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large group awareness training program (aka self-help and actualization movement)

Self-help is an enterprise wherein people holding the thinnest of credentials diagnose in basically normal people symptoms of inflated or invented maladies, so that they may then implement remedies that have never been shown to work. --Steve Salerno

Self-help programs thrive on repeat business.

A large group awareness training (LGAT) program is a personal development training program in which dozens to hundreds of people are given several hours to several days of intense instruction aimed at helping participants begin to discover what is hindering them from achieving their full potential and living more satisfied lives. LGAT is a fancy name for self-help programs. They have been developed not just for individuals, but for corporations and public agencies, where the focus is on improving management skills, conflict resolution, general institutional strengthening, and dealing with the eternal problem of employees who drink too much or use too many drugs. 

LGAT gurus claim to know how to help people become more creative, intelligent, healthy, and rich. They focus primarily on the role interpersonal communication plays in self-esteem and in defining our relationships with others.

LGAT gurus claim to know why their participants are not happy or why they are not living fulfilled lives. They assume everyone is being hindered by the same things and that one approach will suit all. Some LGAT gurus use public television and books as their vehicles. Others give seminars in hotel ballrooms. Some use infomercials and peddle books and tapes to the masses to help get them on the path to self-realization and success.

The U.S. Army might think it takes a few years to "become all that you can be," but the gurus of self-help think it can be done in a few hours or days.  These gurus might all take the one-size-fits-all cookie cutter approach to self-help, but the founders of such programs as est, Landmark Forum, neuro-linguistic programming, Tony Robbins seminars, Impact Training, MJB Seminars, Silva Mind Control, Dr. Demartini, Bryon Katie, PSI Seminars, Mind Dynamics (the daddy of them all), Lifespring, Hoffman Quadrinity, Complete Centering, etc., use their own unique cookie cutters. Their websites are often very slick, but one infallible sign that you are about to waste your time if you pursue the call of the self-help program is if the website proudly and loudly proclaims the wonders of the law of attraction. (See the PSI Seminars homepage for an example.)

Though some advocate visualization, self-hypnosis, and other techniques for achieving self-realization, most LGAT programs focus on communication skills and the effect of language on thought and behavior. Those running the programs must excel in those skills. The trainers are motivators. They must use their powerful communication skills to persuade others to believe that (a) they (the trainers) know something valuable about fulfilling one's potential; (b) the valuable knowledge can be transmitted to the participant in a short time; (c) the trainee can expect to reap tangible, even if subjective, benefits in a short time (such as improved relationships with others or feeling better about oneself); and (d) the trainee has only experienced a small taste of the wonderful pleasure and fulfillment that awaits those who sign up for advanced training. In short, the trainers are not just teachers; they are sellers. Their main job is to motivate participants to buy more services, i.e., sign up for more courses. The fact that trainers are unlikely to do any follow-up on their trainees, except to try to persuade them to take more courses, indicates that their main interest is not in helping people lead more fulfilling lives. The trainers have a sales job to do. They are paid commissions for the number of people they recruit and train, not for the number of people they truly help. It is not in their interest to do follow-up studies on their trainees. It is in their interest to do follow-up recruiting calls.

A short amount of reflection should make it apparent that the gurus of personal development training are like those infomercial stars who promise to share with you their secrets on how to make millions of dollars by taking out classified ads or by buying repossessed properties. The real money is not in taking out classified ads or buying repossessions; otherwise, that is what the infomercial star would be doing instead of making infomercials. The real money is in selling the idea to others. If the trainers who work for Tony Robbins or Landmark Forum could realize their true potential in a meaningful, lucrative way, would they take a sales commission job? Would they work for a guru for a relatively small sum of money, while investing a rather extensive amount of time in the hopes of some sort of breakthrough? No. If they want to reach their own true potential they must break away and start their own personal training program. Which is exactly what many of them do.

Personal training programs are likely to be successful, however, if only because (a) the participants are strongly motivated toward self-improvement and (b) the trainers force participants to reflect on themselves, their lives and their relationships. Such motivation and reflection will result in either perceived insights or renewed effort to gain such insights. Being surrounded by many others in search of the Promised Land serves to energize participants and to give them hope. Ultimately, the main product being sold by human potential gurus is hope itself. It should be obvious that in itself this is not a bad thing. We all need hope. Without hope, there is no point in making plans for the future. Without hope, there is no point in working on a relationship or setting goals. Thus, insofar as participation in Large Group Awareness Training increases one's hope for finding one's way and for achieving one's goals, it is good. Even false hope may be better than no hope at all. [new] Of course, this feeling of hope will not last once you leave the arena and are back on your own without the contstant badgering and encouragment. The solution, you will encouraged to believe, lies in taking another course to get re-energized and re-activate that feeling of elation that comes with hope. And when the good feelings wear off again, what then? Depression or take another course: it's your choice. [/new]

Since fear is a major obstacle to hope, the human potential trainers must help participants overcome those fears which hinder development. For example, there can be no hope of achieving a goal if the fear of failure is so strong that one avoids setting goals in order to avoid failing. After all, if you don't try something, you can't fail at it. Likewise, no troubled relationship can improve if one fears rejection by the other to such a degree that one will not even try to heal the wounds. One must overcome fears of failure, rejection, ridicule, humiliation, etc., if one is to have any hope of achieving a very meaningful existence as a human being. One is powerless to achieve anything if one is paralyzed by fear. Empowerment to achieve requires empowerment to overcome one's fears and thereby gives one hope. The most direct way to empower someone would be to convince them that if what they most fear were to happen not only would nothing be worse than it already is, but most likely things would be even better than they are. Another way is to convince people that their own beliefs are hindrances to success and that they can replace those beliefs at will.

No one knew this better than Leo Buscaglia, one of the more successful LGAT gurus of the 1970s and 1980s. He used books, lectures and public television programs to promote the idea that the key to everything is love. He popularized notions that  Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell and B. F. Skinner had written about, e.g., the psychological power of loving those you fear. "Love your enemies," he would say. "It'll kill them!" Your enemy doesn't have to be another person, however. Your own fears can be your enemies. Embrace your fears, it'll kill them. If your relationship fails, what is the worst that can happen? The relationship ends. You can dwell on it, crawl into yourself, withdraw, surrender. Or you can learn from it, grow, develop, be prepared for a better relationship in the future. It's up to you. As the Stoics said: know what's in your power and what is not. Don't try to change what is not in your power to change. You can't control what others say or do, but you can control your attitude, your emotional response, to what they say or do. In short, if you don't try, you can't succeed. If you try and fail, you can still succeed. It's up to you. It is up to the human potential guru or trainer to convince you of this.

Self-growth programs such as est, Landmark Forum, neuro-linguistic programming, Impact Training, MJB Seminars, Dr. Demartini, Bryon Katie (and even cults like Scientology) can point to many "successes." They can demonstrate that their programs "work." They can bring forth to testify on their behalf hundreds, if not thousands, of satisfied customers, many of them famous celebrities such as John Denver, John Travolta, Yoko Ono, Cher, Valerie Harper and others. Many people apparently find that their lives are better after they get involved in est, NLP, Landmark Forum, IMPACT, MJB, or Scientology. Those of us who have been trained to study philosophy and psychology, who have a deep sense of the nature of speculation and empirical research, are able to recognize the pseudoscientific nature of such programs. We know that testimonials do not validate a self-help program. We know that there is significant post hoc reasoning by both gurus and their followers. We are aware of the role of subjective validation, confirmation bias, wishful thinking, the regressive fallacy, and communal reinforcement in the success of such programs.  We know there is little or no research done by the promoters of these programs to (a) test causal claims that might establish some degree of effectiveness to their methods; (b) establish clear criteria for what counts as "successful" training; (c) keep records of "failures" or those who feel ripped off or harmed by the program. We also know that repeat business is what keeps these programs thriving, though the irony of this fact seems lost on those who keep taking one more course for good measure.

Nevertheless, despite the lack of proof that these programs work the way their advocates claim, and despite the fact that many trainers are overly zealous in their recruitment of participants in seminars and advanced seminars, many participants feel they benefit greatly from such programs. However, research has shown that the feelings of having benefited greatly from participation in an LGAT do not correspond to beneficial changes in behavior (Michael Langone, "Large Group Awareness Training Programs," Cult Observer, v. 15, n. 1, 1998). Also, many of those who feel they have benefited do not understand that others may not feel they benefit at all from such programs. To their healthy friends and family members, the zealot may appear to have been brainwashed. Their enthusiasm seems unnatural and disproportionate. If they were unbalanced before taking the program, they may appear to have gone beyond "breakthrough" into "breakdown."

See also est, firewalking, Impact Training, Landmark Forum, MJB Seminars, neuro-linguistic programming, New Thought, and Silva Mind Control Method.

reader comments

further reading

books and articles

Barry, Dave.  "Altered States"  in The Miami Herald, April 13, 1997. (Humorist Dave Barry takes Peter Lowe's SUCCESS 1997 12-hour success seminar featuring Anthony Robbins, Elizabeth Dole, Rabbi Harold Kushner, Brian Tracy,  Lou Holtz, Jim Morris, Peter Lowe, Pat Riley, Dr. Ted Broer, George Bush, and Dan Kennedy.)

Salerno, Steve. (2006). Sham: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless. Three Rivers Press.


The Awareness Page - everything you wanted to know about various LGATs

List of Large Group Awareness Training programs - Wikipedia (at least 30 are listed here)


Jamal Mazrui's Empowerment Zone an amazingly extensive list of Internet links for "helping individuals and communities achieve self-actualization and full citizenship"

List of self-help authors (by their fruits ye will know them!)

Cult Status: In which the author struggles to escape the psychological shackles of a self-help seminar by Kirsten Marcum

Alexander Everett

PSI Seminars; copycat of EST and the Forum

How Large Group Awareness Trainings such as PSI Seminars and Landmark Education/Forum/Est Began by Steve

This movement born in the end of 1940's, when USA government funded a research aimed to create an educative system based on most functional parts of existing methods in the various traditions spread around the world. They gathered information from great religions, great philosophers and psychologists and began to develop an approach that was using the most effective of different methodologies, as visualizations, games, conversations, etc.

The research project was then called National Training Labs (NTL). National Training Labs still exists today and is a private institution. The research carried out, having been funded by the U.S. Government, remained in the public domain; no one can claim exclusive ownership.

In the early '60s, William Penn Patrick founded a firm called Holiday Magic. It was a cosmetics company selling their products door to door. He decided to train its sellers to be self motivated and creative in front of the refusal (to buy the products/sales franchise). He hired one of NTL researcher, Alexander Everett.

Alexander organized a training on behalf of Penn Patrick that had a success of unexpected proportions. It was so successful that the representatives were able to sell more items than the factory could produce in 30 years of activity. This resulted in the non-delivery of large quantities of the ordered cosmetics and a subsequent penal proceeding which led to Holiday Magic's final closure. WPP also sold more franchises than there were available cosmetics buying customers too. William Penn Patrick also started the Leadership Dynamics Institute which employed HM employees Ben *** (a sadistic and physically cruel man), Sharoll Shumate, Jerry Booz, and Vance Powell, as seminar facilitators. William Penn Patrick died in a plane crash at High Valley Ranch in Clearlake Oaks CA, while Alexander Everett started Mind/Life Dynamics, a training company.

• When Everett started Mind/Life Dynamics he took with him four of Holiday Magic's trainers. They were Werner Erhard, John Hanley, Tom Wilhite and Stewart Emery.

Later, Erhard left his job to give birth to Erhard Seminar Trainings, Stewart Emery founded Actualizations, Wilhite the PSI World Seminars and Hanley, together with Robert White and Randy Ravell, bought Mind/Life Dynamics, which was renamed in Lifespring. Later Hanley bought Ravell and White out from Lifespring. White went to Asia and started Life Dynamics Asia and Ravell began another company of alternative education.

• Thomas and Jane Willhite bought High Valley Ranch though a government auction of WPP’s assets in 1973.

A young woman also died at High Valley Ranch during WPP’s Youth Leadership Institute training class in 1971 (before the Willhites bought the property) and many other young people became deathly sick. A curse was placed on High Valley Ranch because of all of the deaths on the property, including PSI World Seminars founder, Thomas D. Willhite in 1983.

Daniel Tocchini, one of the best trainers of Lifespring, worked in strictly contact with John Hanley and he studied under the guide of Erhard and Everett. Then he constituted Mashiach Ministries inc. that transformed later in Association for Christian Character Development (ACCD), through which he contextualized the transformational technology into Christian principles. Once left the presidency of ACCD, Daniel Tocchini started Culture ROI, a company which offers its services to some of 500 USA's greatest corporations.

Davide Zaccariello has been trained by Daniel Tocchini and works with him at international level since 1996, he's one of Culture ROI's trainers and offers his competencies to different ONG which works in the third world with the aim to set independent all those who have access to any kind of resources. Davide Zaccariello offers his service also in international negotations."

"Alexander Everett (1921-2005) was a British self-improvement and personal development consultant. He was the founder of the company Mind Dynamics, and author of the motivational books The Genius Within You and Inward Bound. Everett's coursework and teachings had an influence on the human potential movement.

Though Mind Dynamics only existed for a few years, it greatly influenced many other forms of companies and self-improvement groups known as Large Group Awareness Training. After Mind Dynamics folded due to the death of its co-owner, William Penn Patrick, and due to investigations on its parent company, Holiday Magic, by the United States government on allegations of pyramid schemes, Everett formed another course called Inward Bound, which he taught in the United States, Europe and Asia.

Born in England in 1921, Everett was initially inspired by Aldous Huxley's book The Perennial Philosophy. Everett became involved with Christian Science, the Unity School of Christianity, and Rosicrucianism. He also traveled the world in a quest for spirituality and education, visiting Greece, India, and Egypt. Everett also studied Theosophy with Rudolf Steiner.

He later settled down in Britain for a while, forming a preparatory school, Pendragon School at Bexhill-on-Sea, in 1950 in Sussex, England. While teaching at the school in Sussex, Everett contracted polio, and was told by his physicians that he would never walk again. Everett believed that he healed himself using the Unity School of Christianity's "Prayer of Faith", by Hannah More Kohaus. In 1953, Everett founded and became the headmaster of Shiplake College at Henley-on-Thames, Oxford, England. Everett later acknowledged that the Unity Church had an impact on his development of self-improvement courses including Mind Dynamics, and he incorporated Unity techniques such as the use of silence, focusing on the intuitive inner voice, and affirmations into these practices.

In 1962, Everett immigrated to the United States, and first traveled to Kansas where his initial intent was to become a minister in the Unity School of Christianity. He worked for the Unity Church for a short time in Kansas City. In 1963, Everett gave up his path to becoming a minister, and instead helped establish a preparatory school in Fort Worth, Texas, Fort Worth Country Day School, where he was also an instructor. There he also encountered Jose Silva, founder of the Silva Mind Control method, and began to study techniques of mind control, self-hypnosis, and meditation.

Everett utilized the techniques learned in Jose Silva's Mind Control methodology, as well as concepts from Edgar Cayce, to form the Mind Dynamics course in 1968. Everett and his Mind Dynamics course was the subject of Jess Stern's book, The Power Of Alpha Thinking (1969). One of the many influential graduates included Dr. O. Carl Simonton of the Simonton Cancer Center. Mind Dynamics was a precursor to other groups that used similar techniques. Alexander was often referred to as "The Teacher of Teachers" and "The Father of the Human Potential Movement" ... as his employees included Werner Erhard, founder of "est" Erhard Seminars Training and the Landmark Forum; John Hanely, founder of Lifespring; James H. and James Quinn, founders of LifeStream; Randy Revell, founder of Context Trainings; Tom and Jane Willhite, founders of PSI World; Robert White, founder of ARC and Life Dynamics; Howard Nease, founder of Personal Dynamics; Bill Schwartz, founder of the Meditation Institute of Milwaukee; Stuart Emery, founder of Actualizations, and Russ and Carol Bishop with Insight.

The first form of Mind Dynamics was non-confrontational, did not involve direct interaction with course participants, and participants did not share of their own personal experiences in the coursework. In 1970, Everett moved the headquarters of his company from Texas to San Francisco, California, and the company was bought out by William Penn Patrick in the same year. Patrick was the owner of Holiday Magic, a cosmetics company, and Leadership Dynamics, a similar company to Mind Dynamics that used more confrontational techniques.

Though Mind Dynamics was structured as a for-profit, self-improvement company, it was also described as a spiritual discipline. Everett stated that one of the goals of Mind Dynamics was to "get people to a higher dimension of mind".

Werner Erhard was a student of Everett's, and became an instructor in his own right in the Mind Dynamics training. After reaching the level of instructor, Erhard was also chosen by Everett to be responsible for Mind Dynamics course development. Alexander Everett offered Erhard a vice-presidency in the company and a larger salary, but Erhard instead took his staff including Laurel Scheaf and Gonneke Spits to form Erhard Seminars Training. Everett was present in the hotel ballroom when Werner Erhard led his last Mind Dynamics course, and announced to the audience that he would be soon forming a new company. Though Everett publicly went up on stage and stated his support for Erhard and was sorry to see him go, privately he was furious with Erhard for planning his exit and new company behind Everett's back. John Hanley, who later went on to form Lifespring also was influenced by Mind Dynamics and Everett. The course spread to Australia and Europe, but was shut down in 1973 along with Leadership Dynamics and Holiday Magic, when William Penn Patrick died in a plane crash. Patrick's companies were being investigated by the United States government on allegations of pyramid schemes. However, the Mind Dynamics course still had a huge effect on the New Age movement.

After Holiday Magic, Leadership Dynamics and Mind Dynamics ceased operating, Everett left the United States in 1974 and studied Eastern religions and philosophies in Russia and India. He formed a personal development program named Inward Bound in 1977 and stayed active in the self-improvement industry. Everett also formed a course called "Samata".

The Inward Bound course was a two-day seminar that had similar characteristics to his previous coursework, and also incorporated concepts from the Unity Church. Everett continued to teach Inward Bound for over twenty-five years, and gave lectures annually in the United States, Europe and Asia. He also wrote a book on the course, entitled Inward Bound. Everett authored and recorded two audio seminars, "The Genius Within You", and "Inner Wealth" with the Nightingale-Conant Corporation. His final spiritual course "Love, Life and Light" was taught annually over the final 12 years of his life. He recorded these teachings in a 20-hour CD-ROM entitled, "Cosmic Consciousness". Everett died on January 16, 2005, in Oregon.

Why is it important to know where this movement began? Aren’t we just living in the present and the past doesn’t matter? I have heard and asked this question before. Today, it is important know what the origins of Transformation to provide you guidance to do your own personal research and go deeper into some distinctions and models presented in “The Work”. It is also important to honor the contribution of founding members and torchbearers all over the world.

This is not New Age type transformation. It is a Modern Way of presenting the profound, life altering and enlightening knowledge that has been present in this universe since the beginning. So let us begin in the 1960’s knowing that the way the human race has interpreted this has evolved since the beginning of time.

William Penn Patrick was an American entrepreneur and businessman. He was the owner of Holiday Magic, Leadership Dynamics, and Mind Dynamics. “Holiday Magic was a multi-level marketing organization, founded in 1964, by William Penn Patrick in the United States. Originally the organization distributed goods such as home-care products and cosmetics. Patrick, a student of Alexander Everett who is founder of Mind Dynamics, used this training in his company.” “Mind Dynamics was a seminar company, founded by Alexander Everett in Texas in 1968.” MD closed in December 1973, after the death of co-owner William Penn Patrick. Some trainers and Leaders of MD founded their own companies. Werner Erhard founded LANDMARK/EST. Thomas Wilhite founded PSI Seminars. Stewart Emery founded ACTUALIZATIONS and is a recognized author. Randy Revell, Charlene Afremow (a Marin County housewife and sycophant of Werner Erhard), Robert White, Larry Johnson and John Hanley founded LIFESRING in 1974. Most of the most profound material in Lifespring was developed by Randy Revell. Randy developed Context Training. James Quinn organized LIFESTREAM. Other companies include, include: The Forum, Personal Dynamics in Switzerland, Life Dynamics in Japan and Hong Kong, Alpha Seminars in Australia, Dimensional Mind Approach and Pathwork. Prior instructors from Mind Dynamics founded the organizations mentioned above.

Last updated 16-Jun-2016

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