Crown Health Spends $20,000 on Staff 'Therapy'

The Press/February 1, 2000
By Michael Rentoul

A Crown health entity has spent more than $20,000 on a controversial brand of self-help training that some liken to brainwashing. Thirty-eight staff from Crown Public Health Ltd in Christchurch have done courses with the Landmark Forum in the last 12 months. Each course, comprising three 13-hour days and a weeknight, costs $425.

Most courses were done in Christchurch, although Crown Health also paid air flights and accommodation for between nine and 15 staff who took the course in Wellington. The New Age group therapy has been likened by one admirer to a cross between scientology and Amway, and has taken a hold in the corporate sector as a form of "leadership" training. Landmark says its work provides "limitless opportunities for growth," and its graduates are successful.

A sociologist said the forum appealed to people with social or confidence problems. Participants were encouraged to deconstruct their personality in a group setting. They were left "very open and vulnerable." Landmark courses are held in Christchurch every six months. A group of about 130 is expected for the next course in Christchurch late this month.

A one-night introduction pulled about 10 people to the Convention Centre last week. Landmark, a multi-million dollar outfit based in San Franciso, is run in more than 20 countries and is based on the 1970s teachings of guru Werner Erhard. Crown Health chief executive Evon Currie yesterday defended the choice of course. She was not aware of Landmark's reputation. The spending, she said, was also defensible. She declined to give a dollar figure, but said total spending on Landmark made up 13.4 per cent of Crown Health's training budget, which itself was 3.9 per cent of revenue.

Ms Currie said she suggested Landmark at a staff meeting as a form of self-improvement. She had taken the course herself and noticed changes in her ability to communicate. The offer was open to all staff, not just managers. Staff had taken the course individually rather than en masse. Two staff members had pulled out. One staff member told The Press that staff were warned not to apply if they had psychological problems. "Thus, you are singled out as having problems if you do not apply or at least show an interest," she said.

Another staff member said two or three "fragile" staff had taken the course and had come back much quieter than before. One was barred because she was on medication. One staff member was pressured by her colleagues to go but refused. "There was a sense that you should go to please the boss," the source said. "No-one will talk about what happened because it was 'in the group'. That's unlike most work conferences I know."

Landmark participants are encouraged to sign up friends and bring them along. Ms Currie said she was not involved in Landmark. A university source says she was given Ms Currie's name as a Landmark contact.

A woman working from the University of Canterbury's career guidance service has referred students seeking job advice to Landmark. Linda Clark, who is named by sources as another Landmark "contact", said she referred students whom she thought would benefit. One student, Tina Kilpatrick, said she was surprised to find Ms Clark running the course, which she likened to a form of brainwashing. Ms Clark says she acts in a volunteer capacity and does not make money from Landmark. Her employer had agreed to the referrals, she said.

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