|Founder||John Hanley Sr.|
|John Hanley Sr.|
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. Members were routinely criticized and humiliated for not enrolling enough people. The leadership program consisted of meetings and lectures with 3 mandatory weekends, the third weekend which was highly secretive the participants were taken o an undisclosed location. Participants were told that they made a commitment to 3 weekends and there was no excuse for not attending..not even for the death of a close family member. Members were told that attending the funeral would not change anything and they must instead attend the weekend. The expression. .IF WE SAY JUMP YOU ASK...the group must answer HOW HIGH?? was common.
Studies commissioned by Lifespring in the 1980s by researchers at Berkeley, Stanford, and UCSF, including Lee Ross, Morton Lieberman, and Irvin D. Yalom, found that an overwhelming majority of participants in this training called it either "extremely valuable" or "valuable" (around 90 percent). Many described the training as among the most profound experiences of their lives and said they were able to produce substantial results in their lives as a result of their participation.  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 participate did not complete their task the group was considered in "breakdown ". The advanced course had a "Stretch Night" during which usually reserved women would have to dress a strippers and perform a strip tease to music and strip down to bikinis, macho type men were made to dress in ballet tutus and dance to Sugar Plum Fairy, gay men would perform I Am What I Am and opinionated men would have to be The Righteous Brothers and sing Unchained Melody to name a few. The leadership program participants were also assigned stretches some almost bordering on the illegal such as photographing themselves riding the Lions in front of the main branch of the New York City Public Library.
Lifespring claims to have trained more than 400,000 people through its ten centers across the country. However, 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 jumped 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.
While Lifespring no longer delivers training, 75 independent companies offer replicas or training employing many of the company's methods, in the United States and in nine other countries, according to Hanley. These include:
"Ascension Leadership Academy", in San Diego, California, bases its methods on the Lifespring model. Two of the trainers at Ascenion, Chris Lee and Michael Strasner, are former LifeSpring trainers. They also worked with Margo Majdi, the Founder and President of Mastery in Transformational Training, also known as MITT. "Mastery In Transformational Training", in Marina del Rey, 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.
"Discovery", in Southern California and Texas, offers replicas or training employing many of the company's methods.
"Gratitude Trainings", in Charlotte, North Carolina and Florida, bases its methods on the Lifespring model.
"Leaders in Transformation", also known as LIT, bases its methods on the Lifespring model.
“Next Level Trainings”, in Columbus, Ohio and Philadelphia, Pennsylvnia, bases its methods on the Lifespring model and has mentioned its influence in the trainings.
"WorldWorks", in Southern California, offers replicas or training employing many of the company's methods.
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"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."
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"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."
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