a bath in affect could be a source of satisfaction for a person who is out of touch with their feelings. However, effectiveness could only be increased in the sense of affective awareness. True effectiveness requires substantial reasoning and intellectual processing, precisely what was devalued by the training. Ultimately, satisfaction also requires significant ego development and an exercise of autonomy. Yet Haaken and Adams found that a major feature of the training was regression and a shifting of ego functions to the session leader, coupled with an extraordinary emphasis on submission and surrender. This contradicts Lifespring's use of the term "individual", as autonomous action was found to be denigrated in the session. Specifically Haaken and Adams found that "Audience responses were managed in a way which reduced the ability of the participants to think critically and simultaneously inflated their self-esteem. [...] What was rewarded by the trainer was compliance or pseudo-compliance. Participants who [...] suggested a different way of conceptualizing a problem had their statements dismissed, were subjected to ridicule, or were confused with paradoxical logic." One of the authors was subjected to attacked for maintaining an independent viewpoint.

These observations also contradict Lifespring's assertion that "Lifespring is not interested in telling participants what to think, but rather in allowing them to observe their own patterns of thinking [...]". It is not easy to see how the phrase "allowing them" can apply to the Lifespring training, given the extremely controlled and rigid training features described by Haaken and Adams. For example, they commented "[w]e found that the experience of having our movements monitored throughout the five days (while being told to be spontaneous) was particularly unsettling, evoking feelings of powerlessness and dependency. The prolonged eye contact required in all pair exercises had a certain hypnotic effect in that it became increasingly difficult to withdraw from the influence of the exercise". What comes to mind is the transactional analysis of an early "est" observer who referred to bringing about a "forced closure of previously energetically avoided" conflicts. It seems like a perversion, however, to suggest that by forcing someone into a certain psychological state you "allow" them to experience feelings that they otherwise might not. "Force" here must be understood as psychological persuasion and environmental structuring bringing about an effect intended by the trainer, irrespective of the original intentions of the client. All indications in the Haaken and Adams report are that developing client autonomy is not of any interest to Lifespring.

Where Haaken and Adams might agree with Lifespring is in Lifespring's promotion for their Trainer-in-Training program: "Since 1974, Lifespring has demonstrated an unparalleled skill in training men and women from all walks of life to mold themselves into Lifespring Trainers." The promotion agrees with Haaken and Adams' observation that over the course of the training "participants came increasingly to identify with the trainer", leading to childish feelings of omnipotence. Noting that "Exercises which mobilized [...] feelings of inflated well-being and exaggerated personal power, were alternated with attacking exercises [that] evoked feelings of shame and worthlessness [...]". Seemingly, given the polarized alternatives of becoming powerful by identifying with the leader vs. being cast into a state of infantile badness, many participants opt for the former. The promotion by Lifespring contains an extra twist: they claim not only that they mold people into their own image, but that they teach people to view themselves as malleable and to mold themselves into this "powerful" form. This, however, cannot mean greater autonomy and independence, because it only extends so far as clients mold themselves into Lifespring trainers; i.e. in a manner prescribed by Lifespring.


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8. Response to Raymond Fowler's Report on Landmark

This section of the "L" Series critiques the report by Dr. Raymond Fowler on the Landmark Forum, which was commissioned by Landmark. The report contents are similar to, but more extensive than, a letter that Fowler wrote several years earlier. The report is available from the Landmark "controversies" page http://www.landmarkeduca (now a dead link), in the file (now a dead link)

Fowler's comments are divided into four sections: harm caused, screening of applicants, relation of Forum to psychotherapy, and thought reform / manipulation used. In all cases Fowler's report is favorable to his client (Landmark). Although this rebuttal follows the outline of Fowler's report, other issues related to LGAT generally, such as ethics, are also discussed.

Response to Fowler: Harmful effects

Fowler's comments in this section are based on his observation of a Forum session that he attended; he "saw nothing [...] to suggest that it would be harmful to any participant." This claim is at variance with my own experience, in which the psychoactive effects of the group encounter led directly to decompensation and a brief psychosis ("L" Series #1). Fowler's statement is also at odds with several other case reports of psychological harm in relation to Forum participation (see "L" Series #2). By these reports, one might speculate that the emotional stress of Forum participation can result in overwhelmed -- or in any case lowered -- psychological defenses and the temporary disruption of accustomed coping mechanisms, leading to an uncontrolled outcome such as transitory psychosis.

Fowler does not define what he would consider to be "harm" resulting from Forum participation. While some might view "harm" very narrowly, as the instigation of lifetime psychopathology, a more appropriate standard of "harm" is the onset of any DSM diagnosable condition. That standard includes a brief decompensation.

Fowler's comments do not seem to be informed by any legal or other correspondence Landmark may have had with former clients relating to claims of injury. The existence of individual reports of harm, suggests that Landmark may have significant information relating to claims of harm. If so, it seems disingenuous of Landmark to promote a report on the topic that does not refer to such information.

Finally, Fowler does not refer to the psychology literature on the Forum, on LGAT, or on group encounters (See "L" series #3 for a very small sample of the literature). Fowler's report ignores the substantial and troubled history of LGAT and other encounter programs, including specifically the Landmark Forum and its predecessor, est. This lack of perspective may make the report suitable for Landmark's publicity purposes, but greatly reduces its objectivity and usefulness as a source of information. Such an endorsement can hardly be called a "study."

Response to Fowler: Screening of applicants

Fowler describes Landmark screening procedures, consisting primarily of: an application questionnaire; follow-up question procedures that are triggered by negative responses on the questionnaire; and observation by program leaders. Fowler judges that these procedures provide adequate control. However, there are a number of serious defects to these procedures when viewed from the perspective of ensuring safety (and informed consent) of the participants.

First, the screening is driven by self-report by the client. Most obviously, lying in response to the questionnaire may be a sign of mental illness or incompetence. Therefore, Fowler's statement that "[...] mentally ill and emotionally disturbed individuals are screened out of Landmark Forum [...]" is not justified.

Perhaps more at issue is the person with no history of mental illness of any kind and with no experience in psychological change settings, who has a novel experience of disorientation, confusion or imminent decompensation during the training sessions. It would be absurd for a professional psychologist to claim that a lay person in such a situation can be relied upon to evaluate their psychiatric situation and take remedial action. Yet the Landmark self-report procedure requires exactly that. While The Forum exposes participants to considerable psychic stressors, Landmark's stance toward the psychological well- being of its clients fails the most basic requirement: evaluation and testing of the subject. Clients are not tested for psychological strength prior to participation, and no individual attention is given to a client unless and until they act out -- by which time it may be too late. Landmark's approach may sometimes allow them to pick up the pieces, or to avoid participation by the most extremely disturbed, but it hardly can be viewed as a responsible approach to safety during self-exploration.

Fowler's opinion is that "the application form is well designed to inform applicants of the nature of the program and the requirements and responsibilities of a participant". My own experience of the Landmark application process, however, is that it provides very little information about the course methods, process, or result. The most informative part of the application gives the formal hours of the course and advises that the course is not just an intellectual exercise -- whatever that might mean. The training description, as far as there is any description, negatively states what the training is not, rather than what it is. The positive phrases, such as "rigorous inquiry", have little specific meaning. The application does not discuss the nature of the group process, the intense self-disclosure by participants, the frequency with which clients are brought to tears, the highly structured (some would say controlling) nature of the program, the provision of an alternative cognitive framework, etc. While applicants do briefly attend one of the follow- up group sessions before enrolling, this experience is not comparable to the LGAT experience because the follow-up sessions are different from the LGAT sessions and because the applicant exposure is brief and is contextualized by the application process. Informed consent is discussed below.

In another section of his report, Fowler claims that "participants are challenged to examine their ways of thinking much as they might be in a philosophy course". But it surely stretches the limits of credulity to claim that that the process of marathon group encounter is somehow like the process in a course in philosophy, such as a university course. The Forum process is characterized by powerful emotional stressors, the disengagement of critical faculties, outright denial of any independent views put forward by participants, subtle psychological manipulation including an emphasis on obedience, direct escalating confrontation resulting in intimidation, intensive self-disclosure by clients, and a general emotional exhaustion or catharsis often accompanied by tears. What limited philosophical content there is in The Forum, is of an extremely radical kind which generally devalues external reality or which makes absolutist claims e.g. that people are programmable machines. A philosophy course, on the other hand, is characterized by a clear syllabus and emphasis of content over process, engagement of critical abilities by the extensive discussion of alternative viewpoints, intellectual more often than emotional engagement, infrequent if any emotional self disclosure, extensive time for reflection between classes, and the production of researched writing and commentary rather than catharsis and tears.

Fowler's conflation of philosophical content and psychological process is typical of the way in which Landmark promotes itself as "educational". Inappropriate analogies to education and philosophy, when promoting a group encounter product, may be symptomatic of a basic dilemma of the industry: accurate description of the product requires that one refer to psychological concepts and psychological effect, yet public laws limit the use of such terms as "psychology" and "psychologist". If LGAT operators were to claim psychological benefits, even if not claiming to be psychologists, they might be at risk of a suit for practicing psychology without a license. Nonetheless, many of the reasons that clients take the training, and many of the benefits that are promoted, are manifestly psychological in nature.

Fowler's comparisons of The Forum to Peace Corps training, or to conversations among friends and family, are similarly misplaced. Peace Corp training traditionally is in a small group and is focussed on learning a foreign language and acquiring the technical skills required for the tasks at hand; "sensitivity" in this context refers mainly to intercultural differences. Conversations with family and friends may have considerable emotional intensity, but this intensity is generally spread out over time and is in the context of one or a few intimate and multifaceted relationships. Neither the family nor the Peace Corps has significant resemblance to LGAT.

Finally, Fowler notes that "[t]hose who have questions about their ability to handle stress are recommended to not participate". The application process, however, does not indicate the kinds of emotional stressors and the overall group dynamics that are used in the training. Indeed, the terms "normal" and "everyday" are used when discussing stress and emotions on the Landmark application. Given the misplaced comparisons and extremely vague descriptions promoted by Landmark, one might easily conclude that the stress alluded to is normal, everyday, or like that of a university course. Few have any questions about their ability to handle such stress. Even if the client were to fully realize the nature of LGAT participation, there is little to suggest that the client can accurately self-assess their ability to handle emotional stress. Finally, a lack of questions from the client does not indicate that the client is well informed.

Informed consent is a complex topic. At the least, informed consent requires that the client actually understands what they are agreeing to and introspectively agrees with direct implications of their decision; furthermore the decision must be consistent with the client's long-established world view. An impulsive decision, one informed on paper only, one which cannot be considered rational in the context of the person's long-established beliefs and goals, or a decision whose implications are not agreed to, is most likely not an informed decision. From this perspective, it is questionable whether it is even possible to ensure informed consent with respect to LGAT, because the intense emotional marathon is difficult to comprehend prior to experiencing it, and there is no opportunity to reflect on it until it is past. One cannot assume the client has the capacity to introspect, assess their psychological state, and decide to discontinue participation during such a compressed encounter. In psychotherapy this problem of consent is significantly mitigated by the extended time period and gradual nature of the therapy, whereby the client has several days or a week after each hour of process, in which to introspect and determine if they consent to continuing.

Response to Fowler: Relation of Forum to psychotherapy

Fowler correctly observes that The Forum is not a practice of psychology, does not follow the traditions of psychotherapy, and does not have the benefits of psychotherapy. This is not to say, however, that The Forum does not have a powerful psychological or psychoactive effect. Some researchers have viewed the techniques used in some LGAT programs as closely related to those used in some psychotherapies. See the "L" Series #6. Fowler's attempts to say what The Forum is, rather than what it is not, are less successful. His comparisons to a philosophy course, a family relationship, and the Peace Corps have been discussed above.

What is missing from Fowler's discussion of The Forum and psychology is any concern with professional ethics.

LGAT is not a professional practice of psychology, and therefore is not bound by the ethical code of that profession. But the significant involvement of professionals such as Dr. Fowler raises important ethical issues. It is evident that LGAT clients seek, and sometimes claim to have obtained, benefits of personal growth, improved relationships, improved attitude, happiness, productivity, or other forms of improved psychological well-being. When a professional psychologist endorses a training product that is marketed to such ends, the professional has endorsed a particular means of achieving personal growth. If an endorsement of LGAT occurs in the context of individual psychotherapy, then the LGAT process is even more intimately bound up with therapeutic ends. In either case, the professional must be able to subscribe to the means used. Here lies the difficulty, because the means used in the LGAT industry are grossly incompatible with professional codes of conduct. Among other matters, the use of clients as unpaid workers to fulfil business requirements is an exploitation of the client relationship that is completely inadmissible in professional practice, and for good reason. The psychologist or psychiatrist who endorses an LGAT is in the untenable position of endorsing an unethical system (i.e. contrary to professional standards) for achieving personal growth and improved psychological well-being.

Furthermore, there is no research I know of that convincingly demonstrates any core long-term psychiatric benefit of LGAT participation (see the "L" series #3 for discussion). From the perspective of achieving lasting, measurable behavioral benefits other than those of just being a member in a system, LGAT seems to be mostly quackery. Just because some clients like it, is no reason to think that it is actually beneficial. Any professional endorsement of LGAT that implicitly suggests improved psychological health is at risk of being inappropriate due to being a recommendation of an ineffective intervention. Generic endorsements also risk being ill-suited to the psychological situation of the individual.

The only explanations that come to mind for endorsements of LGAT by psychologists or psychiatrists is that professionals endorsing LGAT either have lost their objectivity by becoming "converts" themselves, or else as long-time practitioners are so well defended against psychological attack that they underestimate the effect of LGAT on the inexperienced and sensitive layman.

It is quite shocking that a few of our most highly placed professionals have allowed their personal enthusiasm to obscure major ethical problems and have let themselves endorse a system of exploitative quackery as a route to personal growth.

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