Part 4--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 four


Day four, event one:

Three of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) reported that after the high of "victim accountable" and then the crash that comes with the "Red and Black" game, participants are usually exhausted and emotionally spent. They are sent home "in disgrace" and humiliation, and instructed to contemplate their "disgusting life." The reports of 15 of 15 "experience" subjects (100%) concurred with this account.

Three of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) reported that the first exercise of Saturday morning is a rather free form large group sharing and lecture. One of 3 "behavior" subjects (33%) reported that the trainer began by continuing to berate participants about the "Pettiness" of the night before. If he does this he will continue to pound away, saying that the Red and Black Game is a mirror of their everyday lives. He may accuse them of alienating themselves from others and in fact from themselves. He may ask them over and over what they want so desperately that they will destroy themselves or others in the process. "What's in it for you? How long will you continue this game?" The attack is often accompanied by the playing of sad songs on the sound system.

Two of 3 "behavior" subjects (67%) reported that thetrainer started off by asking if anyone has something to share. Participants were invited up onto the stage. Subjects reported that the whole early morning became a kind of joyful testimony to Vitality or the trainer. Even if the trainer started out by continuing the humiliation and criticism of the night before, soon participants start clamoring to get onstage and enthusiastically "spilling their guts about how competitive and inhumane they've been, trying for a win-lose result all their lives." Others confess that they figured out the way to win the previous night, but they were too cowardly or self-critical to speak up, and they've been like this all their lives. Two of 3 "behavior" subjects (67.) reported that this morning was like a church confessional, complete with tears, regret, and a new found strength and vision. Their homework was not only to think about their behavior in the game. but also "to get to the core" of their being, to "find the grain under the paint." One "behavior" subject commented that the homework assignment seemed to be an invitation to "regress'' and uncover "deep, primitive needs."

The opportunity to "repent and see the light," as one "behavior" subject put it, is for some the highlight of the training. They get to be on stage, in the trainer's position, "in his seat, so to speak." Often the trainer goes to the back and sits down at this point. One subject told of a participant who suffered a psychotic episode at this time in the training.

[COMMENT: The excitement of taking the trainer's role, and thereby merging with or identifying with him, is difficult to overstate. The participants' wish to reunite with the trainer by demonstrating their agreement with him in order to reestablish the merging that was temporarily lost by their failure in "Red and Black" appears to be very strong at this moment in the training. Their desire to please the trainer and their compliance with the situational-demand characteristics demonstrate how dependent they have become on him and on the attackleniency dynamic of the training. Through the purposely deceitful and punitive behaviors of the trainer, the participants are offered the opportunity to "escape'' (i.e., complain or criticize the set-up or the unrealistic harshness) and reevaluate their relationship with the training. Instead, like a hostage who is left on his own to go for a "walk" or the prisoner of war who is given a key to his own room, the participants are so caught up in the dynamic that they cannot see the escape route; for them it no longer exists. The behavior of the participants at this juncture of the training demonstrates how dependent they have become on the trainer: he has become their conscience.]


Day four, event two:

The next exercise was the "What do you want?" dyad; 2 of 3 "behavior" subjects (67%) recalled that it we-- a long and frustrating experience for most participants. One subject reported that it seemed to go on "forever, I just couldn't quite do it, get down deep enough, for a long time. "

In this exercise Partner A asks Partner B "What do you want?" over and over again. With every question Partner B is supposed to answer, digging deeper and deeper into his being. Participants are to choose a partner they can be totally honest with. They are instructed to do whatever it takes to assist their partner in reaching deeper and deeper levels. Partner B should respond by saying the first thing that comes into his mind with each question. After a few minutes the trainer sometimes asks "Who's stuffing their feelings? A, if B is stuffing, stand up now." One "behavior" subject remarked that this is undoubtedly embarrassing to Bs, since they are being exposed as someone not fully experiencing, as someone holding back. The trainer then says "B, look how much A cares, he's even willing to risk your friendship and anger." Two of 3 (67%) "behavior" subjects reported that the trainer left the stage and "processed" a particular participant. Several times they remembered him exhorting participants to "acknowledge yourself, and surrender!''

One "experience" subject reported that during this exercise he stopped "standing at the edge of the pool and jumped in." This exercise was probably the most confrontive moment in the training. Your partner must be as lovingly tough with you as they can be to help you get deeper. There are times when you want your partner to STOP DIGGING! I'm sure those people who stopped digging with something nebulous got less out of it (than I did]. It was a stomach wrenching experience, the most significant in the training for me . . . . No one had ever asked me that question before. It was shocking, exciting, and very frustrating. . . . It changed my whole career around.

This exercise was the turning point for another subject, who finally broke down, sobbing to her male partner, "I just want to be loved, just to be loved." This was very important for her, since she had been molested and beaten many times and had closed herself off from her feelings, especially toward men (see chapter III, section F, case #2).


Day four, event three:

Three of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) recalled a relatively short dyad which followed, in the same questioning format but not as harsh and unrelenting. The content pertains to relationships. The trainer speaks a bit about relationships and about trying to "win" at any cost. Then partners are separated into dyads and Partner A picks a relationship he or she is involved in, Partner B asks "How do you get to be right around your spouse/lover/friend?" and "How do you make your spouse/lover/friend wrong?" The trainer sometimes asks questions from the stage. The song "How Can I Be So Right And Be So Wrong?" is played. Then there is large group sharing.

[COMMENT: This is a particularly interesting exercise since throughout the training the trainer has gone to any length to be right, yet he criticizes and humiliates the participants for doing the same thing in their lives. This paradox can be observed throughout the training. Participants are taught to criticize themselves. but they are not allowed to criticize the trainer or the structure of the training. Although participants are harshly criticized by the trainer, they are admonished for judging or making discriminations about others. Participants are not allowed to have opinions, they are taught to "surrender'' to the training and to the "universe." This exercise delivers a graphic message: don't criticize or have opinions, it's destructive in a relationship for people to believe they are right and the other is wrong. Symbolically, this message is the same message that has been delivered throughout the training: do not have opinions separate from or different than the trainer or the training. In other words, do not rebel.]


Day four, event four:

Two of 3 "behavior" subjects (67%) reported that a lecture on belief systems continues this line of thinking. The major idea of this lecture is that beliefs get in the way of experiencing the world and inevitably lead to feeling "right/wrong". Participants are exhorted to "experience," not "believe"; "surrender," and not "hold back." When participants can do that, they are told they will experience themselves as "the source of everything, the creator of your world": "No one can harm you, no one can victimize you."

[COMMENT: Again, one can see the attack upon the participants' judgements and values. This time, however, it is linked with the encouragement of a grandiose vision of the participant as a kind of god. In some magical way participants are promised that if they give up their personal autonomy, they will become impervious to the misfortunes of regular human life. By this point in the training the attack upon psychological separation and the encouragement of grandiosity is becoming more evident.]


Day four, event five:

Two of 3 "behavior" subjects (67%) reported that this guided imagery exercise starts with a short relaxation and trance induction. Then participants are instructed to imagine they are in a room, and in the room is the movie of their lives. It is being made at that exact moment. All the reels of film are in this room. Participants are encouraged to take a reel off the shelf and watch it. There is a director's chair, and the participant is instructed to sit in it, and take the camera. Three of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) reported that the participant is transported, suddenly, to a ship or yacht. The yacht, participants are told, is your life. The ship's captain is steering the ship, but then he jumps off yelling "She's all yours." Participants are told they can control the ship just by thinking about it: "Just send out your thoughts and the ship does whatever it is told."

[COMMENT: This appears to be a deliberate attempt to encourage magical thinking, and to prepare participants for important hypnotic exercises to come (i.e., the "workshop" trances) in which extreme magical thinking and the director's chair become a central focus. The content of this exercise and the processes to follow seem to feature an extreme form of cognitivism that reinforces the prohibition against realistically facing and dealing with the external world. It encourages submissiveness, grandiosity, and regression.]


Day four, event six:

After a break, there is a large circle sharing. Participants take off their shoes and the style is more informal. None of the "behavior" subjects (O%) could remember the content of this session.


Day four, event seven:

Then a very long exercise occurs. Three of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) reported that participants are arranged in three lines or circles opposite one another. They are told this is an experience in "honesty." Participants must choose the one person they are most attracted to and go stand opposite him or her. Participants are instructed to summarize the qualities of that person they are most attracted to, and then those qualities they are least attracted to. Participants are instructed to look directly into their eyes and deliver the message clearly. Then participants are told to close their eyes and determine if they were honest. If not, examine what stopped them. All this, participants are told, will help them identify their belief system. Then the large circle is reformed and participants share, asking "what beliefs are challenged?."

Then participants must repeat this, but this time with the person they are least attracted to. Then the large group reforms again. Often this takes a long time: 3 of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) reported that a few people have long lines of participants waiting to tell them what is or isn't attractive to others.

The trainer then lectured about the idea of the "mirror." One "experience" subject explained it like this: "There is nothing out there, but you, it's all your stuff. tour experience of this person is just your experience, because your stuff is coming out." Then participants go again to the participant they are least attracted to. They are instructed to first tell what qualities are unattractive, and then explain why these qualities remind them of qualities in themselves. The trainer argues that what one doesn't like in the other is really what one doesn't like in oneself. This is the mirror concept at work. Then participants are instructed to share about the experience, and then go on to the participant they are most attracted to, and do the same, using the mirror concept again. During the meal break participants are to pick out several people and talk about how their ideas about the other demonstrate the mirror concept.

[COMMENT: The use of the mirror concept in this extreme form appears to be an encouragement of a regressive narcissistic transference reaction: the need to be mirrored, to find an outlet for the exhibitionism that emerges when the self is unstable or fragmented. . Perhaps the philosophical idea presented in the above exercise is a covert appeal to the primitive need to be noticed and appreciated as if there was no one else in the world (see Kohut's concept of "mirroring hunger" in Chapter 1, section E: Theoretical Framework).

The force of the day's exercises and ideas appear to be (a) the repetition of giving and getting social rejection and gratification, (b) an encouragement to regress and indulge narcissistic transference reactions, and (c) an assault upon individual taste and opinions. These three points in turn appear to be an attack upon psychological separation. Vitality doctrine argues that what we experience about others is actually what is going on in us. We really can t see others, they are just a projection of us. Therefore opinions and preferences are really meaningless except in so far as they tell us more about us.

The same theme is now being continually repeated. The training has become an ongoing attack upon psychological separation, personal opinion, and adult autonomy. There is only one cause and therefore one legitimate object of criticism: the individual participant. Others exist only to the degree that they serve us by reflecting us. In a world like this, there can be no rebellion against the system, because there is no system.]


Day four, event nine:

[COMMENT: After lunch, and after sharing about the mirror concept, an important exercise takes place that further encourages the breakdown of ego boundaries.]

Three of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) and 15 of 15 "experiencel" subjects (100%) referred to this exercise as the "hug line". It is a very long exercise. One subject said "It seemed to go on forever-and we wanted it to go on forever!" The group forms two concentric circles. Each participant must look his or her partner in the eye, and signal with one, two, three, or four fingers. One stands for no greeting; two, eye contact only; three, a handshake; and four, a hug. Participants are instructed to observe their internal reactions to the vote itself and to feelings of rejections and fears of rejecting others. Above all, participants are told to be "honest." They are encouraged to risk by going to people they've been hiding from. "Sometimes When We Touch" is the song played over the sound system.

Most participants are pretty tired by this point, emotionally and physically. They have been lectured to repeatedly about the importance of an open, loving, nonjudgemental life style. Also, they have been told that the other is actually a mirror of them. Now, in this exercise, they are in the position of loving or rejectingthe other (i.e., the self?). They have to face person after person they barely know, and they have to demonstrate in public whether or not they understand the ideology that has been forced on them for 4 consecutive days.

Three of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) and 15 of 15 "experience" subjects (100%) reported that the training became a massive hug line. One "experience" subject described the scene at his training:

After a couple of times, everybody chose just to hug. No more ones or twos or threes. Just fours. It was a fantastic experience. As it goes on we increasingly let go . . . . I wanted it to go on forever. . . . It was wonderful feeling to not be judgemental or inhibited. It was simply unconditional, unqualified affection. I was filled with love. . . . I was in an altered state. The feeling of community was overwhelming."

Another "experience'' subject had a very differentexperience that illustrates an underlying aspect of the exercise. This subject didn't enjoy the hug line ("It was a crock of shit"). When at the posttraining session she vent up to the trainer to thank him, he remembered her as the person who wouldn't hug everyone and he told her "you've got some problems, lady." The subject reported that he was real sarcastic, furious with me. . . . I was upset because they told us to be honest, and I was. I said "I was telling the truth, like you told us to" and he said "it wasn't about telling the truth!'' and he stalked off.

[COMMENT: The trainer's remark was interesting. If the exercise wasn't about honesty, then what was it about? Perhaps it was about encouraging people to merge, to bond together into a more cohesive community. Perhaps it was also about breaking down the individual participant's iinhibitions, personal boundaries, and self-concept. One "experience" subject disclosed "I sure felt different after the hug line. I'm a person who doesn't go in f or big displays of emotion in public. I must have hugged 200 people in that exercise. Wow!"]


Day four, event ten:

[COMMENT: Now that participants have been "opened up" emotionally and have publicly demonstrated their acceptance of the ideology, a closed eye process called the "workshop" soothes and gratifies them. The pattern of attack-leniency continues to prevail in the training.)

Three of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) reported that the "workshop" process is a guided imagery exercise that lasts about an hour. After the usual trance induction and relaxation participants are instructed to use their hands and openly verbalize during the exercise. They are to build a workshop, and they are instructed to gather the tools they will need, including the ever-present director's chair, a "screen for the mind,'' and a "people mover." They are instructed to find a perfect place to build this workshop, and proceed to build it, just the way they want it.

When they have finished "building" the workshop they are instructed to imagine themselves (with their "limiting beliefs") on the "screen for the mind." Then they are to picture themselves without these beliefs. Later on in the process they are instructed to get to know someone better by bringing them into the workshop through the "people mover." Then they can learn about and "share energies" with them. At the end of this guided imagery, participants are instructed to give their friends a hug and flowers. After the trance is ended, participants are given a card and told to write down the qualities of their workshop and their feelings about it. Then they are instructed to cross out the word "workshop" and substitute the word "myself" or"me." This is a particularly moving aspect of the exercise for some. One subject framed the card and hung it on her living room wall for years:

It made me feel good I was that positive about myself. I was in touch with the good, strong, pretty side of me. I had a sense of wholeness. The message was: I was going inside and inside is good. Another subject revealed her feelings about the workshop exercise when she thought the title of the exercise was "building a home."

[COMMENT: Besides the encouragement of magical thinking, psychological merging, and grandiosity prevalent in this exercise (i.e., participants are instructed to imagine that they can accomplish whatever they want just by thinking it into being), it is informative to note a possible embedded suggestion. The participant is instructed to bring a friend or relative to the workshop and learn all about him or her, have an intimate exchange, and then give them a hug and a gift. The hug and the gift, given by the recruiter to the recruit, is one of the last events in the graduation ceremony. Graduates are instructed to come to the graduation of their recruits and to participate in this way. This aspect of the exercise could be a hypnotic metaphor, encouraging participants to recruit friends and relatives. The workshop in this case would be symbolic of the training itself. The magical thinking, transformational moments, and merging experiences that occur in both the workshop and the training tend to give this interpretation credibility.)


Day four, event eleven:

[COMMENT: The last exercise on Saturday night is one of the strangest of the entire training. It evidently used to be called "Asshole Theater" years ago, but is now simply referred to as "the theater" or "skit." It follows the hug line and the workshop, both very soothing and gratifying emotional experiences. It comes at the tail end of Saturday night, when everyone is exhausted.]

Three of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) reported that the trainer explains that this exercise requires complete "10O% participation." He tells them they're going to get a chance to look "completely foolish." One "experience" subject remembered feeling:

"oh, no, here I was just getting comfortable and now they're putting me through something else." I was scared! It was very hard for me. I just wanted to get it over with.

The trainer calls this a "once in a lifetime moment." All chat is asked of the participants is "to be spontaneous." He builds this up more than he has most of the other exercises. He tells participants that this is a chance at a "miraculous moment," a "transformation." During this exhortation he delivers one of the great paradoxes of the training: "If you choose to be open to acting foolish, you won't ever have to." All participants must get on stage and act "weird or crazy" for a few moments. They change their clothes a bit, mess up their hair, and sing a "funny" song or do a "silly skit." This seems to release participants to act out an aspect of their negative identity. One "experience" subject reported that it Was liberating, a kind of going crazy exercise. . . . I thought there is more to be and things I wouldn't normally do that I could actually do . . . . but then it went on too long. It wasn't fun anymore, it was degrading after awhile.

[COMMENT: Again one can see the leniency-attack pattern in Saturday's schedule. The final attack, the skit, appeared to be an attempt to (a) evoke in participants unusual ego dystonic behaviors that conflict with their self-concept, and (b) force participants once again to disclose or reveal something about themselves that, once revealed, can be criticized. Typically, this type of conflict between behavior and self-concept must be resolved either by renouncing the behavior or changing one's self-concept (see Chapter 1. section E: Theoretical Framework). Participants uniformly choose to change their self-concept, thus becoming "transformed."]


Day four, event twelve:

Two of 3 "behavior" subjects (67%) reported that homework for Sunday was "to look at what you want f or your life." Participants were to list ten things they want, and the problems they encountered in attaining them. Three of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) reported that since the training began at 9 a.m. the next morning, participants, already exhausted, had one more task to fulfill before they could rest.


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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