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An excerpt from "The Politics of Transformation: Recruitment - Indoctrination Processes In a Mass Marathon Psychology Organization"


Note: The use of the term "Vitality Initial Training" refers to the Basic Training of a well-known LGAT.


At the check-in table participants are given a name tag and told to wait by the closed doors and enter only when the doors are opened. Vitality volunteers mill around the waiting area, smiling and enthusiastic. Their Job is to instruct the participants and to intensify their anticipatory excitement. Instead of a name tag one subject remembered that they wear a badge that is a picture of a hand holding up four of its five fingers. This appeared to some subjects to be some kind of sign or symbol. At the time they didn't understand what it signified and they were too preoccupied or socially anxious to ask. Fourteen of 15 "experience" subjects (93%) and 2 of 3 "behavior" subjects (67%) reported feeling quite nervous or excited at the beginning of day one.

Approximately 10 minutes before the training is scheduled to begin, the doors are opened and participants stream in to the sound of "Theme From 2001". One subject recalled that she was very nervous at that point, and the music frightened her. Participants are instructed and guided to move directly to the seat nearest to the front I the room. They are not allowed to save seats, move the chairs around, or take a seat at the back or on the side.

After everyone is seated the unused seats are quietly "whisked away-" One subject noticed this and thought this was done in order to hide the number of no-shows. Participants are instructed to be seated before the music stops, or they will be considered late and will not be allowed to continue the training.

Then there is silence until the trainer strides quickly and purposefully onto the center of the stage and takes the microphone. The staff applauds loudly. One subject reported that "I was pretty tense when it started, but I also felt some relief; at least now it was beginning."


Three of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) and 15 of 15 "experience" subjects (100%) uniformly described the trainers as young, well dressed, attractive, forceful, athletic, charismatic. Although Vitality claims to have one female trainer, all the subjects had male trainers. Therefore in this study trainers will all be referred to as males. The trainer begins with a short introduction about life. introducing Vitality's basic ideas in a chatty format. These include the ideas that personal growth is an Ongoing Process, that an individual's frame of reference and belief system limit personal growth, that experience transcends thinking, that Most Of an individual's problems come from resisting an experience, and that what one resists one is "stuck with." He encourages them to "let go" of their belief system, and suspend judgement of the training until after it is completed. He tells them that "the diamond within" is what the training is all about. He explains that the training is "unreasonable" and that it's an emotional roller coaster. He cautions participants not to look for the one right way. He then proceeds to explain the right way: "what you deny and avoid is what you are stuck with. Therefore, when you totally experience something, it disappears." Three of 3 "behavior" subjects" (100%) reported that this is a constant theme in the training, a central ideological tenet.

He then begins the laborious chore of explaining and getting participants to comply with Vitality's ground rules. This is a crucial process, since his unwavering goal is to achieve a total, unquestioning compliance with the rules from each of the participants. If participants are not willing to comply completely with the rules they are not allowed to continue in the training. This process usually takes the rest of the night.

The trainer explains each of the rules, and participants can ask questions or make statements about the rules and ask to be granted exemptions from a specific rule. In order to speak they must strictly comply with the rules, which means they must not speak until recognized by the trainer, and then they must stand and speak through the microphone. Then, when the participant is finished with the exchange, the other participants must applaud. This is the general procedure for the large group share exercises, which go on throughout the training. The trainer rarely grants any exceptions.

Three of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) reported that some participants were abused and humiliated during this procedure. The trainer would curse, call them derisive names, attack their personality, make fun of them. Primarily, the trainer would maintain that their specific question, disagreement, or concern was irrelevant to him and was an indication of their poor psychological functioning. In fact, he interpreted their attendance itself as an admission of guilt:

You're here because your life isn't working. Your life isn't working because you're scared shitless of committing, just like you're scared shitless right now of committing to the rules."

[COMMENT: This process appears to be an example of several psychological steps of the thought reform process (Lifton, 1961), especially "the assault upon identity," "the compulsion to confess," and "logical dishonoring" (i.e.. a form of self betrayal). Whatever private details participants disclose about themselves are used to bolster the ideology of the organization and to attack the past life or personality of the participant.]

Although mandatory attendance for the post-training session and the post-training interview (i.e., recruitment session for the II Training) are now made explicit before participants attend the first session, subjects reported that in years past that was not the case. Therefore, accepting the rules was particularly difficult for some participants. especially out of town residents. Rules strictly regulating eating, exiting, and bathroom activities were also reported to be difficult or irritating for participants to agree to.

Three of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) reported that participants are harangued, embarrassed, humiliated, and bored by the "ground rules" exercise. They are instructed to "surrender" and "totally participate." If they do take the risk to "totally experience their vulnerability, (they are told that] the results are incredible." During this adversarial process, 3 of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) and 15 of 15 "experience" subjects (100%) reported that the trainer acts "like a real Jerk," a "schmuck," an "asshole." One subject remarked that he thought that the trainer wasn't really like that, but he had to act that way because it was "in the script."

In the course of this first event, 3 of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) reported that the trainer begins using many English words in a manner that is different than their usual meaning. "Committment," for instance, is defined as "the willingness to do whatever it takes." "Conclusion" is defined as a belief. Also, words like "responsibility," "space," "surrender," "experience," "trust," "consideration," "unreasonable," "righteous'' "totally participate," "from your head." "openness," "letting go" are redefined or used so as to assign them a new meaning. Every question of every participant must be dealt with in this public manner. Then all participants must stand up to indicate their acceptance of the rules. If individual participants do not finally accept each rule, they are not allowed to continue in the training. This is described by the trainer as kicking the participant out of the training, not as the participant rejecting the training. "Then get out" is a common phrase used by the trainer.

Fifteen of 15 "experience" subjects (100%) expressed annoyance and impatience with those who wouldn't yield to the rules. They all reported thinking it was a boring waste of time, and that almost all participants in the training were sympathetic with the trainee and wished the participants with questions would shut up and comply with the rules. However, all subjects reported also being angry and upset with the trainer for acting so arrogant, sadistic, and humiliating. Three of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) realized how dangerous it was to stand up and publicly complain about the trainer's behavior towards others. Therefore, although they were disgusted and upset, they did not try to intervene, and as a result felt guilty that they were abandoning their fellow participants. One of those three reported feeling "disoriented" by her inaction in the face of the verbal abuse of a particularly vulnerable participant.

Three of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) reported that participants are exhausted, bored, and angry with those who oppose the trainer. Fifteen of 15 "experience" subjects (100%) confirmed that observation. Participants-are resentful that 20% of their money has been "wasted" by It picky" people, and are impatient to "get something" from the training in order to justify their financial outlay.

[COMMENT: It appears as though even at this early stage of the training participants have begun the process of agreeing to follow the instructions of the training even though they don't know the nature or details of those instructions. They have agreed to comply with the rules that severely and rigidly control their milieu. They have noticed the impatience of others when someone resists the trainer's wishes. They have already accepted without protest the introduction of a new vocabulary which expresses a whole new ideological "frame of reference," which values feeling and emotion over thinking, obedience over questioning, and complete personal exposure over reticence.

The "ground rules" exercise therefore appears to be a highly effective method of persuasion. It has established the trainer as an autocratic ruler, and has maneuvered the participants, as individuals and as a group, to publicly agree to that hierarchical arrangement seemingly of their own free will. Because it appeared as though they had the chance to disagree with the trainer, and because the trainer and his rules were so clearly linked with the values of the Vitality ideology, 3 of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) reported that participants appeared to begin accepting these new ideas and values as their own, or to. think that they had always believed them.]


The last two exercises of the first day (or the first two of the second day if time does not permit) illustrate the ideological and hierarchical points established in the "ground rules" process. In the "trust walk" exercise 3 of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) recalled that the trainer says, "I am going to tell you what to do. Then I want you do it, then I want you to share about it." Again this emphasizes the trainer's predominant autocratic position.

Three of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) reported that no one complained. Participants are instructed to walk in the group and mingle and go up to individuals and state "completely honestly" whether or not they trust that person. Participants are further instructed not to "feel,'' Just to be "ok" with the other's response to them.

Fourteen of 15 "experience" subjects (93%) reported being nervous about this exercise, worrying about whether or not they were going to "do it right." They knew they weren't "supposed to" worry, they were just supposed to "be ok" with whatever they said or whatever was said to them.

[COMMENT: The paradox of this technique is obvious. They are being instructed to be spontaneous and at the same time to be unfeeling, to just observe their reactions and yet to judge their reactions. In general, the repetition of social rejection scenes that is apparent in this exercise appears to heighten the private self-presentation concerns of participants. They were told not to worry about what they said or what was said to them, and yet they couldn't adequately carry the instructions out. Therefore there is no way they can succeed.]


The last exercise of day one is the first of what Vitality refers to as "closed eye processes." Three of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) reported that this is a long relaxation exercise, starting with a detailed body awareness exercise that uses many hypnotic induction techniques. The use of generalized. global phrases such as "there is nothing to do," and "you will know just where that spot is" are typical induction techniques. The global phrases also emphasize Vitality's ideology of "natural knowing." The induction uses color, progressive relaxation, and embedded suggestions ("If there is stiffness or pain. simply acknowledge it and let it go") to "prove'' the doctrine that experiencing pain will "disappear" it. Participants are instructed to listen to their "who you are" questions as they come up and to notice that "natural" answers also come up.

[COMMENT: This process tends to act as a demonstration of the efficacy and pleasantness of the training: after the unpleasantness and confrontation of the "ground rules" and the "trust walk," the relaxation and non-confrontive nature of this exercise is a pleasant respite. The leniency has followed an attack. Lifton (1961) has found this to be a common pattern in the "thought reform" milieu. Behaviorally, it is also a demonstration of the trainer's control over the participants. Whereas at the height of the "ground rules" exercise, participants were angry and resisting the trainer, his control over them as a group has been established and now they are demonstrating it behaviorally. They all obediently lie down in a physically vulnerable position, and then they allow him to direct their inner thoughts and feelings. This appears to be a highly significant symbolic and behavioral change.


Two of 3 "behavior" subjects (67%) recalled that homework is given for the first night. Participants are instructed to write down what they learned about themselves. Two "experience" subjects who have staffed trainings volunteered the information that they were instructed to call up and. talk to the people who signed up but did not attend and do "whatever it takes" to get them to attend (the other four subjects who have staffed did not volunteer that information and were not asked). .

Day 2

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