|Type||For-profit, private company|
|Founder(s)||John Hanley Sr.|
|Key people||John Hanley Sr.
The company, which promoted itself through books and word of mouth advertising, was the subject of investigative reports by the media, and was criticized by a few former staff members and participants. At least 30 lawsuits sought to hold Lifespring responsible for participants' deaths or their mental damages. The company paid to settle some of the suits before trial and in other cases lost jury decisions.
John Hanley Sr. founded Lifespring after working at the company Mind Dynamics with Werner Erhard, the founder of est, which became the basis for Landmark Education. Lifespring concentrated on how people experience each other, whereas est dealt with changing the way people experience themselves. However, there were many similarities between the two.
The former Director for Corporate Affairs of Lifespring, Charles "Raz" Ingrasci, also worked with Erhard, promoting an est mission to the USSR and the Hunger Project. Ingrasci is now President of the Hoffman Institute which offers programs such as the Hoffman Quadrinity Process which some regard as similar to Lifespring.
Though Hanley denied that Lifespring was a duplicate of est, in their 1992 book Perspectives on the New Age James R. Lewis and J. Gordon Melton describe the similarities as "striking." They note that both Lifespring and est used "authoritarian trainers who enforce numerous rules", require applause after participants "share" in front of the group, and deemphasize reason in favor of "feeling and action". The authors also pointed out that graduates of both Lifespring and est were "fiercely loyal", and recruited heavily for their respective groups, reducing marketing expenses to virtually zero.
Course overview 
The Lifespring trainings generally involved a three-level program starting with a "Basic" training, an "Advanced" breakthrough course, and a 3-month "Leadership Program" which taught the students how to implement what they learned from the trainings into their lives.
Studies commissioned by Lifespring in the 1980s by researchers at Berkeley, Stanford, and UCSF, including Lee Ross, Morton Lieberman, and Irvin Yalom, found that an overwhelming majority of participants in these trainings called them either "extremely valuable" or "valuable" (around 90%). Many described them as among the most profound experiences of their lives and claimed they were able to produce substantial results in their lives as a result of their participation.  Less than 2% found them to be "of no value". Graduates were often eager to share their own experiences in the trainings with family, friends, and co-workers, although they were precluded from sharing fellow trainees experiences. There was never any compensation for assisting in enrolling others into the workshops. However, another, independent study found that, "The merging, grandiosity, and identity confusion that has been encouraged and then exploited in the training in order to control participants is now used to tie them to Vitality (Lifespring) in the future by enrolling them in new trainings and enlisting them as recruiters".
The Basic training was composed of successive sessions on Wednesday night, Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday day and night, Sunday day and night, a Tuesday night post-training session ten days after graduation, and a post-training interview. Evening sessions began at 6:30 pm and lasted until 11:30 or 12 or later. Saturday sessions started at 10 am and lasted until approximately midnight. Sunday sessions started at 9 am and lasted until approximately midnight. The trainings were usually held in the convention facilities of large, expensive hotels. A training was usually composed of 250–300 participants, many volunteers, several official staff, an assistant trainer, and a head trainer.
The training consisted of a series of lectures and experiencial processes designed to show the participants a new manner of contending with life situations and concerns and how other possible explanations and interpretations may lead to different results. Some individuals complained that they felt harangued, embarrassed, or humiliated by the trainer during the trainings. A few individuals choose not to complete the trainings. Additionally, the trainer used many English words in a manner different from their usual meaning. "Commitment", for instance, was defined as "the willingness to do whatever it takes". "Conclusion" was defined as a belief. Also, words such as "responsibility", "space", "surrender", "experience", "trust", "consideration", "unreasonable", "righteous", "totally participate", "from your head", "openness", "letting go" were redefined or used so as to assign them a more specific meaning.
By the conclusion of the training, the Lifespring trainer and volunteers attempted to recruit participants for subsequent, advanced trainings, as well as encouraging them to invite guests to their post training. Participants have quoted the trainers as saying, "Share what you have found with your friends. I want each person here to bring friends to a guest event and to the post-training. Don't keep this to yourselves. Allow them to do the training by sharing with them." Some individuals felt uncomfortable and pressured, by this request. Most, however, invited friends and family to the event.
At the post training, several days later, invited guests of the participants were brought to an adjacent room, and encouraged to commit financially to partake in a future training session. The participants that had just completed the training were also encouraged to enroll in future advanced trainings.
Lawsuits were filed against Lifespring for charges ranging from involuntary servitude to wrongful death. The suits often claimed that the trainings placed participants under extreme psychological stress in order to elicit change. Lifespring was ordered to pay money to participants who required psychiatric hospitalization and to relatives of members who committed suicide, or otherwise died.
Critical viewpoints 
In 1980, ABC's 20/20 aired an investigative report about Lifespring. They interviewed John Gordon Clark, a cult expert and psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, who said the group practiced mind control and brainwashing.
In 1987, the Washington Post reported that Hanley was convicted of felony mail fraud in 1969. In 1980, a federal judge rejected Hanley's request to have the conviction removed from his record. His request for a presidential pardon was also denied.
The Skeptic a newsletter of The North Texas Skeptics, reported in 1989 on criticism from a participant and former staff volunteer who said the trainings were too stressful and disruptive, and that the program was "an urban cult".
One prominent critic of Lifespring is Virginia Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Mrs. Thomas asserted in an interview with The Washington Post that she chose to seek counseling after her decision to stop participating in Lifespring. In order to avoid phone calls from fellow Lifespring members, urging her to remain in the course, she chose to hide in another part of the United States. One explanation for the criticisms and actions taken by roughly 8% of all Lifespring graduates comes from clinical psychologist and Lifespring graduate Bronson Levin. Levin said, "people who are not prepared for the intense emotional experience of Lifespring or who have hidden traumas tend to become overwhelmed as childhood memories come thundering back to them during training." Virginia Thomas went on to speak on panels and organized anti-cult workshops for congressional staffers in 1986 and 1988.
Lifespring awareness groups claim that participants are asked to enroll family, friends, etc., in the workshops and to enroll in additional courses.
In 1993, Lutheran minister Richard L. Dowhower, conducted a survey of clergy attitudes toward groups that they regard as cults. The 53 respondents were from the Washington, DC area and included 43 Lutheran clergy and seminarians, one Roman Catholic and one Jewish clergyman, and an evangelical minister. The response chart indicates twenty eight (28) responses to "The cults I am most concerned about are:", with the answer "Scientology, est/Forum, and Lifespring". Dowhower was an advisor of the American Family Foundation, which published the Cult Observer.
British TV producer and filmmaker Peter Pomerantsev has theorised that model Ruslana Korshunova's suicide was related to her involvement with Rose of the World, a controversial Moscow-based organisation which describes itself as "training for personality development". Rose of the World's training sessions—which encourage participants to share their worst experiences and recall repressed memories—are allegedly modelled after Lifespring.
While trainings continued until the mid-nineties in parts of the United States, the lawsuits and critical media coverage crippled the company. Independent companies continue to offer replicas of the Lifespring trainings, or trainings employing many of the company's methods, in the United States and nine other countries, according to Hanley's Lifespring Now website. Among these are "Discovery" in Texas and Southern California, and "WorldWorks," also in Southern California. A course system titled "Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness" has also been referred to as a spinoff of Lifespring.
Several adaptations of the Lifespring program exist in Russia, among them the aforementioned "Rose of the World", and "Leadership Academy".
See also 
- McAndrews, Anne (May 1994). "I Lost My Husband to a Cult," Redbook Magazine. Retrieved 2013-01-20.
- "The Nominee's Soul Mate," The Washington Post, Laura Blumenfeld, September 10, 1991; Page F01
- The Newsletter of The North Texas Skeptics, March program looks at Lifespring, Volume 3 Number 3, May/June 1989
- Brown, Larry (June 21, 1980). "Lawyers Complain of Missing Records in Lifespring Death Suit," Seattle Times. Retrieved 2013-01-20.
- Melton, J. Gordon; James R. Lewis (1992). Perspectives on the New Age. SUNY Press. pp. 129–132. ISBN 0-7914-1213-X.
- A Critical Analysis of The Transformative Model of Mediation, Terri L. Kelly, Department of Conflict Resolution, Portland State University
- "In the Matter of the Complaint of Lifespring, Inc. against KARE-TV, Channel 11," Minnesota News Council, Determination 83
- Hoffman Institute, Board of Directors, Charles "Raz" Ingrasci, President & CEO
- Vahle, Neal; Connie Fillmore Bazzy (2002). The Unity Movement: Its Evolution and Spiritual Teachings. Templeton Foundation Press. pp. 399, 402, 403, 480. ISBN 1-890151-96-3.
- Lifespring Scientific Research, Scientific Inquiry: A Report on Independent Studies of the Lifespring Trainings, Page 3
- The Politics of Transformation: Recruitment — Indoctrination Processes In a Mass Marathon Psychology Organization, Philip Cushman, fair use excerpt, Introduction
- Fisher, Jeffrey D.; Silver, Chinsky, Goff, Klar (1990). Evaluating a Large Group Awareness Training. Springer-Verlag. p. 142. ISBN 0-387-97320-X Check
Page vii — "The research reported in this volume was awarded the American Psychological Association, Division 13, National Consultants to Management Award, August 13, 1989."
- DuMerton, M.A., C. (July 2004). Tragic Optimism and Choices. Trinity Western University.
- Zeig, Jeffrey K. (1997). The Evolution of Psychotherapy: The Third Conference. Psychology Press. pp. 352, 357. ISBN 0-87630-813-2.
"Training or T-groups, sensitivity training, and encounter groups spread and were followed by commercially sold large group awareness training programs, such as est, Lifespring and other programs."
- Burlingame, Gary M. (1994). Handbook of Group Psychotherapy: An Empirical and Clinical Synthesis. John Wiley and Sons. pp. 528, 532, 535, 539, 549, 550, 555, 556, 581, 583. ISBN 0-471-55592-4.
- Margaret Singer and Janja Lalich. Cults in our Midst (book), 1995, pp. 42–43. ISBN 0-7879-0051-6.
- Intruding into the Workplace, Dr Margaret Singer, excerpted from Cults in our Midst (book), 1995.
- Large Group Awareness Trainings (LGAT), Cultic Studies Journal, International Cultic Studies Association, retrieved 1/17/2006.
- The Mary Polaski "L" Series, Mary Polaski, written 2000, retrieved 1/10/07.
- Large Group Awareness Trainings, Michael Langone, Ph.D., Cult Observer, Volume 15, No. 1, 1998
- Coon, Dennis (2004). Psychology: A Journey. Thomson Wadsworth. pp. 520, 528, 538. ISBN 0-534-63264-5.
"Large-group awareness training refers to programs that claim to increase self-awareness and facilitate constructive personal change. Lifespring, Actualizations, the Forum, and similar commercial programs are examples. Like the smaller groups that preceded them, large-group trainings combine psychological exercises, confrontation, new view-points, and group dynamics to promote personal change."
- Tindale, R. Scott (2001). Group Processes: Blackwell Handbook of Social Psychology. Blackwell Publishing. p. 630. ISBN 1-4051-0653-0.
"EST, FORUM and LIFESPRING are all examples of LGATs, for members seek to improve their overall level of satisfaction and interpersonal relations by carrying out such experiential exercises as role-playing, group singing and chanting, and guided group interaction."
- Coon, Dennis (2003). Introduction to Psychology: Gateways to Mind and Behavior. Thomson Wadsworth. pp. 648, 649, 655. ISBN 0-534-61227-X.
- Fisher, Marc (October 25, 1987). 'I Cried Enough to Fill a Glass'. Washington Post Magazine.
- Clergy and Cults: A Survey, The Rev. Richard L. Dowhower, D. D., Cult Observer, Vol. 11, No. 3 (1994).
- Pomerantsev, Peter (2011-05-01). "The Lost Girl". Newsweek. Retrieved 2011-05-21.
- Lifespring Now - Centers, retrieved 4/28/13.
Further reading 
- Janice Haaken, Ph.D. and Richard Adams, Ph.D.: "Pathology as 'Personal Growth': A Participant-Observation Study of Lifespring Training" in Psychiatry, Vol 46, August 1983
- John Hanley: Lifespring: Getting Yourself from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be Simon and Schuster 1989 ISBN 0-671-72508-4
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