A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions

From Abracadabra to Zombies

reader comments: est &  Landmark Forum

30 Dec 1998
Dear Mr. Carroll:

As the General Counsel of Landmark Education Corporation, I am writing to advise you that the contents of your Website pertaining to "Werner Erhard, est, and The Landmark Forum" contain false and inaccurate statements which are defamatory to Landmark and The Landmark Forum. These false and defamatory statements also result in depicting Landmark Education Corporation and The Landmark Forum in a false light.

The first problem with your article is the juxtaposition of Werner Erhard, est, the Landmark Forum, and Scientology in the same article.

reply: I do not knowingly make false or inaccurate statements. I desire to be corrected and set the record straight, but the concern over depicting Landmark Education Corporation (LEC) "in a false light" by "juxtaposition" is a bit much.

Landmark is an employee-owned company that delivers educational programs to the public in the United States and fourteen other countries. Landmark offers a four-part Curriculum for Living, with the basic program being The Landmark Forum, together with several other programs on subjects including communication and productivity.

Mr. Erhard has never been a stockholder, officer, director or employee of Landmark and has never been involved in the management or operation of Landmark. While it is accurate that Werner Erhard created part of the technology that is utilized by Landmark in its programs, it is not the technology that was used in the est Training. It is completely false and defamatory to state that The Landmark Forum is a "current manifestation" of est or to imply that The Landmark Forum is a "hodgepodge of philosophical bits and pieces culled from the carcasses of existential philosophy, motivational psychology, Maxwell Maltz's Psycho-cybernetics, Zen Buddhism and Alan Watts, Freud, Maslow, L. Ron Hubbard, Hinduism, Dale Carnegie, Norman Vincent Peale, or P. T. Barnum."

reply: Werner Erhard is historically linked to the origins of Landmark. He sold the "technology" of est to his former employees in 1991 and they then founded Landmark with his brother, Harry Rosenberg, as titular leader.  I have made this point clearer in the entry. On the other hand, "manifestation" may be too strong a word. It is not needed, in any case, for the expression of my views; thus, I have removed it. However, not to mention Erhard or to ignore his connection to Landmark would give a misleading and inaccurate historical perspective. Readers may be interested in a recent article at Time.com on this historical connection between Erhard, his family and LEC. ("The Best Of Est? Werner Erhard's legacy lives on in a kinder, gentler and lucrative version of his self-help seminars" by Charlotte Faltermayer)

By the way, the "hodgepodge" reference is to est, not Landmark.

The est Training was an educational program that ceased being offered to the public in December, 1984, more than 6 years prior to, and unrelated to, the establishment of Landmark. Landmark is not est, and The Landmark Forum is not the est Training. The est Training was experiential, while The Landmark Forum engages in inquiry and abstract thinking. The Landmark Forum is completely unlike the est Training in both methodology and in content.

Finally, Landmark has never had a connection or association with the Church of Scientology and does not use any Scientology techniques or technologies in Landmark's programs or in its organization. Attempting to lump Landmark or its programs together with the Church of Scientology or its techniques is patently inaccurate and damaging to Landmark's reputation.

reply: It is misleading to suggest that I imply that Landmark uses Scientology techniques or technologies. I note only that Erhard was a Scientologist, that he was accused by Hubbard of stealing his ideas, that Erhard accused Scientologists of trying to have him killed, etc. In any case, you have set the record straight by your comments, though you are the only reader in four years who has interpreted what I have written to imply that Landmark is some sort of manifestation of Scientology. Most readers of the Skeptic's Dictionary have had not had any difficulty in seeing that I do not claim that LEC is est or Scientology, but a distinct entity.

The second problem with your article is the quotation from Andy Testa, which contains false and defamatory statements. It is clear from your quote of Mr. Testa that he is not referring to The Landmark Forum.

First, The Landmark Forum was first presented to the public in 1991, not 1986 as Mr. Testa asserts.

Second, The Landmark Forum is conducted over three days, not four as Mr. Testa asserts. Third, there are bathroom breaks every two and one half to three hours. We fully inform participants of this so they can manage themselves while in The Landmark Forum. However, people are free to go to the bathroom at any time.

The Landmark Forum does not attempt to "deconstruct personal attachments" as Mr. Testa suggests. The Landmark Forum reveals the ways in which language and conversations affect the quality of people's lives. The Landmark Forum demonstrates that there are conversations common to all peoples that significantly affect their vitality, enjoyment, self-expression, and capacity to love. We do not engage in psychological parlor tricks. Mr. Testa's assertion that making a headache go away is a "parlor trick" is totally inaccurate and defamatory. Some conversations can have a significant impact on a person's well-being. The Landmark Forum demonstrates this fact by showing participants that they can reduce or eliminate minor aches and pains through conversation. I am surprised that your skeptical reading of Mr. Testa's comments didn't reveal his essential cynicism.

I have written to Mr. Testa for clarification. It is possible his memory is inaccurate about when he took the program and how many days it lasted, and the vital information about bathroom breaks. Thank you for clarifying these matters. His opinion is posted in many places on the Internet. His comments are not essential to my entry and I can remove them from my site and link to one of these other sites, if you wish. My readers are bright enough to realize that Mr. Testa's opinions are just that…his opinions. They don't need me to remind them that a writer may have an axe to grind, or that one experience in one city does not represent all experiences in all cities, etc. You will note that in my entry I followed Mr. Testa's comments with the favorable comments of another participant. How accurate they are, I cannot say, but I think it is best to leave it to our readers to decide what to make of the contrast. To stifle criticism, as corporation lawyers such as yourself often attempt to do, is to reduce the value of praise. It is deceiving to claim that one is concerned with truth and accuracy when one's real motive is to censor opposing views.

A third problem with your article is your inference that "many who sign up for such programs are significantly distressed ..." and "troubled" or "deeply troubled". The people who participate in The Landmark Forum are normal, healthy, successful adults. They are specifically advised that The Landmark Forum is an educational program and is not therapy, nor intended as a substitute for therapy. People are informed that The Landmark Forum will not address issues which are best dealt with by psychotherapists or other health professionals. Landmark has a rigorous screening policy which precludes participation by people who have, or who have had, mental or emotional problems. Although some people may experience emotions during The Landmark Forum from time to time, the program is not designed to elicit emotions and is not "emotionally intense." People who take The Landmark Forum are able to handle the normal stresses of daily life, including normal emotional experiences.

reply: What is your evidence that "the people who participate in The Landmark Forum are normal, healthy, successful adults"? Why would normal, healthy, successful people bother themselves with large group awareness training? A study published in the Journal of Consulting & Clinical Psychology [990;58(1):99-108] by Y. Klar, R. Mendola, J. D. Fischer, R. C. Silver, J. M. Chinsky and B. Goff, reported differently:

A study was conducted to assess the psychosocial characteristics of individuals who become involved in large group awareness training (LGAT) programs. Prospective participants in The Forum, which has been classified as an LGAT, were compared with nonparticipating peers and with available normative samples on measures of well-being, negative life events, social support, and philosophical orientation. Results revealed that prospective participants were significantly more distressed than peer and normative samples of community residents and had a higher level of impact of recent negative life events compared with peer (but not normative) samples.

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.

On the other hand, I will admit that it is also post hoc reasoning to assume that very disturbed individuals who deteriorate rapidly after attending seminars such as LEC's, do so because of their participation. I would like to know more about Landmark's "rigorous screening policy which precludes participation by people who have, or who have had, mental or emotional problems." I think your concerns about attracting emotionally unstable people is quite reasonable and your concern with directing such people elsewhere very wise. However, having people sign a statement that they are physically and mentally well (which I understand is what Landmark does) is most likely done for legal reasons to protect LEC from lawsuits. I doubt that it is done out of concern for the truly disturbed.

A fourth problem with your article is the notion that The Landmark Forum engages in "conversion" experiences or "brainwashing".

reply: I am not aware that I propose such notions. Maybe you have confused me with one of LEC's many other critics. (Faltermayer writes that "Tom Johnson, an 'exit counselor' often summoned by concerned parents to tend to alumni: 'They tire your brain; they make you vulnerable.'" Maybe you have me confused with Ms. Faltermayer.) Or perhaps you have culled this interpretation from my comment that some claimed that their loved ones have been turned into robots or worse. I've removed that comment.

A fifth problem with your article is your erroneous view that people are harmed by The Landmark Forum. The facts are clear that The Landmark Forum and other Landmark programs are not damaging to people. In particular, I refer to a letter from Dr.Raymond Fowler, the Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer of the American Psychological Association, which sets forth his personal opinion based on his participation in The Forum and his 40 years of experience as a psychologist. Dr. Fowler stated:

I did not experience any personal sense of harm, danger, threat or coercion at any time, and I saw no evidence that anyone else did.

Dr. Fowler also stated:

I have talked to psychotherapists who encouraged certain of their patients to attend a Forum session when they felt they were ready to do so, and they uniformly felt that the experience was non-harmful and perhaps encouraged insight.

reply: My view, erroneous or not, is that some people who seek out such self-growth programs are very unbalanced and have breakdowns after participating. The programs do not cause the emotional imbalances, but they inadvertently contribute to them, as might watching a particular episode of Oprah or reading a particular entry in the Skeptic's Dictionary. If it is true that Landmark has a "rigorous screening policy" that selects out such people, I will gladly publicize it and highlight it in my entry; for, such a policy would truly set LEC apart from other self-growth corporations.

I will let the reader decide what to make of Dr. Fowler's opinions and the recommendations of psychotherapists that their patients sign up for your courses.

In conclusion, while Landmark welcomes responsible criticism, it takes very seriously the publication or other dissemination of material containing false and defamatory statements regarding Landmark and its programs, or which leaves Landmark and its programs depicted in a false light. As fully described above, your article contains false and defamatory statements and leaves Landmark and The Landmark Forum depicted in a false light. Your article has damaged and continues to damage the reputations of Landmark, its program The Landmark Forum, and the hundreds of thousands of people who have participated in The Landmark Forum.

Therefore, I request that you rewrite the article to (1) remove the Testa statement in its entirety, and (2) remove the other false and defamatory statements described above. I trust you will take such action as soon as possible to eliminate the continuing damage.

Art Schreiber
General Counsel
[The Landmark Forum]

reply: I am glad to hear that you welcome "responsible criticism." In a democracy, you must know that a wide berth must be given to matters of opinion. I am hereby publishing your opinions and your concerns about the accuracy of Mr. Testa's testimony. I have published and will continue to publish positive testimonies. However, I don't think you make a very strong case that I have depicted LEC in a false light, have defamed LEC, and damaged its reputation and program (by which I assume you mean "caused you some sort of monetary  loss"), any more than you have defamed me or damaged my reputation by your negative and accusatory comments. With revenues of over $50 million a year, it seems that criticism is not harming LEC too significantly. For all you know, people may read my entry and the readers' comments and be stimulated to take your courses. I may inadvertently be putting change in your pocket.

I have a feeling, however, that many of my readers will agree with me that your comments about welcoming criticism are disingenous and that your real motive is to stifle criticism of LEC. What you want is censorship. I think it is very un-American. Furthermore, aren't you concerned that you will damage LEC's reputation by campaigning against criticism? If all we are allowed to do is praise you, of what value is that praise?

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