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Lifespring was a New Age/human potential training LGAT which operated from 1974 until the mid 1990s. It promised participants the chance to transform their lives through its trainings. Very controversial, it had vocal proponents, as well as prominent detractors. After a series of lawsuits and investigative reports in the 1980s, it ceased operations. As of 2006, there are many new LGATs offering Lifespring trainings or trainings based on their concepts.

Observers have made comparisons between Lifespring and Werner Erhard's Est training.

Foundation

Lifespring was founded in 1974 by John Hanley Sr., after working at an organization called Mind Dynamics with Werner Erhard, the founder of est. Lifespring concentrates on how people experience each other, whereas est concentrates on changing the way people experience themselves.[1] However, there are many similarities between the two, as well as with Scientology[2]

The former Director for Corporate Affairs of Lifespring, Charles "Raz" Ingrasci, [3] also worked with Werner Erhard, promoting an est mission to the USSR and the Hunger Project. Ingrasci is now President of the Hoffman Institute[4] which offers programs such as the Hoffman Quadrinity Process which some regard as similar to Lifespring.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Course overview

The Lifespring trainings generally involved a three-level program starting with a "Basic" discovery training, an "Advanced" breakthrough course, and a 3-month "Leadership Program" which taught the students how to implement what they learned from the training in their lives.[5]

Studies commissioned by Lifespring done in the 80s by researchers at Berkeley, Stanford, and UCSF, including Lee Ross, Morton Lieberman, and Irvin Yalom, found that an overwhelming majority of participants in these trainings called them either "extremely valuable" or "valuable" (around 90%). Many participants of these trainings found them to be among the most profound experiences of their lives and claimed they were able to produce substantial results in their lives as a result of their participation. [6] Less than 2% found them to be "of no value".[6] Students were often eager to share their experiences in these trainings with family, friends, and co-workers, although they did not receive any compensation for "enrolling" others into the workshops.[6] However, another, independent study found that, "The merging, grandiosity, and identity confusion that has been encouraged and then exploited in the training order to control participants is now used to tie them to Vitality (Lifespring) in the future by enrolling them in new trainings and enlisting them as recruiters".[7] More than 400,000 people worldwide participated in these workshops.[8]

The training was 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 began at 6:30 pm and last until 11:30 or 12. Saturday started at 10 am and lasted until approximately midnight. Sunday started at 9 am and lasted until approximately midnight. Initial Trainings were usually held in the convention facilities of large, expensive hotels. A training was usually composed of 250-300 participants, many volunteers, several official staff, an assistant trainer, and a head trainer.[7]

The training itself consisted of a series of lectures and processes designed to show the participants how they were holding themselves back in their lives. Many complained that they felt harangued, embarrassed, or humiliated by the trainer during the trainings. Additionally, the trainer used many English words in a manner that was different than their usual meaning. "Commitment," for instance, was defined as "the willingness to do whatever it takes." "Conclusion" was defined as a belief. Also, words like "responsibility," "space," "surrender," "experience," "trust," "consideration," "unreasonable," "righteous" "totally participate," "from your head," "openness," "letting go" were redefined or used so as to assign them a new meaning.[7]

By the conclusion of the training, the trainer and volunteers attempted to recruit participants for subsequent, advanced trainings, as well as encouraging them to bring guests to their post training. Participants have quoted them as saying, "Share what you have found with your friends. I want each person here to bring friends to a guest event and to the post-training. Don't keep this to yourselves. Allow them to do the training by sharing with them." Many felt pressured by this.[7]

At the post training several days later, guests of participants were brought to another room, and encouraged to join. The participants themselves were encouraged once again to participate in future trainings. Participants were instructed to hold hands in a circle, and then they are instructed to go back to the guest event to "support your friends" (i.e., encourage their friends to enroll in the training).[7]

Criticism

Some argued that these trainings might be a form of "mass brainwashing". However, Since the late 1980s, though some of the public believe in cult-brainwashing, the academic community-including scholars from psychology, sociology, and religious studies-have shared an almost unanimous consensus that the coercive persuasion/brainwashing thesis in the 1980s is without scientific merit. [9]

There has been discussion among a few former participants of the workshops, that they were too stressful and disruptive. However, with over 300,000 graduates, the vast majorithy found the workshops to be incredibly beneficial. [10] One prominent critic of Lifespring is Virginia Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Mrs. Thomas asserted in an interview with The Washington Post that she had to seek counseling after her decision to break away from Lifespring. She ultimately had to hide in another part of the country in order to avoid a constant barrage of phone calls from Lifespring members, urging her to remain in the organization. Thomas has spoken on panels and organized anti-cult workshops for congressional staffers in 1986 and 1988. [11]

Lawsuits

More than 30 lawsuits were filed against Lifespring for charges ranging from involuntary servitude to wrongful death. The suits often claimed that the trainings place participants under extreme psychological stress in order to elicit change. The group had to pay out large amounts of money to participants who required psychiatric hospitalization and to family members of suicides.[8] The first jury decision came in 1984 in which Deborah Bingham testified she'd been in a psych ward for a month after attending two Lifespring courses and was awarded $800,000. Gabriella Martinez testified that she heard her trainer's voice in her head the night she swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills; Lifespring settled out of court.[12]In 1993, Pittsburgh lawyer Peter N. Georgiades won a $750,000 settlement for a Lifespring trainee who was institutionalized for two years following Leadership training.[8]In 1982, the family of David Priddle accepted an undisclosed sum when they sued Lifespring after he jumped off a building; Artie Barnett's family also reached an out of court settlement, when Barnett, who couldn't swim, drowned during a Lifespring training. Gail Renick's family received $450,000 after she died from an asthma attack during a training session. She had been led to believe her medication was unnecessary.[12]

Investigative reports

In 1980, ABC's 20/20 aired an investigative report about Lifespring. They interviewed cult expert Dr. John Gordon Clark of Harvard Medical School, who said the group practiced mind control and brainwashing. In 1990 KARE-TV (Channel 11) ran a segment called "Mind Games?" that Lifespring claimed was deceptive and sensationalized. (The Minnesota News Council rejected the company's claim.)[12]

Classification

According to The International Survivor's Action Committee[13] Lifespring has been classified as a cult and refers to Rick Ross as references for this classification.

Cult awareness groups claimed that there was high pressure placed on participants to "enroll" family, friends, etc., in the workshops. This is not much different than people wanting to share with their friends a good movie or restaurant. Many participants asserted that they found significant value in their participation and wanted to share the program with people around them.[6]

These cult awareness groups have very broad definitions of cults. Their definition of cults include: eastern philosophies such as Sri Chimnoy and TM, any MLM company (Amway, Herbalife), Bahai, Fundamentalist Religions, etc. etc.

Later developments

While trainings continued until the mid-nineties in certain parts of the country, the lawsuits and the bad press crippled the company. One Lifespring follower, Sue Hawkes, started a similar program, called Vistar, but it was unsuccessful.[12]Lifespring training, once offered under a unified corporate umbrella, now appears in several guises world-wide delivered by differently-named companies. Some of these companies offering the training programs once offered by or based on Lifespring include Momentus; Insight Seminars; Resource Realizations; The Great Life Foundation, Visionworks; The Impact Trainings; Harmony Institute; Spectrum Trainings; Phoenix2000, Vistar/Serendipidity; Summit Education; Personal Dynamics; Choicenter; Millennium 3; Asia Works; Argentina Works; Essential Education; Rising Star Communications; Humanus Institute; and Wings Seminars[14]

Notes

  1. A Critical Analysis of The Transformative Model of Mediation, Terri L. Kelly, Department of Conflict Resolution, Portland State University
  2. Lifespring, The Religious Movements Homepage Project, The University of Virginia
  3. In the Matter of the Complaint of Lifespring, Inc. against KARE-TV, Channel 11, Minnesota News Council, Determination 83
  4. Hoffman Institute, Board of Directors, Charles "Raz" Ingrasci, President & CEO
  5. Waking Up: Est and Lifespring, Chapter Four, One World One God Many Faces
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Lifespring Scientific Research, Scientific Inquiry: A Report on Independent Studies of the Lifespring Trainings, Page 3
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 The Politics of Transformation: Recruitment - Indoctrination Processes In a Mass Marathon Psychology Organization, Philip Cushman, fair use excerpt, Introduction
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Anne McAndrews, Redbook Magazine, May, 1994. URL accessed on 2006-11-06.
  9. Brainwashing and the Cults: The Rise and Fall of a Theory, J. Gordon Melton, Dec 10, 1999
  10. The Newsletter of The North Texas Skeptics, Volume 3 Number 3, May/June 1989
  11. The Nominee's Soul Mate, The Washington Post, Laura Blumenfeld, September 10, 1991; Page F01
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 Minneapolis Citypages,Volume 22; Issue 1092; Cover Story; November 7, 2001. URL accessed on 2006-11-06.
  13. International Survivors Action Committee, 2006
  14. Everybody Goes!, 2006, retrieved 3/21/07.

References

  • Janice Haaken, Ph.D. and Richard Adams, Ph.D.: "Pathology as 'Personal Growth': A Participant-Observation Study of Lifespring Training" in Psychiatry, Vol 46, August 1983
  • John Hanley: Lifespring: Getting Yourself from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be Simon and Schuster 1989 ISBN 0-671-72508-4

External links

See also

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