Whatever happened to ... EST?

Discover/July 1, 2007

By Stephen Ornes

In 1971, the Erhard Seminars Training--better known as EST--exploded out of San Francisco to become a worldwide phenomenon. The program promised personal empowerment, but reports claimed that moderators castigated and berated participants for their beliefs. After knocking them down, the moderators raised their spirits through guided meditations and repetitive readings. At the end of the two- or three-day seminar, participants either "got it" and experienced a transcendent life change or walked away dazed and confused.

In 1991, 60 Minutes ran a damning profile of charismatic EST founder Werner Erhard (born Jack Rosenberg). A onetime student of Scientology, Erhard was accused of sexual and physical abuse by his family, though some of those claims were later recanted. That same year, Erhard sold out to Landmark Education, which continues to attract millions of followers from all over the world. Landmark is now run by Erhard's brother and sister.

Rick Ross, whose nonprofit organization gathers information about cultlike groups like Landmark, says the "training" has resulted in psychotic breakdowns requiring hospitalization for some participants. In addition, he says people become addicted to the expensive seminars. "[EST] had a very appealing message," Ross says. "But it was not the empowering experience it was advertised to be."

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