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Home arrow Psychotherapy Cults arrow Large Group Awareness Training (LGAT) arrow Day One - Large Group Awareness Training Basics

Day One - Large Group Awareness Training Basics

The LGAT Experience

Having recently done an LGAT "Basic" course I thought I would take the opportunity to write about the experience. LGAT stands for Large Group Awareness Training. Most of these have their roots in a course called "Mind Dynamics" which was taught in California in the late 60s and early 70s. From this came the two largest LGATs; est/WEA/Landmark Forum founded by Werner Erhardt, and Lifespring founded by John Hanley. Other LGATs include Insight Seminars, Actualizations, PSI World and many other smaller trainings which basically use a similar process.

An LGAT experience can be summarized as following a three step pattern.

1) Psychological breakdown/opening up the subconscious mind.

2) Catharsis or the releasing of repressed emotions usually caused by interpretations of childhood events.

3) A rebirthing or psychological buildup with processes designed to make participants feel good about themselves, the trainer and the course.

The training I experienced was developed by a former Lifespring trainer who I assume decided there was more money to be made by doing it on their own. The course had other Lifespring graduates on the staff. Based on what I have read about Lifespring I conclude that the processes used are nearly identical to that used in Lifespring training. These processes are not proprietary and can be found in a variety of books. For the most part I can document just about every process or a variation thereof used in the training.

DAY 1, Thursday evening. Agree or Else

The participants sign an agreement which includes non-disclosure of the processes used. It is my understanding that mental/therapeutic processess are not proprietary, and cannot be covered by patent, copyright or trade secret laws and thus violating nondisclosure cannot hold up in court. I will refrain from mentioning the name of the specific training I experienced and any process used in the training that cannot be documented elsewhere.

Dr. Margaret Singer writes about LGATs in her book, "Cults in Our Midst".
"The program trainers and leaders typically get agreement from participants that they will not tell anyone about the processes that occur. To do so "will spoil it for your friends, family, co-workers etc, when they take the course. Tell them what you got out of it trainers advise. This means be vague about the actual content and provide glowing endorsements telling others that the training turned your life around but do not tell them how emotional, dramatic, confrontational, and unnerving the sessions can be for some people. Because of this promise, consumers who buy and attend these seminars do so without information about how psychologically, socially, and sometimes physically stressing the event can be."

"Day one is usually devoted to demonstrating the leader's absolute authority. The leader, or trainer immediately takes control of the setting with a demeanor that suggests he is a powerful, in-charge person and no one is to challenge what he says. He remains totally in charge, acts knowledgeable, and is practiced in verbal skills so that he never loses an encounter. Anyone who challenges the trainer will be humiliated and verbally mashed."

The first day started Thursday evening around 7. After some introductory stuff welcoming people, etc. the trainer brings up *THE AGREEMENT*. The attitude and tone of voice of the trainer predictably becomes stern and unyielding in a way to purposely provoke a response from the attendees.

The first point brought up is about not revealing the processes or personal information that is shared. Since people will be sharing some very deep personal secrets then this is common sense but people do not know this in advance. The processes are not unique to the course and not proprietary but people do not know this.

The second point was about attending all the course including the followup session and also being on time. Several people objected to this stating they had other commitments family or otherwise. There were some people from out of town who could not make the next Tuesday evening followup.

Everyone of them was was met with unyielding harshness from the trainer. One of the arguments the trainer makes was if they would only "get it" they could make the space for the course in their schedule and "getting it" would also keep others from interrupting their attendance. "Getting it", of course means that we create our own reality or experience by our thinking and interpretation. However, this is not explained at this point and is designed only to provoke more responses from attendees. Several people storm out of the room. However there are ample staff people to handle those who leave. Outside, people are pressured by the staff to return to the course. Most end up coming back in the room while a few never return.

Other rules include not talking unless called upon, not sitting next to anyone you knew prior to the training, no eating, drinking, gum chewing, etc. Some people saw fit to argue with that. At this point the show begins to get quite boring as it had been over 3 hours that we were in the ballroom. At least we were allowed potty breaks as needed so I took one. When I got back the trainer was finishing up the agreements and we were asked to stand if we agreed. So we did. Then we were allowed a 20 minute break. We were reminded to be in our seats (precisely arranged and marked with tape on the floor) on time for the next part.

When we come back there is lecture which include some of the basic philosophy/pop psychology of LGATs. One can certainly read about the philosophy in John Hanley's book, Lifespring available from Lifespring (www.lifespringinc.com)

Later we were asked to pair off into a diad (one on one exercises). What we did was an awareness exercise of staring into the other persons eyes in silence for several minutes. Then we were asked to introduce ourselves and have a conversation. At the end of the exercise we were guided to close our eyes and remind ourselves of how we behaved in the exercise, did we open up and share or did we talk superficially.

Then we did "The Trust Exercise". This consists of milling around the room, looking people in the eyes for a minute and stating one of only three things.

1) I trust you.
2) I don't trust you.
3) I don't know if I trust you.

This goes on for ten or fifteen minutes. At the end we were again instructed to close our eyes and review what we did from the vantage point of being above the crowd. Let me point out that there is a lot of closed eye guided exercises in these courses. By closing your eyes and going within one usually enters an alpha or hypnotic state and is much more suggestible then normal.

These courses also use popular music to set the mood. After the trust process we were instructed to sit on the floor and we listened to Jackson Browne's "The Pretender".

THE PRETENDER

I'm going to rent myself a house
In the shade of the freeway
I'm going to pack my lunch in the morning
And go to work each day
And when the evening rolls around
I'll go on home and lay my body down
And when the morning light comes streaming in
I'll get up and do it again
Amen
Say it again
Amen

I want to know what became of the changes
We waited for love to bring
Were they only the fitful dreams
Of some greater awakening
I've been aware of the time going by
They say in the end it's the wink of an eye
And when the morning light comes streaming in
You'll get up and do it again
Amen

Caught between the longing for love
And the struggle for the legal tender
Where the sirens sing and the church bells ring
And the junk man pounds his fender
Where the veterans dream of the fight
Fast asleep at the traffic light
And the children solemnly wait
For the ice cream vendor
Out into the cool of the evening
Strolls the Pretender
He knows that all his hopes and dreams
Begin and end there

Ah the laughter of the lovers
As they run through the night
Leaving nothing for the others
But to choose off and fight
And tear at the world with all their might
While the ships bearing their dreams
Sail out of sight

I'm going to find myself a girl
Who can show me what laughter means
And we'll fill in the missing colors
In each other's paint-by-number dreams
And then we'll put our dark glasses on
And we'll make love until our strength is gone
And when the morning light comes streaming in
We'll get up and do it again
Get it up again

I'm going to be a happy idiot
And struggle for the legal tender
Where the ads take aim and lay their claim
To the heart and the soul of the spender
And believe in whatever may lie In those things that money can buy
Thought true love could have been a contender
Are you there?
Say a prayer for the Pretender
Who started out so young and strong
Only to surrender

(c) 1976 SWALLOW TURN MUSIC

(You can get the lyrics to damn near anything off the web :-)

During the song the trainer periodically lowers the volume and instructs people to focus on their inauthentic, pretending behaviors. The tone of the trainer's voice is negative and rebuking like we are worthless pitiful pretending creatures. "Are you there? Or are you just pretending."

In my conscious mind I am somewhat amused by all of this. In my subconscious I can feel awareness of all my senses increasing. One cannot resist the psychological opening that occurs in these courses.

After the exercises the group has to rearrange the chairs to the tape on the floor. The group is timed and encouraged to beat the previous time. This is just another way to get the group to respond to the trainer on demand. By this point nobody resists the trainer.

After this it is 1 AM and time to go home being reminded to be there the next night at 7. If people go to work the next day which I did, it makes for a night of very little sleep.