|For-profit, private company|
|Founder||John Hanley Sr.|
|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., 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.
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.
The Lifespring training 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 training 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 this training called it either "extremely valuable" or "valuable" (around 90%). Many described the training 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 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% of advanced training graduates participated in the leadership program. Trainings 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.
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.
Soon after the conviction, Hanley joined Holiday Magic. The Wisconsin Justice Department sued him and others over a pyramid scheme involving the company. Hanley paid the state $1,750 to settle the case, but told the Post that he did so only to avoid the costs of hiring a lawyer, not because he had done anything wrong.
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.
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 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.
While Lifespring no longer delivers trainings, 75 independent companies offer replicas or trainings employing many of the company's methods, in the United States and in nine other countries, according to Hanley. These include "Discovery" in Texas and in Southern California, and "WorldWorks", also in Southern California.
"Mastery In Transformational Training", located in Marina del Ray, is one out of five of the 75 independent companies that have established a formal relationship with John Hanley, Sr. by purchasing an official license.
"Choice Center "in Las Vegas, Nevada, bases its methods on the Lifespring model.
"Educational Awareness Center" in Los Angeles, California utilizes exactly the same approach.
Peter Pomerantsev examines a Russian version of the training program, "The Rose of the World", in his 2014 book Nothing is True and Everything is Possible.
The "Gratitude Trainings" company has continued the work of using the Lifespring model. Gratitude, based in West Palm Beach, FL, has expanded to Fort Lauderdale, FL. Gratitude graduates started as Summit Education graduates and then started their own transformational company to replace the parent company.
- 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.
- 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.
- Mind Dynamics (Precursor to LGAT), Cult Awareness and Information Library, retrieved 10/20/13
- “Human Potential Movement”: Corporate Cult, The Bell, retrieved 10/20/13
- 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, 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 0-387-97320-6.
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, 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.
- Lifespring Now, retrieved 7/4/14.
- 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
|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|