Weekend Miracle or Unknown Risk?

KSTP-TV/February 5, 2004

The Landmark Forum leader asks the participants, "Who will you be in life that you have never been?"

The leader is Lonny McLaughlin. He used to own hair salons. Now he says he can transform lives.

To do so he has conversations with participants.

One woman told him, "I don't want to be that kind of parent." McLaughlin answered, "Well you are."

The Landmark Forum starts early on a Friday morning. Over the next three days, people grapple with their darkest demons in front of nearly one hundred strangers.

One woman talked about her relationship with her mother. "I apologized for being really defensive with her."

They bare their souls and risk ridicule from McLaughlin. This is part of his response to one woman who's frustrated with her marriage. "One thing in your marriage drives you crazy? Oh my. One thing. Are you kidding me? One thing? There's about ten people here who want to kill you."

Dr. Gregg Eichenfield is with the University of Minnesota. He says some people would consider Landmark Forum a sort of lay psychotherapy.

We showed some of our undercover video to Eichenfield who told us, "The person is left oftentimes unresolved with those issues and concerns and as a result of that there's potential for more damage to be done than benefit."

Dr. Eichenfield is concerned whether Landmark's leaders have enough mental health training to deal with the emotional floodgates that are opened. But a Landmark leader says the forums are for healthy people. Dr. Nancy Zapolski says, "The Landmark Forum is not mental health, the Landmark Forum is not psychology, it is about transformation."

But what is transformation?

Rick Ross is a national critic of Landmark. He says, "People don't know what they're getting involved in."

Ross has developed a website says he hears complaints from people who are often surprised they're asked to share stories in front of others. He says it's an issue of control, long days, elbow to elbow with few breaks. Ross sums it up this way. "The process they put people through has disturbing parallels to what has been described as thought reform or brainwashing."

It's a concern that comes up right away from those attending. We watched as a participant asked, "I'm just wondering if this is some kind of brainwashing?" McLaughlin responded, "You can't brainwash somebody in a classroom in three days and an evening. It's not possible."

Landmark says what is possible is a whole new way of living. But Mclaughlin tells people they won't reach their new goals unless they share those goals with friends and family.

He tells them, "I want you to have miracles that move you to tears. I want you to have magic and breakthrough results on Monday and Tuesday. I want your whole family here to register."

Tuesday is the final night and participants bring new recruits. They are taken to a separate room where many will write out checks for their future sessions.

Susan Commers took a number of Landmark courses. She found them well worth the money.

She told us, "There are things that you talk about that you don't sit and chit chat about in your everyday life, and so that's why it worked for us."

But David Farr says most of Landmark was a waste of time and money.

He said, "What really bothered me was the whole enrolling others, which didn't really mean telling people about your new found thing." Because of that, Farr says he will not recommend Landmark to others. He says, "I'm thinking this is all about the money."

We asked Landmark why they consider the Forum a weekend miracle.

They say it's because 700,000 have participated and more than 90% surveyed, found it made a profound difference in their lives.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.