Part 3--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 three


Day three, event one:

This is Friday after work, and one subject reported that the atmosphere was emotionally charged, "like it was a date evening. People were going to get something done!'' Another subject remarked about how tired everyone was. This will be the third night in a row that they will go straight from work to the training, from 6:30 p.m. to midnight.

The trainer starts off with an experiential exercise that none of the "behavior" subjects can remember in detail. One of 3 "behavior" subjects (33%) recalled that after the exercise the trainer lectures a bit about the difference in world view between most everybody (who believe people are victims) and his view (that everything is determined by an individual's intentions): "It is everyone's intention to have everything happen just the way it is." He says explicitly what much of the training has been pointing to: "These things that happen to people don't just happen, they are manifestations of your belief system." He likens an individual's life to an iceberg: "almost everything is below the surface."

[COMMENT: This metaphor appears to be an evocative suggestion: you have to dig deeply, before you can accomplish what you want. However, everything that is important is within you, but until now it has remained unseen. This is consistent with many of the covert messages embedded in the hypnotic inductions of the training: all you need is inside you. Find it, bring it out, and you will be transformed.]


Day three, event two:

The trainer follows this rather general, didactic exercise with a very confrontive, publicly embarrassing lecture. Two of 3 "behavior" subjects (67%) reported that he makes all the people with obvious physical problems like weight problems stand up or indicate their problem. He then embarrasses them by asking participants who do not claim to have a weight problem leading questions (e.g., "How many of you eat as much as you want and don't get fat?," or "Who controls your metabolism?"). The obvious conclusion is that participants with weight problems are causing the problem because of their "beliefs" about food and the secondary gain (i.e., grungies) they get from it.

He asks "What happened that you started gaining weight?" One "experience" subject remembered that he said that people who have poor eyesight didn't want to see something that happened in their family and people who were fat were trying to hide their sexuality, And he was right I remembered my sister started wearing glasses not long after our mother died. This goes on for quite a while. Then there is a large group "share," and many disclose their private struggles and link them to the "reasons" for their physical symptoms. The trainer repeats many times the main message of this exercise: "Your body is a living sculpture of your beliefs."

[COMMENT: Since the training is contingent on participants revealing their "deficiencies" in order to be "cured" by the training, the idea that their problems are impossible to hide and in fact are an integral part of their identity leads participants to feel helpless to resist the trainer. In effect the trainer is saying the participants have nowhere to hide. In Lifton's thought reform study this experience of total vulnerability is considered to be a turning point in the reeducation program.]


Day three, event three:

Next is the "broken agreements" lecture. Three of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) reported that the trainer explains that our lives do not work because of the agreements we have made and broken: "The universe will indicate to you that you have broken an agreement." And the ultimate agreements , of course, are the agreements individuals make with themselves.


Day three, event four:

Three of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) reported that the "junkyard", one of the most famous of a" the "closed-eye" processes, follows the lecture. A very relaxing induction is followed by the instructions to find a junkyard and sort through it, finding pieces of junk from your broken agreements. The trainer instructs participants to find and bring back "the part of you that you withhold from others." The trainer identifies that part with the "free child. " But all the "Junk" gets in the way of relationships with friends. The trainer equates the "free child" with the participant: "That is the way you could be, if you would only stop holding back." Then a group "mingle" or sharing begins; participants are instructed to share their free, hidden part with as many participants as possible.


Day three, event five:

Directly after this comes the "parent process," which 3 of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) reported as one of the most emotional of all the processes. Participants are instructed to choose a partner who looks like one of their parents. A short induction begins; participants are instructed to relive feeling like a carefree child. With each breath they are to expel the worry of the adult and breathe in the happiness of childhood. A deep age regression is accomplished through the technique of the "family photo album." The trainer instructs participants to remember in detail a "perfect day" in the life of their childhood. from morning to night. But then there is trouble: the child is instructed to remember feeling tension. Participants are to feel how much energy is frustrated, closed off. The trainer encourages participants to feel and intensify their deep hurt and frustration.

Then participants are to picture their father, and imagine the feelings they had for him in that instant. Music fills the room: one "behavior" subject identified it as "Father's Song" by Barbra Streisand. When dyad partners open their eyes, one is instructed to role play the child and the other the parent. The child will see their parent in the other: "Make it real! Jump in and surrender!'' Participants are to see their fathers as an "ideal" Dad, "the father you always wanted him to be." Participants are instructed to ask their fathers for anything they want, what they "secretly" yearned for and never received. And the partners must give whatever is asked for. Participants are again encouraged to let the feelings "bubble up." There are "no limits" in this exercise; participants can use the whole room to express themselves: "The feelings you feel now are the feelings you usually push down. Feel the enormous waste of energy. Look at the enormous price you pay." Then the roles change. The exercise is repeated. this time remembering the mother. Finally, holding hands, participants share with their partner.

"Three of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) and 15 of 15 "experience'' subjects (100%) reported that during this exercise the participants' emotions flooded the room. Participants were sobbing, laughing hysterically, moaning, jumping, screaming with rage or happiness; acting like ,children or their loving, doting parents.

[COMMENT: Obviously, the group pressure to regress was enormous. Participants who refused to emote and demonstrate their feelings were "processed" by the trainer who thought the problem was they weren't surrendering and trusting. But the most regressive aspect of this exercise was the false gratification of the parent figure giving whatever was asked for. This created in some subjects the belief that they had finally resolved their relationship conflicts with their parents. The euphoria created by this enactment of a primitive "reunification wish" might cause a regressive merging and unconscious dependence with Vitality. One subject, as a result of this dynamic, was able to deny her real separation-individuation conflicts. She continues to remain in a confused state regarding her career and her identity (see chapter III, section F, case 03).

However, the false gratification has ramifications beyond the parent-child relationship. It may act as a metaphor for the entire participant-Vitality relationship. When participants are as deeply regressed as this, and when the trainer has been arguing repeatedly that "what you do in the training is what you do in your everyday life," it would seem like an easy jump from a false resolution (i.e., a regressive merging) with a fantasized parent to a false resolution with Vitality. The implicit message embedded in the unconscious of the participant is that the all-good parent (i.e. Vitality) will take perfect care of the children (i.e., the participants", all they have to do is ask.]


Day three, event six:

The last exercise of the evening is the "Red and Black" game. This is a type of "prisoner's dilemma" game popular in social psychology experiments. Participants are encouraged by the trainer and by staff to "win" the game, really pour it on. Staffers become like cheerleaders, and, after the trainer has explained the game ("The purpose is to win"), participants are divided into two teams and are left on their own to elect captains and figure out how to win the game.

[COMMENT: The game, of course. is rigged. It directly follows the long "parent process," when participants are in an euphoric, emotionally primitive state in which they experience the ultimate gratifications of childhood: unconditional love and unlimited attention. After all the importance the trainer has placid an "winning," "doing whatever is necessary to win," and "creating your own reality," it turns out this game can be won only if the two sides cooperate. In the 18 trainings subjects reported on only once did participants figure out how to cooperate.)

By the time the game has to be stopped, 3 of 3"behavior" subjects (100%) reported that many people had become very excited. driven, and frustrated about winning. it is at this point the trainer steps in and harangues and humiliates the participants. He swears at them, he calls them names, he blames the arms race and world hunger on people like them, who "can't imagine winning without killing the other side."

The recrimination is very strong, and very effective. All subjects reported being affected by it and remembering it. The pattern was the same for 14 of 15 "experience" subjects (93%). Either subjects felt distraught because they tried to win by making the other side lose, or they figured out the key to winning, but they were too frightened to speak up or too self-critical to believe they knew the answer. Either way, one "experience" subject noted, everyone seemed to feel embarrassed and crushed. As one "behavior" subject noted, it was, paradoxically, a no-win situation.


Day three, event seven:

Three of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) reported that the homework assignment was to look at their behavior in the game and determine what was underneath the display of competitive activity. They are instructed to stay in the training room for sixty minutes of silence. During this time and at home they are to face themselves and determine what is their "ground of being," their "core." one "experience" subject recalled that the song "Games People Play" is played on the sound system.

Three of 3 "behavior" subjects reported that everyone seemed just crushed by the heavy disapproval they faced. The trainer's disgust and anger appeared devastating to many participants.

[COMMENT: The pattern that was recognized in the first night again emerges: leniency and then attack. Several messages seem to be communicated in the "Red and Black" game: (a) the trainer's values must be agreed with, even if they keep changing; (b) regression, compliance, and merging are the primary psychological states of the training; (c) humiliation and euphoria are the primary emotional states of the training; (d) the trainer's expectations for the participants obviously does not apply to the trainer or the training (e.g., they may set the participants up, lie to them, win at any cost, be dishonest, or double cross them). The double standard is a common occurrence in restrictive groups. In Vitality the trainer continually does many of the things he criticizes the participants for. The rules are for the participants, not for the trainer; he is not held to the same standards to which participants must adhere. The double standard in restrictive groups is often the cause of verbal, financial, or sexual abuses. This is a good example of the limits a restrictive group places on the participants: in Vitality it is considered to be unacceptable for participants to comment on elements of the training that break the training's own rules. It is a well kept secret, like the Emperor's non-existent new clothes.]


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

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.