Large Group Awareness Training, if you went through it, how was it?
January 21, 2010 4:16 PM   Subscribe

A friend of mine is really encouraging me to participate in a Large Group Awareness Training program. If you participated in one, what was your experience?

I am very aware that these things are very often not effective, provide placebo therapy (excuse to behave differently), and sometimes can be dangerous (group think/social pressure to think a certain way). The training mimics the Lifespring methodology of a marathon 5 days, 7-8 hours a day.

It is hard for me to get any details out of my friend because he says it is an "experiential" thing, so spoiling it for me would dampen the effect. This is troubling to me because it sounds like an encounter group, where they try to break down any ego defenses you may have in order to shape you to a certain philosophy.

All I can find are a few dissenters, a few people who say it's harmless or helps a little, and others who went through it who give it rave reviews.

My friend isn't stupid, he's actually very intelligent and I respect him. It is hard for me to believe that he would so emphatically endorse something like this if it didn't actually work. Then again, he is exhibiting the exact same symptoms as someone who was trained explicitly to feel good about it and to get others to take the training. Sounds like Evangelism.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
A very close friend of mine went to a session of something that sounds similar (Landmark Forum, I believe it was called), and was nearly convinced to sign up for the follow-up session (with was something outlandish like $600) until another friend of his who had been in Landmark convinced him that it was a bad idea.

The interesting part is that even after he decided not to sign up for the more expensive course, he still thought that Landmark had really changed his life. It's similar to the way that men who go to a Promise Keepers weekend (or teens that go to Bible Camp) report having a life-changing experience. If your friend manages to avoid getting pulled into the reverse-pyramid scheme, he'll get over it.

I'm an atheist now, and I don't believe in God, but I still remember that Evangelical feeling. It has nothing to do with effectiveness.

But hey, if it's free, then why not try it yourself? Just leave your checkbook and credit cards at home, and there's no harm. But looking at the Wikipedia page, you can get training in all those things from Youtube videos, in the comfort of your own home.
posted by muddgirl at 4:21 PM on January 21, 2010

My experience was moderately positive. Definitely harmless. You seem skeptical by nature and not subject to groupthink, so you'll be fine. It's not about breaking your ego or shaping my philosophy - I believe exactly the same things that I did before I went in there. They are not going to tell you to cut off contact with your family or anything bizarre like that.

Your friend might be genuinely excited about his experience and want to share this with you, as he would want to share a great movie with you. He couldn't tell you too much about the movie without spoiling the plot, and besides you have to see it in IMAX anyway to really get the full experience, etc. It really is the difference between reading a book about mountain climbing and actually climbing.

However. There's also a lot of pressure on participants to invite their family and friends, and this is probably what you're sensing. This was a big turnoff for me, and I declined to participate in that. That is my main complaint, the hyperevangelistic, bordering-on-insincere tone to it. If you can ignore that part of it, then yeah, it will almost definitely be at least a pleasant experience.
posted by desjardins at 4:57 PM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

The roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd?

1. What are you supposed to become aware of at the end of this?

2. How much are they charging, and what are they going to try to sell you before they unlock the doors?

3. What are the credentials of the people leading the seminars, or whatever they call them?

4. Mob mentality factor...if we all sit here and nod our heads at the same time, it must be true sort of thing.

5. Drive out to your closest megachurch, you know, the one with the bookstore, and coffee shop, and rock band on a jumbotron while the pastor tells you god wants you to be rich, and see if it isnt pretty much the same thing.

6. This sounds like one of those Zig Ziegler motivational seminars, which are pretty much a haven for semi-washed-up salesmen of something who want to get recharged. It's $350 a head when they run the first ad, then it's $39 for your entire office two days before...think about that. Ths time, they are just trying to sell you yourself. You can do that for nothing.

7. You might very well walk out the door smiling and poorer, and feel great about yourself for a while, but I have a hunch you will look back in a week or so and think you just got had.

8. Sudden grasp of the obvious sort of thing. Maybe you have made some mistakes in your life, but I'm not sure if someone with an 800 number and a merch rack outside is going to change that.

9. Sit down with a pad of paper, and make lists of everything you like and dislike about where you are right now.

10. Now take that pad to the best friend you have in the world, and ask them what they think.

just my.10
posted by timsteil at 5:31 PM on January 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

I have done a number of LGATs from a variety of companies and was very involved with one LGAT back in the 90s. My experience is that the workshops themselves offer great opportunities for self-exploration and self-awareness. The 'business' around the workshops - recruiting new participants, etc. - is much more problematic. If you can make a firm commitment with yourself before the LGAT that you will not become involved in the business side, you should get a lot out of the experience.
posted by hworth at 6:46 PM on January 21, 2010

The only person I know who ever did one of these ended up joining a psychotherapy cult called Personal Dynamics. It completely alienated me as her boyfriend and we broke up because of it.
posted by Falconetti at 7:17 PM on January 21, 2010

the wife did one of these years ago. It's expensive brainwashing that has no appreciable long term effects. Save you money and spend a few days meditating
posted by cosmicbandito at 7:22 PM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Is it these folks? Some of them were operating on the fringes of a few professional circles I was in in my 20s. I went to one workshop. Some people, those whom I would call a little more vulnerable/needy/issue-ridden, found them helpful. I found them a total waste of time, and uncomfortable to boot. When challenged, the true believers were defensive and dismissive. There's a difference between true, self-directed paths of learning and personal growth, and packaged, groupthink versions of the same. If you can tell the difference, this might not be something you'll enjoy.
posted by Miko at 9:00 PM on January 21, 2010

: "It is hard for me to believe that he would so emphatically endorse something like this if it didn't actually work. Then again, he is exhibiting the exact same symptoms as someone who was trained explicitly to feel good about it and to get others to take the training. Sounds like Evangelism."

Not making any accusations about your particular group here, but just pointing out that while it sounds like evangelism, it also sounds like cult recruitment.
posted by IndigoRain at 10:03 PM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

A friend tried to convince me to attend one of these seminars. Something seemed off so I never went. It was hard, she really insisted on it to the point of offering to pay it herself.
Although she was having a hard time making ends meet she spent a lot of money on those seminars, and she and her husband ended off divorcing after both of them "graduated". I don't think they improved her life at all.

It is hard for me to get any details out of my friend because he says it is an "experiential" thing, so spoiling it for me would dampen the effect

This is *exactly* what she told me. It sounds really manipulative, I'm really glad I didn't go and I'd never go to one even if it was free.
posted by clearlydemon at 10:35 PM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Metafilter's own maias, in her book Help at Any Cost, describes LGATs in a way that would convince me never to attend one. Hopefully she'll come in here and drop some knowledge about them, but you can see what she has to say about them in the Amazon preview of the book. In particular, I'd be worried about the claims that they have done psychological damage to previously normal adults.
posted by katemonster at 11:22 PM on January 21, 2010

I took one of those courses about 6 months ago. (Landmark) A friend of mine told me about it, she wasn't encouraging me to go, but told me about some of the psychological...assault...that she went through. I've always been into self development, so without any sort of invitation from her I signed up for the Forum a few days later.

I'm using the word assault because I can't really think of any other word that describes what I went through. The course leader basically challenges your already established paradigms about the kind of person that you are and the kind of world you live in.

I describe it to my friends this way:
The human brain is a survival mechanism, among other things. We create future realities based on the past. For instance, if you see someone run out into the street and get creamed by a bus, you file that away in your brain, in the "Things Not to Do If I Want to Stay Alive" folder.

The problem seems to be that we take that survival instinct and apply it to every aspect of our lives, mainly our relationships with other people. We create future realities about the people that we work with, drink with, play with, go on dates with, all based on past experience. I feel now that I am conscious of everything that I do, that I am always choosing between letting that survival mechanism take over or letting go of the past completely and creating a new paradigm. I let that survival instinct take over when I'm crossing the street or riding my bike. I still have a hard time letting go of my preconceived notions about people that I interact with. For me, it's about letting a person have the choice to have a meaningful relationship with you. It can be as simple as "I have a thing for brunettes" or as complicated as "asians are cheapskates". Both are paradigms, (insert your own paradigm here) but we act as though our respective ones are reality.

One of the problems that I had with the "evangelical" aspect of Landmark is that it gets really annoying. "If you haven't had the opportunity to..." etc. But it actually doesn't bother me anymore because at one point I realized (and later another course leader said "Landmark is a business") that yes, the thing is also a business. Part of their jobs is to recruit more people to register into their courses. They're trained to sell it to you so well that you want your friends to have it too. You can say the same about any business. We make up paradigms about the IRS, the plumber, the baristas at Starbucks. "They just want your money", "He's always so friendly and professional we always call him to fix our sink", "that barista is such an asshole."

"your friend's been brainwashed." "it's a cult."

Some of my favorite quotes from my particular experience, also spoken from the mouths of the course leaders (paraphrased):
[About recruitment]
"Pressure them? What do you mean pressure them? You can't make anybody do anything that they don't want to do! What must you think of your friends if you think they're so spineless that they'll do whatever you want them to do? Pressure them...psh."

"I'm the only one getting any money here. You write the check, I cash the check. Yes I want your money. No you don't have to give it to me. But that doesn't stop me from wanting it."

"We tend to confuse morality and integrity. They are actually two separate things, neither wrong nor right, and we blend the two together and use it as a moral compass."

"...Because Landmark is not the only way to get what you want from your life. We know that it is a way, and we know that it works. There might be other programs out there that offer the same thing we do, or maybe some people get what you got without registering in any sort of course whatsoever. But we know that this way works."

And the kicker:
"None of what I just said is true."

I could go on and on about this, and if you want me to tell you more about my experience go ahead and memail me. Landmark actually offered to pay for my continuing "education" in the rest of the three part curriculum, so that is why the money issue is a non issue for me.

I hope this helps.
posted by bam at 1:28 AM on January 22, 2010

I know that you're not necessarily asking about Landmark. Just wanted to be clear that I am not trying to get you to do anything you don't want to do. I have a lot of information about this particular LGAT, and I can tell you what I got out of it. You can do what you want. :D
posted by bam at 1:35 AM on January 22, 2010

I attended the Landmark Forum, and I worked for a business owned and operated by people drinking a lot of Landmark Kool-Aid.

My advice is this: RUN AWAY.

I mean, it's not going to cause you any personal harm, unless you count being locked in a large room with a lot of complete strangers for 8-12 hours per day while someone prattles on at you as harmful. And they will undoubtedly try to make you sign up for a number of continuing courses that will be absurdly expensive, but no one is going to wrestle you to the ground for your wallet.

But it pinged my internal cult-o-meter really hard (the hard sell for more classes, the catchphrases everyone uses, trying to get your family and friends involved in it etc.) and it was not an experience I would willingly repeat, even on someone else's dime.
posted by crankylex at 6:09 AM on January 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh, it's Landmark, is it? Welllll then. A former roommate of mine attended a lengthy Landmark program and some regular refreshers in succeeding years. I agree with the RUN AWAY advice, if that's the program. As her roommate, I was subjected to long one-sided conversations in which she relayed this new worldview with the utter conviction that it was the correct lens to wear while going through life, and that the rest of us who haven't experienced it were basically handicapped chumps for putting on this particular pair of glasses. In between refresher sessions she would gradually resume acting like a normal person, but after she came back from each of these weekend encounters, she would be refueled with another shot of passion about this experience and could not seem to talk about anything else whatever. It made her into the single most irritating person I have ever had to be around.

I suppose my question would be: why would you want this? I understand you're into self-development (I am too), but this kind of program isn't self-development, because it's aimed at creating a narrative that you are simply supposed to accept. You're not developing yourself at all, you're adapting yourself to someone else's already firmly established philosophy. Self-development is about exploring your potential by seeking inspiration and understanding all areas of human history, ability, and belief, and developing your own unique worldview that takes the wisest and best of those belief systems as they appeal to and work for you, and rejecting the rest. This system you'd be presented with will hammer at you until you accept only this system, and reject everything else. Is that self-development? Is that independent thought? Is that an authentic process of discovery?

The Skeptic's Dictionary entry on Landmark might be of interest.
posted by Miko at 9:03 AM on January 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

* chumps for NOT putting on
posted by Miko at 9:04 AM on January 22, 2010

Miko, I don't know if the OP is specifically referring to Landmark or is talking about some other LGA seminar. I think many of us are commenting about Landmark because it seems that a bunch of us have Landmark experiences.
posted by crankylex at 9:42 AM on January 22, 2010

I think it would certainly be helpful to know what the group is, because there's a lot of specific information out there about each group, and, as you say, a lot of people have had Landmark experiences (or RC experiences, or other experiences) and so could probably speak more helpfully to the OP about the nature of the experience he or she is likely to have at such a gathering. We don't. I won't assume it's Landmark in absence of information, but if it is, the responses about Landmark are in the spirit of helpful responses. It does seem possible, since it's probably the largest and best-known organization peddling this kind of workshop.
posted by Miko at 10:42 AM on January 22, 2010

It sounds like you're concerned about two things. Is the program helpful and not a scam? Why is my friend doing this out-of-the-ordinary "encouraging" to pursuade me to join?

Give some thought to that second question. Why is he pushing it -- according to him, and according to your intuition? Why does it matter so much to him what you participate? And why does he discount your reasons for being skeptical?

Lots of people have a genuinely good experience with something and then want to get their friends to try it -- there's no problem with that. But say I loved yoga or exercising at the gym. In themselves these are beneficial activities, but why would I keep trying to enlist you after you responded that you just weren't into the idea? It would show I was a bore, or had little regard for the fact that people are different, or...?

He's a smart person who's honest with you, but that doesn't mean your life would be improved as he believes his own life has been. And a person ought to have a damn good reason to commit to 35-40 hours of group training -- even if it were free.
posted by wryly at 11:34 AM on January 22, 2010

The seminar I mentioned is not Landmark, but I don't remember its name. However, when I researched it that time, I realized most of those seminars have almost the same courses/levels, methodology and effect on people.

The only difference I found is that some of them require their members to create a charity project to graduate (this was the case of my friend's seminar). In that case, the members must work hard to sell courses *and* to get their friends/family to give money to the charity. In addition, they spend most of their time in their project, it becomes more important than their day job.
posted by clearlydemon at 12:14 PM on January 22, 2010

Google the name of the specific LGAT your friend wants you to attend along with words like cult, scam, rip-off, etc. and see what you find. If you find bad stuff, send the links to your friend.

(From what I know of most LGATs, you will find stuff, and it will be bad.)
posted by Jacqueline at 3:20 PM on January 22, 2010

a old acquaintance took me to a Landmark forum as a guest for one session. i had an emotional breakdown about halfway through the session, felt like a changed person for about a day and then was back to normal.

modern day social cult. thinking back on it terrifies me now.
posted by assasinatdbeauty at 6:36 PM on January 22, 2010

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