The Landmark Wives
May 19, 2011 1:09 PM   Subscribe

My significant other is interested in attending a Landmark Education seminar. What should I know?

A few months ago a friend of ours came back from a weekend seminar "transformed" and thrilled about it. We were both quite skeptical (as I think were everyone else around the table), but while our friend does still attend seminars, their ardor seems to have cooled.

Recently, they have convinced my partner (who has been going through a depressive phase lately) to try one of the seminars. They only went to one of the introductory evenings, but my partner came back absolutely thrilled about the idea and now wants to attend the full weekend course.

I am hesitant. I want to be supportive of whatever makes my partner happy, but at the same time I can't get over the fact that this feels very cult-like. It doesn't help that when I showed skepticism, my partner got angry at me for not being supportive and excited at how happy they were, even when I commented that they had been equally skeptical a few months before.

Has anyone here had any prior experience with this organization? Taken the courses? Hated it? Loved it?

Is there a dark and sinister stepford-wives-esque side to this group? Am I perhaps too skeptical?
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (51 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
It does have its critics. Read the Wikipedia page for some discussion.

It personally bothers me a lot and I was freaked out by a friend who did it.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:14 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also from the Wiki page, a Huffington Post article.
posted by easy_being_green at 1:15 PM on May 19, 2011


Make sure that he doesn't take any debit cards, credit cards, or cash with him into the seminar. That way he will have a ready excuse for not being able to give them any money or commit to anything.

A close friend of mine (who is a mefite, but he's on vacation and is unlikely to show up here) was pressured into going by one of his friends. He was thoroughly skeeved out by it. They put so much pressure on people to achieve "breakthroughs" that in the end, they'll claim pretty much anything as a breakthrough. Also they are really intense in their proselytizing. I think if your partner goes, and you know he's in a vulnerable place, then you should go too. That way you will see with your own eyes, and if you disapprove you won't have to deal with, "You just don't understand, you weren't there."
posted by hermitosis at 1:18 PM on May 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


Oh I see he already went, and was very defensive about it. This is bad...
posted by hermitosis at 1:19 PM on May 19, 2011


I have a friend who took the Landmark free introductory session and the beginning session. Thankfully he stopped just short of signing away his meager savings to take more courses. It really helped him to talk to someone who became disillusioned with the program, rather than to skeptics like me. I can try to connect him with your partner if you'd like - memail me any kind of contact information.

Essentially, it's a pretty typical self-help seminar, except for the restrictive rules (no bathroom breaks, few meal breaks, long homework assigned after a long session; if you get up to leave, you will be singled out and essentially harangued into staying "what are you afraid of???" type stuff) that inspire groupthink and maybe a mild form of brainwashing. As you go through each level, courses become more and more expensive. I'd probably have little problem with it save for the recruitment tactics (it is very VERY common to get hooked by one of the free introductory sessions) and exorbitant fees.
posted by muddgirl at 1:23 PM on May 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


By brainwashing, I don't mean like Manchurian Candidate stuff. It seems to inspire a temporary euphoria, like I used to get after Christian summer camp revival sessions. It's absolutely understandable that a rational person could walk away from those sessions wanting more.
posted by muddgirl at 1:26 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Very culty, very Est-y (not Etsy!). I'd be worried, personally.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 1:26 PM on May 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


Okay, years ago I did the three-day introductory session of Landmark (I think there are two more "levels" that come after.) I did it because 2 old friends I trusted had done it and really loved it, thought it was amazing, etc. I am by nature a skeptical person and so went into it being self-protective. I definitely did not want to be brain-washed in any way. The experience did, however, have an effect on me and while it certainly wasn't all bad, I'd be wary of exposing myself to anything like that again. I think that for people who are vulnerable (which might include your recently depressed partner) there can be a cult-like aspect. The people who run these things are passionate and charismatic and that, mixed with the group mentality and many hours together, is powerful, even for a relatively smart and strong person. I did not end up signing up for any further courses but a lot of people did. One negative effect I saw of that is that in the final level there is lots and lots of pressure to get other people in your life to sign up and that is creepy and a big turn-off. This happened to one of my friends--he was pressuring everyone way too hard--but eventually it wore off and he's totally detached from it now, but it took a little while.

As far as myself, the positive gain I got was, oddly, a more open mind. I remember going back to work (at a Montessori preschool) after and feeling overwhelming understanding and empathy and love, even, for the kids, in a way I hadn't before. And that sort of opened me up to some aspect of spirituality, for lack of a better word, that I'd been closed to before. That might sound to some people like negative brainwashing but it didn't feel that way to me. I'm still critical, analytical, etc. but Landmark was one small piece in my moving into a slightly new, larger, healthier (for me) world view. On the dark side I will also add that soon after I got home I had some high anxiety, which I think came from my repression of doubts, fears, etc both about Landmark and about life in general. Unlike psychotherapy, which I believe in strongly--in part due to its gradual speed of change--Landmark encourages denial and this leads to all kinds of unconscious shadow stuff bubbling up (for me in the form of intense anxiety).
posted by tacoma1 at 1:26 PM on May 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


I took a "growth training course" back in the day (Lifespring, I think) and it was interesting, for lack of a better word. As long as he doesn't sign up for any more training, it might be a useful experience. His friends are pressured by the trainers to sign up more people--could you go with him?
posted by Ideefixe at 1:29 PM on May 19, 2011


By brainwashing, I don't mean like Manchurian Candidate stuff. It seems to inspire a temporary euphoria, like I used to get after Christian summer camp revival sessions. It's absolutely understandable that a rational person could walk away from those sessions wanting more.

I totally agree with this. It matches my own experience.

I also think you going with him might not be a bad idea. As long as he didn't think you were going only to be the "enemy" of Landmark. Can you go out of genuine curiosity and a desire to protect him and stay close to him?
posted by tacoma1 at 1:31 PM on May 19, 2011


tacoma1 - the post-session anxiety you describe is really familiar to me, too.
posted by muddgirl at 1:34 PM on May 19, 2011


No, it's not dark and sinister. It may or may not be helpful to your partner. I think the concepts are very, very useful (it's basically distilled Buddhism with some other philosophy thrown in and mixed around for Western consumption). My only gripe with it is that people are obnoxiously enthusiastic and that can come off as pressure. If your partner goes and isn't interested in pursuing it further, he or she may have to tell people "no, not interested" more than once. If your partner comes back really enthusiastic about it, you may have to tell him or her "no, not interested" more than once.

But it's definitely not a cult - cults seek to isolate you from the people in your life, while Landmark does the exact opposite. You even get breaks specifically to call your loved ones. Yes, you're heavily encouraged to bring them to the seminars. I said "no thank you, I'm not inviting anyone" at every turn, and there were no adverse consequences from that.

Essentially, it's a pretty typical self-help seminar, except for the restrictive rules (no bathroom breaks, few meal breaks, long homework assigned after a long session; if you get up to leave, you will be singled out and essentially harangued into staying "what are you afraid of???" type stuff) that inspire groupthink and maybe a mild form of brainwashing.

This is absolute and complete bullshit. You can go to the bathroom whenever you want. There are breaks for lunch and dinner. "Homework" took about 20 minutes. I was never singled out or harangued. Or brainwashed. Come on.

Anyway, my husband has done lots of this stuff, and maybe I'll point him to this thread. There are positive aspects and meh aspects to it, ymmv, but "dark and sinister" is the last thing I'd call it.
posted by desjardins at 1:35 PM on May 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


I've written previously about my experiences with Landmark education. Summary: very positive in general, if you can get beyond their recruitment shtick.

I don't think they meet the definition of "cult" because they don't attempt to alienate people from their families (quite the opposite, they encourage people to improve their relationships with family), and they don't separate people from large quantities of money. The cost of their classes is pretty much in line with what you'd pay for any training seminar of similar length.
posted by alms at 1:35 PM on May 19, 2011


This is absolute and complete bullshit. You can go to the bathroom whenever you want. There are breaks for lunch and dinner. "Homework" took about 20 minutes. I was never singled out or harangued. Or brainwashed. Come on.

I'm only describing what my friend told me, and what I've read online. It's entirely probably that sessions are run differently across the country.
posted by muddgirl at 1:38 PM on May 19, 2011


Just one more comment: one of my friends who did Landmark all the way through, including joining the "leadership" program, seems to still be an intelligent, open-minded, grounded person. I think it's easy for anyone, including myself, to get very worked up about this kind of thing (I remember when a few of my friends did it, the friends who chose not to were extremely freaked out) but it's not necessarily dangerous. I think it depends on the person doing it--their natural constitution and the place they're currently at in life. I just think that pushing too hard against this kind of thing might have the opposite of your intended effect. For a short while--less than a year?--Landmark (and Legacy, a similar program) were huge focal points of discussion for my whole group of friends. But now it's been years since anyone's even mentioned it.
posted by tacoma1 at 1:46 PM on May 19, 2011


I did one of those lifespring seminars years ago. I got some good out of it, but man, the hard sell was hard sell. There's some good to be had there, as well as some typical self-help stuff and a lot of "HOW AWESOME WAS THIS? GO SHARE IT WITH EVERYONE AND DON'T YOU WANT TO GET EVERYONE ELSE TO DO THIS TOO AND FEEL THIS WAY TOO?" selling. My main concern would be the cost and the subsequent annoyance of hardsell, but aside from that, it might be good and help shake things up in your partner's head.
posted by rmd1023 at 1:53 PM on May 19, 2011


Total ditto on what desjardins said above. I've made other long comments responding to this topic in the past.

It's entirely probably that sessions are run differently across the country.

It's not possible for them to be run as wildly differently as you described. There are only a small handful of people who lead the opening course, they travel around the country doing it. They wouldn't use different rules in different cities.

Let me just take one example. Yes, you can get up and go to the bathroom whenever you have to. There will probably be a volunteer at the door asking you where you're going. You just say "to the bathroom." They might write your name down. Why is this? Because the material of the course can be very emotionally challenging to a lot of people, and some people might try to deal with that by avoiding it and leaving, or similar. So if someone's gone for too long, the staff running the course want to know about it so they can make sure the person is OK. That's it. Really. I know it seems sinister because it's unusual, but it's really no big deal.

And yes, the days are long. There's a lot to think about and talk about, and yes they ask you to do "homework" (which when I was around only meant either calling someone to talk or writing a letter). You wouldn't normally do things that way. But their defense of this - and I think this is a perfectly good point - if, at the other end of three days of intense work your life could really be better and more enriching, wouldn't that be worth it? Now, whether or not this particular course actually provides that life at the end I leave up to you to decide. For some people it does.

Now, before anyone thinks I'm a total Landmark cheerleader, I invite you to search AskMe for my previous replies. In short: I think their material is valuable and positive, but yes I think some things about how they operate as a company do them a big disservice.
posted by dnash at 1:56 PM on May 19, 2011


I wish I could find it, but there was an article I read something like 20 years ago that looked at all of these types of programs and compared with the religious revival movement and found a bunch of commonalities - it's a similar sort of experience where you're led through an emotional experience to a cathartic euphoria. Also, iirc, the radio show "Joe Frank: Work in Progress" had a piece that was a thinly veiled repeat of some of the experiences in landmark (or something else that was substantially similar) that I heard shortly after I did the landmark session.

but i digress.
posted by rmd1023 at 2:01 PM on May 19, 2011


Well it's the current incarnation of EST, if that means anything to you.
posted by radioamy at 2:04 PM on May 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also, I believe they haves moved away from the hard sell and moved towards more typical marketing/advertising.

It was a highly positive experience for me, and I still use what I have learned. I do recommend it as one of many tools for self growth.

(agreed that it is basically eastern concepts processed in a western
format.)
posted by Vaike at 2:10 PM on May 19, 2011


Regardless of how you feel about the content of the courses, Landmark is an organisation you should not give your money to because they use that money to litigate their critics into bankruptcy in order to silence them. Notably, the very valuable Cult Awareness Network went bankrupt while being sued by Landmark, who then went after Rick Ross. Other groups that indulge in this notably include Scientology, just for your reference.

Here is a history of the litigation they have been involved in. It includes the suit they filed against Ross, one of the most vocal and credible anti-cult activists currently working. Here is the introduction to that law suit written by my dad, who with the backing of his firm, spent years of his life defending Rick Ross against Landmark, pro bono, so that he would not be silenced. Here is the Wikipedia article about that case.

People generally don't like it when you point to something they feel positively about and call it a cult, so I'm not even touching that question or giving my opinion on that. As an alternative strategy, I am suggesting you ask how a moral person could knowingly give money to an organisation that spends millions of those dollars to violate their critics' first amendment rights. Landmark may well be good for him, but it is horrific beyond measure for others. They destroy the lives of the people they sue unless those people are very lucky with their representation indeed.

Should your partner get more involved in this, protect yourself and protect your finances. Feel free to memail me.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:11 PM on May 19, 2011 [36 favorites]


Let me just take one example. Yes, you can get up and go to the bathroom whenever you have to. There will probably be a volunteer at the door asking you where you're going. You just say "to the bathroom." They might write your name down. Why is this? Because the material of the course can be very emotionally challenging to a lot of people, and some people might try to deal with that by avoiding it and leaving, or similar.

What do course organizers do when someone states that they want to leave?
posted by muddgirl at 2:11 PM on May 19, 2011 [6 favorites]


I did the intro course and yes, it is a crazily high pressure sales pitch for more seminars throughout. Be prepared for that.
That said, I did get some good stuff out of it - I walked away from it having shed the 'victim' mentality that I'd had my entire life, and I was much more willing to accept my role in bullshit and drama that had gone on in my life. It's also where I got my 'do something about it or stop fucking complaining about it' mentality with regard to people who endlessly whine and bitch about stuff but don't do anything to change it.

This was over 10 years ago and while I've maintained those positive changes in my dealings with the world, I would not go back for more courses because they want to have WAY too much of a role in your day-to-day life. I am ok going to a seminar once in a while, for instance, but they want you to enroll in the weekly seminars back-to-back, going on the presumption that it's easier to keep with the program if you don't take any breaks from them. It's just not worth it to continue dealing with them for this reason, and while it appears to be a successful business model for them, its a shame because it's legitimately pushing people away.

Proceed with caution. Maybe your SO will get great stuff out of it. If she can afford to take their classes for a while it might help. If she can't afford to continue, then have her take a hard line and stick to it. Let us know what happens!
posted by 8dot3 at 2:16 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


which when I was around only meant either calling someone to talk or writing a letter)

We're not talking about getting home from class and chatting with a friend. According to my friends, the phone calls and letters are, generally, intended to be emotionally devastating.

From the Landmark Website:
The Landmark Forum takes place over three consecutive days and an evening session (generally Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Tuesday evening.) Each full day begins at 9:00 a.m. and typically ends at approximately 10:00 p.m.
Making difficult calls right away, while you are tired and still euphoric, would seem to be bad advice coming from anyone else.
posted by muddgirl at 2:22 PM on May 19, 2011 [11 favorites]


What do course organizers do when someone states that they want to leave?

You mean leave the course entirely? They'll talk with the person to find out why, and try to help the person work through the issue and stay. Or not. The metaphor here is coaching. "You said you wanted to win a gold medal. That takes work. Are you going to leave now after one workout that left you out of breath?" Or another metaphor - would you quit going to your therapist because they made you think about something sad?

So the context is that you came to the course because you had some inkling that your life could be better/different/etc. and that if you quit then you won't really know if it could have been or not.

And then either the person decides to stay, or they don't. (I forget the rules about whether you can get any money back or not, I think if you leave after the first morning you don't.)
posted by dnash at 2:23 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


My ex-husband went, so what I know is through him, and what I know, I find gross and in at least one case, reprehensible.

I would say that it is not a good idea for someone in a vulnerable space, but it's also in my experience impossible to talk people out of these things once they're into them. From your partner's perspective, this is providing some hope, or a reboot, of his or her life. S/he's depressed, and hoping for something new, feeling pretty bad about themselves. It's sort of the grapefruit diet of personal growth.

I think you may need to just be supportive, not try to argue 'your' case. Just be supportive and hope the person can take what's useful and leave the rest. There's a way in which talking people out of stuff like this can be disrespectful.

My ex-husband loved it and was *forever* after me to go. He thought I was peevishly anti-authority and "couldn't take coaching" in general. I think he was pretty much dead right about that.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:39 PM on May 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yes, you can get up and go to the bathroom whenever you have to. There will probably be a volunteer at the door asking you where you're going. You just say "to the bathroom." They might write your name down. Why is this?

Whatever the intent is, the effect is to at least discourage if not outright forbid people from going to the bathroom. If I saw another guy get up to go to the bathroom, be questioned & have his name written down on the way out the door, I'd certainly think twice about doing it myself.

So the context is

That's one context, sure. Another one is that people feel pressured or coerced to stay.

People have had both very positive & very negative experiences with Landmark. It's hard to be sure going in which type of experience you'll end up having.
posted by scalefree at 2:46 PM on May 19, 2011 [7 favorites]


Well it's the current incarnation of EST, if that means anything to you.

Indeed (see checkuser function), and cultists gonna cult (and, apparently, litigate).
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 2:46 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


There will probably be a volunteer at the door asking you where you're going. You just say "to the bathroom." They might write your name down.

FYI, this was not my experience in Chicago in 2008. I left the room, no one said a word, I came back, a volunteer opened the door for me, and I came in and sat back down. No different than using the bathroom during a business seminar.
posted by desjardins at 2:52 PM on May 19, 2011


They take your money,you sit in a room for a few days, they talk at you, and in the end nothing will change except you'll have less money. My wife did this a few years ago, and while she was enthusiastic then, now she realizes what a crock it was. I was asked to attend the "graduation", which is little more than a hard-sell recruitment.
posted by cosmicbandito at 2:59 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


After some more thought, if your partner does get enmeshed with this, I would recommend trying very hard to get hold of the book Outrageous Betrayal by Steven Pressman. It will give you a grounding in the language of EST, Landmark and The Forum, which you will need as it makes little sense to outsiders. It will also give you an inside edge on askingquest ions that may engage your partner's critical thinking about this... reboot. If your partner is willing to read it, even better.

As more background, this Wikipedia article about Landmark's litigation against St. Martin's Press and Steve Presman. (Full disclosure: my father was also involved in that.)
posted by DarlingBri at 3:05 PM on May 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


Well it's the current incarnation of EST, if that means anything to you.

The history & theoretical framework supporting a practice definitely ought to be taken into consideration when approaching any group offering extraordinary claims. In this case they all raise questions & cast doubt on the reliability of the service. Its founder Werner Erhard borrowed many of its core concepts from Scientology, of which he had been a minister & auditor before founding est which ultimately became Landmark. It has a thriving community of ex-members eager to detail its faults at great length to anyone who'll listen.

I'm sure the group's salesmen have equally detailed explanations of why you shouldn't listen to those critics, but at some point you have to make your own judgement on whether it's something worth investing your time, energy & money into.
posted by scalefree at 3:11 PM on May 19, 2011


I was dragged by a friend to an introductory session by this group in Sydney. It was like hanging round the reception room to cult central for a couple of hours and there was nothing in the vapid, rapid fire promises they made which enticed me to repeat the somewhat creepy experience. The blank, enthusiastic happiness of those who were into it might be a selling point to some but it put me off. I wouldn't touch it with a barge pole and I'd be worried if someone close to me joined up, not least because of the amount of money that would gradually be leeched from their bank account. It's not a 'seminar', it's a high pressure sales pitch for something which will cost a lot of money and is of dubious benefit.
posted by joannemullen at 3:20 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I had a couple friends who did Legacy, another offshoot of Landmark several years ago. And then more friends started doing it, so for a hot minute I had like 5 or 6 friends involved at the same time. I was pretty upset at the time that all my BFFs were turning into these cultish weirdos. But mostly, I couldn't believe they were falling for what was clearly such a slick marketing scheme (and really not even that slick!) Looking back, it was all very harmless, and after a few months the wave came to a close. They all stopped doing it and I haven't heard a peep out of them about it in years.

Mostly, it was really effing annoying when they came back "transformed" and they "just loved me so much" that they "couldn't imagine my life without it." I was like 23 at the time- I didn't have $1500 bucks or whatever to do it, and maybe I would have it I did, but I'm glad I didn't because it turned out to be mostly hot air.
posted by Rocket26 at 3:48 PM on May 19, 2011


Had a friend who did it. The content is innocuous self-help type stuff.

But then she was pressured not to leave and pay more and more for courses, thousands and thousands of dollars.

And then she was encouraged to start reducing contact with her non-Landmark friends who were "holding her back" from her "journey".

This was a key danger sign for me and reinforced by others who were aware of Landmark.
posted by dave99 at 4:04 PM on May 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


My experience of seeing two people do Forum courses (in different cities at different times) was that their response to it was viscerally creepy. Both of them after the course talked in the same plastic-happy way, and spoke of how much they had gotten out of it, and leaned in and put a hand on my arm and said in a salesmanlike voice how much I should really try it, and repeated some sales-pitchy lines about what they had learned. Both liked it and got a lot out of it, and for all I know they still use those things today. But I wouldn't go in there on a bet.

A number of previous threads here about Landmark Forum:

-Landmark Forum has stolen my friends, help (includes a story from Mefi's own asavage)
-Tell me about Landmark Forum
-Why do people like the Landmark Forum or LGAT?
-Is LGAT (Large Group Awareness Training, such as Landmark) a good experience?
-what's your experience of Landmark Forum
-discussion of Landmark Forum on the blue

Article on Landmark Forum from New York Magazine: "Pay Money, Be Happy"
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:05 PM on May 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


But it's definitely not a cult - cults seek to isolate you from the people in your life, while Landmark does the exact opposite.

There's some good to be had there, as well as some typical self-help stuff and a lot of "HOW AWESOME WAS THIS? GO SHARE IT WITH EVERYONE AND DON'T YOU WANT TO GET EVERYONE ELSE TO DO THIS TOO AND FEEL THIS WAY TOO?" selling.

And then she was encouraged to start reducing contact with her non-Landmark friends who were "holding her back" from her "journey".

Stringing these together, it seems you're heavily pressured to pull others into the group. But then after you've spent all your social capital on recruitment you get pressured in the opposite direction, to cut your ties with those who didn't fall prey to its siren call. Neat trick.
posted by scalefree at 4:17 PM on May 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


I mentioned this in one of the previous threads linked above by LobsterMitten, but I attended the Landmark Forum, and I worked for a business owned and operated by people drinking a lot of Landmark Kool-Aid.

My Forum experience did have people discouraging bathroom use, but I have a bowel disorder and I pretty much laughed in the face of the earnest young woman telling me how much I would miss by using the restroom. I spent most of my time there trying to control my eyerolling. I failed miserably.

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.

If my husband suddenly decided that Landmark was his thing, I would have to think long and hard about continuing our relationship.
posted by crankylex at 4:25 PM on May 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


"You mean leave the course entirely? They'll talk with the person to find out why, and try to help the person work through the issue and stay. Or not. The metaphor here is coaching. "You said you wanted to win a gold medal. That takes work. Are you going to leave now after one workout that left you out of breath?" Or another metaphor - would you quit going to your therapist because they made you think about something sad?"

Just to say, this is the technique James Ray (who is currently on trial for the deaths of three people at his retreat) used to keep people inside a dangerously hot sweat lodge when people were FOAMING AT THE MOUTH AND PASSING OUT.

It totally skeeves me out and I think is crappy. Landmark is NOT your therapist. And no ethical therapist would tell you, "Well if you don't like my therapy you're giving up on yourself."

It's an incredibly demeaning and horrible tactic. Any therapist, yoga teacher, retreat runner or ANYONE who tries to convince a person to do something they have stated they do not want to do is not ethical. Just my opinion. I have had a lot of friends into Landmark and Byron Katie and a bunch of other sketchy gurus and most people get what they want out of it, but for those who express doubts you can get positvely shredded.

NOTE: I have not and would never go to a Landmark forum, but Darlingbri's point is enough for me to doubt their integrity completely.

UGH, and the James ray followers are justifying the deaths in the most grotesque ways. The way that people STILL can't see through how despicable that guy is and literally believe that these people died because it was their "choice" on their "spirit journey" makes me want to stay the heck away from for profit money/advertising mind game groups like this.

Nothing against people who get something out of it (and I mean that), but it genuinely worries me.
posted by xarnop at 5:05 PM on May 19, 2011 [10 favorites]


This is absolute and complete bullshit. You can go to the bathroom whenever you want. There are breaks for lunch and dinner. "Homework" took about 20 minutes. I was never singled out or harangued. Or brainwashed. Come on.

The courses my $[acquaintances] went through were not this. They were indeed encouraged to go with the plan, and were questioned and harangued whenever they deviated or demurred from the plan. The plan being what is detailed above: using the restroom, crying when it is expected, yelling when it is expected, sharing when it is expected, etc.

I found the results to be very perverse and negative. It made the three people very depressed after a while, because it encouraged them to attempt to do basically impossible things. And because of all the phoney positive reinforcement ("you can do anything!" and "if you want something and it doesn't happen, it is because you didn't try enough" sorts of things), they felt awful because of it. Ruined a nice relationship, too, because it turns out that when you encourage people to be selfish sociopaths, they tend to not want to do the compromising that goes into maintaining a relationship. "I want to go to Spain and nothing will get in my way" and "I want to build my business and nothing will get in my way" can't live under the same roof.

These things probably do help plenty of people. But ONLY the people who actually need the kind of help they give. They probably aren't Evil, but they are a little bit evil. They seek out the weak, exploit those weaknesses to extract cash, and then proudly cash the checks while the misery they have created spreads out into the world.
posted by gjc at 5:12 PM on May 19, 2011 [8 favorites]


Reading through these responses, it strikes me that many of them fall into these two categories:
  1. My friend/roommate/spouse/ex did the Landmark Forum. Omigod, cult cult cult! Get out your crucifix and garlic!
  2. I did the Landmark Forum. It was a mixed bag/good/great. I learned some valuable things, but the organization certainly has some issues.
It's striking how different the perceptions are between those who have actually done the workshops and those who haven't.

Should your partner get more involved in this, protect yourself and protect your finances.

I can't speak to the lawsuits that DarlingBri references. I'm not familiar with them. On the other hand, I knew many people who were deeply involved in Landmark in the 1990s, taking one or course or another pretty much all the time for a couple of years. I didn't know anyone or ever hear of anyone getting taken for a ride financially. At that time their classes cost what classes typically cost, or even on the low end: $150 for a seminar that ran once a week for three months; maybe $500 for a three-day weekend program or $1,500 for something that ran a couple of weekends. We're not talking drain-the-college-savings-account-and-take-out-a-second-mortage numbers.

DarlingBri, do you have references on Landmark participants being taken advantage of financially?
posted by alms at 5:36 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


As a person who went through EST years ago I can assure you that one can use the bathroom if one firmly and directly states they are leaving to use the bathroom. I can also assure you that if you keep asking to use the bathroom you will not use the bathroom. The "breakthrough" I had was when, after seriously misjudging morning coffee consumption on the 3rd day, I told them (politely but clearly) that I was either going to go in a cup in the back of the room or use the bathroom. It was their choice and the only one available to them. They were quite helpful and showed me to the bathroom. An excellent lesson for me that has stayed with me. And perhaps instructive for those who sat in agony and complained about not being able to use the bathroom.
posted by rmhsinc at 5:44 PM on May 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


"An excellent lesson for me that has stayed with me. And perhaps instructive for those who sat in agony and complained about not being able to use the bathroom."

Now we know! The whole bathroom thing is a TEST to see if you have internalized their teachings about assertiveness.
posted by zachawry at 6:16 PM on May 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


alms, when I said "protect yourself and protect your finances" I was not refering to the fees charged by Landmark Education. I don't feel compelled to tell people to protect themselves from Landmark's fees; I feel compelled to tell people to protect themselves agains the cost of Landmark's potential litigation.
Repeatedly, Landmark has brought litigation against its public critics -- quite transparently for the improper purpose of harassing and intimidating them. It is not the recovery of financial losses that Landmark seeks; rather, Landmark uses litigation to send a message to its critics that anyone attacking Landmark’s practices does so at the risk of an expensive and burdensome lawsuit. [Source]
So really, should you make the decision to attend a Landmark event, I sort of strangely hope you like it and get value from it because if you do not, my experience is that becoming a Landmark critic can become very expensive indeed.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:18 PM on May 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


The op wrote, Has anyone here had any prior experience with this organization? Taken the courses? Hated it? Loved it?

Op, here's a story from when I did the Forum in the early 1990's. I think this will give you a flavor of what kind of thing goes on there, good and bad.

An early part of the Forum is, essentially, a discussion of Ask Culture versus Guess Culture. They use (or used) different terminology, but they describe the difference and they suggest that -- at least for the weekend -- that people operate in an Ask Culture mindframe. In Forum-speak they might say, "A request is something you can say 'yes' or 'no' to. Either answer is fine. The fact that you might say 'no' doesn't mean I shouldn't ask, even if the request is outrageous."

So we talked about that, blah blah, and then later, maybe the next day there was a long discussion about family relationships. The Forum leader was essentially saying something to the effect of "you'll never be all right with yourself if you're not all right with your parents. You need to straighten out your relationship with your parents."

After quite a while on this a young woman stood up, crying, and said, "It's hard for me to be all right with my dad, because I've never spoken to him." She was about 20 years old. She explained that her father had left after getting her mother pregnant. He'd returned just after she was born and stayed just long enough to get her moth pregnant again. The woman and her sister were both in the Forum that weekend.

The Forum leader asked if she knew where her father was. She said "yes," that she hand her sister had tracked him down but had never contacted him. The Forum leader then said, "Okay. My request for you is that on the next break you call him and invite him to be here Tuesday night for our final session."

There was a collective gasp in the room. How could she possibly do that? How could he ask her to do that? It was totally outrageous and inappropriate. As Muddgirl says, above, Making difficult calls right away, while you are tired and still euphoric, would seem to be bad advice, right? But that's exactly what the Forum leader was encouraging. Note, also, that he was trying to get another body in the room for Tuesday night, which is both "graduation" and also "get all your friends to sign up."

Well, this young woman wasn't gasping. She had stopped crying and she was smiling. Totally lit up. She said "sure," she'd do that. And she did. She called him. She talked to her dad for the first time in her life. He couldn't come Tuesday night, but they did make other plans to get together. And my memory is she had a great time the rest of the weekend.

Now, do I know how it turned out, in the end? Nope, I don't. Maybe her meeting with her father was terrible. Maybe it was great. But the course certainly got her off her butt take some steps on something that had been a major upset component of her self-identity up until that point. From that perspective I think it was positive. And from the perspective of people who I did know more socially, the similar (if smaller) steps they took in response to the workshops did have positive outcomes.

Outrageous? Yes. Pushy? Yes. High pressure? Yes. Recruit all your friends? Yes. Fun and exhilarating and educational and life changing? Also potentially yes, at least for some people.
posted by alms at 7:18 PM on May 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


Here's the thing that gets me, any professional who is challenging you to push your boundaries when you have expressed they are pushed and you don't like it, should be well trained in the potential aftermath of pushing those boundaries and should be trained in what to do in the event that you get pushed well passed the limits of you mental and physical health and have a serious breakdown.

" A woman, Stephanie Ney, attended a Forum course in 1989; in its immediate aftermath, she experienced an utter psychological collapse that required her to be institutionalized. A few years later she filed suit. In the interim Forum had become Landmark Forum, so she included Landmark in her filing."

Steve Salerno breaks down some of the ironic inconsistancies of their waver form and more in a three part article that I think is excellent. He's got a pretty obvious bias as a skeptic of self help in general (this doesn't bother me personally as I share his skepticism)

"As the waiver rouses to its dour finish, we encounter a section titled INFORMED CONSENT. Here, among other things, clients must affirm via signature that they're aware that "certain persons with no personal or family history of current or previous mental or emotional problems and no history of use of psychotropic or mood altering drugs reported having experienced psychotic episodes following the Program." A few lines later the participant is again reminded that he has been "STRONGLY ADVISED NOT TO PARTICIPATE in the Program if...I have concerns about my ability to handle stress."

What makes this excruciatingly ironic and even tragicomic is the way Landmark, in other areas of its site, hypes the stress-busting potential of its coursework. F'rinstance, Landmark's online syllabus, DAY TWO, Section IV, is titled, "Freedom From Anxiety." The syllabus observes:

"Consider that one of the primary obstacles to effectiveness is fear. No matter how accomplished, successful, or courageous we are, fear and anxiety seem to play a role at some point in all of our lives. Often, we allow fear and anxieties to stop us...assigning them an unwarranted power and magnitude in our lives..."
(In truth, any number of Forum segments seem designed to address conditions that laypeople would probably describe as "stress-related" or "depression-like." Consider, for example, the language of DAY 1, Section V: Rackets™: The Payoff and the Cost, and Day 2, Section 1: The Illusion of Someday. The language is the rhetoric of philosophy, but the payoff—it is strongly suggested—occurs in the realm of psychology.)

Landmark even uses stress as a sales hook in this testimonial from one Gabor Mate, MD:

"As shown throughout [my] book, it is these fixed but unconscious interpretations that underlie and trigger many of our chronic stresses."
Does it not seem reasonable that if you're offering a Program that teaches people how to free themselves from anxiety and "chronic stresses," your target audience would consist in some part of people who "have concerns about [their] ability to handle stress?"
posted by xarnop at 7:56 PM on May 19, 2011 [6 favorites]



An early part of the Forum is, essentially, a discussion of Ask Culture versus Guess Culture. They use (or used) different terminology, but they describe the difference and they suggest that -- at least for the weekend -- that people operate in an Ask Culture mindframe.


alms, that is the most useful description I've ever heard of what goes on there, and explains some things for me about the people I've seen come back from the Forum.

I wonder if some of the visceral reaction to post-Forum behavior is that it's an abrupt change to being a very extreme Ask person. Extreme Ask behavior violates all kinds of tacit social rules if the person operates mainly in a Guess culture environment, so it feels to their friends (for example, me!) ask if they are suddenly weirdly pushy and forward and suddenly all these awkward situations arise and the normal signaling mechanisms of Guess cultures (dropping hints) aren't working, etc.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:59 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hated it. I don't think it's sinister, it's just for suckers. Landmark apologists rationalize about their experience the way someone does after getting mixed up in an MLM scheme and being embarrassed about it.
posted by mullacc at 8:39 PM on May 19, 2011


Hi, anonymous!

I personally have not done the Forum, but I did go to one of their free Tuesday night intro meeting. My impressions:

1. The intro. leader said that he loved Landmark so much, because he could be doing something else and making 10x the money, but he worked for Landmark because he believed in it so much. Did a little research on the guy and found out he also makes a living selling real estate. WTF!? Does an organization that talks so much about "integrity" expect their leaders to mislead others like that?

2. One of the young women in the group started crying about a difficult experience she was having. When some of us tried to comfort her, the leader turned authoritarian and very strongly told us not to do that. Again, WTF!? Is showing compassion and concern for others only allowed at certain times?

3. Be very careful about giving personal info. I don't remember giving it to them, but somehow they got hold of my work number and called me there. A little bit jarring, to say the least.

Is Landmark a cult? I think, instead, it represents the worst of Corporate America: concern for profits over everything else, a powerful PR spin machine, and misleading sales tactics. That said, I still have this perverse curiosity to actually go to the Forum and see how weird it really is.
posted by bonzo_dog55 at 9:06 PM on May 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


In my experience, once they have your phone number they will never stop calling you to take more seminars. So you have that to look forward to.
posted by jbenben at 10:59 PM on May 19, 2011


Like anything, you can find stories that rave about how good it is, and those conspiracy theorists who believe it is some sort of cult. I took the forum several years ago.

I did find the Forum leader to be obnoxious, and arrogant. But he wasn't the reason I was there. I wanted to determine some rules for improving my life and my relationships with people. From where I sat many of the audience appeared to be seeking his approval.

The course was at times awkward, and I found there were some things I disagreed with. But having said that, there were about three rules that I have found that have probably changed my life for the better:

- Say what you will do truthfully.
- Do what you say you will do.
- If you don't do what you said you would do, clean up the mess.

Not exactly rocket science, but if not thought about and framed in a personal context that I generally don't get.

Secondly, and this was also useful and again not rocket science.

- yesterday is gone.
- Tomorrow is not fixed.
- you have only this very moment.

Combine all six, and I found it was a powerful set of guidelines for me. But I tend to be bookish and not have very good interpersonal skills. But there! I have just saved your friend 900 dollars (or whatever the price is).

Oh yeah, they do the very hard sell for the next course. Don't sign up there, rather wait for a month or so. Then if you feel the need to go to the course, then do so.

Everyone seems to come away from the seminars with something different. Those people who tend not to be introspective probably think it is hokum. And it may well be for your friend.

But I found it useful. And I won't go back. That does not define a cult to me.
posted by fox_terrier_guy at 2:31 PM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


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