Cults Inside Out

"Cults Inside Out: How People Get In and Can Get Out" by Rick Alan Ross

See More
Madonna's "Kabbalah Centre


See More


See More
Dr. & Master Zhi Gang Sha

Is Zhi Gang Sha a doctor and healer or a fraud and con man?

See More
Good News International Church

Doomsday cult in Kenya led by televangelist linked to hundreds of starvation deaths.

See More
OneTaste "orgasm cult"

Criminal charges against wellness company founder Nicole Daedone who taught "orgasmic meditation.”

See More
Zulu Nation led by Afrika Bambaataa

Aging Hip Hop star Afrika Bambaataa accused of sexually abusing minor children.

See More
InfoWars Alex Jones

Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones loses defamation lawsuits concerning Sandy Hook school shootings and goes bankrupt.

See More
Nxivm keith renier

sex cult leader keith raniere convicted - followers plead guilty

See More

QAnon conspiracy theories spread online through social media

See More
Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell

Idaho jury finds Lori Vallow guilty of two first-degree murders, but she doesn't face death penalty.

See More


Part 5--The Pedagogy of The Forum


An excerpt from "The Children of EST: A study of the Experience and Perceived Effects of a Large Group Awareness Training (The Forum)"


Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Denver, 1994
By Charles Wayne Denison

Order Online from UMI Dissertation Services for unbound copies ($29.50)
Call 1-800-521-0600 for softcover ($36) or hardcover ($42)
Order Number: 9511962

Table of Contents


Part 1--The process and ecology of the Forum
Part 2--The Structure: First Sights Of The Forum
Part 3--The Forum Begins: The Curriculum and Pedagogy
Part 4--The Curriculum of The Forum
Part 5--The Pedagogy of The Forum

The Pedagogy of The Forum

The environment of the room and the scheduling of time create a specific structure for The Forum experience. The curriculum is a specific and consistent content that is presented in each Forum. It is, perhaps, the pedagogy--those strategies, processes, and techniques used to mediate the experience that gives The Forum its unique character.

Some of the participants in this study offered statements on what stands out in the pedagogy. Quotes from ten of the interviews represent the subjects' views of the pedagogy.

Janice: You could actually start writing down the substance of the course. BUT I don't know that it would mean much unless you learn it the way they teach it. You can't just present that in a regular course.

The standard way of pedagogy is to present information, and people understand it, then they try to remember it. Well, their pedagogy is much, much, much more experiential. They encourage you to try everything on yourself. When they start with the distinction "distinction", they make sure everybody in the whole damned room gets that before they move on.

If you don't get it, they encourage you to ask questions, and they go over it again. So, it's a much more experientially-based pedagogy. think the strategy of having people share with their partners gets things out and real. Talking, speaking things makes them real. A lot of it is based on linguistic basics. The sociology of language.

The Forum was very, very cognitive ... It went by really fast: it was real entertaining.

Brent: There is a lot of interaction ... Colin would bring up a topic, and then he would describe it until people understood it. Then invariably somebody would stand up and try to combat it. It seemed that all Colin had to do was bring up these distinctions, talk about them long enough, and somebody would stand up and go. -Yeah. but" or go "Oh. yes. I heard that a long time ago--I read this book." And the leader could use that person to show how they were doing (a Winning Formula or Racket), right then and there. It was astounding.

Tom: There are all these invitations to talk. Sometimes almost inflammatory kinds of circumstances created, so that somebody out there is going to sit up and be the foil for it, and create those conditions [for the learning experience]. I think there isn't any question that there are people in there who are the foil for the curriculum.

Leo: The first thing I would say is that it's really manipulative. I felt that they had thought about what is the best way to achieve their goals, to achieve the experience. And to get across the ideas in a profound way. And that they used techniques, ideas, language, etc. in a very manipulative way. When I use the word manipulative I don't mean to use it in a pejorative sense at all...

They understand that what they want to accomplish is difficult: it's not something that people are just going to say. -Oh. yeah. I understand that. I accept that. Piece of cake. OK. what's next?" something that takes a lot of energy, a lot of work, a lot of confrontation. And they have decided, and I agree, that the best way to do it is by manipulating people the way they do, very effectively. I think it gives them a really high success rate in doing what they want to do.

You almost cannot help reaching the conclusions they want you to reach. And understanding the ideas. And when you first start out, when I started out, I really didn't know that much about it. I knew very little about it. Only after it was over, and maybe only after I had done that and the Forum in Action and the Advanced Course, could I look back and say, "Oh, yeah. now I see why they were doing that and what they were doing, and what the effect was." My experience was that they spent an incredible amount of time during the first day, and even every day. opening you up to the idea, just making your mind available, and making people emotionally available to the ideas. Out of the three days I would say they spent like 40% of the time manipulating people, so that when the ideas came, when the content came, they were open to the content.

Gina: I think the Forum leaders have a lot of different styles, as far as their own personalities and whatnot. But I think the thing that is similar between them is that they are terribly intrusive. I think there is a presumption in The Forum that [participants] will be confronted. and they will get through it. That's what they're there for, and that's what's gonna happen. And that's exactly how they interact with people. I don't think intrusion necessarily means 'harsh', but completely direct. Right to the point, and no fluff around it.

Jill: The leader would get people to start telling about their stories, and why they had come, and problems that they were having, and problems that brought them to The Forum. And then dealing with people one on one in the group.

And then we would have exercises. Even the breaks were structured. We always had assignments: and then homework at night. Uhmm. You did a lot of interaction with whoever you were sitting next to. And they kept you rotating, moving seats, so you got to talk to other fellow participants. A lot of the work was done vicariously. by watching what was happening with the Forum leader and a participant in these one on one confrontational kind of interactions. And there was a lot that happened between you and the person next to you. A lot of sharing and going through exercises.

Lillian: Well. I think it gives everybody a chance to open up. I was amazed at the spread of personalities, and the ages-15 and up to me. I was the oldest. I wondered why in the world I was in there. But the sharing with each other is really quite interesting. I think that quite often we don't. And it seemed to bring out so many wounds that were (in a way) no wounds at all when it came right down to it.

Victor: They did an exercise where they lined up a bunch of other people and different sections of the room were supposed to observe different sections of the line and draw a conclusion about what happened. Then the instructor would push on one end of the line, and there would be a sort of [domino) effect and the end guy would drop off. Depending on what your point of view was, you would have a different story about what happened.

Alice: There was one woman who was escorted out at one point because-as the director was very savvy to--she was manipulating the audience to make them feel sorry for her. And it was time to have her-like you would remove a two year old who is having a tantrum. She was doing it much more subtly, and more sophisticated. But she needed to be removed from the group, and that was done.

The reading of the letters was extremely powerful. The ones that were supposed to be generous. And the pairing up-l haven't mentioned that- I think was a great part of The Forum. Given that 120 people could not share in every section, having people turn to the person next to them-with their carefully planned-out, even numbered chairs--really was a powerful tool.

Cheryl: I did a lot of my Forum in the parking lot! When I had had enough, I would just get up and walk out. And then the 'Forum Patrol' would follow me out! So XXX [a volunteer] did probably half of my Forum in the parking lot, Him screaming at me, and me screaming at him that I wasn't going back in there, and him telling me that I was too much of a coward to discover what was really going on with me! (laughing) He would bait me, and I would go back in for a few hours.

The statements presented above recapitulate the basic description and interpretation of the twenty participants on the general pedagogy of The Forum.

They described the pedagogy as relying heavily on leader-participant interaction. Trainees were encouraged to be active and self-disclosing. The use of confrontation is common, as is the challenging of people's resistance. Exercises were used to teach and process the information offered at The Forum.

The following section presents an example of how the pedagogy of The Forum operates in an exercise known as "The Fear Process" Subjects' responses to that process are also presented.


The Fear Process

On Saturday afternoon the leader asks the group to answer a question about "What is life like?" The multiple responses were recorded on the chalkboard: life is exciting, difficult, scary, challenging, etc. Across all of those answers, the leader writes. "LIFE IS DANGEROUS." The Forum leader then gives trainees the opportunity to share some personal examples of fearful events that they have experienced in their lives.

Explaining that the following process is not "meditation," the leader asks everyone to settle in, close their eyes, and begin a tour through feeling their bodies. Then the group is asked to use their imaginations, to picture some emotional things or events; participants asked to notice the feelings evoked by the pictures, and to locate where in their bodies those feelings are experienced. If anyone cannot genuinely imagine and feel the emotion, he/she is encouraged to "make it up", to "be an actor"--somehow, get in touch with this exercise.

"There are two people sitting next to you." says the leader. "and you are terrified of them." Get that image and stay with it. Participants are to become terrified of those two people, even if it's only in the imagination. The exercise quickly expands: "There is a whole room of people, 150 of them, and you are absolutely terrified of all of them!" The leader begins roving the room, raising her voice and demanding fear from everyone. No one is to open his eyes--stay with the feeling.

"Two hundred and fifty million people in this nation, and everyone of them is out to get you! You are shrieking in fear, and THERE IS NO PLACE TO HIDE!!" This implosion of fear reaches its climax with "5.4 billion people on this planet, and you are deathly afraid of them all! There is no advocate, no one to turn to, and no place to hide. Fear, danger. presses in on every inch of you "

The process has been going for about 20 minutes now, and the room is sobbing, sometimes wailing, and sniffling with affective response. Some details are added: elevators failing, your children being taken from you, war, tragedy, everyone is out to get YOU. Life is dangerous. You are alone, there is no one to comfort you.

Then the leader suggests a change in the direction of the exercise: "Experience this fear all the way through and, on the other side, there is a joke." And the leader is silent for a few moments.

Two or three trainees begin to chuckle a bit. Most become quiet, or continue to quietly sob. And the leader makes another suggestion: "There are two people sitting in the chairs beside you-both of them are TERRIFIED OF YOU!..." And the joke goes on until "5.4 billion people on the planet. and they all are scared to death of you as you walk down the street!" The room begins to move from predominant crying to a rumble of laughter, "I am dangerous! I have nothing to fear; while I walk through life scared of others, they are all walking through life afraid of me"

As emotions settle, assistants pass out Kleenex and the leader returns to a conversational pedagogy. The experience is now processed through group sharing. Some report a feeling of great power, or freedom from timidity. At least eight indicate they didn't ever "got the joke."

The point is not for you to got an idea that you are a dangerous person. That's not even true, but it is certainly as accurate as the initial picture, where you are so afraid of others. Like everything in The Forum, the most one stands to get from the exercise is that fear is nothing--empty and meaningless. "You didn't got the joke? That's because there's nothing to get-so that's what you got!" For some, that's confusion on top of frustration. For others, it feels refreshing and enlightening.

This exercise, called a "process," is the only one currently being used from the retired est training. Other LGATs (e.g.. The Life Training and Lifespring) do continue to use a number of experiential processes; The Forum employs no others in its basic course.

The Fear Process is the most affect-laden event of The Forum, in that it is the single point at which the vast majority of participants are feeling and expressing very strong emotions, concurrently. Ten of the interviewees talked about this experience. From those responses, three categories emerged:


Categories of Responses to the Fear Process


  • The participant did not understand it/ did not rind it personally relevant
  • The experience was described as a positive one or as valuable
  • The experience is described as slightly negative or not helpful

Those who did not experience the process as understandable described it in these terms:

Jill: The fear exercise is one that didn't get to me. And that was having us close our eyes, and talking about how scary the world was, and how scary it is to be in the world. How people look at you. Setting the scene for how scary it is to be in the world. And I couldn't get into it....

He kept encouraging people to really feel the fear, and people started crying, and people were shouting, and really feeling a lot of pain. Then he said, "Even if you don't feel it. fake it" essentially. And I couldn't do it, I really couldn't do it, because I didn't feel the fear. It didn't fit with the way I look at life. It doesn't fit with my view of' the world. I don't go around being afraid of people. But it was pretty striking that, unless other people were faking it, there was a lot of fear in that room. He was able to really get people to experience fear.

Chuck: So it appears that there was some sort of genuine experience for some

Jill: I think there really was. I think people were getting in touch with how afraid they are, how afraid they are everyday as they get up in the morning, of other people. And about their interactions with other people. and about the danger that exists for people. And their feeling not safe.

I think it was probably a very moving experience for most of the people there. We didn't take any polls afterward, but I felt very much a 'loner' in not responding. But it didn't feel right to fake it, so I didn't.

Sandy: I was extremely uncomfortable during that, and experienced no fear. but just the discomfort of being around people who were having an experience that I wasn't having. I sat there and closed my eyes and I imagined someone real scary next to me, and I wasn't getting it. I couldn't get to be scared. I wasn't scared.

Chuck: So you didn't work yourself into a fearful state?

Sandy: I guess not. But I was trying awfully hard, so I kind of thought, "I'm doing my darndest!" But, weren't people crying then! I can't remember. In a way I was kind of jealous, but also not getting it.

Chuck: And then, they say at the end of it. "there's a joke on the other side". Remember that?

Sandy: Yeah, the whole thing diffuses and everybody starts laughing! Oh, I know what it is. You have to imagine that the person next to you is just as afraid of you.

Chuck: Yeah.

Sandy: I think I remember just smiling. But I had wanted that to be- I think I was jealous of people who were having a significant experience.

Leah: One exercise she had us do was to sit and think of something that most frightened you.... I couldn't think of anything. so I just sort of had to pretend.... Again. I just wasn't coming from that experience.

Chuck: At first she was allowing people to stand up and talk about some experience. Then there was actually an exercise with it. Do you remember that?

Leah: Right, right. And that was hard. I had a hard time feeling that fear. I finally did, sort of, towards the end. But it took a lot of imagination an my part, whereas some people could get into that right away. I felt a tenseness in the air: people around me seemed to have an experience much more easily than I did.

Chuck: In the end, did you get any personal value from doing that exercise?

Leah: Not really.

Mary: I do remember the exercise quite clearly... I did keep my eyes closed and follow their rules and all of that. It's gonna sound like I'm cocky-and I don't think that's a word that really describes me--but I was such a little soldier about keeping me and my little family together ... and I have this thing about not showing that you're afraid. You just whistle this little happy tune. and no one will suspect that you're afraid! So my guess is ... that from my place of survival. you just don't show anybody you're afraid. And I'm still kind of like that. Maybe I didn't get very much out of that exercise.

Gerald: Well, I sit there and hear these directions: don't be afraid to cry, don't he afraid to let it out, etc. But I'm saying. "I'm not crying. but it's not because I'm afraid to let it out. or I'm afraid of anything." All that stuff I have already faced through my own spirituality and beliefs before even coming there! I have already faced these. I have faced death. I am not afraid of death. I have faced the fact that all these things are going on in our society, up to and including the potential impact that it can have on my children, my family, even myself. But the only thing that will impact me, is when and if it should actually occur! ... The thought of it is the fear So I couldn't even get into that exercise.


The fear process as a positive or valuable experience is reflected in these statements:

Alice: The fear thing. That was really neat. It gave me an appreciation for how somebody like Hitler could get everyone on his wavelength. Or Christ. It's having people go with the feeling. It was amazing. I really respect [my Forum leader]..he really knows how to work a room. I went into it thinking this is going to be really weird. And when he said begin to act as if you are afraid. I thought 'oh. OK. * I've got my eyes closed, and he's watching us. I'm gonna pretend that I am afraid. and I'm gonna start trembling. I've never done this. I've never taken any ________. Here's my chance. Everyone is feeling as stupid as I am. I'm just gonna do it and see 'What happens. I did get to where I was actually trembling, and I started crying. The whole thing worked on me.

The ones that got me were the things about children... The thought of a child being abducted. Or a policemen coming to your house late at night- Those things really tapped into a whole lot of fear, and really worked well. And it was a little tedious on his part: you know, this room, Denver, Colorado, and out to the universe, and back into everybody else is afraid of you.

The actual experience of it was more interesting in that you could really see the mass psychology going on: how so many people were so involved in it. That the group had come this far, that People could be sobbing next to strangers, and be able to do it. I felt a little uncomfortable, and there was someone who was really falling apart behind me, I'm not gonna go look to find out who this is, but I would be really embarrassed if was me! Some of them were men, but I really respect that, that these were people who probably haven't let go. By that point them was enough mutual respect that no one would have been laughing at anyone else.

While the process of the experience was positive for Alice, she said that, in the end, it did not really change the way in which she does or does not fear other people. She believes that her approach to people she does fear was, and is, wise and well-balanced.

Leo liked the exercise very much, and he relates it directly to his belief that the whole Forum is built on a single foundation-Empty and Meaningless:

Leo: That was one experience where I felt that a lot of people were faking it. We closed our eyes. [the leader] started talking about the fears that you have. I remember that she was walking around the room, throwing out ideas about fears and concerns and insecurities and negative feelings.

I don't remember if I was crying, necessarily. But I remember I was thinking about it. I was listening to her, and I was really doing it. I really let myself go. and I really very much was experiencing what she wanted us to experience. I was having a pretty strong experience...

And there were a lot of people who started laughing when she said 'isn't it funny?' (referring to the "joke"). And I'm sitting there thinking I don't know what she's talking about. Then trying to figure it out. I'm stupid. The Forum isn't working for me, whatever. I betcha that, out of 120 in the room, three people got it before she said [the joke]. I betcha 50 people were laughing like they did get it. Maybe I'm wrong. I didn't understand what she was saying until she said it. Everybody else has the same level of fear that you have, and isn ' t it funny that you're walking around scared to death of all these people, and what they're gonna find out about you, when they're walking around the same damned way. And yeah, that is funny! But that hadn't crossed my mind until she told us.

But it was a great exercise, it was fabulous. And that's the kind of thing that, if you explained to somebody who hadn't done The Forum, they'd say. "You California bozos sitting out there, smoking pot-" It's ridiculous. but when I actually went through it. it was very very valuable. That was just one more part of the formula, to me. that life is empty and meaningless. You think you're the only person in the world who has fears'! You have given all this meaning to these fears that you have. And the truth is that we all have fears. Because you have fears doesn't mean that you're a schmoe, or that you're stupid.... Those fears that you have are empty and meaningless, and that was the exercise that helped to clarify that for me. So it was good.

Alice and Leo were the only two who described the Fear Process as valuable in the sense that the exercise accomplished some experience of fear.

Ben, recently widowed when he attended The Forum, did describe this exercise as important, but for a unique reason,

Ben: Well, the exercise that we did where he started out saying you can't trust the person on either side of you, was perhaps the one exercise that did the most for me, releasing me from a heavy guilt I was carrying over the death of my wife.

It was probably getting into the crying that did it. It got me so that I could do pretty good talking about it.

Chuck: It was kind of a freeing up, a releasing

Ben: Yeah. a releasing. [pauses, starting to get a bit choked up] So, I don't know if I'll be able to tell all about that or not.

This topic was too emotional for Ben to continue talking about. Later we spoke by phone, and he explained what had happened: He had felt tremendous guilt when his wife died, believing that he had not checked on her enough during the night, and that perhaps he could have prevented her death by being more watchful. He had not been able to express the feelings behind that, until the Fear Process came along at The Forum. So his emotional catharsis during that exercise was not actually connected to the focus of the process; rather, it was his opportunity for a much-needed catharsis. That experience, in this case, was curative.

There were two subjects who had a slightly negative reaction to the exercise:

Chuck: How was the fear exercise for you?

Luanne: Weird. It was weird.

Chuck: Was it a valuable thing for you?

Luanne: No, I did cry. I got kind of involved in it, but I think I resisted it. There was just something that was resisting. I couldn't allow myself to just totally wail. People were wailing and howling and screaming. It was too weird for me, too weird. And there was a very close moment, where I allowed it to envelope me-[ submerged in it for awhile. But I didn't get the joke at the end. What did they say to make you laugh?

Chuck: The person on each side of you is scared to death of you

Luanne: Yeah. everybody is scared of every body, and that's what the joke is. Yeah. I mean I think it could have been more powerful for Me. It was just 'OK.' It was pretty weird. It might have had something to do with me resisting it, not wanting to dive that deep.

Victor Than one was probably the weakest experience I had, out of the whole batch. When I went through the mental exercise, the only thing I really got out of it, which I really hadn't considered before, was the concept that I might scare somebody.

No one described the exercise in extremely negative terms, and no one reported any personal, negative effects from it. Still, of the ten that did discuss the experience, only three seem to have perceived it is a highly positive experience.

Ben, whose emotional release was not directly related to the focus on fear. might be better categorized as a qualitative outlier on this topic. While Alice gave a positive description of the process, she reported no lasting outcome-no change in behavior, cognition, or emotional relation to fear. 'The fear thing was powerful, but it was more like a drug that wore off quickly and didn't really sink into my brain.'

The experience of the fear exercise was a private one, in that each individual in the room was influenced by a personal imagination and privately produced images of fear stimuli. While there were several participants who reported that the exercise was not really 'powerful.' it would not be accurate to interpret those responses as necessarily neutral. Perhaps the most accurate interpretation is to state that it produces a wide variety of responses, and that none of those responses included negative lasting effects.


The Forum Leader

The idea that The Forum is "a conversation" has already been noted in this chapter. But how does that large group conversation come into being? Clearly, the instigator and central personality of that conversation is The Forum Leader.

The leader has a knack for drawing participants into this large-scale conversation; he or she also appears to have great acuity in timing interventions and interpretations of the conversation. Most notably-and most controversially since the days of est-the leader knows how to "shake up" participants. Forum leaders are (as est trainers were) notorious for provoking anxiety in trainees. In some cases participants praised the ability of Forum leaders to evoke insightful transactions with trainees. In other cases, subjects wondered whether the confrontation was too severe or too much a hardship on the person being challenged.

A Forum leader can change the atmosphere of the training room in a matter of seconds. A humorous. "laid-back" segment may end abruptly with the leader attacking someone's behavior or cognitive patterns.


The Forum leader strikes

It is the first morning of the four-day Advanced Course.** Those of us who either "got a lot out of The Forum" or somehow "got talked into coming for more" have gathered in the familiar Forum training room. Colin, our very happy and funny leader, has called the first session to order. The woman on my left and the teenager on my right appear to be having a good time, so far.

Colin introduces Jack and Elissa, who will be assisting him in the 60 hours ahead. What is going to happen here? Colin assures us that there is no need to assure us that "there is no gas in the air vents, and we won't be serving you koolaid!"**

"We have four days to create a new reality," explains Colin. "If I say that's the floor and that's the ceiling, you couldn't see it except as a concept. It wouldn't be reality for you."

Now it's time for the group to start sharing.

**NOTE: This example, from an Advanced Course, is used here because the observer was allowed to take notes during the process. Therefore, the Forum leader could be quoted more extensively (and with greater accuracy) than could be done in The Forum observations. The Advanced Course is very much like The Forum but the material goes into greater depth. The leader uses a style which is mostly indistinguishable from his style in The Forum. The first two days of the Advanced Course is said to be (Accurately. I think) a "review of The Forum."

** NOTE: A humorous reference, of course. to Jonestown. Guyana. My choice of wording in the sentence- "assures us that there is no need to assure us"--is intended it) reflect the kind of paradoxical and sometimes confusing diction used by Forum leaders. In this respect. there is a Zen-like flavor to much of the language.

Colin, sitting in the elevated director's chair 'OK, what have you heard about this course? Tell me.'

No response from the room--quiet.

Colin's expression becomes suddenly serious. He stands up:

"OK. look. you don't want to do that here. Get over it! This isn't the Fuck-Around-For-Four-Days Course! Do you get that?!" Well, when you put it that way... The group seems to have gotten it. 'Now. what have you heard about this course?' Twenty hands go up immediately.

That's more like it.

"I heard you'll be walking three feet off the ground when it's all over."

"I saw people with their faces all lighted up (after this course): like they had it all figured out!"

Great. Very good. Another twenty or so participants are allowed to share what they've heard. Colin encourages the sharing to continue:

Luanne: I heard that you feel so turned on afterwards--but I heard that it doesn't last.

Colin: The "IT" that she's so worried about losing is the wonderful feelings. Well, in college I did some work where you could always feel wonderful--pharrnaceuticals--distribution and testing! But IT didn't last either! (a roar of laughter follows)

...You're here inside what you have heard about this course.** This course is completely unrelated to your expectations about it ... The problem is that your expectations are so small that it's not worth dealing with them...

...This course is gonna piss your past off. Even what got you here (those expectations) is just more shit that you're following--(starts walking around the stage like a donkey, dangling an imaginary carrot in front of his nose)--like it's gonna save your ass!

** NOTE: He is telling her, in other words, that she has brought to this course a certain frame of mind, or context, out of which the is interpreting the event. The context what she has heard from others-may leave her unable to experience this seminar in the here and now, This kind of -coaching" is common in the trainings; the leader wants this participant to "distinguish" this course from her expectations about it.

And with that Colin moves on to "coaching" us about our "level of participation" over the next four days.

In the interviews, participants were invited to talk about their experience of the Forum leaders, and most were asked to comment specifically on the leader's style or methods of working. Interviewees were not, however. solicited to specifically offer criticisms, 'what-you-liked statements.' or evaluations. This approach was intended to avoid leading questions and allow the participant to identify what characteristics seemed significant.


Descriptors of Forum leaders

Of all the topics covered in the interviews, the subjects had more to say about Forum leaders than they did about anything else. Dozens of descriptive words and terms were offered in response to general stimuli, such as: "Tell me about the Forum leader." The table below documents as many descriptors as could be identified in the interviews:

Descriptor Used Regarding The Forum Leader's Personality & Behavior and the Number of Participants Using that Descriptor

Confrontational 11
Gentle/caring/compassionate/respectfuI 6
Argumentative 1
Manipulative/In control 4
Humorous/funny 10
Effective/powerful/effective communicator 7
Straightforward/tothepoint 3
Arrogant 3
Asshole 1
Intrusive 4
Harsh 3
Annoying 2
Talented 2
Abusive/offensive/mean 2
Entertaining 5
Accurate/Intuitive/able to pick up on issues/ good instinct 4
Wonderful/ a "star"/great person 3
Charismatic 2
Engaging/able to draw others into participation 7
Persistent/Pushes hard 5
Positive/turned on to life 2
Salesperson 1
Highly directive style/shapes the discussion 4
Energetic/vivacious 4
Intelligent/bright/clever 1
Genuine 1
Selfdisclosing 3
Ineffective 1
Patient/Willing to listen 3
Selfconfident 2
Rambled on too much 1

These descriptors are not mutually exclusive. One subject, who said that "a Forum leader is an arrogant asshole," actually gave mostly positive descriptors in referring to the leaders. From the interview discussions concerning Forum leaders, the most common description of the leaders would entail the following Points:

They are very confrontational, yet have an exceptional sense of humor. They are highly effective communicators and leaders, and they have the ability to draw participants into the Process. Although they are confrontational, they respect participants and often show respect and caring for them. They can pick up on participants' personal issues, and will likely be persistent in getting them to deal with those issues. They entertain the audience, are energetic, and are definitely in control of the process.


Participants' attraction to Forum leaders

Even in cases where participants used negative terms to describe a Forum leader (e.g., "arrogant asshole"). the participants had a strong tendency to be attracted to the Forum leader. **

The table below reflects the overall level of attraction of all 20 participants, based on their interview responses, toward their Forum leaders:

**NOTE: By attraction I mean that they tend to "like" their leaders; it does not imply a romantic or sexual attraction.


Name, Overall Attraction, Statement or Personal Response to Leader (in terms of attraction/likeability)

1 Sandy Positive

I remember our leader, Jenindra, talking about his mother. And how he loved her, and he said. "She's dirty, she farts--" and he just did a litany of dreadful things about this woman. And he loved her! Incredibly permissive! That's a gift.

2 Tom Positive

My leader was an incredible entertainer, which I think is pretty vital-that there has to be an enormous amount of charisma on the part of the leader. To some degree I was just attracted to watching some very charismatic person in action. So that kind of carried me.

3 Gerald Unknown

(No personal statement was given)

4 Lao Positive

If they got to where they are by doing this work, then maybe I should do it, because I'll end up where they are. I think they were having a great time. To get up there and lead one of those things for three days must be fabulously stimulating. I have lot respect for those guys. I thought Darcy was great. By the end of the thing you just completely trusted her. You're in love with her, not in the carnal sense, but there's this outpouring of love because she was such a fabulous human being. She was very gentle, I thought, even when she was being confrontational.

5 Jill Positive

I was very impressed with the leader. Very, very impressed. I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like that. A combination of therapist, entertainer, dramatist, comedian, incredible stamina. And I think you'd have to have some genuine concern for other people, to work that hard up in the front, hour after hour after hour, I think that, as time went on, I became more impressed with that.

6 Lillian Positive

Oh, I was so impressed with him! I thought he had such a dynamic way of pulling us out of ourselves. And yet he did it in such a humorous way that you couldn't take offense at all ... The way he talked of his child and his wife. it was just delightful!

7 Jim Negative

(Was not attracted: had only criticisms-see next section)

8 Karen Positive

I really liked her in the end.

9 Victor Positive

(Was impressed by how focused and patient the leader could be) The more I spent time with Roger, the more impressive he was... This guy had an incredible amount of stamina.

10 Alice Positive

I think Doug is a real star. And he's got a great sense of humor ... I really related to Doug. I think there are a whole lot of people I would not have related to, and I would not have had as good an experience.

11 Ben Unknown

(Made no indication of personal response)

12 Leah Positive

I was really impressed with her She was the kind of person that I would want to aspire to be ... Energetic ... very positive..seemed to have her life together ... all the kinds of things that I would like to see myself as.

13 Jerry Unknown

(Made no indication of personal response)

14 Mary Negative

I was the one who didn't like how (the leader) treated people. and I was the one who wanted my money back ... I remember people going up to this [leader] and they would take him this hot stuff (hot tea) ... And I can remember wondering "What on God's Earth are you sipping?"

15 Brent Positive There were times I was just laughing until I was crying... (Referring to leader's method of communication;) That's the first time I had ever been with anybody where it was just that "straight."

16 Cheryl Unknown

(Made no indication of personal response)

17 Gina Positive I would trust myself with a trainer on almost any issue ... I actually go and watch yhem. and study them (concerning their therapist-like abilities) ... How I would respond. How they respond. What their point is: what my point would have been. So I use them to train me.

18 Luanne Positive

It was so powerful for me. to stand up and have her talk to me that way.

19 Ben Mixed (no strong feelings either way)

I thought his manner was alright (but) I was annoyed by the amount of time that (the leader] spent in storytelling. about personal experiences ... It's nice to be proud of your child. but when someone else spent $300 to listen to you. why. I think he could have done better on that.

20 Janice Positive

And he was funny. like Walter Mathau is funny... he was just incredible.

The chart above illustrates an overall positive attraction to the Forum leaders.

Several points call for further comment: First. it is interesting to note how personal each response is to the leader. It is difficult to even categorize the characeristics that attracted (or repelled) each subject. Certainly the humor of the leaders bears mentioning, since it is spoken of by several of the respondents.

Secondly, it is interesting to compare the responses of Ben and Lillian in this chart. They were the two oldest subjects in the study, and they attended the same Forum. Their leader Doug, like other Forum leaders, told many stories about his family. Lillian was attracted to those stories. but Son was 'annoyed' by them:

Lillian: The way he talked of his child and his wife, it was just delightful!

Ben: It's nice to be proud of your child. but when someone else spent $300 to listen to you. why. I think he could have done better on that.


Criticisms of the Forum leaders

A number of participants made no criticisms of the Forum leader. Among those who did. there was often still an overall positive attraction to and evaluation of the leader.

1 Sandy

At one point I thought he was particularly unkind to somebody. And never-kind of gratuitously unkind-and I even wondered about it. Why didn't he deal with that person? He seemed to have dispensed with her as he spoke to her: as if he wrote her off, never gave her a chance. from my viewpoint.

2 Tom

(No criticisms given)

3 Gerald

I think there's this expectation on the part of some of the Forum leaders that you get up and share everything. (He goes on to say that he thinks that would be inappropriate.)

4 Leo

(No criticisms given)

5 Jill

Initially I thought he was hard on people and mean and insensitive. (But the criticism is practically negated by her next statement:) And the more you watched him work with people, it was like "Oh, I see. this is how it works." You probably can't do this being Mister Nice Guy.

6 Lillian

(No criticisms given)

7 Jim

I didn't see any confrontations in the whole thing. She as trying to be real nice to people: that's what I felt. If I compared (Forum leaders and est trainers]. It was like pat you on the back. try to make you feel good. Well. nobody can make you feel good.

8 Karen

The very first day I thought. Whoa! where is she coming from? I thought she was aloof. I wouldn't call her a 'rich little bitch' or whatever. but she did had different mannerisms. She would go out of her way just to be snotty, or force people to take a stand. To be controversial. not necessarily adversarial. (In the final analysis, the criticism is reversed:) But toward the end she just really had compassion, and just loved what she was doing, being able to bring people out of themselves or showing them themselves.

9 Victor

(No criticisms given)

10 Alice

(No criticisms given)


(No criticisms given)

12 Leah

(No criticisms given)

13 Jerry

(No criticisms given)

14 Mary

Spoke as if he had had the whole bucket of truth in the whole wide world dumped into him-and he would dole it out if you would follow the rules ... Arrogant at times. Confrontive in an absolutely unnecessarily cruet way ... Got to sit on the Chief Poobah chair and say Chief Poobah talk.

15 Brent

(No criticisms given)

16 Cheryl

(Calls leader "a little Nazi." but clearly does not intend it as a negative criticism in the end)

17 Gina

(No criticisms given)

18 Luanne

Everybody would say a Forum leader is an arrogant asshole. I think. But that's part of being a human. too. You're not gonna love somebody who rips you apart But you will allow it. because you want something out of it.

19 Ben

I really thought his management of time should have been much better... maybe leaving out a story or two and letting people off at 11:00 instead of dragging on until 12:30. That's where my logic would come in and say. "Why kill these people off the first night and then have them all dead the next day?"

20 Janice

(No criticisms given. She made many comparisons to est; compared to est. she thought Forum leaders provided an easy and entertaining experience.)

The criticisms of Forum leaders focused on behaviors in which the leader was very confrontational or seemingly 'hard' on participants. Interestingly. not one subject criticized the leader for any behavior which was directed personally at him or her.


Perceived effectiveness of Forum leaders

In addition to reporting a certain level of positive or negative regard toward the leader, many participants also made evaluative statements concerning how they believe the Forum leader to be effective (or ineffective) in facilitating the training. The following chart summarizes those evaluations. The data are from statements made by participants during the interviews.

1 Sandy Positive

I trust their instincts

2 Tom Positive

[The leader plays a critical role. I think it's THE role. I mean it's the whole deal. in a way ... I guess the leader AND the group play enormous roles... The leader plays a critical rule in terms of facilitating. molding. using these people. I don't mean molding in the sense of 'brainwashing' but in the sense of taking their questions and bringing them into a focus with the curriculum.

3 Gerald Unknown

(Offered no evaluation)

4 Leo Positive

The Forum leaders-the two I had were Darcy and Colin-are very effective. highly trained people. [Darcy is an] extremely bright, and charismatic, vivacious and all those kinds of things. A very, very, very talented person. I thought that she did a really,really good job.

5 Jill Positive

It was son of like 'tough love' or whatever. Initially I thought he was hard on people. and mean. and insensitive. And the more you watched him work with people. it was like "Oh. I see. this is how it works." You probably can't do this, being Mister Nice Guy. There has to be a certain amount of what looks like 'being mean.' in order to effect the kind of, I don't want to say "change." Well. there's so much resistance we all have to looking at our shit. that you really have to have someone rub your face in it sometimes, to took at it. And I think he was pretty good at doing that-rubbing your face in it. SO you could really see it... It was very reassuring. to watch the leader deal with [upset] people. and deal with them well ... I was very impressed with the leader.

6 Lillian Positive

I thought he had such a dynamic way of pulling us out of ourselves.

7 Jim Negative

Someone has to get inside that shit that you have circling you, covering up my feel good. And people were able to resist it all the way through [The Forum] You could see it on their faces. You could see in their talk, on the breaks and stuff. That never happened in the est training.

8 Karen Positive

[The leader was] able to bring people out of themselves ... Just to have that awakening. or that awareness ... that things are different.

9 Victor Positive

Something that impressed me about all of the Forum leaders is that they were very. very clear. Precisely focused. And could coach back in somebody who seemed to be going off in some other mental direction.

10 Alice Unknown

(Made no clear evaluative statements regarding leader's effectiveness-personal regard was high)

11 Bill Positive

She was confrontational. But she was very human: she was very warm and caring. She was able to bring a lot of those forces to bear. in terms of getting people to unwind. To get people to dig deep inside and come forth. (The leader was able to accomplish that which is an important part of the overall experience.)

12 Leah Positive

Darcy did a really effective job of bringing out what was a real conflict in [participants'] lives-it was maybe not what they thought it was-and that seemed to be really productive.

13 Jerry Unknown

(Made no clear evaluative statements regarding leader's effectiveness)

14 Mary Negative

So I was aware that their techniques were real different from mine. and I was never sure that they were honest or necessary ... never sure that it was necessary as a way of teaching ... Confrontive in an unnecessarily cruel way ... But I did hear other people say that it was great, or beneficial. to them.

15 Brent Positive

That's what impressed me the most about the Forum leader ...j ust being able to watch what people are doing, and cut through the crap and get right to the point.What I noticed was that Colin had an ability to get past the surface stuff and go. "Well, you're running a Winning Formula here. You're just being a good boy, and you actually haven't even shown up for The Forum yet. YOU, who you are, hasn't shown up yet. You're just being a good boy."...That was one thing I found amazing. was how accurately he was able to do that.

... So that's what I mean by confrontational. Not confrontational like a drill sergeant. like "you scumbags." More confrontational like-some philosopher who said something like 'the most damaging thing you can tell somebody is the truth.' Some son of phrase like that- the truth hurts.' That's what I saw him do. just tell the truth.

16 Cheryl Positive

(Context: Interviewee giving example of young man who had a breakthrough insight- His father had died, and the man was fearing the same disease:) And the Forum leader said. -Do you have the disease?-Well. no. but I'm going to-: "No. I asked you has the doctor diagnosed you with this disease?" The guy finally had to say.- -No. I don't have this disease. And the Forum leader says. "Man why are you living like you're gonna die tomorrow"

And it was like someone had hit this guy over the head with a frozen mackerel. Whoa! "I don't know. Why am I living like I'm gonna die tomorrow? Why am I throwing away my future because of something that might happen?" ... And I watched this guy, tears just rolling down his cheek. when he realized that even if he was going to die, he didn't have to live like he was going to die tomorrow. I think all of us got something out of that experience: that we don't have to live on the bad things that might happen... It was a real sobering conversation that this guy had [with the leader).

But the Forum leader had to pin him down. "Do you have it? Were you diagnosed with it? How long do you have to live?" And they guy Finally had to admit that he didn't have it. and it gave him a powerful place to five from.

17 Gina Positive

I think they are incredible therapists. Frankly. I think they are better than most therapists out them. I know there have been a few bad trainers that have been around for short periods of time. But I would trust myself with [a Forum leader] on almost any issue, because they know what they are doing. Whereas I would be very picky about a therapist.

18 Luanne Positive

So she inquired. with me standing up. what 'not giving' meant, If somebody was not giving to me, then I wasn't sharing with them, But what did it really look like? And she just really took it apart. piece by piece. She made me talk about exactly what-it was hard, hard to pull it out.

But I finally started saying. "It's my mother, my mother, she shuts me down. She calls me a bitch. She calls me a sneak. a bar. a snake. "

And then she says. -Anybody in here been called a bitch before?" And everybody raises their hand. And I'm like all humble and shit. It was so powerful for me. to stand up and have her talk to me that way. And just dig, dig, dig. "What does it look like to you' ' I Really, what are the facts?- And the facts were a lot less than the story was.

19 Ben Somewhat negative

Many times I thought [the leader's personal stories] did not connect to the immediate subject ... [He I could come up here and say in 20 minutes what the meat of the matter is for the whole day. But I don't think anybody would get it. if you tried to do it that quick.

20 Janice Positive

Randy McNamara. I think. targeted me. I don't know. I stood up to say something. and he really kind of worked on me. He was real gentle. I was nervous. because I thought he was gonna be nasty, but he was very gentle. And right away he started working with me in a way that generated a lot of breakthroughs for me.

As the table illustrates. Forum participants overwhelmingly evaluate the effectiveness of the leaders in positive terms, some of them very strongly positive. Jim and Mary, who disliked almost every aspect of The Forum, did not think the leaders were effective. Ben's statement implies the inefficient use of time by the leader however. Ben followed his criticism by saying 'I don't think anybody would get it, if you tried to do it that quick [sic]."

The Forum leader's ability to lead participants to a deeper understanding of personal issues stands out as a primary theme among those who believed the leader to be effective. There is a perception that Forum leaders are straightforward with people, and that they know how to help people focus on the important points of their lives.

Participants interaction with the Forum leader

Forum trainees only interact with Forum leaders when they volunteer to do so, by raising their hands and being called on to take a microphone and speak. They soon learn that, by interacting with the leader, they may be confronted or challenged. or put into some other uncomfortable position. Therefore, many participants go the entire weekend without speaking to the leader. Most of the interviewees in this study talked about whether or not they interacted with the leader. The following table documents personal descriptions about the interactions:

1 Sandy Yes(limited)

I shared a poem that I wrote on Saturday morning. And I did a couple of things where I 'agreed' or maybe just added a little bit. But I was a real non- participant.

2 Tom Yes (limited)

I think I read the letter I wrote for my homework: and I think I did it early an the third day. I just decided at some point that I didn't want to go all the way through The Forum without speaking at all. So I chose something safe. Like reading a letter.

3 Gerald Yes

(When asked if he ever stood up and shared, he answered:) Oh. yeah. See, I don't have a problem with sharing. but for me. I'm very selective about what I share. too. Yet I think there's this expectation on the part of some of the Forum leaders that you get up and share everything. I mean any and everything. And I have a concern for myself, and maybe this is just the way I have developed myself personally.

4 Leo Yes (Limited)

I did once. There were a couple of very brief ones ... but I did have one lengthy interaction on the third day.

5 Jill Yes (limited)

Very little. Chuck. I don't think I did a whole lot of that. It's so hard to remember back. I think probably once or twice I did. But not as much as I thought I would. Normally I'm pretty interactive. With the other things I've been in. I've been more of a participant. With this one I wasn't. and I don't quite know why.

6 Lillian Yes (extensive)

From a grandmother's point of view, I got up and was telling about my problem (goes on to describe interaction)... (Lillian was the eldest participant in her Forum, and the researcher noted that many times the leader called on her to share an opinion or example. which she freely did.)

7 Jim (No statement given) unknown

8 Karen No

I stood up at the end of my Forum and introduced my friends and family, I don't remember talking during The Forum.

9 Victor (No statement given) unknown

10 Alice Yes (limited)

I actually hardly got called on. I think I only spoke two or three times in the whole three days. I had my hand up a lot but-I guess I put it up late, after all the other people had raised their hands. I didn't feel like I was being discriminated against. but I just didn't really participate that much. But I'm not real comfortable in big crowds. anyway.

11 Bill No

I didn't speak. I was very silent during that whole time frame. I was a big listener.

12 Leah Yes (limited)

I think once or twice. but nothing that was-just when you didn't have to say a lot. I just could never think of anything dramatic to say. but I did get up once or twice. when she wanted examples or something--I can't even remember what I talked about.

13 Jerry Yes (extensive)

I felt this incredible need to share during The Forum. I was probably the biggest 'sharer' through the rest of The Forum. I always had some kind of experience that I needed to relate. And then Roger pointed out that this incredible need to share was actually coming from insecurity. 'Rey got into how there was always something that drove things-and that my need to share was driven by the fear that the only way I could complete an exercise was to share it. or it wasn't complete for me...Around the end of the second day Roger helped me to see that I didn't have to share everything for that to be a complete experience for order to have the transformation of the distinctions.

14 Mary No

Are you kidding?...No No. I did not. I didn't risk shit!"

15 Brent Yes (extensive)

I remember raising my hand a lot, to the point where Colin would go Does anyone want to share?" [and ignoring me until he couldn't call on anyone else] "OK, Brent. what do you want to say? Jesus Christ!" [At some point Colin finally told him that there were too many people "who would just love for you to say everything for them. so we're gonna have you stop sharing!]

16 Cheryl Yes

Oh. yeah. I stood up and spoke...They called me to stand up and said "Are you going to do this or not?" "Well. I don't know"' but I didn't really get into a hostile confrontation with my Forum leader....It was wonderful. because I think we all have this need to share our pain. or to share the things that we feel very deeply about.

17 Gina (No statement given) unknown

18 Luanne Yes

I think it was the first day that our Forum leader asked a question. and I was one of the first participants that actually stood up and said something...The guy that turned me on to this, told me "The more you put in, the more you get out." So. of course. I want to get out what I can ... And my hand just bolted up...

19 Ben Yes (limited)

I was in the group that did not volunteer information.Finally. on the third day. I finally raised my hand and said something,

20 Janice Yes

At the end of the first day I raised my hand. and actually said something and started participating. I felt comfortable-kind of excited. but comfortable about participating.

Fourteen had some interaction, even if it was minimal. Two had such extensive interaction that the Forum leader took steps to decrease their participation. Three subjects did not stand and speak during The Forum. Three others did not say whether or not they interacted with the leader during their Forum.

Leader differences In the observations of three Forum leaders, differences in language were noted. One leader employed words, such as *luck,' 'shit.' and 'asshole' quite frequently. Another was documented as using the word 'shit' only one time during the whole weekend. He was observed to use the word 'fart' only twice, and the word 'damn' no more than three times in the entire training. At a break. the researcher asked the leader about this lack of 'vulgar language'. which had been a trademark characteristic of the old est trainers. The leader explained that he did not think such language to be necessary in getting the job done: 'Everything used to be 'fuckin' asshole' and all that; I just don't use that." One subject. Alice, said that she had assumed vulgar language was not allowed in The Forum: 'And I thought that must be a Forum rule-what a lovely rule-because there's no reason to offend those of us who don't like hearing it,'

Not only are there differences among the leaders. there are obviously differences among a participants' experience of a single leader. A comparison of Ben's and Lillian's responses in the tables above reveals that two participants. both older adults. have very different views of the same leader in the same Forum, regarding his use of self-disclosure and personal stories. Mary and Sandy also had the same Forum leader (but on different weekends). a man from India. Overall, Sandy was delighted by him; Mary, on the other hand. was very suspicious of him and disliked his authoritative demeanor. Luanne. in her interview, talks about being called 'a sneak.' 'a snake,' and .a bitch.' The leader. as observed by the researcher, also used those terms in referring to Luanne later. However. it appeared clearly to the observer that the leader was reflecting the terminology already used by the participant; it was done in a humorous manner, and clearly not demeaning to Luanne. The researcher interpreted many such reflections of derogatory language as paradoxical in its intention; that is. it was used by the leader to show that the participant was not to be judged negatively as 'a sneak. a snake. a bitch.' The bottom line, in The Forum, is to show that such judgments are 'empty and meaningless.'

The est trainers of the 70s are said to have called the group 'a bunch of assholes' without any provocation. but not so in The Forum. The researcher did hear a leader ask the trainees to 'be open to the possibility that you don't know your ass from a hole in the ground ... that you really don't know shit from Shinola.' It was intended as an invitation to stop assuming that one knows everything, which might give one the opportunity to learn some new distinctions about life. There may be a fine line between derogatory remarks and metaphors designed to shake up the cognitive comfort zone; however, this researcher tried and failed to observe a single instance in which a Forum leader used foul language in order to attack or shame a trainee.



Several pedagogical approaches are used in The Forum. Conversation, sharing, interaction with other participants. disc iplines