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

From Abracadabra to Zombies

reader comments: est &  Landmark Forum

6 Feb 1999
I found your information about Landmark Education to be most interesting and informative. I have attended the Landmark Forum, the Landmark Advanced Course, and am presently participating in their Self Expression and Leadership Program. I am registered in their Introduction to the Forum Leader Program as well, which begins later this month.

In most cases, I have found "skeptic" to be a decoy word, which pessimists and "automatic disbelievers" use to justify their belief that nobody has the answers but them. The information on your site, however, defies my stereotyping of "skeptics." Skepticism, when it really is skepticism, is very useful indeed. I just wanted to compliment you on your equal treatment of such topics and your apparent unwillingness to pass judgement in one way or another on such topics.

This is true skepticism: 1) never believe totally in anyone else's beliefs 2) never believe totally in your own beliefs. In short, always be open to question others and your self. It seems to me that this questioning mentality is at the heart of your site. My compliments to you.

I also wanted to add that I've gotten quite a bit out of my experiences with Landmark Education. Just for a few examples.... I've cleaned up a lot of the messy relationships in my life by expressing those things which I'd been holding back. I've freed myself up to experience my life more fully. In the past I'd been so depressed that I was using 5-HTP and St. John's Wort to squelch my depression (they are herbal alternatives to drugs like Prozac). Since my involvement with Landmark, I've found no need for such things because I simply have not felt depressed.

You make a comment in your article that "There is evidence that many of those who sign up for LGAT programs such as Landmark Forum are not necessarily normal, healthy, successful adults." My experience has been quite the contrary. While I was depressed about my life, I was, for all outward appearances, a successful person. I had (and have) a good career, good friends, a life that's moving forward. Yet somehow I was still not satisfied with my life. In my experience, the same applies to most people in my life both inside and outside of Landmark. I don't know many people who are truly loving their lives. I do know a few, but they are the exception, not the norm. From what I've gathered in my 31 years of life, most people are, to one degree or another, dissatisfied with important things in their lives. Dissatisfaction and depression are the norm, even in the face of their successes. So, saying that people who participate in such programs are not normal, healthy and successful, just does not ring true for me.

Maybe I'm wrong about that.... In any case, I do feel I've gained enormous ground against the things in my life that were holding me back from loving my life. That's not to say that I don't get upset, sad, etc anymore. I still do, and fairly often, but those things used to run my life and hold me back from living my life to its full potential, and they simply don't anymore.

I acknowledge that Landmark does NOT have all the answers, but they have some valuable points. They have insights into the way humans think and act. They understand some things that are useful in understanding our place in the world and how to deal with what we view as our limitations in life. They definitely don't have THE answer, but they have one route to a better understanding of self, mind, and human interactions.

For some, those insights are very useful and valuable. For others, they are not. And for some, apparently, they are toxic. I would agree with your assessment that it is probably unstable people who fall into this last category. I remember back in college that a friend dropped acid, and suddenly fell into a messiah complex. People wanted to blame it on the acid, but the guy was messed up before he ever took LSD. The LSD just brought it out and gave it power. Any transformative power has the ability to do this to the mind. Unstable people shouldn't mess with these kinds of things. It's like giving a match to an infant in an explosives factory.

Lastly, I just want to say thanks again for providing an interesting site on the internet. I like both the content and the design of it. It's sites like yours that bring out the best in internet communications.

Evan Sarver

reply: I'm glad you found Landmark beneficial and that your life is better for the experience.

27 Mar 1998
I wanted to tell you that your pages on Landmark Education are very interesting and insightful reading.

Having been one who participated for three years in almost every course possible I will say that while the courses are not a cult, the IFLP definitely operates as one!  But then that is over in 6 months and they let you go...  And if you are in leadership or on staff, you get treated very poorly.  It has many of the facets of a cult there.  There are definitely people who are of cult mindset - usually the leftovers from est, who just can't accept its over.  They are harsh and still call it the "training" and the "work".  I have had friends on staff and I believe they were abused.  But then they were told "what did you make it mean?"  aaaargh

That is why I don't assist.  I can't change it and I don't like it. Some people who are trained just a little bit (not like the Forum Leaders) are put on staff and manipulated like crazy.  Many staff members have quit in total exhaustion, defeated and crying because they can't keep their promises for enrollments.  Well, if they would stop belittling them and working them to death, then they would probably do just fine.

But the courses are wonderful and I enjoyed every one, especially the Wisdom Course.  I got what I got out of them, and it is time to move on.  I still have a lot of friends from Landmark who I love to be with. There is an expectation to "come back" and do more courses, and people I have known for years are most "enrolling".  But it bores me now.  And I have a great excuse, I filled my time up with something else - getting my college degree.  There is a lot more "listening in the world" for a college degree than there is listening for Landmark.

After spending 20-30 hours a week assisting for Landmark - I can get through my last two years of college full time, work full time and have a family.  Without going crazy or being exhausted.  I don't have a bunch of junk bothering me, I can concentrate on what I have a commitment for.

It bothers me the bad reputation est and Werner Erhardt has.  That is another reason I don't preach about Landmark to my friends.  It really doesn't matter anymore if he did what he did or not, if people believe he did, then I can't change that.  If I was there, that would be a different story, but I wasn't.  And I don't trust many that were.

I tell people about it, and if they are interested, they can check it out.  Its just something that I am glad is not in the space between me and every person I talk to anymore - once I quit, it was nice to have a conversation without "sharing the Forum" and asking them to do it.

Its nice to be "normal" again.  Just to relax and BE...

I was wondering if you have done any skeptic research on Christianity. Is it realistic to believe that God came to earth as a man, born of a virgin, did many miracles, died and rose again?  This religion has had many followers, and turned the world upside down.  But I remain skeptical.  Even after memorizing half the Bible as a teenager.

I finally realized it is ok with God that I am skeptical.  Jesus too...

The following is an excerpt from a letter sent by Martin Lell, followed by his response to me.

Heidelberg, 23.6.97

After waiting 1 1/2 years, I finally succeeded in publishing the book I sent you! It's about personality training called "The Forum" and taught by "Landmark Education." I don't know if you've heard of the training before. I hadn't when I enrolled for the course, and it turned out to be the worst experience I ever had. That was in September 1995. After having come through a terrible psychosis only one day after finishing the seminar I gathered what courage I still had left (I still had some fits of fear) and wrote an account of the whole procedure. After the book had been announced by the publisher, Landmark went to court, trying to make the publisher change the sub-title [Protokoll einter Gehirnwäsche. Der Psycho-Konzern Landmark Education, which means, roughly, Brainwashing protocol at the Landmark Education mind-firm].

This had two effects: first, there was a lot of publicity for the book I was interviewed by all the Münich newspapers and they all wrote in favor of my case. Secondly, the court rejected their request and landmark had to pay 150,000 DM.

The book has been on sale since May and already 5,000 copies have been sold!

Landmark Forum is a huge money-making machine, which works by implanting people with a false enthusiasm. Your mind becomes infected by this craziness and you try to infect others. It's really like a virus.

Martin Lell

5 Sep 1997

Dear Mr Carroll:

I've just had a look at your Skeptic's Dictionary about Werner Erhard, est and the Landmark Forum. I would like it very much if you would quote from my letter and make a reference to my book. I've only had my own experience of the Forum, which has been terrible. This is why some of the opinions quoted in the Dicitionary sound really like an Advertisement to me and I think it important to put a stronger emphasis on the negative side. To me the Forum method is in itself abusive. If it wasn't, your character wouldn't change within three days. But it does, and - in my opinion - to a very dangerous degree.

You write at the end of the article that experienced improvements in life might be self-deceiving. I'm quite sure they normally are. You don't come out of there with a relaxed way of seeing things more positively. You HAVE to see things positive, you MUSTN'T admit that something isn't working exactly like you want, because you have FOREVER stopped being a "victim". There is real pressure there, but it comes from within your mind, so you can't see you're under pressure. What you don't realize is that this is not you, but the voice of the Forum leader which you have incorporated and which doesn't stop screaming: Success,Success,Success!

After my own experience with the Forum, I'm very sceptical about every positive view towards it, about people reporting about their achieved "successes" in personal relations caused by the Forum. When there's enthusiasm, I see myself again, in my self-deception. And I can't see a positive thing in self-deception. There is the big danger that when you begin to notice something is wrong about this new Identity, something might be wrong with you.

That happened to me, and for me this really was the end of my life. I didn't see a way out any more. If you manage to maintain this new shiny picture of your successful self by ignoring the doubts which want to rise, you won't think of suicide or get a mental breakdown for hours, like I did, but you have to go on lying to yourself. So I can't see that this is very positive either. To me the Forum isn't designed to help people but to help Landmark make money, regardless of the harms done to human lives and their psyche. It's like a huge, dead, money-making virus of the mind, which has developed a very efficient way of replicating.

Martin Lell 

11 Sep 1997

I attended a Forum 2 weeks ago, the follow-up Tuesday night marketing event and the first (and for me the last) one night seminar (9 more at no charge, included with your $ 325.00 tuition).

Thank you for your informative and extremely balanced paper on the Landmark Forum. My quick feedback is that I am impressed with their marketing organization, but was very disappointed with their inefficiency in getting the message across to attendees. They drag out the seminar (via constant verbal sharing), utilizing (copyrighted?) buzzwords to initially confuse you (Soviet style doublespeak) and distribute NO reference materials (note taking is disallowed) for the initial Forum. In addition, about 20% of your time is used listening/being prodded to attend more seminars.

One of the strongest aspects that holds the "mentally healthy" members is social. The attendees that continue (or re-attend) the seminars like the strong social fellowship that is nurtured. Most of these people are not used to non-judgmental self-expression in groups.

On the positive side, I was able to apologize to my ex-wife, via letter, and let that hassle in my life go. That was worth $ 325.00!

Matt Palmer/Tampa 

19 Jun 1996

With a friend inviting me to consider the Amway "opportunity," I was searching the web for info and discovered your wonderful site. My personal views towards some of your topics are a bit more charitable than your own . . . but maybe I'm just gullible! And having grown up with unfaced emotional problems and an unhappy, defeatist family life, I've always been a sucker for self-help, positive thinking, etc., kinds of stuff.

Having been heavily involved in est and The Forum in the early 80s, then very disillusioned when all the dirt came out about Erhard, I enjoyed looking through your collection on Werner, etc. I remember spending a good bit of money to go to a video seminar on "love" he did in 84 or so. Much of it focused on family, spouses, etc. Werner was always big on "acknowledging" people, and as I remember at the end of this seminar he did a big heartfelt acknowledgement of the people who made his wonderful life possible, including his staff and all the assistants and seminar participants. Not once did he mention anyone in his own family, after spending an evening talking about love and family. This struck me at the time as VERY strange and dissonant to the content of his remarks, and I left feeling something was not right....

In the article on Werner Erhard, you seem to find it difficult to understand the phenomenon of people such as him, Tony Robbins, etc., making such a splash when what they are doing is repackaging ideas of others. Of course, Werner was not very direct about acknowledging the sources of his ideas (as the Scientology people sure pointed out) and tended to repackage them in his own style, although he did make a lot of direct references to Zen. Robbins, on the other hand, has made a fortune and given a great boost to the NLP industry by being very direct about the fact that the bulk of his material is straight NLP, and that most everything else is "modeled" from someone else. When I first read one of Tony's books after seeing his infomercial (I'm too cheap to spend that much for tapes), I was amazed that all the material was so openly and directly derivative.

While reading your article on Erhard, it struck me that the key distinction in understanding the phenomenon is that Erhard, Robbins, et. al. were/are "trainers" rather than original thinkers. They have that ability to convince and inspire action, to affect the emotions of the audience. No one really cares if what they are saying is original. As a matter of fact, if it is something basic to human nature that is being discussed, perhaps the less original the better.

I have a few Tony Robbins tapes, and I often think that in some ways they have had more impact on me than my private therapy. I also have a couple of tapes on NLP (which I can't get into no matter who is teaching it), which are incredibly boring (read in a monotone) yet say much the same thing as Robbins's tapes. As a matter of fact, I think my NLP tapes are better organized and more concise. But Tony's are more effective, since they are presented much better.

When I was a teenager, I was an amateur magician. In magic they have a saying, "It's not what you do; it's how you do it." The success of a magician comes from the showmanship, from the presentation, not so much from the originality of his or her tricks.

I'm a cellist and a college music professor; I'm a very good cello teacher. The content of what I say to students is quite consistent with most of what any competent teacher would say. I have my own personal perspective, to be sure, but my value to my students lies in my skill as a coach and trainer, not in new ways to play the cello. And of course no one cares that great cellists such as Yo-Yo Ma and Mstislav Rostropovich are not significant composers; it is their ability to bring the works (ideas) of others to life for an audience which has made them the superstars they are. So too with superstar personal-development trainers.

I'm sure you understand this distinction already. Yet many of us in academia and other intellectually-focused cultures sometimes forget how many people have a different perspective. And the whole illiteracy of our society is so pervasive that I often wonder why our civilization has yet to collapse. Perhaps another reason for the Erhard, Robbins, etc., phenomena is that many (maybe most) of their trainees have never even heard of Hill, Peale, Scientology, Mind Control, NLP or whatever. If they have heard the name, they don't know anything of the content. So no matter how unoriginal the content, it is new to many of the people taking the seminar....

I cannot deny that there is a contagious quality to the positive atmosphere around Amway (or est or Tony Robbins), no doubt about it, which I find attractive and which is a useful counterbalance to my depressive and self-doubting side.

Here's an example: I'm a workaholic, obsessive kind of guy. As much as I love my kids, it is really hard for me to extricate myself from whatever I'm mentally involved with and focus on them (they are 7 and 4). The Amway rally I went to had a LOT of inspiring talk from the super-successful "diamond" distributor about all the time he gets to spend with his children. Something about it reached inside me and brought the loving father to the fore. The next day, which was Father's Day, I was able to truly focus on and enjoy being with my kids in manner which is for me very unusual. Without a doubt, that day was one of the best days of my life.

So while I doubt I'll become an Amway distributor, I wouldn't mind going to more of those rallies. They are indeed rather like evangelistic meetings. But unlike many of the churches I have played in as a musician, there was no gay bashing, no anti-Semitism, no right-wing politics, no fear mongering, and no bad theology. Well, with all that talk about "the system," maybe there was some bad theology.

Thanks again for your site.
Eric Edberg

reply: Thank you for your insightful comments.  

17 Aug 1996
When I completed the Forum, the next day there was a blood drive at my school. I had always wanted to give blood, and believed in giving blood, but could never overcome my fear of giving blood. The day after I finished the Forum weekend, I went down to the donation center, my fear and I, and I gave blood. The Forum did not make my fear go away, but offered me a choice in how I would relate to the reality of fear.

Several months later I completed the Landmark Self-Expression and Leadership Course, and as my project in that program, I started an ensemble which plays Jewish traditional music, and we gave three concerts before the three-month course was over. The ensemble still exists now, two years later. In fact, when I sign off from writing this message, I'm going to lay down some MIDI rhythm tracks to hold us steady in the studio on Sunday.

The Forum cost me $290 and 30-45 hours (I wasn't counting). For that investment, it was a good value.

Joshua Moss
Hebrew Union College 

30 Aug 1996
If only I had looked it up on the Net before attending!!! I really enjoyed the info you have provided. I was starting to feel quite manipulated but now I just laugh out loud the irony of attending. On the positive side, I was not just looking for self help. I also attended the Forum just to be unavailable for a guy I'd like to date (you know, a little dating mind game). And it worked - he missed me! ha. Too bad I had to sit through the BS to accomplish that.

Thanks again for the info - I'll share it with my friends before they fall too far into the dependency trap.

24 Sep 96

The Landmark Forum is by far the most effective personal development program I have ever done, and it is nothing like you describe. A simple example, Landmark does not HELP anyone. In fact the word help is for all practical purposes 'banned' from the Landmark vocabulary. Landmark 'assists' people, and there is a world of difference. The type of people who do Landmark don't need anyone's help. I am a good example of that.

Peter Nolan, Australia

reply: I can see you don't need help, just assistance. I don't like the word 'help', either. It's a weasel word, like 'virtually' and 'up to'. You know, like I am virtually error free up to 20% of the time. 

27 Oct 1996
I was very active in est throughout the 80's. It was very positive experience for me. I was convinced that est was, in fact, new age religion- high-tech religion for a high-tech age (though I'm sure you know that est did not consider itself a religious organization).

The courses were filled with draw-dropping wisdom. Courses dealt with issues such as integrity, the content was extremely challenging (hardly easy feel-good), and rang of Eternal Truth. I can say that, because I, like all people, was created in God's image, and we do respond to Truth.

I cannot answer for the accusations currently pending against Werner. It appears there is some damaging evidence. Before jumping to conclusions, I would wait for a full hearing.

Richard Maset 

20 Nov 1996

"As a graduate of the Landmark Forum (over 2 years ago) and one who started studying philosophy at university over 20 years ago, I enjoyed your critique. For one who has not experienced the Forum first hand, your comments appeared to me well reasoned and balanced - if, inevitably, inaccurate.

The forum is many things to many people - I found it offered a paradigm shift - a view on my own existence which I had not previously experienced - and that this new view has proved a lot of fun. As such, it was exceptional value for money.

I agree with you that many folks just love a guru. I would not characterise Landmark as a cult organisation, yet many of the folks who are involved have a "cult mindset." The sort of mindset that when a leader says "There is no THE ANSWER", they go away and end up thinking "I have it - THE ANSWER is 'There is no THE ANSWER'" - kinda misses the point, but is a very human experience.

You can check out my own comments on Landmark, if you wish.

Ted Howard 
New Zealand 

13 Jan 1997
I skimmed through your revised entry and noted a couple more things. First, you have a long quotation from someone who took the Forum in 1986 and there have apparently been a few changes since then (as I said, it is continuously evolving). For instance, it is no longer true (if it ever was) that you can't go to the bathroom when you want. You are always free to leave (which apparently wasn't true in est) but they say that if you do so there is no guarantee that you will get "the Result." Also, as far as I know the six day camp no longer exists. It has been replaced by a four day "Advanced Course." But the main thing that has apparently been changing is that the constant pressure to take further courses (and to sign up loved ones) has been toned down. They make an initial pitch at the end of the course you are in and may bug you for a while afterward, but if you are firm with them they leave you alone.

The other thing that caught my eye is your comment about testimonials and post hoc reasoning. The personal experiences I related to you, although I claim to be a highly educated person with no major emotional problems, nonetheless constitute anecdotal evidence and we all know how reliable anecdotal evidence is. Real proof of the claimed transformative effects would obviously have to come from a systematic study involving a control group and I would be curious to know if any such study had been done. The only thing that I know of is a study that Landmark quotes by a company called DYG, Inc., in which (a presumably random sample of) participants were asked to evaluate the program. The finding, among other things, was that over 90% of the participants said it was well worth their time, effort, and cost and likely to have enduring value. It isn't clear how soon after the program this evaluation was made (presumably the perceived benefits will fade over time but by how much is uncertain) and as you said, people may THINK they are better off when they really aren't. But that's the only study I know of.

I must say I am impressed, and surprised, by how seriously you are taking this. It would have been easier for you to just write whatever you wanted and leave it there. By responding to and incorporating comments from people like me you have created a true forum (no pun intended) in the best traditions of the internet.

12 Feb 1998
I read your description of the Landmark Forum after I had paid the money for the course, but before I took it a few months ago.  I just re-read your posting, and I must say I agree with everything you say.  My son told me to take the forum, with the statement that I would find it interesting and maybe I would be too analytical (PhD physics 1964).  He was right.  The forum does not teach anything that most people (at least people as old as me) do not know, but it seems to get them to practice what they know.  If they could only do that for the weight problem. Unfortunately, it seems to be one of the things like speed reading, which I learned long ago, I can still do if pressed, but I do not habitually practice.  Without the practice, most of the forum is wasted.  My son still takes the extended courses for this reason.  It will be  interesting to see what the future brings.

I will probably sign up for the advanced courses also.  I really get put off by the hard sell, but I suppose that the forum keeps going by such tactics.  It seems to be a Darwinian organization which mutates and tries things out, then sticks with the winning formula.
R Hodgson

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