Landmark Education/Abd/Large-group awareness training?
This page is drafted by Abd. Changes to it, if significant, should be attributed.
The term "Large group awareness training" was coined to refer to the est training, the predecessor activity, in a paper that was laudatory of the training. However, the term came to be used in quite negative ways, and Landmark officially denies, at present, that the Landmark Forum is an LGAT.
This may be more about what associations have come to be attached, in common usage, to "LGAT," than about fact. The Forum is a large, group, awareness training. If that were all that were involved in the meaning of LGAT, it would be silly for Landmark to deny it. But LGAT is not limited to the simple meaning of the words alone. The Wikipedia article, linked above, should be read to understand this. A whole series of qualifiers and characteristics are asserted as being those of "LGATs".
The characteristics asserted are either not applicable to the Forum, or are applied in distorted ways. We may study, on this page, the possible applicability and/or distortions. This would include the lumping of LGATs in with "cults."
From the Wikipedia article
- Large-group awareness training (LGAT) refers to activities usually offered by groups linked with the human potential movement which claim to increase self-awareness and bring about desirable transformations in individuals' personal lives. They have been described by Michael Langone as "new age trainings" and by Philip Cushman as "mass marathon trainings".
This does not define LGAT, and is both vague and definition-by-example, such as, "Fruit is usually an apple, pear, banana, orange, etc."
- Langone: this is a 1998 comment in the "Cult Observer." A copy is at . Langone does identify the origin of "LGAT" with studies of est. The comment begin:
- 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.
- So we have a phenomenon, est, that was widely imitated, and that was referred to with a generic term, LGAT. So what is an LGAT? In a certain way this is circular. Landmark came from est and incorporated the technology, so if est was LGAT, so too would Landmark be, by default. However, was the analysis of est accurate? Definitions of words shift with time. That this article appears in a journal about cults telegraphs a certain perspective.
- Finding this piece as a reference in the lede of a Wikipedia article is disconcerting. References in the lede are a sign of a battleground article.
- Cushman. This is referenced to" Mass Marathon Trainings, excerpted, The Politics of Transformation: Recruitment – Indoctrination Processes in a Mass Marathon Psychology Organization, St. Martin's Press 1993, Philip Cushman, Ph.D.
- St. Martin's Press. Same publisher as "Outrageous Betrayal," a lurid expose of Werner Erhard's personal history, also published in 1993. Technically, this would be "reliable source," but only handled with extreme caution, because of strong point of view expressed.
The lede continues:
- LGAT programs may involve several hundred people at a time. Though early definitions cited LGATs as featuring unusually long durations, more recent texts describe the trainings as lasting from a few hours to a few days. In 2004, DuMerton, citing "Langone (1989)", estimated that "[p]erhaps a million Americans have attended LGATs".: 39 Forsyth and Corazzini cite Lieberman (1994) as suggesting "that at least 1.3 million Americans have taken part in LGAT sessions".
- So an LGAT may involve several hundred people. Or only a few? Is, say, a Landmark Self-Expression and Leadership Program class, which includes Saturday sessions that last about 12 hours, but most roughly weekly classrooms are about 3 hours, part of an LGAT? There might be only about fifty people there. The Introduction Leader Program may have sixteen people in a roughly weekly classroom. LGAT? In the ILP, the centralized regional workdays might have up to 300 people and might last for as long as two and a half days. Same program, really, just a large centralized version, with what becomes possible in such a large group. Lots of loud dance music as one walks into the room, people having outrageous levels of fun. (In such a large group, the Leaders can be the best in the field, whereas local classroom leaders are less experienced.)
- The best known group that is still active that is called an LGAT may be Landmark, and specifically, the best known and most widely-attended training is the Landmark Forum. That is definitely longer than what most people are accustomed to. Basically, 39 hours or so, being three days of 13 hours each, spread out from about 9 AM to 10 PM, sometimes a bit later. But that is not 13 uninterrupted hours, there are two half-hour breaks and a substantial dinner break, as I recall an hour and a half. It's really three sessions of roughly three hours each. The Forum is large, if over 100 is large. However, this is largely determined by economics. There is definitely something about groups that creates a special effect, but that kicks in with groups below fifty people. It can happen in even smaller groups, even just a few people.
So, let's move to definitions:
- DuMerton described Large Group Awareness Training as "teaching simple, but often overlooked wisdom, which takes place over the period of a few days, in which individuals receive intense, emotionally-focused instruction".  Rubinstein compared large-group awareness training to certain principles of cognitive therapy, such as the idea that people can change their lives by interpreting the way they view external circumstances. And in Consumer Research: Postcards from the edge, when discussing behavioral and economic studies, the authors contrasted the "enclosed locations" used with Large Group Awareness Trainings with the "relatively open" environment of a "variety store".
- I'm getting that we aren't going to find much help from the Wikipedia article. DuMerton does not define an LGAT, but what is allegedly "taught" in one. However, Landmark denies that it "teaches" anything. Rather, my own synthesis, it uses language to point to common "but often overlooked" experience. Not exactly "wisdom." Unless riding a bicycle requires the "wisdom" of balance.
- Again, Rubinstein does not define LGAT in what is mentioned, but rather may be claiming that an LGAT uses an idea common in cognitive therapy, and, in fact, in common sense. Anyone who denies that life can be affected by how we frame it ("interpret it") not only knows nothing about LGATs, but they also do not know themselves and the function of language.
- And the Consumer Research book says what? That an LGAT is an "enclosed location" different from a variety store? I'm glad to know that! A bookstore loaded with self-help books might have been more apropos. It's important to warn people that if they go to the Landmark Forum, say at the Boston Center, there will be no tables and shelves loaded with merchandise to buy. Most of the time, there won't be an opportunity to buy anything, including coffee, excepting during the breaks. If you want coffee, you will have to leave the center and go across the street. You can easily do that during the breaks, and you can even do it during the program. I.e., if you Need Coffee, you will simply be breaking a rule that nobody is keeping score on. You learn, doing this work, and very quickly, to take care of yourself during the breaks! That includes going to the bathroom.
- So an LGAT is not like a variety store. This is definition by exclusion. It is also not a swimming pool, a rock concert (except in the breaks in the Introduction Leader Program in New York), a bookstore -- I have never seen any publication for sale at any Landmark Center or activity -- an ocean beach, a night club. The closest analogy might be, indeed, some kind of facilitated group therapy session. Except it isn't therapy. Damn! What is it?
- The Handbook of Group Psychotherapy described Large Group Awareness Training as focusing on "philosophical, psychological and ethical issues", as related to a desire to increase personal effectiveness in people's lives.
- They can't make up their minds, because Large Group Awareness training is not well-defined. The term was apparently coined to refer to est, but it then took on a life of its own, as it was heavily mixed with superficial judgments. The Handbook is not wrong, not at all, but again talks about the focus, not what the training *is*. A self-help book might focus on exactly that, but would not be an LGAT. That description is actually fairly close to the "issues" covered, but they are not covered academically, as in a class on philosophy, say.
- Psychologist Dennis Coon's textbook, Psychology: A Journey, defined the term "LGAT" as referring to: "programs that claim to increase self-awareness and facilitate constructive personal change". Coon further defines Large Group Awareness Training in his book Introduction to Psychology.
So if I create a book and self-help program claiming to do this, it's an LGAT? Coon "further defines LGAT in his book." Nice to know that! Care to share it with us, Wikipedia editor? If it is an personal, idiosyncratic definition, such that it could not be presented on Wikipedia for copyright definitions, it would not be a notable definition. The first example of "defined" from Coon was not a definition. That is, an LGAT is not any program that claims what was mentioned.
My guess is that Coon does define it. So all we are discovering here is Wikipedia incompetence, which is utterly no surprise. (That is, competence on Wikipedia is famously unreliable, it is, after all, the encyclopedia that anyone can edit. Skilled editors are relatively rare, and skilled writers are even more rare, along with experts.)
The evolution of LGAT-providers
So, now, without any definition that will allow us to determine what an LGAT provider is, we will have a history of same. What we are getting, as I mentioned above, is definition by example. Something is an LGAT if someone calls it that. So, this is what is interesting: let's assume that we have no problem with "training." We know what a training is. (There could be a problem there, but let's set it aside.)
What if there is a training that some call an LGAT, and others say that it is not? Is it an LGAT or not? How would we know? Believe it or not, there are many controversies on Wikipedia that boil down to this: he said, she said. And then which view do we present and which one do we assign prominence to? And does prominence refer to prominence among experts, or prominence in popular sources? In the end, does it have anything to do with definitions? In this case, obviously not, because there is no definition that is universally accepted. We see the total fuzziness in the material quoted above.
Landmark officially claims to not be an LGAT. On what basis? Well, I have seen the Super Sekrit "Corporate Questions." Hah! As one of the measures to meet in the Introduction Leader Program, we had the opportunity to memorize the questions and answers. Most were relatively innocuous and easy to remember. But "Is Landmark an LGAT"? Was in there. And the official answer was, of course, No. I had no difficulty remembering that.
Now, those assessing our completion of this task wanted more than that, they wanted the participant to be able to present some evidence from the document. And the evidence was that So-and-So, important expert, affiliated with an important organization, said that Landmark is not an LGAT. I had some difficulty remembering who that was, and still do; I could guess, but won't. So they would want me to present to a participant asking a question, something based only on "expert authority," when it's obvious that experts differ? This sequence is the only place where I can readily make up a story that Landmark was asking me to do something that I'd consider out of integrity. Nobody ever asked me the question, but had they, I'd have said,
- "Landmark officially says no, and an expert, Dr. So-and-So, of the Association of Important Psychologists, agreed with that. In reality, that depends on what an LGAT is. The Forum is somewhat large, it's a group, it generates awareness, and it is a training. However, LGAT means a lot of other things to many people. For example, in an LGAT, one might think, from what is said about them, they won't let you go to the bathroom. They will deprive you of sleep. They will tear you down, in order to generate relief and gratitude, when they then praise you. Landmark does not do those things. You might, if you are not careful, do them to yourself!
- "Ask anyone here who has done the Forum! Registering? Great, you are in for a treat! Be sure to get plenty of sleep, so you can be comfortable in the sessions. If you are falling asleep, you will have wasted much of your time. Go to the bathroom in the breaks, make a point of it. Drink water, but not too much water! If a Leader seems to be insulting you, speak up! Be Bold! You may bring out something of high value, not just for yourself, but for everyone there, so, also, Be "coachable!" i.e. listen and see if something clicks, even if it is not what you'd first think.
So, the article is hopeless as to defining LGATs, it is no better than the Landmark Corporate questions. By the way, I see nowhere in the article that the denial of Landmark that it is an LGAT is mentioned. Maybe that is because the article is not about Landmark, but about these undefined things, LGATs. So it shouldn't matter if Landmark is one.
Evaluations of LGATs
- Not all professional researchers view LGATs favorably. Researchers such as psychologist Philip Cushman, for example, found that the program he studied "consists of a pre-meditated attack on the self"
Where did that first sentence come from? Glad to know, though that most might view them favorably.
Cushman is, of course, cited in the lede, from his expose published by St. Martin's Press. However, what interests me here is "premeditated attack on the self." One could view the Forum this way, but what the Forum actually does is to elucidate the origin and operation of the self. The self covers its tracks and may not want its origin and modus operandi revealed. So is this an "attack"? The self can take it that way, but Forum Leaders are very familiar with how to approach this.
It's obvious what keeps us from changing, from transforming our lives to be what we truly want: it's us, our selves, our identities, what we believe ourselves to be. Otherwise we pretty much all have the same capacities, setting aside organic disabilities. There is a huge nature v. nurture argument, but "nurture" as an interpretation provides some hope for growth, and because people *do* grow and change, that's obvious to anyone who hangs around transformative processes much, much is reprogrammable, so the question is how.
Landmark does not attack the self, it does not, for example, make it bad or wrong. The dysfunctional, disempowering behaviors called "rackets" are extremely common, even universal. They arise from basic survival responses, found, in Landmark research, to be universal across cultures. They are not only not "bad," they are necessary. However, they are, at the same time, limiting. Landmark trainings are designed to allow people to recognize rackets and other behaviors (it's actually quite simple, once pointed out), to provide a clear experience of alternatives and the possibility of choices that differ from the standard, automatic, and sometimes "reasonable" behaviors, that have been conditioned only by survival, by win/lose, right/wrong, good/bad, and other interpretations, and it is pointed out that survival, by itself, is a game that we cannot win, we are destined to lose.
Above in the so-called "definitions," we had, to repeat.
- DuMerton described Large Group Awareness Training as "teaching simple, but often overlooked wisdom, which takes place over the period of a few days, in which individuals receive intense, emotionally-focused instruction".
- Simple, but often overlooked wisdom.
Landmark, I have found, seems to reach and be effective with people with widely-variant educational backgrounds. I saw an academic, a professor of linguistics, completely miss the point because he claimed that the Leader was using the "wrong definitions of terms." Of anyone, he should have known that words are not fixed things, didn't he read Whorf?
But I saw many people that I'd have thought would not understand what was being described and demonstrated, get it, and clearly: they could explain it. That taught me a great deal about my own intellectual arrogance, by the way.
It has to be simple. But often overlooked, just as Dumerton wrote. So why $550 or so for the Forum? If it is simple, why not, say, $19.95? Good question. I'll let you know if I find the answer.
In fact, there are a lot of people who would like to know the answer, if there is one.
$19.95 would be the cost of a book. If what is done in Landmark could be conveyed with a book, it would have been done. Someone would have gotten unbelievably rich.
Landmark is a pile of scripts. (That is mentioned in the LGAT article, as a reason why these trainings are uniform. It's true. However, the scripts are not the program itself, they guide it and channel it, but they are not it. I learned, in my training, as one example, how a Room Captain sets the space for an Introduction, and I learned it by being a Room Captain and "feeding my face instead of the space." I started eating from the snack table instead of following the format and maintaining overall awareness. The Introduction Leader totally lost his place. I started to appreciate the role of the Production Supervisor and Course Supervisor in the Forum and Advanced Course. And of the assisting team setting everything up meticulously, and keeping disruptions and distractions to a minimum, the specific arrangement of the chairs, and of the focus created on the Leader and the participants at the mikes, and, then, in being trained to deliver one of the simple formats, the standard Introduction format, how much is text and how much is recreated presence. -- and "listening for" the possibilities of the participants.
Text is a small part of it. You might get a text for $19.95. The rest, priceless.