Large-Group Awareness Training: beware!

I am posting this story from a person who attended a Large-Group Awareness Training seminar called Lifespring. Other such programs include Landmark Education, Access Consciousness, and PSI Seminars.

You may be “invited” to join these seminars through your work (most likely, ordered to attend), or through family and friends. Please be aware that these groups use advanced brainwashing techniques, all operate on the same general principles described below, and are very dangerous for your mental health. Many people report broken marriages, finances ruined and personalities completely changed by these cults.

The LGAT Experience
by Dave in St Louis

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

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 (

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”.

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.

Friday Evening – Psychological Breakdown

The second evening starts again at 7 P.M. By this time the class is
trained to get to their seats when a particular piece of music is
played. The agreement is to be in your seat and ready to begin when
the music ends.

However a major traffic jam into the city has caused several people
to be late myself included. This is a trainer’s dream come true. One
by one people were told to stand up and explain why they were late.
No excuse was accepted. Every person was made to admit total
responsibility for being late often revealing other patterns in
their life where they were supposedly irresponsible. This often
brought people to tears.

Dr. Singer writes in “Cults in Our Midst”

“Having observed a number of LGATs and having interviewed many
persons who attended variants of these programs as part of their
work assignments, I am astonished at the gross childishness and
unkindness of humiliating anyone under the guise of education,
experiential learning, or the claim that participation in such
travesties enhances work performance. Nor do all participants find
sessions of “sharing” personal details helpful.”

Because I was late too I got “called to task” for breaking the
agreement. Since I knew how that stupid game is played it irritated
me. So the trainer was trying to get me to admit breaking the
agreement and I said “that is your context not mine”. The trainer
hollered at me some more and finally I said “OK, I broke the
agreement” and sat down. The trainer ordered me to stand up I said
“No, I decide to sit”. The trainer ordered me again and I said “I
decide”. So the trainer said “well just leave then”. So I got up and
left (my mistake, Doh!). See how the trainer wins every encounter?

Of course then the “handling” begins. When people get pissed off and
walk out the door there is a staff member outside to “handle” you. I
bitched a bit about it being all too predictable and that I didn’t
want to be right about this course but looks like I am anyway. I
brought out the copy of Singer’s chapter on LGATs and started
quoting it to the handler. I also made comments like “How come every
sentence you say starts with ‘Are you open to the possibility…'”
Finally I said just leave me alone for a few minutes and I sat and
cleared away ALL the anger I was feeling with a little meditation
trick I learned. Then I really had fun with the handler.

The handler asks me to come back in the course. I said “Hey, the
trainer asked me to leave. Guess I’m not welcome in the course.”

The handler says “What would it take to get you to come back in the

I said “An Invitation”.

“Well, I invite you to come back in”

I said “From the trainer”

She said “Well, I’m on the staff and I invite you back in”

I said “Let me get a glass of water and think about it.”

So I hung out for about 15 minutes purposely having fun with that
handler. I even made her open the door and hold it for me going back

When I got back in the trainer was in the middle of another one of
those fast paced lectures showing all the negative things in
people’s life and how it keeps them isolated from the possibilities
outside their box.

Then the awareness exercises begin again; diads, open body posture,
closed-eye reflections etc.

The victim game: Tell your partner a story about which you think you
were a victim. Then your partner tells you one. After this the
trainer instructs you to retell your story from the point of view
that you were responsible and admitting your role in what happened.

They made me do it: This process involves stating as fast as you can
things you were *made* to do. My mom made me clean my room. The IRS
made me pay my taxes. My boss made me work. The traffic made me
late. etc. etc.

I have to: This process involves finding out why you *have* to do
things. It is a progression to the underlying cause of why you do
things. I have to work. If I don’t work, then I don’t get paid. If I
don’t get paid then I can’t make the house payment. If I can’t make
the house payment then the bank will foreclose. If the bank
forecloses then I have no where to live. If I don’t have a place to
live then I’ll freeze in winter. If I freeze in winter then I get
sick. If I get sick then I die. THEREFORE, I would RATHER work then

The Red/Black game: After several of these types of processes it was
time for the Red/Black game. In this game people are divided into 2
teams and sent to separate rooms. Instructions were given to get the
most number of points, elect a captain who will tally the votes,
everyone has to vote and the count has to be taken exactly or it
will be declared invalid.

There are 10 frames in this game like a bowling sheet. The 5th frame
is double points, the 10th frame is triple points. Points are
accumulated from frame to frame. There is no communication to the
other team other than a staffer runs back and forth between rooms
and tells you how the other team voted. between frames. Each team
votes on a color red or black with a simple majority. The trainer
goes back and forth between the rooms and observes. There is
absolutely no help from the staff.

Scoring is as follows:

Team A vote…..Team B vote………….Team A scores…..Team B scores


It should be obvious that the scenario is win/win win/lose lose/win
and lose/lose. There are people in each group that have figured the
game out and tell the others the object of the game. The first frame
is voted black/black. In the second frame red/black. The third frame
black/red. From then on its red/red the whole way out resulting in a
negative score to a negative score. Little did we know there was
hell to pay…

By this time it was after 1 AM and we were told to file back into
the main ballroom in silence. The trainer had a look that would
kill. When we got to our seats we were ordered to close our eyes and
the trainer yelled at us for 30 minutes straight. We were told that
what we did in the game amounted to war and the way we played that
game was the way we lived our lives. That lecture was filled with
just about every negative behavior imaginable. You would have
thought we were the leaders of Russia and America who just fired off
an all-out nuclear exchange at each other and were now being called
to account for it in hell.

After a night of sleep deprivation and now another late night plus
all the psychological opening exercises, this screaming lecture
sends thunderbolts through your subconscious. I felt like with every
sentence that a powerful jolt of electricity was sent through my
nervous system.

We were told to leave in silence and were given an assignment to
spend an hour reflecting on what we just did and to be back at 10
AM. This is in addition to written homework due the next day. By
this time it is going on 2 in the morning.

How to win the game? Refuse to vote unless the whole team votes for
the win-win scenario.

Day 3, Saturday – What are YOU pretending not to know?

I did not get a good night sleep Friday night. Opening up the
subconscious will keep you awake. I had a feeling of anxiousness
for getting there on time Saturday morning. Boy were we trained
good. I knew all of this consciously yet could do nothing about it.
After driving around the parking garage looking for a space I ran to
the hotel to make it on time and did with only two minutes to spare.
(Oh God the music is playing, I better get to my seat.)

The session started off with another closed eye exercise in which we
were reminded of more negative things about ourselves. I kept my
eyes cracked open and was muttering things like “NOT”, “No way
baby”, “Not in my universe”, etc. in order to help counteract the
effect of the exercise.

What these negative exercises do is to pull up the negative things
that are buried in the subconscious. This is not necessarily wrong,
but people do not realize that this is what happens.

Then we listened to this wailing blues song to put us in the mood.
After this the trainer asks

“Who wants to share?”

By this time there are several people in the group who have been
opened up psychologically and put in a sufficiently altered state of
consciousness that they are having things surface out of their

A row of chairs has been placed on the stage and several people come
forward to fill them.

The first one to stand up to be processed is a woman who confesses
being sexually molested as a child. The woman tells the story and
appears to be reliving the experience.

Woman: “My father is sticking his tongue in me, I don’t like it.”

Trainer: “Uh huh. What else is he doing?”

The trainer speaks coldly and authoritatively with no trace of
compassion in the voice. The woman confesses the entire story of
being raped by her father and is crying like a little child. The
trainer nods and acts like they have heard it all before. Several
people in the room (myself included) are crying in sympathy. The
emotion is way too intense. Tension is extremely high in the room.

The trainer walks up on stage next to the woman and screams in her

YOUR BODY?” The woman points to her solar plexus. The trainer
lets out a long scream into the mike and then bursts into tears. One
of the assistants helps her back to her seat.

Another grown man around 50 years old gets up and starts relating
the story of how his he and his brother were playing hide and seek.
While he was hiding, the father called them in and he didn’t hear
him. The father went out to look for him and when found, the father
beat him mercilessly. While telling the story, the man is crying
uncontrollably. Again the trainer asks what he was feeling and where
it was in his body. The trainer aggressively coaches out another
long scream into the mike.

Another man gets up and confesses that he feels numb and can’t feel
love. The trainer asks him to have that numbness make a sound. He
hums into the mike for a while and eventually breaks down crying
like a baby.

Person after person gets processed in this fashion by the trainer.
They all end up screaming and crying into the microphone. Amplified
by a PA system it has a powerful effect on the rest of us. This type
of “sharing”, more accurately described as ” catharsis ” is what the previous
two days of aggressive awareness exercises produces in the
participants. These exercises, along with the sleep deprivation have
opened people up psychologically and have produced a strong altered
state of consciousness such that the childhood traumas that have
been long buried in the subconscious are now surfacing.

One man confesses that he never told his mother that he loved her.
The trainer tells him to get on his knees and visualize his mother
and tell her. While he is on his knees the staff in the back of the
room play a song about “Mommy being there to tie your shoes and dry
your eyes” through the PA system. I am thinking, “Man, they have a
song for every occasion”. During one of the breaks I check out the
PA system and there are dozens of tapes in a rack.

After about 3-4 hours of this it is time for the “What do you want?” process.

In this process people pair off in chairs facing one another. One
person is the coach and screams in the other person’s face at the
top of his lungs “WHAT DO YOU WANT? WHAT DO YOU WANT?” The second
person screams at the top of his lungs anything that pops up “LOVE,
LIFE, HAPPINESS, FREEDOM, etc”. Sometimes something negative will
come up spontaneously. “HATE” I don’t think that is what the person
wants it is just what comes up.

The lights are dimmed and the process begins. The trainer and the
staff cruise the room shouting in people’s faces too. Whenever one
comes by me I scream out “QUIET” or “A REFUND” or “PRIMAL SCREAM
THERAPY”. (I gotta have some fun with this). During this process
there are a few shivers of emotional release. I don’t know what I am
releasing. Guess it doesn’t matter.

This process went on for an ungodly amount of time. At the end we
were coached to let out several screams (no words). Over 100 people
in a hotel ballroom screaming at the top of their lungs. At the end
we are to hug the other person and listen to another song.

After this we were instructed to find a spot in the room and sit or
lay down on the floor. The trainer starts another closed eye
process. (Jeez, can’t we take a break? We keep getting slammed with
process after process.)

This process starts out with “walking down a spiral staircase into
the darkness”. This is a classic hypnotic induction technique. We
are led through dark passageways in a maze like fashion. After being
led through the catacombs of our consciousness we come to a door. At
this point the tunnels we have been led through collapse behind us.
The only way out is through the door. There is a saying in hypnosis
that you have to go through the basement to get to the attic.

When we open the door we are led into a room of bright light. After
ascending a golden staircase we sit down on a special chair. We are
guided to pick up a photo album representing our lives.

When we look up from the album, standing there is your mother. We
were told to say anything we wanted to our mother. Some people were
crying, others were screaming, others were having conversations with
their mothers. We repeated this with our fathers. Then we repeated
this with other family members. I found that I didn’t have any
buried resentments against my parents. It was emotional though. Pass
the kleenex.

Next we were led through a process where we meet our inner child and
the child gives us a gift. The gifts are different for each person
and reflect something in their consciousness. This is a very moving
and touching experience. These types of processes are done in
seminars done by John Bradshaw and others. However I don’t believe
Bradshaw does this aggressive breakdown stuff beforehand. One of the
staffers was next to me on the floor and she was boo-hooing big
time. She had done Lifespring. I asked her if she had done this
process before. She said no. Apparently Lifespring does not have an
inner child process. I found a link for a similar type of inner
child meditation that we did.

We setup the chairs and sit back in our seats. Now the trainer
becomes “seductive and charming” and invites people to share what
they experienced. I was wondering when the changeover to “nice”
would take place.

After this we took a meal break for an hour and a half. When we came
back the music is cranked up and there is an hour of dancing. I will
point out here that this type of physical exertion is helpful at
this point. People have just released major emotional stuff. It
also releases a lot of the tension and gets your energy flowing

The moving meditation, hug line, or love bomb process – This process
involves a long snaking circular line. Where we are given the
opportunity to silently interact with every person in the room
including the staff. We are instructed to vote with our fingers: one
finger means no contact, Two means to look the other person in the
eyes, three fingers for a handshake, and four to give a full body
hug. None of this lean over and keep your pelvis away type of hug
stuff. This is full contact head to toe. Most everyone votes to hug.
It is a very moving experience.

We are dismissed early (before 10) in comparison to the last two
nights. Homework was given to try to reconnect with a family member
or someone from the past.

Day 4 Sunday – Graduation

We were told to attend the fourth day being “dressed for success”.
There was dancing when we came in as well as after each break. We
had been given homework to do a “completion” or reconciliation of a
past relationship. People shared their experiences of contacting
parents and other relatives to heal old wounds. There was also
sharing from the “hold-backs” or people who needed further catharsis.

Much of the morning focused on goal setting. An exercise was
performed where we were to visualize and write goals for 10 years, 5
years, 2 years, 1 year, 1 month, 1 week. After this we did an
exercise where we were given two weeks to live and were to write
goals for that.

During the lunch break we were given an exercise to give hugs to
strangers and perform random acts of kindness. After we came back
the numbers of hugs and acts of kindness were tallied.

During the afternoon there was a sales pitch for the advanced
course. It was presented like the good feelings we had would not
stick and we would fall back into our old ways of doing things
unless we signed up for advanced. We were also asked how many people
we would bring to the Tuesday night guest event. There was an
exercise where one is to define what one stands for. Share your
stand with the other participants.

The Graduation – At the end of the day is a candle lighting ceremony
where the trainer lights her candle and then lights the staff’s
candles. The staff then lights the candles of the participants. At
the end is an emotional reunion with friends and family members who
have come to the graduation. It seems like all the trauma and
catharsis is somehow magically forgotten.


One thought on “Large-Group Awareness Training: beware!

  1. […] Large Group Awareness Training – beware, another detailed experience and exposition of the mechanics of what they went through. […]

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