Part 2--Description of the behavioral structure of the training

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

Published by St. Martin's Press/1993
By Philip Cushman
Note: The use of the term "Vitality Initial Training" refers to the Basic Training of a well-known LGAT.

Table of Contents


Part 1--Enlightenment in Two Weekends - The est Training
Part 2--Day 2 behavioral structure of the training
Part 3--Day 3 behavioral structure of the training
Part 4--Day 4 behavioral structure of the training
Part 5--Day 5 behavioral structure of the training
Part 6--Post-training interview & Post-training session


Day two


Day two, event one

At the beginning of this session 3 of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) reported that participants were very intent about getting to their chairs on time. Everyone was more obedient and serious about all the ground rules. Those few who are late get "processed" in front of the entire group and/or are ejected from the training.

Three of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) recall the trainer lecturing on "personal growth" during the early moments of session two. A large chart outlines what participants come to recognize as the Vitality doctrine. at the top of the chart is "You are at cause"; at the bottom of the chart is "You are at effect." When individuals are at the "top" of the chart they make things 'happen" or problems "vanish." When individuals are at the 'bottom," things happen to you, problems remain "stuck" to you. Participants are told that the top is where results ire in life. However. change only comes when individuals do not resist events, because "what you resist, you become." One's belief system keeps one trapped in the past, unable to truly experience in the "now."

[COMMENT: This philosophical position is also a metaphor regarding the status hierarchy of the training. The message is that the trainer is in control, and participants are not to criticize or refuse to obey him (i.e., "resist"). Participants are "on top" (i.e., philosophically correct and socially approved of) when they do not "resist" the trainer's demands.]


Day two, event two:

The trainer then leads the group into a guided imagery exercise, a walk in a meadow. Participants are encouraged to notice how they "resist" the naturalness of the meadow. At the end of the exercise, they are instructed to learn how they resist by noticing how they behave in the training.

[COMMENT: Again, as in day one, 3 of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) reported that disagreeing with or questioning the trainer is reframed as demonstrating unenlightened. poor form. It resulted in social punishments such as ridicule or embarrassment. Interestingly. the training is identified with all that is good and natural: resisting the relaxing and beautiful meadow is the same as resisting the authoritarianism of the training. Critical thinking is identified with the very behavior that is causing participants trouble in their daily life and what they paid Vitality so much money to teach them not to do. In this way the preferred doctrine (the value of "surrendering'' to the "now") is a metaphor for the preferred behavior (surrendering to the authoritarianism of the training-).]


Day two, event three:

Three of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) described a dyadic exercise referred to as the "parent posture" exercise. Participant A acts like his or her father and mother; then they switch, and Participant B acts. Participants are instructed to get in touch with their feelings, even exaggerate. They are encouraged to notice what they held back from their parents, how they stopped being "real" with them and with the world. The resulting subject matter is quite sensitive and emotional. This is the first of a series of exercises dealing with the participants' parents. These exercises are successively regressive. They encourage the participant to confuse the past with the present, to relive intense emotions and conflicts. As the exercises progress the regression becomes increasingly more infantalizing and falsely gratifying, since the exercises become increasingly intense and graphic. As a result, subjects reported a great many emotional sounds in the training room. Participants begin crying out loud, moaning, screaming. At times the din becomes overwhelming. One "experience" subject reported becoming so upset she vomited. Bags are provided for this purpose by the staff).

In this first parent exercise. participants are encouraged to let their feelings "bubble up"; they must look at how they resist, because what they resist they are "stuck'' with. They are cold repeatedly that the training is a "safe place." If participants have a difficult time remembering or feeling, they are told they are resisting. They will be asked "What is in the way of 'surrendering' to the process?," or "How does this particular resistance get in the way of your everyday life?."

[COMMENT: Once again, psychological resistance is considered to be identical with behavioral resistance to the training. Psychological resistance is considered to be a manifestation of the participants' basic flaws, which cause the major problems in their lives. Therefore, the psychological resistance (symbolized by resistance to the training) must be eradicated so participants can be set free.]

One of 3 "behavior" subjects (33%) reported that the trainer chose someone to be "processed." This meant he worked intensively with a participant in front of the entire group. Three of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) reported that at some point in the training this happened at least once. Fifteen of 15 "experience" subjects (100%) concurred. This processing did not usually focus on the content the participant was attempting to confront (e.g., the participant's relationship with his or her father, a decision they have to make, etc.). Instead, the trainer usually reframes the problem as an inability to "let go," to trust the group, to "surrender" to the training. Therefore, the trainer works to get the participant to emote, to have a seeming cathartic experience by getting the participant to take a risk, often a physical risk like falling into the arms of several other participants. The lights go down low, special "trust" music is played on the sound system, the participants cradle and rock the participant and the trainer touches and massages the participant, murmering softly to him or her. As the participant sobs, everyone gathers around, encouraging the participant. Fifteen of 15 "experience" subjects (100%) reported that some participants cry and they themselves were deeply touched by these emotional displays.

Three of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) and 15 of 15 to experience" subjects (100%) reported incidents that indicate that the behavioral modeling accomplished at these dramatic moments is quite significant.

[COMMENT: The psychological merging with the participant in question produces a vicarious thrill and emotional release that is evidently quite powerful. Also, participants who have been protective and sceptical are usually quite shaken by this demonstration. They question their emotionally removed behavior, they see the euphoria felt by the participants, perhaps they long to be taken care of and attended to in the same way. Usually a raw, emotional demonstration like this appeared to "prove" the effectiveness of the training and the competence of the trainer. It answers the questions of the sceptical and assures the fearful.]

Ten of 15 "experience" subjects (67%) reported feeling very jealous of the participant who is getting all the attention. One "experience" subject reported thinking "What's wrong with me that I can't loosen up like that? I'm not doing it right["

[COMMENT: Subjects who criticize themselves by comparing themselves to others appeared to put more and more pressure on themselves in an attempt to force a catharsis, boost their self-esteem, and catch the attention of the trainer.]


Day two, event four:

Two of 3 "behavior" subjects (67%) reported another dyad exercise in which participants are instructed to tell each other a story in which they were made to do something they didn't want to do. Participants must close their eyes and find the pain in their bodies that expresses this experience, intensify it, purposely make it worse. Then they are instructed to let it go. Afterwards they can share in front of the whole group.


Day two, event five:

[COMMENT: A crucially important lecture and exercise follows the above exercise; it sets the stage for the rest of the night's exercises and in a way the entire training. Building on the painful public disclosure of the last exercise, in which participants exaggerated the pain of "having to," they will now be told why it was painful. In effect, the lecture argues that children learn to do or feel things in order to get rewarded by their parents.]

The lecture continues with dyad work in which participants remember a childhood scene in which they were made to do something they didn't want to do. They are instructed to make it into the formulaic expression "I have to do (X), if I don't I'll feel (Y)." Subjects reported that the trainer really begins to push them at this point. Three of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) subjects noticed at this point the room became very emotional as participants confronted painful and angry feelings they felt because they realized they had done hateful things in order to be loved or accepted. The trainer argues that the feeling that is experienced when people "play this game" is a "grungy." It is a "pay off." However, he lectures, people aren't really coerced into this. The truth is "everything is choice!''

[COMMENT: It is informative to note the implicit message of this exercise. Although the field of psychology has done important work on the issue of secondary gain (i.e., psychological rewards from painful circumstances that are not immediately apparent), Vitality's absolutist emphasis on the belief that all pain or frustration caused by external forces is secondary gain (i.e., a "grungy") in effect invalidates the potency of any situational cause. The logical conclusion drawn from this lecture is that upset or disappointment caused by the outside world is really not a pure or valid feeling. It is instead a "grungy," a "pay off," a manifestation of "game playing." One implication of this doctrine is that real feelings are never caused by external events. People always choose what is best for them in the moment. Bad feelings ("grungies") are simply ways we protect our beliefs or old strategies. These grungies never indicate that the external world has caused us pain, since that situation never really occurs. Individuals are the cause of everything that they experience. Anger or resistance in the face of external oppression, (e.g., the authoritarian structure of the training), is considered to be invalid. It too is a "grungy." The result of this doctrine appears obvious. The degree that participants consider their response to the structure of the training to be a grungy is the degree to which they invalidate the implications of those feelings. In effect this doctrine deprives subjects of using their responses to the external world as an indication of their needs in a given situation, and subsequently, as an aid in decision making. Therefore, their emotional response to the training is not an indication that the training is bad for them, it is evaluated as an indication that they are getting some psychological pay off from feeling that way. In other words if they feel bad it is not the training's fault, it is their fault.]


Day two, event six:

Three of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) reported that a long exercise follows this lecture that turns the "grungy" concept into a way of discussing medical or emotional symptoms. In small group "sharings," participants explore the idea that "grungies are masks, not reality." Participants are encouraged to get in touch with an important "grungy" of theirs, exaggerate it, and act it out.

A closed eye process helps participants translate this idea into the realm of medicine. They are told (again) that the way to eliminate pain is to fully experience it. They are instructed to become aware of a physical or emotional symptom (i.e., a "grungy"), identify where they hold it in their body, and really feel it, intensify it, and exaggerate the feeling. Then they should bring it out in front of them. Participants are told to visualize it.and call out what size and shape it is, what it weighs, what it feels, smells, tastes, and sounds like. It has color and a liquid-like consistency. Participants are encouraged to ask it questions and have a dialogue with. it. They are to ask it questions (e.g., What are you a payoff for?").

The trainer then explains when participants figure out what the payoff is they can more directly get what they want. Then they can "disappear" the symptom because they don't need it anymore. The participants are instructed to call out their pain level. With a show of hands they are to indicate that they were able to disappear or reduce their symptom. The trainer emphasizes that the more willingly the participants look at the symptom's payoff the more they'll be able to let go of it.

One "experience" subject reported being very impressed at all the headaches and stomach aches that were disappearing. Unfortunately, she had a weight problem and she couldn't disappear her fat! She felt exposed, ashamed, frustrated, and jealous.

The trainer usually asks for a show of hands for those who now believe they can create their own headaches, colds, and so forth. He asks increasingly more extreme questions, until finally, he asks if they believe they can cure their own cancer? All this is done publicly. Three of 3 "behavior" subjects reported that self -presentation concerns are very strong at this time: if participants don't conform to the group norm by this point in the training they chose to hide it and feel embarrassed or at fault. Although 12 of 15 subjects (80%) reported they didn't go along with the doctrine all the way, they also didn't really think the trainer was actually being literal about it, even though he said he was.


Day two, event seven

The last series of exercises is one 3 of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) and 15 of 15 "experience" (100%) subjects remembered and talked about: "victim accountable." Participants are instructed to tell a story in which "they" did it to "you" (i.e., stories in which the story tellers perceive themselves to be the victim of the story). First partners try to top one another by telling victim stories in the big group. Then they break up into dyads and tell their story. Each partner must convince his or her partner that they were indeed victimized. Then they must tell the story again, as if they caused the result. It is especially important to tell the partner "what you were pretending not to know." Partners must continue telling the story and explaining until their partners are convinced that they really do believe they are "at cause."

Afterwards, they share in the large group. One "behavior" subject remembered a woman who learned from the exercise that she was not a rape "victim.." She got in touch with the fact that she had set up the whole thing, that she wanted it to turn out the way it did. She was eight years old at the time of the rape.

The trainer sometimes writes an the board some of the good things that come from the concept that individuals set up every occurrence in their lives. Three of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) and 15 of 15 "experience" subjects (100%) remembered the trainer being very powerful and forceful about this viewpoint. He argued that when individuals come from being the "victim" they feel one down, but "why feel one down about something that's your own choice?" The trainer proclaims. "I set up everything!" including his "choice" of parents, his death, and so forth. "There are no accidents, and there are no miracles."

[COMMENT: The Vitality doctrine is becoming clearer by this point in the training. The pseudocognitivism (see Chapter I. section E: Theoretical Framework, p. 134) is here quite apparent. The outside world is seen almost as a hallucination: it is unimportant and actually has no effect on an individual's experience of life. This approach blames the victim and nullifies dissent. It is a convenient philosophy for a restrictive group.]

Table of Contents


Part 1--Enlightenment in Two Weekends - The est Training
Part 2--Day 2 behavioral structure of the training
Part 3--Day 3 behavioral structure of the training
Part 4--Day 4 behavioral structure of the training
Part 5--Day 5 behavioral structure of the training
Part 6--Post-training interview & Post-training session

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