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Home arrow Psychotherapy Cults arrow Lifespring arrow Description of the Behavioural Structure of the Training - Intro

Description of the Behavioural Structure of the Training - Intro

An excerpt from "The Politics of Transformation: Recruitment - Indoctrination Processes In a Mass Marathon Psychology Organization" By PHILIP CUSHMAN

Note: The use of the term "Vitality Initial Training" refers to the Basic Training of a well-known LGAT.


This section of the results chapter presents a linear, behavioral description of the structure of the Initial Training. This task is undertaken because, in a restrictive milieu, the milieu is the single most influential element in the field. Therefore, it is imperative that the structure of the training be described in detail.

In the case of mass marathon psychology organizations, the milieu is primarily composed of the behavioral structure the controlling organization imposes on the participants. The participants' experiences depend in large part upon what the organization encourages, instructs, or coerces them to do. These structured manipulations are embodied in the events of the training (i.e., lectures, discussions, interpersonal exercises, or hypnotic inductions). The events are introduced, monitored, and managed from beginning to end by the trainer and his staff. He, in turn, appears to follow an extensive script, which guides the staff and the trainer in both the large agenda (e.g., the order and content of the events) and the small details (e.g., the correct song to play over the sound system or the proper deployment of the staff during a specific event). The carefully controlled structure evokes certain responses in participants, which then, in turn, are treated by the trainer as indicators of the participants' states of mind. He will therefore alter his behavior, and the structure of the exercise accordingly. These changes will then make a further impact on the participants, and they will indicate the significance of the impact by their responses. and so on.

Therefore, the entire recruitment-indoctrination process cannot be understood without a detailed description of the behavioral structure of the training. Research Question I has been developed in order to aid in the collection of the data. It states:

1. What does the Vitality Initial Training consist of, step by step? -What does the trainer say and do? --What do the staff members say and do? --What environmental controls are used and what is their effect upon the participants (e.g. behavioral rules such as talking, eating and bathroom "privileges," the strategic use of music and lighting, social rewards and punishments. etc.) These data were collected through interviews with three Vitality graduates (see Appendix A. "Interview Guide A: Behavioral Structure of the Training"). Occasionally, when available and applicable, data collected from the 15 "experience'' subjects were used as an adjunct to data from the "behavior" subjects. When used in this way the data from "experience" subjects were always clearly distinguished from that of the "behavior" subjects.

The data were then organized linearly and presented as a narrative. Section B is composed of (a) a brief description of each large event of the training reported in serial form, (b) a few brief anecdotes from subjects that illustrate and add descriptive detail, and (c) some brief theoretical comments from the researcher. Data are organized linearly: all events, exercises, and statements are organized in the sequence in which subjects thought they occurred. Therefore data will be organized by starting with day one, event one, moving on to day one, event two, etc.

Research Proposition #1, which was developed from the working model, is then used as a way of systematically organizing and evaluating the data. The results of that evaluation will be found in Section C.

Because the researcher was restricted to interviewing techniques in order to recreate the structure of the training, this section is less accurate, detailed, and complete than it could have been if participant observation techniques had been possible. This is particularly true due to the emotional and behavioral pressures to which participants are exposed. It is important to remember that the training is composed of a high-intensity, rapidly moving series of intense emotional experiences. Often participants are exhausted, hungry, tired of thinking, giddy, euphoric. All of this makes accurate retrieval of their memory of the order and content of events extremely difficult. This is particularly true since subjects are subjected to formal and informal hypnotic induction techniques at various points in the training. This accounts for the erratic nature of the reports. Sometimes subjects were extremely detailed in their memories of a trainer's statements or the order of an exercise. At other times they may simply have forgotten the content of an entire exercise. Although the subjects interviewed for the behavioral structure were chosen for their professional knowledge and objectivity, they too were affected by the milieu and were therefore unable to remember all details of the training. This unfortunately resulted in incomplete or vague descriptions of some of the events.

The training is composed of successive sessions on Wednesday night, Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday day and night, Sunday day and night, a Tuesday night post-training session ten days after graduation, and a post-training interview. Evening sessions begin at 6:30 pm and last until 11:30 or 12. Saturday starts at 10 am and lasts until approximately 12. Sunday starts at 9 am and lasts until approximately 12. Participants are instructed to wear comfortable clothing. Initial Trainings are usually held in the convention facilities of large, expensive hotels. A training is usually composed of 250-300 participants, many Vitality volunteers, several official Vitality staff, an assistant trainer, and a head trainer.