Robert Todd Carroll
Landmark Forum began in 1985 by those who had purchased the est "technology" from Werner Erhard. In 1991 the group changed its name to Landmark Education Corporation (LEC), which continues to offer the Landmark Forum training, along with several other programs emphasizing communication and productivity. Erhard's brother, Harry Rosenberg, heads LEC, which does some $50 million a year in business and has attracted some 300,000 participants. LEC is headquartered in San Francisco, as was est, and has 42 offices in 11 countries. Apparently, however, Erhard is not involved in the operation of LEC.
LEC is aimed at New Age explorers of the 1990s, not the Flower Children from the 60s and 70s who were attracted to est. The search for "It", which characterized est, is out. Also out is the Zen master approach of est, which was often abusive, profane, demeaning and authoritarian. The Forum is apparently just as authoritarian as est but not as profane or abusive.
LEC aims to help people transform their lives by teaching them specific communication and life skills along with some heavy philosophical training. The advertised goals of LEC seem very grand and very vague. The programs are hailed as "original, innovative and effective." They "allow participants to produce extraordinary and even miraculous results, and provide a useful, practical new freedom which brings a quality of effectiveness and plan to one's everyday life." Landmark is dedicated to "empowering people in generating unlimited possibilities and making a difference. Our work provides limitless opportunities for growth and development for individuals, relationships, families, communities, businesses, institutions and society as a whole." They are "successful" and "internationally recognized." They are "committed to generating extraordinary communication --powerful listening and committed speaking that results in self-expression and fulfillment." Landmark is "exciting, challenging and enjoyable." "Well being, self-expression, accountability and integrity are the tenets upon which we stand. This stand leads to our extraordinary customer, assistant and employee satisfaction." And, of course, LEC wants to help you fulfill all your human potential, your "capacity to create, generate, invent and design from nothing." [Landmark Education Charter]
I have never attended a session of either est or Landmark but from what I can gather from those who have, the experience is not likely to be dull. Jill P. Capuzzo writes that "Other seminars may offer supportive hugs; this one hits you between the eyes." She also claims that "One of the most irritating aspects of The Forum is the hard sell to sign up future participants. Leaders encourage people to bring friends and family to [a] session to help celebrate their newfound love of life and invite them to enroll in the next available weekend." Capuzzo claims that 20 percent of the participants in her sessions brought visitors to the open session and nearly half the original participants signed up for an advanced course.
Andy Testa, on the other hand, posted an account of his experience with Landmark Forum, in which he claims that he was hounded by recruiters who insisted that his resistance was proof he needed their help.
Some people claim to have had breakdowns after attending such programs as Landmark Forum [see Lell, who had one after attending Landmark sessions, and Abstracts of Articles in Psychological Journals concerning est and The Forum]. According to Robert Howe, Stephanie Ney, 45, claims that a two-day Landmark Forum seminar "stripped her of her natural psychological defenses and unleashed the specter of a failed relationship with her father," leading to a nervous breakdown and commitment to a psychiatric clinic. Yet, many of those who seek out cults like Scientology or self-help programs such as Landmark are troubled already. Some are deeply troubled and the training might send them over the edge. But whose fault is that? Such people might have gone to the movies and been pushed over the edge, like "Heinrich Pommerenke, who was a rapist, abuser, and mass slayer of women in Germany." He "was prompted to his series of ghastly deeds by Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments."* (A woman who took est when she was 17 wrote me: "The intent of these seminars is to dig in deeply, without providing any aftercare. In that sense, they are responsible. They are taking money, knowing what they are trying for, not allowing people's natural defenses to operate that tell them when it's a good idea to dig. Then, the programmers walk away. Even for non-deeply troubled people, this is a concern and the impact can be negative." Programmers should be trained to handle "troubled" people and should know that they can't push every participant to the same degree without occasional disastrous results.)
Another participant describes his Forum experience as "the most powerful and dangerous experience in my life." He claims that he was so disoriented after the seminar that he couldn't work for three days. He claims that those "three days after my Forum were a living hell, unlike anything I had experienced in 21 years of formal training and six years of medical residency in New York City." However, this participant also said that he would do it again!
A Hare Krishna devotee advises fellow spiritual travelers to take the LEC training. He claims that the average person reports that Landmark seminars change lives for the better by bringing about improved effectiveness in relating to others, increased personal productivity, greater self-confidence, help in making good decisions by learning how to identify what's really important in life, and help in learning how to live a more satisfying life without making life more complicated. He thinks Landmark can help people achieve transcendental realization. Paul Derengowski, formerly of the Christian cult-watch group Watchman.org, thinks that Landmark "has theological implications." Since the training seems to emphasize that one's past and current beliefs are hindering self-growth, it is easy to see why defenders of traditional religions would fear such programs as Landmark Forum. In effect, to those who are members of traditional faiths, programs such as Landmark are saying: your religion is a hindrance to becoming your true self.
There is evidence that many of those who sign up for LGAT programs such as Landmark Forum are having major problems in their lives. Y. Klar, R. Mendola, J. D. Fischer, R. C. Silver, J. M. Chinsky and B. Goff, reported in the Journal of Consulting & Clinical Psychology [990;58(1):99-108] that
People who are having problems, are dissatisfied, feel unfulfilled, desire direction, etc., are the kind of people who sign up for seminars that will help them. It is almost inevitable that the vast majority of people who would get involved be in some sort of distress. Likewise, by "regression" we would expect many people to have upswings and experience fewer problems, be more satisfied and fulfilled, feel less lost, etc., after periods of distress. It is predictable that many participants in self-growth programs will attribute their sense of improvement to the programs they've taken, but much of their reasoning may be post hoc. Furthermore, their sense of improvement might not be matched by improved behavior. Just because they feel they've benefited doesn't mean they have. Research has shown that the feelings of having benefited greatly from participation in an LGAT do not correspond to beneficial changes in behavior (Michael Langone, "Large Group Awareness Training Programs," Cult Observer, v. 15, n. 1, 1998).
While some Landmark participants may have had breakdowns after their training, it would be a mistake to infer that large numbers of emotionally unbalanced people are signing up for the program. "Based on psychic distress (symptoms) and impairment measures, those who sought out growth groups were not overly represented by those who were particularly disturbed or impaired in their lives" (Leibermann in Fuhriman and Burlingame 1994).
In fairness, it is also post hoc reasoning to assume that very disturbed individuals who deteriorate rapidly after attending LGAT seminars, do so because of their participation. Those in need of psychotherapy should not participate in LGAT programs. They may be too intense for the emotionally fragile. It is not without good reason that Landmark Forum requires prospective participants to sign a statement declaring that, to the best of their knowledge, they are mentally and physical well. This gives notice that the program is not for the mentally or physically unstable. It also may protect Landmark from legal action should a client have a breakdown after attending the Forum, but there is no guarantee that such a signed statement would necessary exculpate Landmark should it be charged with causing someone's mental or physical breakdown.
The training emphasizes not only how to communicate better but how to relate better to those around you, as it forces the participant to reflect on and examine his or her life. Such courses, if they are really good, will inspire many people to create themselves anew. Many will see positive effects immediately. In fact, many are so impressed that they want to share the experience with others. They become zealots and recruiters for the program. Part of their zealotry, however, derives from the intense pressure put on them to bring their friends and family into the program, and to sign up for follow-up courses. The main marketing tool Landmark uses is high-pressure direct contact with participants, including phone calls that border on harassment, according to some participants. Some critics even think that recruitment is the main goal of the program (Faltenmayer).
the varieties of the LEC experience
From what I have read by those who have been involved in est or Landmark Forum, the experience is at minimum disrupting and provocative, at best life transforming. This would indicate that something reaches deep into the emotional life of some participant's. Some, like Rabbi Yisroel Persky, claim that what they are being given are little more than "common-sense concepts cloaked in esoteric packaging" (Faltenmayer). But what is common-sense to an educated and well-read person (in the fields of psychology, philosophy, and communication arts), may seem like golden insights to others. Yet, while there must be something of substance to the content of the message (culled from the great minds, after all) the importance of the messenger and the way the message is delivered cannot be overestimated. The messenger must be believable. He or she must appear sincere. He must exude confidence. She must know how to use her voice and body to get her message across. He must be a master of communication skills. She must have wit and humor. He must be a raconteur. She must not only talk the talk but appear to clearly walk the walk as well. And he must do it with a large group and utilize the energy and enthusiasm of the group members to infect each other. If she or he is successful, the participants will leave charged up and ready to take on the world. The revival will have revived them. They will leave running on sixteen cylinders. They will be tuned up, turbocharged, and empowered to change their lives.
That is why so many people feel they have benefited from programs such as Landmark Forum, neuro-linguistic programming, est (or even Scientology or Amway). The programs have given people a positive direction and focus, and surrounded them with like-minded folks for reinforcement. They have helped them achieve peace of mind or to accomplish goals they had been unable to accomplish heretofore. They have helped with personal relationships with spouses and children or helped them justify getting out of relationships with their friends and family. The program has forced them to be more self-conscious, forced them to think and examine their lives, something most people don't do on an ordinary Tuesday. Any time a rational person reflects on his or her life, or on some of the bigger issues in life, it feels good or it puts things in perspective. Either way, it is usually satisfying.
Many who take the LEC training feel that Landmark Forum has given them the power and self-esteem they lacked. Some of the good feeling and carryover in behavior may be long-lasting, or it may be temporary, like the rush that follows an inspirational meeting, or the new perception of reality that follows an intense emotional experience. Much of the improvement in feeling may be due to predictable regression and might explain the urge of many participants to want to take the follow-up courses and advanced seminars. These can get quite costly. For example: LEC offers an advanced course for $700 and two advanced courses on Communication and Power for $1,050. LEC charges $1,700 for The Wisdom Program.
Barry, Dave. "Altered States" in The Miami Herald, April 13, 1997. (Humorist Dave Barry takes Peter Lowe's SUCCESS 1997 12-hour success seminar featuring Anthony Robbins, Elizabeth Dole, Rabbi Harold Kushner, Brian Tracy, Lou Holtz, Jim Morris, Peter Lowe, Pat Riley, Dr. Ted Broer, George Bush, and Dan Kennedy.)
Fuhriman Addie and Gary M. Burlingame, eds. Handbook of Group Psychotherapy: An Empirical and Clinical Synthesis (Wiley-Interscience, 1994.) See M. Leiberman, "Growth Groups in the 1980's: Mental Health Implications", Chapter 15.
Lell, Martin. Das Forum: Protokoll einter Gehirnwäsche. Der Psycho-Konzern Landmark Education. May 1997. Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH & Co. KG, München.
Robert Todd Carroll