Landmark Session Leads to Counseling

The Press/February 2, 2000
By Michael Rentoul

A Crown Public Health manager took counselling after going through an "abusive" self-help therapy that her employer says led to better health care. Ann Currie, a health promoter, is one of 38 staff who took courses with Landmark Forum, a controversial New Age group therapy on which Crown Public Health says it spent $40,000. The Press estimated yesterday spending of more than $20,000.

Crown Public Health, which has now disclosed the figure, says this did not include salaries of staff who took the course. Ms Currie said she pulled out after the first day of the intensive three-day course feeling emotionally drained and troubled. She sought the help of a clinical psychologist who, after three sessions, declared she had nothing to worry about. Ms Currie said this was contrary to the message imparted at the forum, where participants are urged to contact people in their lives with whom they have "issues."

Ann Currie said she felt under strong pressure to involve people, even though there was no-one she wanted to introduce to the group healing experience. "All this talk about the forum making fabulous workers out of us is so far off beam," she said. Another staff member told The Press that Landmark, which she likened to "pop psychology," suited the business culture fostered by Crown Public Health.

"Managers are buying into a culture that they want. They want yes people and they don't want a past. It is not about public health," the staff member said. National health spokesman Wyatt Creech said taxpayers funded Crown Public Health to pay for health services - not self-help courses for staff. Health Minister Annette King declined to comment.

The forum runs over three 13-hour days and a week night and costs $425. Based on the 1970s teachings of guru Werner Erhard, Landmark has been likened to a cross between scientology and Amway. Crown Health chief executive Evon Currie (no relation) said the courses were not "self-therapy" but professional development. "The reality is that this $40,000 could fund a salary for another manager - but this would simply create red tape," she said.

The spending was 13.4 per cent of Crown Public Health's training budget of $299,000, she said. She had introduced the forum at a staff meeting.

Ann Currie said she worried about younger people on staff. "I wondered whether they would be able to handle the course. Some emerged raving about the experience, saying they'd sorted out things with their relatives. "For me it ran counter to everything I know about adult learning - the long hours, the curtain-drawn rooms, the infrequent breaks. Everything had to go through the group leader and I felt I could not leave when I wanted to."

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