Large-group awareness training

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The term large-group awareness training (LGAT) refers to activities - usually offered by groups with links to the human potential movement - which claim to increase self-awareness and to bring about desirable transformations in individuals' personal lives.[1] LGATs are unconventional; they often take place over several days,[2][need quotation to verify][3] and may compromise participants' mental wellbeing.[4][5]

LGAT programs may involve several hundred people at a time.[6] Though early definitions cited LGATs as featuring unusually long durations, more recent texts[which?] describe trainings lasting from a few hours to a few days.

Forsyth and Corazzini cite Lieberman (1994) as suggesting "that at least 1.3 million Americans have taken part in LGAT sessions".[7]

Definitions of LGAT[edit]

In 2005 Rubinstein compared large-group awareness training to certain principles of cognitive therapy, such as the idea that people can change their lives by reinterpreting the way they view external circumstances.[8]

In the 1997 collection of essays Consumer Research: Postcards from the edge, discussing behavioral and economic studies, the authors contrast the "enclosed locations" used in Large Group Awareness Trainings with the relatively open environment of a "variety store".[9][need quotation to verify][10][need quotation to verify][page needed]

The Handbook of Group Psychotherapy (1994) characterised Large Group Awareness Training as focusing on "philosophical, psychological and ethical issues" relating "to personal effectiveness, decision-making, personal responsibility, and commitment."[11][12]

Psychologist Dennis Coon's textbook, Psychology: A Journey, defines the term "Large-group awareness training" as referring to programs claiming "to increase self-awareness and facilitate constructive personal change".[13] Coon further defines Large Group Awareness Training in his book Introduction to Psychology.[14][need quotation to verify] Coon and Mitterer emphasize the commercial nature of several LGAT organizations.[15]

The evolution of LGAT providers[edit]

Lou Kilzer, writing in The Rocky Mountain News, identified Leadership Dynamics (in operation 1967–1973) as "the first of the genre psychologists call 'large group awareness training'".[16] Leadership Dynamics directly or indirectly influenced several permutations of large-group transformation trainings.[citation needed] Werner Erhard (successively associated with Erhard Seminars Training (est or EST), WE&A and Landmark Education) trained as an instructor with Mind Dynamics.[17] Michael Langone notes that Erhard Seminars Training (est) became in the popular mind the archetype for LGATs.[18]

While working for Holiday Magic, Lifespring founder John Hanley attended a course at Leadership Dynamics.[19] Chris Mathe, at the time a PhD candidate in clinical psychology, wrote that most of the current commercial forms of Large Group Awareness Training as of 1999 were modeled after the Leadership Dynamics Institute.[20][self-published source?]

Academic analyses, studies[edit]

"Large Group Awareness Training", a 1982 peer-reviewed article published in Annual Review of Psychology, sought to summarize literature on the subject of LGATs and to examine their efficacy and their relationship with more standard psychology. This academic article describes and analyzes large group awareness training as influenced by the work of humanistic psychologists such as Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow and Rollo May.[21]

LGATs as commercial trainings took many techniques from encounter groups.[citation needed] They existed alongside but "outside the domains of academic psychology or psychiatry. Their measure of performance was consumer satisfaction and formal research was seldom pursued."[22]

The article describes an est training, and discusses the literature on the testimony of est graduates. It notes minor changes on psychological tests after the training and mentions anecdotal reports of psychiatric casualties among est trainees. The article considers how est compares to more standard psychotherapy techniques such as behavior therapy, group and existential psychotherapy before concluding with a call for "objective and rigorous research" and stating that unknown variables might have accounted for some of the positive accounts. Psychologists advised borderline or psychotic patients not to participate.[22]

Psychological factors cited by academics[clarification needed] include emotional "flooding", catharsis, universality (identification with others), the instillation of hope, identification and what Sartre called "uncontested authorship".[22]

In 1989 researchers from the University of Connecticut received the "National Consultants to Management Award" from the American Psychological Association for their study: Evaluating a Large Group Awareness Training.[23]

Psychologist Chris Mathe has written in the interests of consumer-protection, encouraging potential attendees of LGATs to discuss such trainings with any current therapist or counselor, to examine the principles underlying the program, and to determine pre-screening methods, the training of facilitators, the full cost of the training and of any suggested follow-up care.[20] One study noted the many difficulties in evaluating LGATs, from proponents' explicit rejection of certain study models to difficulty in establishing a rigorous control group.[22] In some cases, organizations under study have partially funded research into themselves.[4]

Not all professional researchers view LGATs favorably. Researchers such as psychologist Philip Cushman,[24] for example, found that the program he studied "consists of a pre-meditated attack on the self". A 1983 study on Lifespring[5] found that "although participants often experience a heightened sense of well-being as a consequence of the training, the phenomenon is essentially pathological", meaning that, in the program studied, "the training systematically undermines ego functioning and promotes regression to the extent that reality testing is significantly impaired". Lieberman's 1987 study,[4] funded partially by Lifespring, noted that 5 out of a sample of 289 participants experienced "stress reactions" including one "transitory psychotic episode". He commented: "Whether [these five] would have experienced such stress under other conditions cannot be answered. The clinical evidence, however, is that the reactions were directly attributable to the large group awareness training."

In 2003 the Vatican reported its study results about New Age training courses:

New Age training courses (what used to be known as "Erhard seminar trainings" [EST] etc.) marry counter-cultural values with the mainstream need to succeed, inner satisfaction with outer success ...

In Coon's psychology textbook (Introduction to Psychology) the author references many other studies, which postulate that many of the "claimed benefits" of Large Group Awareness Training actually take the form of "a kind of therapy placebo effect".[14]

Jarvis described Large Group Awareness Training as "educationally dubious" in the 2002 book The Theory & Practice of Teaching.[26]

Tapper mentions that "some [unspecified] large group-awareness training and psychotherapy groups" exemplify non-religious "cults".[27] Benjamin criticizes LGAT groups for their high prices and spiritual subtleties.[28]

LGAT techniques[edit]

Specific techniques used in some Large Group Awareness Trainings may include:

LGATs utilize such techniques during long sessions, sometimes called "marathon" sessions. Paglia describes "EST's Large Group Awareness Training": "Marathon, eight-hour sessions, in which [participants] were confined and harassed, supposedly led to the breakdown of conventional ego, after which they were in effect born again."[32]

Finkelstein's 1982 article provides a detailed description of the structure and techniques of an Erhard Seminars Training event - techniques similar to those used in some group therapy and encounter groups.[22] The academic textbook, Handbook of Group Psychotherapy regards Large Group Awareness Training organisations as "less open to leader differences",[clarification needed] because they follow a "detailed written plan" that does not vary from one training to the next.[12]

In his book Life 102, LGAT participant and former trainer Peter McWilliams describes the basic technique of marathon trainings as pressure/release and asserts that advertising uses pressure/release "all the time", as do "good cop/bad cop" police-interrogations and revival meetings. By spending approximately half the time making a person feel bad and then suddenly reversing the feeling through effusive praise, the programs cause participants to experience a stress-reaction and an "endorphin high". McWilliams gives examples of various LGAT activities called processes with names such as "love bomb," "lifeboat", "cocktail party" and "cradling", which take place over many hours and days, physically exhausting the participants to make them more susceptible to the trainer's message, whether in the participants' best interests or not.[33]

Although extremely critical of some LGATs, McWilliams found positive value in others[which?], asserting that they varied not in technique but in the application of technique.[33]

LGATs and the anti-cult movement[edit]

After commissioning a report in 1993 by the anti-cult psychologist Margaret Singer, the American Psychological Association subsequently rejected[34] and strongly criticised [35] Singer's 1996 report (produced with the APA Task Force on Deceptive and Indirect Methods of Persuasion and Control), which included large group awareness trainings as one example of what she called "coercive persuasion". In 1997 the APA characterized Singer's hypotheses as "uninformed speculations based on skewed data" [35] and stated that the report generally lacked "the scientific rigor and evenhanded critical approach necessary for APA imprimatur."[34] The APA also stated that "the specific methods by which Drs. Singer and Benson have arrived at their conclusions have also been rejected by all serious scholars in the field."[35] Singer sued the APA, and lost on June 17, 1994.[36] Despite the APA rejection of her report, Singer remained in good standing in the psychological research community.[37] Singer reworked much of the report material into the book Cults in Our Midst (1995, second edition: 2003), which she co-authored with Janja Lalich.

Singer and Lalich stated that "large group awareness trainings" tend to last at least four days and usually five. Their book mentions Erhard Seminars Training and its derivatives, such as the Landmark Forum, Lifespring, Actualizations, MSIA/Insight and PSI Seminars.

In her book, Singer differentiated between the usage of the terms cult and Large Group Awareness Training,[38][page needed] while pointing out some commonalities.[39][40] Elsewhere she groups the two phenomena together, in that they both use a shared set of thought-reform techniques.[41]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Coon, Dennis (2004). Psychology: A Journey. Thomson Wadsworth. pp. 520, 528, 538. ISBN 0-534-63264-5.
  2. ^ Philip Cushman (1993). "Mass marathon trainings". The politics of transformation: Recruitment-Indoctrination processes in a mass marathon psychology organization (Thesis). St. Martin's Press.
  3. ^ Hughes, Steven James (1998). Developmental Effects of Participation in a Large Group Awareness Training. University of Minnesota. p. 2. Retrieved 1 July 2021. LGATs typically take place over the course of three to five days or over sequential weekends. The time spent in the trainings is intensive, normally consisting of 12 to 15 hour days.
  4. ^ a b c Lieberman, M. A. (April 1987). "Effects of large group awareness training on participants' psychiatric status". American Journal of Psychiatry. American Psychiatric Association Publishing. 144 (4): 460–464. doi:10.1176/ajp.144.4.460. ISSN 0002-953X.
  5. ^ a b Haaken, Janice; Adams, Richard (1983). "Pathology as 'Personal Growth': A Participant-Observation Study of Lifespring Training". Psychiatry. Informa UK Limited. 46 (3): 270–280. doi:10.1080/00332747.1983.11024199. ISSN 0033-2747.
  6. ^ Weigel, Richard G. (2002). "The marathon encounter group—vision and reality: Exhuming the body for a last look". Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research. American Psychological Association. 54 (3): 186–198. doi:10.1037/1061-4087.54.3.186. ISSN 1065-9293. The groups I'm talking about are est (and its more recent descendant, The Forum) and Lifespring, both of which use structured activities; involve several hundred or more participants and one central leader ...
  7. ^ Forsyth, Donelson R.; Corazzini, John G. (2000). "Groups as Change Agents" (PDF). In Snyder, Charles Richard; Ingram, R E (eds.). Handbook of psychological change: Psychotherapy processes and practices for the 21st century. New York: Wiley. Lieberman suggests that at least 1.3 million Americans have taken part in LGAT sessions.
  8. ^ Rubinstein, Gidi (2005). "Characteristics of participants in the Forum, psychotherapy clients, and control participants: A comparative study". Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice. British Psychological Society. 78 (4): 481–492. doi:10.1348/147608305X42721. ISSN 1476-0835. PMID 16354440. S2CID 13599890. In general, LGATs espouse the idea that people are capable of changing their lives, not so much by modifying their external circumstances, but by changing the way they interpret them (Berger, 1977; Erhard & Gioscia, 1978), which is in accord with the principles of cognitive therapy (e.g. Beck, Rush, Shaw, & Emery, 1985; Ellis, 1974; Meichenbaum, 1977).
  9. ^ Brown, Stephen I.; Darach Turley (1997). Consumer Research: Postcards from the edge. Routledge. pp. 279. ISBN 0-415-17317-5.
  10. ^ Brown, Stephen; Turley, Darach, eds. (1997). Consumer Research: Postcards From the Edge. London: Routledge (published 2005). ISBN 9781134690022. Retrieved 13 July 2020.
  11. ^ Burlingame, Gary M. (1994). Handbook of Group Psychotherapy: An Empirical and Clinical Synthesis. John Wiley and Sons. p. 535. ISBN 0-471-55592-4. Retrieved 9 February 2021. LGATs focus on philosophical, psychological, and ethical issues related to personal effectiveness, decision-making, personal responsibility, and commitment.
  12. ^ a b 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.
  13. ^ Coon, Dennis (2004). Psychology: A Journey. Thomson Wadsworth. p. 520. ISBN 0-534-63264-5. Large-group awareness training refers to programs that claim to increase self-awareness and facilitate constructive personal change.
  14. ^ a b Coon, Dennis (2003). Introduction to Psychology: Gateways to Mind and Behavior. Thomson Wadsworth. pp. 648, 649, 655. ISBN 0-495-59913-1.
  15. ^ Coon, Dennis; Mitterer, John O. (2010). "Therapies". Introduction to Psychology: Gateways to Mind and Behavior. CengageNOW Series. 12. Cengage Learning. p. 513. ISBN 9780495599111. Retrieved 13 July 2020. Large-group awareness training refers to programs that claim to increase self-awareness and facilitate constructive personal change. The Garden Company, Lifespring, the Forum, the Hoffman Quadrinity Process, and similar commercial programs are examples. ... Large-group awareness training[:] Any of a number of programs (many of them commercialized) that claim to increase self-awareness and facilitate constructive personal change.
  16. ^ Kilzer, Lou (July 18, 1999). "Desperate Measures Network of Behavior Modification Compounds Known as Teen Help Has Straightened Out Hundreds of Defiant Adolescents, But Its Methods Aren't For the Faint-hearted". Rocky Mountain News. E. W. Scripps Company.
    "The first of the genre psychologists call "large group awareness training" was the Leadership Dynamics Institute..."
  17. ^ Lande, Nathaniel (1976). Mindstyles, Lifestyles: A Comprehensive Overview of Today's Life-changing Philosophies. Price/Stern/Sloan. ISBN 9780843104097. Retrieved 22 January 2020. ... Werner Erhard trained as a Mind Dynamics instructor ...
  18. ^ Langone, Michael (1998). "Large Group Awareness Trainings". Cult Observer. International Cultic Studies Association. 15 (1). ISSN 1539-0152. Retrieved 2017-06-11. In the 1960s the encounter group movement was born. Advocating enhanced communication and intensified experience, this movement evolved into something that was part psychotherapy, part spirituality, and part business. In some scholarly articles, these groups were referred to as "large group awareness trainings" or LGATs. Erhard Seminars Training (est) was the most successful of these groups, and it has been widely imitated. Even though it no longer officially exists, in the minds of many est is identified with the entire LGAT movement. It is in a sense the progenitor of a myriad of programs that have been marketed to the public and the business community.
  19. ^ Fisher, Marc (October 25, 1987). "I Cried Enough to Fill a Glass: In One Lifespring Session, Trainees May Find Themselves Crawling on Their Hands and Knees, Wailing Like Infants and Tightly Hugging 200 Total Strangers - All to Get Control of Their Lives. Does it Work? Sometimes". The Washington Post. 1987 The Washington Post.
  20. ^ a b Mathe, Chris (1999). "Choosing a Personal Growth Program: Ten questions to help you make an informed decision". Archived from the original on 2006-07-14. Most of today's commercial LGATs are modeled after the Leadership Dynamics Institute (LDI), a program developed by William Penn Patrick in the early 1960s.
  21. ^ See for example Fisher, Silver & Goff 1990, p. 1. Quote: "Large Group Awareness Training: An Historical Context. Groups associated with the human potential movement have been a controversial feature of American life during the last three decades."
  22. ^ a b c d e Finkelstein, P.; Wenegrat, B.; Yalom, I. (1982). "Large Group Awareness Training". Annual Review of Psychology. Calvin Perry Stone. 33 (1): 515–539. doi:10.1146/ ISSN 0066-4308.[need quotation to verify]
  23. ^ Fisher, Jeffrey D.; Silver, Chinsky; Goff, Klar (1990). Evaluating a Large Group Awareness Training. Springer-Verlag. p. vii. ISBN 978-0-387-97320-3. The research reported in this volume was awarded the American Psychological Association, Division 13, National Consultants to Management Award, August 13, 1989.
  24. ^ Cushman, "Iron Fists/Velvet Gloves: A Study of A Mass Marathon Psychology Training", Psychotherapy vol 26, Spring 1989.
  25. ^ Pontifical Council for Culture; Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (eds.). "A Christian reflection on the "New Age"". The Vatican. Retrieved 2013-11-30.
  26. ^ Jarvis, Peter (2002). The Theory & Practice of Teaching. Routledge. p. 97. ISBN 0-7494-3409-0.
  27. ^ Tapper, A (September 2002). "The Impact of Cults on Health" (PDF). Nursing Spectrum.
  28. ^ Benjamin, Elliot (June 2005). "Spirituality and Cults" (PDF). Integral Science. Retrieved 2013-11-30. ... the dogma, recruitment focus, and high prices of Avatar courses are in themselves enough reason to be very much on guard with this organization.
  29. ^ a b c d e f "Intruding into the Workplace", Margaret Singer, excerpted from Singer, Margaret; Janja Lalich (1995). Cults in our Midst. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers. ISBN 0-7879-0051-6. Retrieved November 19, 2007. Aside from complaining that they were being put through programs tantamount to a forced religious conversion, employees also objected to specific techniques being used: meditation, neurolinguistic programming, biofeedback, self-hypnosis, bizarre relaxation techniques, mind control, body touching, yoga, trance inductions, visualization, and in some cases, intense confrontational sessions akin to the "attack" therapy methods that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s.
  30. ^ Hughes, Steven James (1998). Developmental Effects of Participation in a Large Group Awareness Training. University of Minnesota. p. 53. Retrieved 18 Apr 2019. Many LGAT principles are codified in catch phrases .... Many such phrases form the unique vocabulary that emerges as the training progresses. Use of LGAT 'jargon' (e.g., 'I got it,' 'that works for me,' 'get off automatic,' and 'shift!') may signal acceptance of LGAT norms ....
  31. ^ Partridge, C. (2004). New Religions: A Guide; New Religious Movements, Sects and Alternative Spiritualities. Oxford University Press. p. 407. ISBN 0-19-522042-0.
  32. ^ Paglia, Carmen (Winter 2003). "Cults and Cosmic Consciousness: Religious Vision in the American 1960s" (PDF). Arion. Boston University. 10 (3): 106. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 24, 2009. Retrieved August 5, 2009.
  33. ^ a b McWilliams, Peter (1994). Life 102: What To Do When Your Guru Sues You. Los Angelos: Mary Book / Prelude Press. pp. 6–7. ISBN 0-931580-34-X.
  34. ^ a b University of Virginia Library Archived 2006-09-01 at the Wayback Machine
  35. ^ a b c CESNUR – APA Brief in the Molko Case
  36. ^ Decision Against Margaret Singer (CESNUR)
  37. ^ Blim, Andrew: 'Cult Experts Sue Lawyers, Others" in National Law Journal, August 31, 1992, Vol 33, Issue 19: "Berkeley professors Margaret Singer and Richard Ofshe ... are viewed by even the lawyer-defendants as reputable scholars".
  38. ^ Singer, Margaret (1996). "Intruding into the Workplace". Cults in our Midst. Jossey-Bass. ISBN 0-7879-0266-7.
  39. ^ Singer, Margaret Thaler (1995). Cults in our midst. Jossey-Bass social and behavioral science series. with Janja Lalich ; foreword by Robert Jay Lifton. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers. p. 381. ISBN 0-7879-0051-6. Retrieved May 26, 2010.
  40. ^ Singer, Margaret Thaler (1995). Cults in our midst. Jossey-Bass social and behavioral science series. with Janja Lalich; foreword by Robert Jay Lifton. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers. p. 85. ISBN 0-7879-0051-6. Retrieved May 26, 2010. ... cultic groups use large group awareness training (LGAT) techniques ...
  41. ^ Singer, Margaret Thaler (2003). "The Process of Brainwashing, Psychological Coercion, and Thought Reform". In Dawson, Lorne L. (ed.). Cults and new religious movements: a reader. Blackwell readings in religion. Vol. 2 (2nd ed.). Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 149–150. ISBN 978-1-4051-0181-3. Retrieved May 26, 2010. There is ... an important distinction ... between the version of though reform prevalent in the 1940s and 1950s and the version used by a number of contemporary groups, including cults, large group awareness training programs, and assorted other groups. These latter-day efforts have built upon the age-old influence techniques to perfect amazingly successful programs of persuasion and change. What's new – and crucial – is that these programs change attitudes by attacking essential aspects of a person's sense of self, unlike the earlier brainwashing programs that primarily confronted a person's political beliefs.

Further reading[edit]