|Founder||John Hanley Sr.|
|John Hanley Sr.|
Lifespring encountered significant controversy; various academic articles published in psychology journals in the 1970s and 1980s characterized Lifespring's training methods as "deceptive and indirect techniques of persuasion and control", and featured allegations that Lifespring was a cult that coerced members from leaving.
After these allegations were highlighted in a 1987 article in the Washington Post and local television reporting in communities where Lifespring had a significant presence, Lifespring changed its name to the "Legacy Center." The Legacy Center was also met with controversy, and when it was under investigation by the North Carolina Attorney General's office for allegedly defrauding its members, it changed its name to the "Gratitude Center."
John Hanley Sr., Robert White, Randy Revell, and Charlene Afremow founded Lifespring in 1974. As of October 1987, Hanley owned 92.7 percent of the company. Prior to Lifespring, Hanley worked for the company Holiday Magic. He and the other founders also worked for 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.
The Lifespring training generally involved a three-level program starting with a "basic" training, an "advanced" breakthrough course, and a three-month "leadership program" which taught the students how to implement what they learned from the training into their lives. "There is no hope" is a fundamental tenet in the course. The fundamental purpose of the leadership program was enrollment, participants were told the city and the world is at stake and the only solution was enrolling as many people into the trainings as possible.
 Less than two percent found them to be "of no value". Graduates were often eager to share their own experiences in the training 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 6 pm. The trainings were usually held in the convention facilities of large, easily accessible, moderate priced hotels (i.e., mid-town New York). A basic training was usually composed of 150–200 participants, while an advanced training was composed of 75-100 participants. Approximately 50 percent of advanced training graduates participated in the leadership program. Training also included alumni volunteers who served as small group leaders, several official staff, an assistant trainer, and a head trainer.
The training consisted of a series of lectures and experiential 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 training. A few individuals choose not to complete the training. 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. "Stretch" was an activity that was outside the participant's comfort zone. During the advanced course the participants were sometimes sent out to perform certain tasks. If any participant did not complete their task the group was considered in "breakdown ".
Lifespring claims to have trained more than 400,000 people through its ten centers across the country. A number of lawsuits were filed against Lifespring (personal communication with trainers), including two cases in which deaths allegedly resulted from trainings. Lifespring settled most of the suits.
In one case an asthmatic was allegedly told that her asthma exacerbation was psychological and later died from the exacerbation. The lawsuit was settled for $450,000, and Lifespring admitted no wrongdoing. In another case a man who could not swim was made to jump into a river and drowned. This case was also settled out of court. Many suits said the trainings placed participants under extreme psychological stress.
The Washington Post published an article about the company in 1987. It quotes Hanley as saying, "If a thousand people get benefit from the training, and one person is harmed, I'd can it. I have an absolute commitment for having this training work for every person who takes it." However, according to the Post, by 1987 Hanley and other Lifespring executives had known for more than a decade that some people were not suited for this level of personal inquiry. As evidence, the Post cited:
- Talk among top company officials about how to make the trainings less harsh while maintaining their effectiveness
- Dozens of reports submitted to Hanley in the late 1970s and early 1980s by Lifespring staff about participants who became panicky, confused, or nervous
Over time, the training company began qualifying students and required doctors' signatures for people who might require therapy rather than coaching.
In 1980, a federal judge rejected Hanley's request to have the felony conviction removed from his record. His request for a presidential pardon was also denied.
One prominent critic of Lifespring is Virginia Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Mrs. Thomas said in an interview with the Post that she chose to seek counseling after her decision to stop participating in Lifespring. In her interview with the Post she stated that after she chose to publicly criticize the organization, she received dozens of phone calls at 3 or 4 AM, was mailed a picture of her 3-year old daughter at daycare, and received a death threat from a former member at a local mall.
- About Robert White, Living an Extraordinary Life, retrieved 10/20/13
- York, Michael (2009). The A to Z of New Age Movements. Scarecrow Press. p. 121. ISBN 9780810863323.
- Large Group Awareness Training Program, The Skeptic's Dictionary, retrieved 10/20/13
- Fisher, Marc (October 25, 1987). 'I Cried Enough to Fill a Glass'. "Washington Post Magazine.
- 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 Archived 2014-07-14 at the Wayback Machine, 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 Archived 2007-02-08 at the Wayback Machine, 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 — 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 0-387-97320-6.
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, C. (July 2004). "Tragic Optimism and Choices". Trinity Western University. Cite journal requires
- 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.
- Michael Langone, 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. pp. 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.
- "I cried enough to fill a glass". The Washington Post. October 25, 1987.
- Haaken, J; Adams, R (August 1983). "Pathology as "personal growth": a participant-observation study of lifespring training". Psychiatry. 46 (3): 270–80. doi:10.1080/00332747.1983.11024199. PMID 6622602. Retrieved 26 February 2019.
- Hanley, John (1989). Lifespring: Getting Yourself From Where You Are To Where You Want To Be. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 9780671646431. OCLC 19128147.
|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|