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Re: MITT Today
Posted by: NoMinorChords ()
Date: December 30, 2012 08:03AM


I think you might have misread my motives. I have no intention of making any kind of blanket defense of Lifespring or LGATs in general. Before I took the MITT course, I googled it and found only either sensational accusations like "orgies in the parking lot" or vacuous affirmations about transformation. Clearly, it is polarizing - at least among people who bother to post. I posted because what I experienced was, from what I observed, a lot more typical: it was useful, but not "transformative". Most people who participated - even the ones who dropped out - said they got something valuable out of it. Not all would recommend it, but no one I talked to would condemn it with the kind of vehemence you have. But then none had the sort of terrible repercussions that you had (that guy you got the restraining order against sounds like the model for Joaquin Phoenix's character in The Master.) The worst experience related to me firsthand was a woman whose hearing was injured by the loud music. (Not a trivial issue, IMO, as I am a musician.) But, I acknowledge that it may be a self-selecting sample. Obviously, if any one had been traumatized as you were, they would not be likely to relate it to people like me who they view as being sympathetic to the people who injured them. Thank you for relating your experience.

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Re: MITT Today
Posted by: corboy ()
Date: December 30, 2012 08:08AM

Ha. One can get lots of citations about Lifespring if one puts Lifespring graduate and pushy into the Google slot.


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Re: MITT Today
Posted by: rrmoderator ()
Date: December 30, 2012 09:02AM


You seem intent upon blaming the victim or individuals rather than admitting that there is something inherently wrong with the training. Why not place responsibility for failed results and problems on Lifespring?

As psychologist Philip Cushman observed, "Leaders were true believers and sealed their doctrine off from discomforting data or disquieting results and tended to discount a poor result by, 'blaming the victim.'" This is one of the signs of what Cushman calls a "dangerous" LGAT.

If you are not here as an apologist what is wrong with Lifespring training? Can you name something specifically that is wrong with Lifespring? Many people that have gone through the training have identified what's wrong with it. And the troubled history of the company and related evidence through lawsuits filed against Lifespring also point out this fact.

Rather than placing blame on individuals whenever something goes wrong a more obvious conclusion would be that there are inherent problems with the Lifespring training itself.

Is there any objectively measurable benefits that have been established through a study that has been peer-reviewed and published in a credible journal? Such results could be measuring by following graduates two, three or five years out and measuring if students received higher grades, the divorce rate of participants was reduced, or their need for professional counseling was lowered substantially, income increased, career advancement, etc. This could be compared to a control group that did not do the training. As far as I know no LGAT has ever done such a scientific study. Instead, they may at times poll graduates or rely upon testimonials concerning the subjective feelings of participants about the experience. But this isn't objective results. No one is disputing the ability of LGATs to affect how people feel. But this can be attributed to their effective use of persuasion techniques.

See []

The key factors that distinguish coercive persuasion from other training and socialization schemes are:

The reliance on intense interpersonal and psychological attack to destabilize an individual's sense of self to promote compliance

The use of an organized peer group

Applying interpersonal pressure to promote conformity

The manipulation of the totality of the person's social environment to stabilize behavior once modified

These same key factors are often employed by LGATs during their intensive training weekends or retreats.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 12/30/2012 10:40PM by rrmoderator.

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Re: MITT Today
Posted by: NoMinorChords ()
Date: December 31, 2012 12:56AM


I'm not quite sure how to do the formatting here with quotes so please bear with me if it ends up looking odd. I am also near the end of my time off, so may take longer to reply to your posts after this.

You wrote:

"You seem intent upon blaming the victim or individuals rather than admitting that there is something inherently wrong with the training. Why not place responsibility for failed results and problems on Lifespring?...As psychologist Philip Cushman observed, "Leaders were true believers and sealed their doctrine off from discomforting data or disquieting results and tended to discount a poor result by, 'blaming the victim.'" This is one of the signs of what Cushman calls a "dangerous" LGAT."

I don't believe I have blamed anyone for anything. I have simply related my experience, which was different from others on this list. Nor do I discount the work of those who have studied LGATs, although my empiricist side hungers for metrics instead of anecdotes and opinions. (Cushman's work - which bears some similarities with Thomas Szasz' books which I read avidly as a youth - often reminds me of the famous Lincoln quote: When the facts are on your side, pound the facts. When the law is on your side, pound the law. When neither are on your side, pound the table!)

In fact, I have expressed sympathy for the personal pain of those who were hurt as a result the training and don't doubt that was their experience. All I am saying is that was not what happened to me nor anyone else I observed - evidence which you have discounted because it is at odds with the conclusion you have already reached. In this case, who is sealing off their doctrine from disquieting results? W

"If you are not here as an apologist what is wrong with Lifespring training? Can you name something specifically that is wrong with Lifespring? Many people that have gone through the training have identified what's wrong with it. And the troubled history of the company and related evidence through lawsuits filed against Lifespring also point out this fact."

First, let me make a tiny quibble - I did not do the Lifespring training. I studied with an outfit called MITT. This is important because it is necessary to separate the training from those who implement it. A bit like the guy who smacks someone with an ax and says, "See I told you brain surgery doesn't work!"

But I have TONS of complaints. First, MITT puts a great deal of faith in specialized language. The theory is that by changing how you frame an idea linguistically it changes how you ideate it. For example: instead of saying "I have to..." you say "I get to..." or "Let me support you..." instead of "Let me help you..." In my personal experience, this is a short-lived shift in framework that eventually makes people just sound silly. As one of my friends who dropped out of the training said, "The best thing is I get to HELP people again."

My biggest complaint is that the ideas are based on the latest psychological research...of forty years ago. A lot has been learned since then. For example, there are references made to a kind of original innocence conception of childhood - the idea that we were born "perfect" and had no neuroses until someone did something to us. This has been shown to be demonstrably untrue (read Stephen Pinker's book Tabula Rasa, for example.) A truly vital discipline would be constantly changing and less committed to what were the best ideas of a time past.

As for the group-think aspects, I can understand how that would be destructive to some people. I have the advantage of being middle-aged and have spent my life as an artist (musician) so I am not easily swayed by the idea that something must be true because everybody else thinks it is. However, some of the younger people were more intimidated.

"Is there any objectively measurable benefits that have been established through a study that has been peer-reviewed and published in a credible journal? Such results could be measuring by following graduates two, three or five years out and measuring if students received higher grades, the divorce rate of participants was reduced, or their need for professional counseling was lowered substantially, income increased, career advancement, etc. This could be compared to a control group that did not do the training. As far as I know no LGAT has ever done such a scientific study. Instead, they may at times poll graduates or rely upon testimonials concerning the subjective feelings of participants about the experience. But this isn't objective results. No one is disputing the ability of LGATs to affect how people feel. But this can be attributed to their effective use of persuasion techniques."

Here I believe you and I can agree. It would fabulous if there were actual double-blind, peer reviewed, studies of the techniques. (And I use the plural because MITT is a collection of techniques, not a single approach.) I know of none and so, as I have stated before, can only relate my subjective experience.

But the irony is, when you talk about something like "happiness" or "personal growth" they are highly subjective states. The reason someone takes a course at MITT is, specifically, to change how they "feel". To measure this experimentally would be daunting.

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Re: MITT Today
Posted by: rrmoderator ()
Date: December 31, 2012 07:35AM


A woman died and a wrongful death was filed against Lifespring.

See []

Lawyers Complain of Missing Records in Lifespring Death Suit

Seattle Times/ June 21, 1980

By Larry Brown

Complaints about missing records were aired yesterday during a pretrial hearing in a law suit filed by a man who blames a self-awareness program for the death of his daughter.

Gail Renick, 27, a model and real-estate agent, died here in April, 1979, of an asthma attack after leaving the final session of a five-day, $300 course conducted by Lifespring Foundation, Inc. She was in a coma five days before death.

Bill Newgent, the father, contends that Ms. Renick was not adequately informed beforehand of the program's extremely intense psychological and emotional exercises designed to alter habits and thought processes. Newgent says that the Lifespring staff kept Ms. Renick's asthma medication and when she had an attack she was told her problem was self-caused. Lifespring is a national self-awareness program with headquarters in San Rafael, California.

Newgent's damage claim against Lifespring is scheduled for trial in September before King County Superior Court, Judge Robert W. Winsor.

Daniel C. Jacobson and Richard M. Stanislaw, lawyers for Newgent, said yesterday that they have not received documents which then are entitled to inspect for trial preparation, including a basic information sheet for Ms. Renick a confidential health questionnaire, a refund form and a card with medication information filled out by Lifespring staff.

Michael C. Hayden and Lawrence L. Longfelder, lawyers for Lifespring, said all documents will be turned over as soon as they can be found. Longfelder said the documents appear to be lost.

Shortly after the death of Ms. Renick, Jim Earl, Lifespring area director, said that nobody in his organization would tell a "trainee" to avoid a prescribed drug. Newgent said then that "There is no way I'm going to stop till I can get this mind-bending organization shut down."

A crew from 20/20, the BC television program, was filming yesterday after the hearing in King County Courthouse. Editor's Note: ABC NEWS 20/20 program will be shown sometime between July 15, to September 15th, 1980. Watch for this show re: Lifespring Seattle Court case.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 12/31/2012 07:43AM by rrmoderator.

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Re: MITT Today
Posted by: rrmoderator ()
Date: December 31, 2012 07:38AM


Another study by mental health professionals published about Lifespring.

See []

Pathology as "Personal Growth":

A Participant-Observation Study of Lifespring Training

Psychiatry, Vol 46, August 1983

By Janice Haaken, Ph.D. and Richard Adams, Ph.D.

This paper presents an overview of a Lifespring Basic Training workshop from a psychoanalytic perspective. Basing our conclusions on a participant-observation study, we argue that the impact of the training was essentially pathological. First, in the early period of the training, ego functions were systematically undermined and regression was promoted. Second, the ideational or interpretive framework of the training was based upon regressive modes of reasoning Third, the structure and content of the training tended to stimulate early narcissistic conflicts, and defenses, which accounted for the elation and sense of heightened well-being achieved by many participants.

A major contemporary force in developing popular conceptions of the self has been the human potential movement, grounded in the premises and practice of "Third Force" psychology--humanistic psychology--which emerged in the 1950s and found increasingly widespread expression in the next two decades. The growth of the human potential movement has been both exponential and chaotic. In the realm of education and therapy it has created numerous gurus and schools and provided an array of techniques and procedures for the enhancement of personal growth. In the 1970s an effort was made by several persons, and groups to consolidate various practices into cohesive packages as training programs. These widely marketed programs, designed and organized to effect significant and positive changes in the lives of participants were first successfully initiated by Werner Erhard with est, and are now dominated by est and Lifespring. The investigation presented here focuses on the structure and processes of a Lifespring training program.

For the most part, literature which is available on "human growth" companies is limited to clinical impressions and journalistic reports of est. Clinicians have tended to focus on psychiatric risks associated with the training for some people (Kirsch and Glass 1977). Others have emphasized its efficacy as an adjunct to psychotherapy (Paul and Paul 1978). Anecdotal reports of Lifespring graduates are often enthusiastic, lending support to the organization's strong claims for the effectiveness of its training activities. Comments of graduates range from "It changed my life" to "It was extremely valuable." However, such global reports often lack specific content.

To date, there is no published material on Lifespring other than materials which are distributed by the organization. Follow up studies initiated by research associates of Lifespring Foundation suggest that the training increases "self- actualization" as measured by the Personal Orientation Inventory (Shostrom 1978). Although the Inventory provides an objective measure of the effects of the training, it poses typical scaling problems. The results are based on forced-choice questions whish restrict the range and content of responses. In addition, a response bias may be built into the scale: it is heavily laden with the language and values of the human potential movement and may merely be measuring a superficial familiarity with the training ideas. As Rosenthal (1978) pointed out in his review of empirical findings on encounter groups, participants tend to overstate, often in global terms, the extent of "personal growth" achieved.(p. 74)

The research upon which this paper is based was developed out of the need for a clearer and more detailed picture of the Lifespring phenomenon. The purpose of the paper is both descriptive and analytical. First, we describe Lifespring training: the participants and leaders, the structure of the training activities, and the techniques utilized. Second, we explain the effects during Lifespring training from a psychoanalytic perspective. We argue that although participants often experience a heightened sense of well-being as a consequence of the training, the phenomenon is essentially pathological. By pathological, we mean that the training systematically undermines ego functioning and promotes regression to the extent that reality testing is significantly impaired. This does not imply that participants suffer from lasting forms of psychopathology as a consequence of the training. The long-term effects of the training and its usefulness to participants in facing problems in living fall outside the scope of this phase of the study.

The interpretive framework adopted here is supported by several psychoanalytic premises concerning group behavior. In discussing the relationship between ego functions and group behavior, Freud noted that "intensification of the affects and the inhibition of the intellect" characterized "primitive groups" (1959 p 20). Primitive groups promote the blurring of ego boundaries and psychological merger with the group leader, who serves as an ego ideal for group members. By projecting ego and superego functions, e.g. the regulation and control of impulses, into the leader, members may express infantile aggressive and libidinal drives normally held in constraint. (Kernberg 1980 p212). This psychological state may be described as regressive in that it is reminiscent of the experience of early childhood—the oceanic experience of oneness with the all-good, protective parent who mediates between the child’s immediate needs and the external world.

Regression, however, does not inevitably imply pathology. From a psychoanalytic perspective, many healthy and adaptive forms of human activity, such as falling in love (Grunberger 1979 pp 5-6) and artistic achievement (Kris 1964 p 28), require the capacity to regress, When falling in love, one must be able to experience temporary states of psychological merger with another person and artistic achievement often involves access to impulses and irrational of primitive fantasies. In addition, the ability to work in groups or to engage in collective forms of social action requires the capacity to merge with the group ideals and group interests. The critical distinction in determining pathology in group members concerns the extent of regression – i.e., the dominance of primitive fantasies or impulses and the level of ego control maintained. By ego control, we mean the capacity for reality testing, for mobilizing adaptive defenses, for distinguishing between internal and external events, and for bringing affective states under rational control.

Many of the encounter groups of the human potential movement have been described as regressive because of their disinhibitive effects and their tendency to stress abandonment to strong emotions while disparaging reasoning and intellect (Back 1972, p 79; Schur 1976, pp48-53). The emphasis upon "getting in touch with your feelings" and "getting out of your head" may be of therapeutic value in encouraging participants to gain access to previously warded off impulses, a process which often occurs in successful forms of psychodynamic therapy. However, without an interpretive framework which reconciles affective states with objective reality and logical thought processes, such group cathartic experiences offer little opportunity for sustained therapeutic change and may, in fact, be psychologically damaging (Lieberman, Yalom, and Miles 1973 pp 167-209)

The study

The material presented in this paper is based on a participant-observation study by a psychologist and a sociologist at a Lifespring Basic Training workshop held in Seattle, Washington in 1981. Because of the uniformity of Lifespring trainings, this workshop most likely is representative of training workshops in other settings. The training took place over five days and consisted of a total of 48 hours. Participants met from approximately 6 to 12 PM on the three days before two all-day workshop sessions. In addition, a "wrap-up" session was held four days after the initial training. While participants and leaders were unaware of the research project, prior consent for the project had been obtained from the Lifespring Corporation and the fees were waived.

Our approach was consistent with usual participant-observation methods. Because of the anticipated evocative nature of the experience, measures were taken to assure both a sufficient level of experiential involvement and sufficient analytical distance. Our reactions, as participants, were understood to constitute an important phenomenological aspect of the inquiry to be carefully noted. We decided to allow some self-disclosure (to discuss "real" problems when appropriate) but to avoid disclosure in those areas of our personal lives which were too affectively loaded to allow the emotional distance compatible with researching. Thus, we sought to achieve genuine but restrained involvement to avoid either immersion in the experience, or conversely, excessive detachment. We do recognize that our decisions about how we would react make our experiences somewhat different from those of the other participants.

Although notes and taping were not allowed during training sessions, we made extensive notes during breaks and at the close of each day’s session. Our discussions following each session were taped and subsequently transcribed. Efforts were made to provide a detailed account of what had occurred and to note any discrepancies in our reactions or recall of events.

The conclusions presented here are the result of a thematic analysis of the transcribed sessions. Although the conceptual framework which investigators bring to a participant-observation study structures both the particular content and the meaning of observations, we attempted to suspend previous assumptions to the extent that this was possible. Thus, our approach to the training experience was primarily inductive in nature. For expository purposes, we have subsumed the descriptive data under the conclusions drawn from our analysis of the training.


Participants paid $350 for the Basic Training, which is the first of the three levels in the Lifespring training series. The group consisted of 68 adults ranging in age from 17 to 66 years, with and average age of approximately 35 to 40. Women slightly outnumbered men. Most participants were Caucasian; there were only a few minority group members – 1 Black and 3 Asians. The socioeconomic status of participants was for the most part middle-income. The majority were in sales positions, self-employed or housewives. A few were in professions such as teaching, engineering, medicine and dentistry. The explanation given for participation in the training included the range of complaints, which typify psychotherapy populations. Couples came to resolve marital conflicts. The younger participants, in particular, reported feelings of loneliness, social isolation or a lack of direction in life. Others said that difficulty with jobs or personal relationships brought them to the training.

Although Lifespring provided a preliminary questionnaire to screen out those who were under psychiatric treatment and emphasized that the training was educational rather than therapeutic, the promise of a rapid cure for these various complaints was unmistakably an attraction to the participants. Thus, an important motivational basis of the training was the expectation that dramatic change would occur. Most participants learned of Lifespring through the recruiting efforts of friends and family members who were Lifespring graduates. The promise of "personal growth" held out by the organizations and zealous graduates was both nonspecific and unlimited. As we waited for the workshop to begin, a high level of anticipatory excitement was created by the expectations of the participants, the mystery surrounding the training, and the laudatory comments of friends and family members who mingled with the group. As participants were finally ushered into the training room, Lifespring staff and supporters applauded enthusiastically, indicating that something quite important was about to take place.

The Leaders

The staff for the training consisted of one leader, or "trainer", who was a paid member of the Lifespring staff, and eight volunteer assistant leaders who had already completed the series of Lifespring training workshops. The trainer was a conventionally attractive man of about thirty. He was tall, dark, even-featured and meticulously attired in dressy sports coat and tie. His physical appearance projected a Madison Avenue image of success. His training in leadership and communications prior to his Lifespring training was as an IBM sales representative.

The assistant leaders were in charge of various logistical aspects of the training such as leading small group discussions and monitoring various experiential exercises. They also conducted much of the follow-up contact with participants after the training. Most of the assistants were employed in sales or managerial positions.

Diminished ego functions and regression

As with many of the encounter groups and sensitivity training workshops of the 1960s and 1970s, the structure and content of Lifespring training had a disinhibitive effect. Reasoning and intellectual processes were minimized while affective states were intensified. However, Lifespring differed from these prototypical groups by the extent to which the leaders took control of ego functions for participants. The environment was elaborately structured, much as a compulsive parent would do for a small child. During the early training sessions, chairs were meticulously arranged on rows of masking tape facing the podium, where the leader stood with large paper tablets for didactic instruction. If a chair was moved, the participant was instructed by one of the assistants to return it to the taped line. The theme song from Star Wars was played ceremoniously at the beginning of each sessions, and participants were to be seated in their chairs by the conclusion of the music. Frantic compliance to this rule was remarkable even though its purpose and the consequences of noncompliance were unclear.

The trainer began the workshop by discussing the purpose of Lifespring, writing "personal growth" and "personal awareness" in bold letters on the board. Awareness was defined as "understanding things as they are." The trainer emphasized that the answers were already within us- it was just a matter of discovering them. "Everything has always been available to you. It’s a matter of noticing it, of awareness." This nativistic approach to knowledge was dramatized by a banner across the front of the room which "grew" in size each day. The enigmatic phrase, which spanned twenty feet by the fifth day, was "What am I pretending not to know?"

Following the introduction by the trainer, the group discussed the various motives for coming to Lifespring and how to achieve "full value" from the training. The key phrases, which described the vehicle to personal growth, were "submission," "100 percent commitment," and "spontaneity".

This emphasis upon submission and total involvement required some attention to resistances--the doubts, and reservations which participants inevitably would experience. The trainer moved to a discussion of "how we avoid," drawing from the audience examples of avoidance behaviors such as forgetting, sickness, and daydreaming. The question was posed, "What stands in the way of creating maximum value for yourself?" By the end of the first evening, the trainer had explained emphatically the major contingency for achieving the expected transformation: complete submission to the Lifespring experience. By the device of identifying resistances as "ways of avoiding," participants' questions, doubts and concerns were labeled as obstacles to personal growth.

A variety of rules for "playing the Lifespring game" were then reviewed and participants were asked to stand to indicate agreement with them. While all groups, are guided by implicit or explicit rules, the Lifespring rules were notable for their emphasis upon obedience to the instructions of the trainer and their arbitrariness or lack of an apparent rationale. The effect of a prolonged discussion of the rules, which included some challenging questions by participants, was to fortify the position of the trainer as a legitimate authority who was in control and to diminish the participants' control.

Audience responses were managed in a way which reduced the ability of participants to think critically and simultaneously inflated their self-esteem. In order to speak, participants had to stand, he acknowledged by the leader and speak into a microphone. The audience was to applaud after the person finished speaking, presumably indicating support for the "risk of sharing." The experience of having to speak before a large group, hearing one's voice amplified and being rewarded with applause was undoubtedly useful for those who were fearful of public speaking. However, since the applause was mandatory, it was not an indication of the quality or coherence of participants' comments. The trainer acknowledged as valid only those audience responses which confirmed or illustrated a point being made. Over the five days, responses came increasingly to mirror the idiom of the trainer, and the applause became increasingly enthusiastic. This essentially distorted And magnified the import of what was -being said, undermining reality testing. For example, midway through the training, one participant stood and announced elatedly, "I've got it!" Considerable applause followed even though there was no explanation about what he had 'gotten."

What was rewarded by the trainer was compliance or pseudocompliance. Participants who offered critical comments or who suggested a different way of conceptualizing a problem had their statements dismissed were subjected to ridicule or were confused with paradoxical logic. The "dissenter" was generally maneuvered into some form of compliance before being permitted to sit down and receive the applause.

An example of this type of interaction occurred on the first evening after the "Trust" exercise.-' Instructions for this exercise were as follows: Participants were to mingle, and when eye contact was made with other participants, one of four comments was allowed: "I trust you ", "I don't trust you," "I don't know if I trust you,"" or "I don't care to say if I trust you." The participants were then to move on to the next person without further comment. After regrouping following the exercise, one participant challenged the implicit reasoning behind the exercise; as the exchange below indicates, his reaction was dismissed without legitimizing the rationality of the question that he raised.

JAMES: I'm not sure what this had to do with real trust. I mean, it's not an all or nothing thing-like "I trust you" or "I don't trust you." I would trust someone with my car before I would trust them with my child, depending on how well I knew the person.

TRAINER: Are you willing to consider the possibility that you don't know what trust really means?

JAMES: (Appearing confused and hesitating) Yes.

TRAINER: Thank you. You may sit down. (Audience applause)

The trainer used a variety of techniques to neutralize comments which challenged or qualified the point being made and maintained sufficient control over audience responses to assure that defiance and critical thinking were not publicly rewarded. The use of confusing "double talk" was particularly effective in disarming those who threatened to delegitimize the trainer's position. Statements such as "What you think isn't is, and what you think is isn't," or "Well, what is the answer?" were perplexing enough to cause the participant to fatter in uncertainty. The suggestion that the participant was disturbed, confused, "avoiding," or "game-playing" were other tactics used to discredit objecting participants.

As the training progressed, participants, become increasingly reliant upon the trainer to interpret reality. Defenses and the capacity for critical reasoning were undermined by both the structure of the training and the responses of the leader. Typically, a didactic session followed each experiential exercise, providing an interpretive framework for the feelings evoked. The trainer provided attributions for the heightened arousal which was generated by the exercise.

A form of exercise used repeatedly throughout the training involved highly structured interactions in pairs. Each member of the pair faced the other in the open position" (legs uncrossed, one hand placed on each leg), and eye contact was to be sustained for the entire exercise. If participants deviated from this position--for example, by breaking eye contact or crossing their legs-the assistants instructed them to resume the open position. We found that the experience of having our movements monitored throughout the five days (while being told to be spontaneous) was particularly unsettling, evoking feelings of powerlessness and dependency. The prolonged eye contact required in all pair exercises had a certain hypnotic effect in that it became increasingly difficult to withdraw from the influence of the exercise.

A number of dyadic exercises which reenacted parent-child relationships were included in the training as a means of resolving conflicts through brief, intense encounters with parent surrogates. These exercises also contributed to the regressive pull of the early phase of the training. The first involved one partner standing and assuming the position of a parent while the other gazed into his/her eyes from the perspective of childhood memory. As feelings, of infantile helplessness in relation to a powerful parent were evoked, participants displayed more childlike behavior, such as giggling and eager compliance to the trainer. Another exercise required that one partner attempt to gratify all the childhood fantasies of' the other--fantasies of what the perfect parent would have provided.

Idealational themes and regression

On the second evening during the didactic session, the ideational content of the Lifespring message was reviewed elaborately with the use of diagrams. The trainer began with a discussion of "how we respond to events." He argued that by "resisting events" or "attempting to change them," people merely rely on prior belief systems or "automatic" ways of interpreting the world. This way of responding is a reactive one which ties people to the experience of the past and to unrealistic expectations for the future. The trainer emphasized that "coming from a position of change never works," On the other hand, "submission" to events and acceptance of things as they are results In "creative choice," "awareness," "joy" and "growth." The paradox of this implicitly conservative message was that personal control was promoted through submission or surrender to the existing reality of the trainer.

The following interchange took place as one of the researchers attempted to challenge the logic of the presentation, using the language and categories provided by the trainer.

JANICE: Part of what you're saving matches my experience and part of it doesn't. I can see how in some situations conflict is made worse by reacting on the basis of rigid, unrealistic expectations. Yet. in other situations--like the women's movement or other social movements--those who resist are the ones who create change. For those who submit and back away from conflict, no change takes place. Also, beliefs can limit us but they can also sustain us at times. The belief in justice or equality, for example, can provide hope for another way of cooperating in the world. There needs to be some distinction between rational and irrational or infantile beliefs here.

TRAINER: Your problem is that you're stuck on the level of analyzing and beliefs. You're hung up on having to analyze everything.

JANICE: I thought that this was the time for that- the didactic period. Isn't that what you're doing on the board? Am I wrong? (Some audience laughter)

After the audience laughter the trainer removed his chart, displaying some irritation, and began a new chart entitled "Levels of Awareness." He started with "belief," stating that this was a low level of human awareness: he then discussed "analyzing" and "experimenting." He distinguished these three low levels of awareness, which presumably maintain the "illusion of certainty," from "experiencing and observing." which are unfettered by belief and lead to "natural knowing." By stressing that "all beliefs are arbitrary," the trainer promoted a radical devaluation of the external world. This solipsistic view of the world, which presupposes a presocial self, contributed to the general tendency of Lifespring to cultivate regressive modes of reasoning.

Although there was often an element of truth in the trainer's arguments, the extensive use of all-or-nothing categories, absolutist logic and magical thinking distorted what would other-wise have been reasonable points. Ideas were not presented as problematic beliefs which were open to scrutiny but as transcendent truth--"natural knowing." The critical eye of the participant wits turned away from tile content of the training and toward him/herself. its the source of all knowledge

Infantile omnipotence and identification with the leader

After participating in a variety of regressive exercises, Participants came increasingly to identify with the trainer and to share his power during the third and fourth days of training. Shifting from the emphasis upon submission and trust, the trainer suggested that we were totally responsible for all events, in our lives--"100 percent accountable"--including the selection of our parents. An exercise designed to illustrate the theme of "taking full responsibility" involved the use of pairs. Partners were to tell each other of an occasion when each had been victimized. Several people told stories about having been beaten by a parent as a child. We were then instructed to retell the story from a position of 100 percent accountability--in other words, how we "set things up to be that way."

This exercise transformed the infantile helplessness which participants had experienced earlier into infantile omnipotence. Many participants reported feelings of elation and expansiveness following this exercise. The level of insight gained was akin to the reasoning of a small child who has not yet cognitively overcome an egocentric view of the world--the conviction that all events emanate from the self. The subjective experience of liberation which accompanied this exercise seemed to stem from the sense of omnipotent control generated among the participants. The group was particularly vulnerable to this type of primitive reasoning because of the effects of the earlier training. The lowering of inhibitions, the extensive structuring of the environment and the undermining of critical thought combined to elicit archaic defenses such as omnipotence.

Identification with the powerful position of the trainer as a defense against infantile helplessness and dependency was made evident by the increasing reliance upon his language over the five days of training. The language of the human potential movement, which provided the "official" lexicon of Lifespring, seemed to exhaust and encompass all of human experience, e.g., "getting off automatic," "going for it," "taking risks," "taking responsibility," and "creating your own reality." These phrases took on an almost magical communicative power within the group.

As the training progressed and the trainer's words were repeated by group members, the trainer became softer in his style and more accessible to the group. His occasionally stepping down from the podium and mingling with the group allowed a greater sense of psychological merger with him. Our collective seduction was dramatically enacted on the fourth day as participants took the position of the leader on the podium and "shared" the growth which they had achieved thus far. Laura, an attractive and articulate woman of about thirty, who had been the first participant to object to a rule on the first evening, approached the microphone. Her voice trembling, she began to explain how socially isolated she had become and spoke of the barriers which she had erected to keep people at a distance. The trainer then asked if she would be willing to try an exercise in "trust." The lights were dimmed and the woman stood on a chair ready to fall backward into the arms of six men selected from the audience. As sensual music played, the trainer stood close to her, murmuring in intimate tones. Finally she allowed herself' to fall, and the men began to rock her back and forth to the music. The trainer remained close to the woman, who was now sobbing, massaging her stomach and speaking softly to her. The exercise was quite poignant, moving many participants to tears. Although the surface meaning of the exercise concerned trust, it was compelling in its libidinal and religious undertones. There had been a series of testimonials followed by the "baptismal" of a formerly recalcitrant participant. She had fully immersed herself in the experience and had finally yielded to the trainer.

The desire for merger, which is reminiscent of the security and total dependency of early childhood, has been identified in various psychological phenomena, e.g., falling in love, religious experiences, and intoxicated states. However, what we found particularly troublesome in the various trust exercises presented in Lifespring was the implied indiscriminate nature of trust. The desire for intimacy was gratified instantaneously. It appeared to matter little whether or not the object of desire was trustworthy. The emphasis was upon abandonment to an undifferentiated, unknowable other who existed as an extension of one's own needs.

An essentially solipsistic view of the world was supported by the experiential and ideational content of tile training throughout the five days. While reactions to others always contain projective themes, at Lifespring the boundary between inner and outer reality, between self and other, was constantly being obliterated by the structure of the training. This contributed to the sense of expansiveness and boundless power experienced by participants. The idea of "mirroring" was used in several exercises as a metaphor for projected reality. "What you see in others," we were told, "is a mirror of yourself."

Exercises which mobilized narcissistic defenses, i.e., feelings of inflated well-being and exaggerated personal power, were alternated with attacking exercises, which were narcissistically injurious. The latter evoked feelings of shame and worthlessness and made the group vulnerable to the judgments of the leader. One example involved a game called "Red and Black," which required the group to divide into two teams and develop strategies, based upon a set of rules, for achieving the greatest number of points. Neither team was able to recognize that the main contingency for getting the maximum number of points was that both teams succeed. Essentially, if one team lost, both lost. And both teams did lose. This exercise could have been an occasion for discussing the cultural context of competition and aspects of our society which make it difficult to identify cooperative contingencies. Instead, the trainer castigated participants, finally stating with disgust, "You all make me sick." Since the exercise was at the close of the evening, we were to go home and reflect upon what we had learned. Many participants were silent and tearful as we closed the evening session

By assuming the position of a harsh and rejecting parent, the trainer was able to mobilize infantile feelings of badness. This experience made it more likely that participants would attempt to defend against feelings of being a bad and powerless child in subsequent exercises by identifying more strongly with the leader. The tendency to identify with him in order to share in his power was particularly evident. on the morning following the Red and Black exercise as 8 or 10 participants lined up enthusiastically on the stage to give testimonials. This was the first time in the training that participants were invited to join the leader in his elevated position on the stage.

During the final two days of the training, there was a great deal of hugging and other indications of affection among participants. However, these expressions of "love for everyone" seemed to be narcissistically motivated. They were an extension of the expansive mood and feelings of power experienced by many of the participants rather than an expression of mutuality or attachment. Another group exercise, based on an assembly line model of human relations, illustrates the indiscriminate nature of intimate overtures. Participants assembled in two concentric circles, facing each other. Each facing pair was to simultaneously indicate one of four possible gestures of intimacy: no contact; a handshake; holding hands; or an embrace. After completing this brief, silent interaction, the lines shifted and new pairs were formed, repeating the procedure. Most pairs embraced so that by the conclusion of the exercise, close contact had been made among the majority of participants.

While this exercise may have been helpful for those who fear physical contact, providing a form of desensitization, it stripped such interactions of the relational context which generally gives them meaning. Instead, it became a rather compulsive, counterphobic reaching out which provided little information concerning problems of intimacy. These fleeting physical contacts were experienced as if they had profound human implications.

Pseudo self-awareness and reality testing

The events of the fifth and final day of the training provided an opportunity for participants to use what they had learned in responding to an unanticipated crisis. Following the morning break, one of the more actively involved participants, Patrick, leaped up and took the position of the trainer on the podium. Initially it appeared that Patrick was acting out against the trainer by mocking him and by ignoring rules. However, it soon became apparent that he had decompensated--his speech was incoherent, he was out of contact with reality, and he appeared to be hallucinating. The trainer approached him and told him to stop "game playing." His "other choice" was to "go to a place where they allow people to play crazy games." Patrick merely gazed vacantly at the trainer and continued to mutter Lifespring phrases. Various participants, responded by encouraging Patrick to "go for it" and "let it all out." They did not understand that he had already "let too much out." His apparently fragile defenses had been repeatedly challenged by the trainer, who hid often accused him of "bullshitting,"

When it became clear that Patrick was unable to pull himself together, the other participants were asked to leave the room. We gathered outside, initially stunned by what had transpired. Then the group coalesced into a "circle of love," initiated by several members, out of the desire to "send Patrick our energy." The group was clearly attempting to provide comfort to its members in an upsetting situation. What was remarkable was the level of denial and misinterpretation of what had occurred. The group transformed Patrick's psychotic episode into a positive experience by using the categories of reasoning provided by the training. Drawing upon the infantile omnipotence encouraged by earlier sessions, some of the participants declared that "we are going to heal Patrick-he'll feel our energy." Others commented cheerfully that "he is getting in touch with his feelings" and "whatever he chooses is right for him, it's the very best for him." After Patrick had been spirited away, the group reconvened to continue the training. What could have been an occasion for discussing what had happened, including the impact of the training on Patrick, instead stimulated an outpouring of testimonials.

Since the group's idealization of the trainer was potentially undermined by this incident, decisive defensive operations were necessary to prevent the eruption of hostility in the group. The group felt impelled to reaffirm the goodness of Lifespring and to externalize and redirect the bad feelings evoked, which were potentially directed toward the trainer. Hostility was deflected from the trainer, who received the uncontaminated affection of the group, onto one of the participants who had remained outside the "circle of love." This participant, one of the researchers, had been a symbol of resistance throughout the training by asking questions and at times disagreeing with the trainer. During one group exercise, he had been selected by half of the participants as the "least attractive" person in the group. He was offensive to many participants for being "too analytical," "rigid," and "not feeling enough."

In the wake of the morning's events, affective states were intensified and a mood of hysteria was palpable. While loving feelings were directed toward Lifespring, the hostile component of what had been evoked was now directed more intensively toward the participant- researcher. One participant stood and stated, "I've got something to say to Dick. You know, I really hate Dick!" Another participant charged, "You don't give your love, Dick. All I want, Dick, is for you to love. And you hold back your love!" When Dick explained his reactions to the events of the morning, various participants shouted out angrily, "You're coming from your head, stop analyzing, come from your heart."

Within the narcissistic framework constructed by the training, the use of infantile splitting-dividing the relational world into "all good" and "all bad" objects emerged as a dominant defense against anxiety in the group. In order for the Lifespring experience to he taken in, it needed to be idealized as an all-good object. The trainer could not. be questioned nor the content of the training challenged. Participants whose opinions deviated from the trainer's were seen as a threat to the feelings of elation and well-being enjoyed by participants. Such threats had to be actively defended against in order to preserve the fantasy of omnipotence cultivated within the training.


We have argued that while many participants experienced a sense of enhanced well-being as a consequence of the training, these experiences were essentially pathological. First, ego functions were systematically undermined and regression was promoted by environmental structuring, infantilizing of participants and repeated emphasis on submission and surrender. Second, the ideational or interpretive framework provided in the training was also based upon regressive modes of reasoning--the use of all-or-nothing categories, absolutist logic and magical thinking, all of which are consistent with the egocentric thinking of young children. Third, the content of the training stimulated early narcissistic conflicts and defenses, which accounts for the elation and sense of heightened well-being achieved by many participants. The devaluation of objective constraints upon a person's action promoted grandiose fantasies of unlimited power. A corollary to this devaluation of the external world wits that interactions with others lacked substance. People appeared to be interchangeable so that ephemeral, indiscriminate emotional contacts were experienced as profound and meaningful. Identification with Lifespring necessitated considerable idealization so that any threat to this experience was aggressively defended against.

Our methods had an effect on our experience of the training and on our conclusions. The Lifespring Basic training, which demands full participation and rejects the legitimacy of observation, provided a particular challenge to the participant-observation method. In the Lifespring milieu any evidence of observation became evidence for the need for further "growth," for getting away from analysis or "intellectual trips." Lack of full emotional involvement in the training thus set the authors apart from the-group and led us to experience the training differently from the rest of the participants. As a result, we are not qualified to speak from the point of view of the "average participant." We did not, to use Lifespring's words, "got the training."

However, as participant-observers, we did share some of the group's subjective experiences, particularly the extraordinary pressure to conform. In this instance, the context of participant-observation, which as Rabinow (1977) says is dictated by "observation and externality," provided us with the opportunity to note the lengths to which the trainer was willing to go in attempting to achieve the required submission and commitment which we have described In this paper. Thus participant-observation, although a research strategy not. suited to fully integrating the researcher into the Lifespring Basic Training, did prove to be invaluable for developing insight into the processes of that training.

We have not addressed the normative implications of the training nor the extent to which participants are prepared by our culture to respond positively to Lifespring. The ideational content of the training would he less persuasive, perhaps, if beliefs concerning the autonomy and power of the individual were not deeply embedded in the prevailing ideology of American society. Growth organizations seem to be capitalizing upon the erosion of traditional means of supporting these beliefs and of anchoring individual identity. A deeper understanding of this phenomenon would require an analysis of the sociohistorical context out of which it emerged and from which it has gained its legitimacy.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 12/31/2012 07:43AM by rrmoderator.

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Re: MITT Today
Posted by: rrmoderator ()
Date: December 31, 2012 07:40AM

A marriage destroyed.

See []

I Lost My Husband to a Cult

We joined a "Personal-growth group to bring us closer. But what we learned would shatter our marriage forever."

Redbook Magazine/May 1994

By Anne McAndrews

*All names changed to protect privacy

More than a year after the tragedy, Waco is still on my mind, for I, too, once gave my life over to a cult.

But my story does not involve the Branch Davidians, or any other religious group that isolates itself in a compound. My experience was with a cult that arms itself not with rifles but with psychological manipulation. A cult called Lifespring.

Ten years ago my husband and I, 32 and 30 years old, enrolled in a course, hoping to improve our marriage. What started out as a weekend workshop grew into a five-month odyssey that ripped apart our family.

A perfect marriage

After five years of marriage, Tim* and I thought we had it all: a loving relationship, a newborn son, a 3-year-old daughter, and a house overlooking the ocean in southern California. Tim's accounting business was expanding; I was close to my goal of playing professional golf.

But our marriage wasn't perfect. After the birth of our son, we no longer seemed able to find time just to be together, to feel close, and Tim had become increasingly testy and demanding. He'd explode at the sight of toys on the floor, or unfolded laundry. "Clean the house or get a job," he snapped one day. "Why should I work SO YOU can play golf?" Neither of us was happy, and we realized we needed help. Three months after our son was born, we went to a marriage counselor.

The counselor said Tim needed to lower his expectations, and I needed to spend more time on myself. But we could rebuild our intimacy, he said, if we learned to talk openly and listen without judgment. Thanks to his suggestions, our marriage did seem to improve, and we rediscovered how much we still enjoyed each other.

Then one day, after two months of counseling, Tim announced he wasn't going to our weekly appointment. I was shocked. Surely he couldn't be giving up so soon. Did he want to try another therapist?

"No, I'm more interested in a workshop Dave and Lisa took called Lifespring," Tim said. "Dave says it improves relationships---cuts through the garbage in four days. In the long run it'll save us money and time."

Dave and Lisa, old friends in Los Angeles, had always seemed happily married. Surely they didn't need a couples workshop. I called Lisa.

"Dave and I are fine," she said, "but we know there's more to life than what we have now. At Lifespring everyone talks about how they feel alive and powerful. We want to feel like that. 11

That night Tim and I decided to try Lifespring. It was great to see him interested in something other than material success. As an accountant, his world had always been one of facts and rules. He used to tell me that I was good for him because I lived by intuition and spontaneity. I was touched that he wanted to work on himself and our marriage.

We went to the Lifespring center the next day. The* office, a half hour away, was staffed by conservatively dressed men and women who welcomed us warmly, and eagerly offered to sign us up for four days of Basic Training-at $400 each. Dave had warned us about the cost, and though Tim didn't seem to mind, I still thought it was outrageous. Seeing my hesitation, the recruiters assured us that after the workshop we were guaranteed to know ourselves better--or receive a refund. How could we lose? Tim cleared his work schedule for the next four days; I arranged for the kids to stay with my in-laws. We relished the idea of having time to ourselves.

High on intimacy

Basic Training began on a Thursday night in November, in the ballroom of a nearby hotel. Several men in dark suits guided us to our seats while the theme from 2001 played over the speakers. About 200 people sat facing an empty podium. They looked reassuringly normal-like the parents in my kids' playgroup.

Minutes later, Mark-tall, tanned, fortysomething appeared onstage to announce the rules for the weekend. Sessions would begin promptly at 10 A.m. and last until I A.M. We were to work with someone other than our spouse, and we would have to ask permission to leave the room, talk, or use the phone. We were warned that we would be dealing with emotions on a deeper level than we were used to, and that we'd rediscover parts of ourselves we'd covered up or left behind years ago. We were there for a reason, Mark said, even if we didn't yet know it. And it could change our lives.

Mark's manner spooked Tim and me: Who was this guy to control our lives, even for a weekend? But we didn't have time to reconsider. Mark was calling for our first exercise.

"Partner up. Now look into each other's eyes. And believe that your partner is either your mother or father. Then scream, cry, shout-do whatever you need to communicate."

I turned around to face Sean, a handsome man with dark hair and green eyes, who seemed to be in his thirties. As the lights dimmed I let him take my hand, alarmed by the intensity of the emotional outpouring suddenly filling the room.

I hate you! Hate you! Hate you!

Hold me, please hold me.

I need you.

"I'll start," Sean said, sensing my hesitation. "I'll be the child, and you be my mother."

His honesty was wrenching. Sean's mother died of cancer when he was 10, and within minutes he was reliving the trauma. "You can't give up," he begged. "You're my mother-why is God taking you away from me?" We were both sobbing by then. Sean explained that after college he'd gone on to become a priest, but that now he was thinking of leaving the church. He was so sensitive; it was easy for me to be open too.

"Mom and Dad," I began, "Tim and I are struggling, and I don't know what to do."

I spoke of a happy childhood, of love, and then of my recent loneliness. When the music began, signaling the end of the exercise, Sean and I hugged and returned to our seats. I didn't know how much time had elapsed, but I felt drained. Where were these confessions leading? I needed to think about what had just happened, but already we were starting a new exercise.

And that's how it went: hour after hour of intense confrontation, always with a different partner. At night Tim and I would drive home, too exhausted to talk, knowing the next session was just hours away. By the third day we were sleep deprived and emotionally overloaded, yet strangely stimulated by the energy and intimacy of the weekend.

Where are we heading?

On Saturday Mark directed the group: "Go to the person you find most attractive. Eat dinner together, and explain why you chose him or her."

Tim was the only one I had in mind. Until then we'd obeyed the rules and hadn't worked together. Wouldn't it be great if we dashed into each other's arms? I searched the room for Tim and spotted him-just as he walked off with Sandi, a leggy woman in jeans and tank top who didn't look a day over 21. My heart sank. We'd come to Lifespring to work on our marriage, but we'd hardly seen each other.

Just then, Sean hugged me from behind. Suddenly I regretted having revealed so much to him. Yet everyone else seemed happy to pair off.

We went to a nearby restaurant but were too nervous to eat. "I've never felt this way about a woman before," Sean said, squeezing my hand. I reminded him I was married. "Well, as Lifespring says, it's no accident we're together," he said.

For two hours Sean listed everything he liked about me, down to the freckles on my fingers. "When this is over, let's go away together," Sean said. "I want to enjoy life-with you." Then he cupped my face in his hands and kissed me. Stunned, I pulled away, shaking my head, trying to gather my wits. I hadn't been kissed by anyone but Tim since I got married, and it was an odd feeling-albeit a nice one. Here was a man who wanted me, faults and all.

Back at the ballroom, my heart pounded as I waited for Tim to return. I didn't know what to expect. A kiss? A good laugh about the whole exercise? But when he and Sandi entered, arm in arm, smiling and laughing, they floated right past me and sat down together, cuddling like puppies.

Sean motioned for me to sit with him. Clearly he knew how hurt I was.

As I switched seats I numbly wondered why I was putting myself through this.

"So how was your friend?" I blurted out later on the drive home.

Tim smiled. "She's great. You'd really like her."

"Who chose whom?"

"We chose each other."

My first reaction was to tell him Sean had picked me. But what was the point? To brag that another man found me special? Had my self-esteem sunk that low? I fingered a paper in my pocket with Sean's phone number on it, imagining a new life with him. Tim and I rode the rest of the way in silence.

In the morning, after a good night's sleep and a phone call to my children, I felt better. Why would I trade what I had with my husband? Tim seemed chipper too. It was our last day of training, and I decided not to ruin it by harping on Sandi. Despite exhaustion, our group was punch-drunk on shared intimacies, and the graduation ceremony sent us home higher than ever. For a few days I almost forgot that Tim and I had yet to deal with any of our issues.

Soon enough, I had cause to remember. Again, Tim became mean. Only now it was impossible to reason with him because he was too busy spouting Lifespring jargon. One night as I reached in the refrigerator for cottage cheese, the container broke, splattering curds all over my skirt.

"Look what you caused," Tim yelled. "You wanted this to happen. What are you really trying to say? That you wanted attention? Look at your results."

The Lifespring staff threw a reunion party a week after graduation, urging us to sign up for Advanced Training. It was $800 each for five days. The staff gave us a week to think about it, and when we returned to the center for our "post-training checkup," they immediately led Tim and me to separate rooms. I knew when I heard cheering next door that Tim had signed up for Advanced, no questions asked. But I could think of better ways to spend $1,600, and anyway, I wanted more time with my family, not Lifespring. The two staffers kept pushing:

"Excuses! We're asking for five days, not a lifetime. Maybe you don't want to make a difference in your life or your husband's. He'll be working on his life, and you won't."

They had me.

On to advanced training

There were 80 other trainees in our Advanced group, but we were the only couple. Training was held in a windowless warehouse in an industrial park, and it was hell from the start. The trainer, Rick, was all business. We didn't need to be babied, he said. We needed to look deep into our souls.

"What do you want?" Rick barked at an old man he pulled into the center of the group on the first day. "What do you want?"

"I want to do Christ's will," the man said.

"F--- Jesus! You think he's going to help you? He doesn't give a f---- You have to live your own life. So what do you want?"

The man began to cry. It was humiliating and embarrassing. Yet after 12-hour days of confrontation, when the trainer called the shots, you followed. In one exercise Rick polled each group member: How much sex do you have a week? How often do you masturbate? What do you fantasize about? In another he singled out me and four other women to dance for the group. As Rick put it, we were "nice girls" who needed to loosen up and push beyond our comfortable images. At first I wasn't sure why he thought dancing would test our limits. But when I saw the black lingerie and spike heels, I understood he wanted bump-and-grind action. Erotica. Raunch. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to explain why I did it. But we five women applied makeup and teased our hair and, finally, strutted out on the floor. The crowd surrounded us, hooting and hollering as we started gyrating to the music. I never looked up.

That night I slumped against our bedroom wall, desperately confused about what was happening to me, to us. "Why did I do that dance?" I asked aloud. Tim eyed me silently, and then slowly moved toward me.

"Why don't you put the teddy back on and do another one for me?" he whispered. "You were different tonight--looser, wilder. I like you better that way."

Is that what it took to get him to like me again?

By the last day we'd exposed so much of ourselves, it seemed there was no more to bare. I was wrong. It was Tim's and my turn to be called to the center of the group.

"So, Tim, what do you want?" Rick asked.

"I'm going to be living a new life," Tim announced boldly. "I was never clear on my wants. Now I can see I no longer want to be with my wife."

My whole body went numb. I tried to say something but couldn't. I listened as Tim explained that he was tired of dealing with numbers and money. That he wanted to do things he'd never done before. That he considered everything in his past a roadblock to growth..

"Is there another woman?" Rick asked, visibly surprised.

No, Tim said. He just wanted to focus on himself for a while. And Lifespring.

I was humiliated. I almost wished there were another woman. But the truth was Tim just no longer wanted me.

"What do you think about what Tim said?" Rick asked.

I couldn't answer. In my mind I was floating away, detached from the scene. On some level I knew I should leave, but I couldn't. I followed the next assignment like a zombie and mindlessly stripped to my bathing suit when ordered, just like everyone else.

My husband came up and hugged me. "You'll be fine," he said, smiling at me in my bikini. "A lot of the guys told me they want to get to know you better."

"Great," I said, turning to hide my tears. "One big happy family."

We drove home that night, but I slammed the bedroom door when we got there, snapping, "Sleep by yourself!" I needn't have bothered. That night marked the first of many Tim and I spent apart, though for reasons I still don't understand, I couldn't bring myself to ask whether he really wanted to end the marriage, and he never said.

As soon as he finished working, Tim would rush straight to the center to recruit for Lifespring. It didn't take him long to enroll four new people, some of them clients, and to qualify for Leadership Training. Lifespring members called at all hours, checking on his enrollment performance. There was talk that Tim could really move up in Lifespring. He loved the attention.

Lisa called one day to tell me she and Dave had finished Advanced and were ready for more training. "Don't you love Lifespring?" she bubbled.

Love Lifespring? My marriage and my life had deteriorated drastically over the last two months. I'd all but dropped golf and lost 15 pounds and all my self-confidence. When Tim and I did talk, he said he'd never felt more complete. My unhappiness, he said, was of my creation. And in light of his popularity at Lifespring, it was easier to think something was wrong with me than to face the truth. I stayed sane by focusing on my kids.

On Christmas Eve we loaded the car with presents for a celebration at my parents' house. But at the last minute Tim announced he wasn't coming: "I'd rather be with friends." I drove away, determined not to spoil the kids' holiday.

It was raining hard. I inched along but suddenly, on a hill, I lost control and planed across five lanes of highway. I desperately tried to steer the car, but we were heading for the center divider. Just before we crashed, I closed my eyes and prayed, "I want to live!"

And in that second I knew that I could not-would not-let what was happening with Tim break my spirit.

Miraculously, no one was hurt. The police took us to a fast-food restaurant, where I called Tim and told him we'd had an accident.

"That figures," he said. "But there are no accidents. You wanted this to happen, so you handle it."

I hung up and motioned for the police to leave. "Someone's coming for us," I lied. Then I broke down, sobbing. It was the last thing I expected to be doing Christmas Eve-eating french fries with two children at a highway restaurant,

But we were alive. And I knew what I had to do. Let go.

When Tim finally came home late that night, all he did was rant about the cost of fixing the car. After the kids were asleep, I confronted him about our marriage. "I'm still here, aren't I?" he said. "Isn't that good enough for now? I don't want to make any decisions until after Leadership Training."

"Lifespring is not our life," I said, the anger finally welling up. "Our life is here, in this home. But you don't care about anyone but yourself and Lifespring!"

I stayed up all night, summoning the courage that I knew I'd need.

On Christmas morning, before the children awoke, I told Tim to leave: "You don't deserve me."

Tim smiled: "That's fine with me. I'm on my way out."

"What about the kids?"

He stopped, and for a moment I detected remorse. "Tell them this just wasn't right for me. You'll handle it."

After the holidays I felt disconnected. I wanted to return to the life I'd led before Lifespring, but that wasn't possible. Tim was living at his father's, giving me money to cover the expenses. So much had changed, I couldn't even call old friends-they'd never understand. Instead I spent much of my time screening my calls, trying to avoid the daily-sometimes hourly pressure from Lifespring recruiters to continue my training.

One day Tim called to urge me to sign up. "You may not believe this, but I really do care," he said. His voice sounded softer, more like the Tim I loved. "I think it would be good for us to do this -together."

Did he really think there was hope? It seemed hard to believe. I struggled to maintain my resolve. "We need to sit down and talk about legalizing our separation," I said.

"Let's wait until Leadership is over. It won't do us any good to rush. And maybe we'll still end up together."

I teetered. Perhaps I had been rash. Were a few bad months worth dumping a six-year marriage? And so I rationalized my way back into Tim's life and signed up. Somewhere deep in my soul, I knew I was out of control.

The belly of the beast

Now, with my first Leadership meeting, I was on the inside of Lifespring. The center was set up like a telethon, with phones and directories crammed everywhere, and staffers working hour after hour soliciting enrollments. The air was thick with competition.

Lifespring, I discovered, works as a kind of pyramid: Those at the bottom receive no pay, but those who "produce" may get a position and salary. We weren't being led toward personal growth. We were there to enroll new members and fatten Lifespring's coffers.

One evening I heard Tim rave about Basic Training to a friend on the phone. Finally I snapped.

"Did you tell him about us?" I exploded. "How it improved our marriage so much that we outgrew it? You're living a lie!"

He just smirked. "How many people have you enrolled?" he said. "If you're so great, prove it."

That was it. I refused to play the game any longer. I began calling old friends and telling them the truth. They were shocked. And upset I hadn't called sooner.

Then I told Tim our marriage was over.

"Good," he said. "I've already spoken to my attorney."

It was a while before I talked to Tim again or let him see the kids. But one day, about eight months into our divorce negotiations, he called to say he wanted to talk about us. I was surprised-in my mind we were a closed subject. But when he showed up at my doorstep, he dropped to his knees, sobbing, "I'm so sorry all this happened. It's killing me to not be with you. Please give me another chance."

I thought my heart had been yanked from my body, the pain was so severe. But I couldn't find even a shred of the love I'd had for this man-there was none. Lifespring had stripped it away. We were like two bones. It was over.

Picking up the pieces

Today I have custody of the children, and Tim sees them every other weekend. Eventually he too tired of Lifespring's pressure to recruit, and drifted away from the organization. Still, I'm not sure he realizes the extent of the harm done during those months with Lifespring. Where I once saw a strong, confident man, I sometimes see a confused, lonely soul. He got married again, but it didn't last. And although he's working hard and is good with the kids, I know he's still searching for something.

I've become stronger over the past ten years, thanks to friends, family, occasional therapy, my work as an education consultant, and playing golf again. But I've had to do a lot of soul searching to find out what made me such a willing victim. I loved Tim. And wanted my marriage to succeed. I just never dreamed I'd lose myself trying to save it.

Now when I meet someone considering a "personal-growth" course, I tell my story. It's my way of remembering that life is a personal journey-that no person or group has the answers. It's an important lesson. And I learned it well. But at a tremendous cost.

How Lifespring works

Founded In 1973 by John Hanley, Lifespring claims to have trained more than 400,000 people through its ten centers across the country. Like many "personal growth" groups, it counts on the fact that most people are impatient to learn about themselves and will do almost anything to speed up the process of self-discovery, including spending a lot of money for "secret" strategies. "Cults like Lifespring are like a psychological prison: What they do is narrow your world," says Marcia Rudin, director of the International Cult Education Program, "You leave friends and destroy relationships for a false high."

There have been at least 30 lawsuits against Lifespring, alleging everything from emotional damage to death. According to Gerald F. Ragland Jr., an attorney In Alexandria, Virginia, in 1984 a Philadelphia jury awarded $800,000 to a client of his whom was hospitalized with mental problems after her Lifespring training. In 1992 a jury in Washington, D.C., awarded $300,000 to a young lawyer who was hospitalized for a mental breakdown five days after training. Yet according to Pittsburgh lawyer Peter N. Georgiades, its more common for cases against Lifespring to be settled out of court In 1982 the family of a man who leaped from a four-story holding following a five-day Lifespring training session settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. And In 1993 Georgiades won a $750,000 settlement for a Lifespring trainee who was institutionalized for two years following Leadership training.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 12/31/2012 07:44AM by rrmoderator.

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Re: MITT Today
Posted by: rrmoderator ()
Date: December 31, 2012 07:42AM

Court record regarding Lifespring.

See []

In the Matter of the Complaint of Lifespring, Inc. against KARE-TV, Channel 11

June 15, 1990

Charles Ingrasci, Director of Corporate Affairs for Lifespring, and Janna Krammer, director of its Twin Cities program, appeared for the complainant. Janet Mason, News Director, accompanied by Bernie Grace, reporter, and Thomas Tinkham, attorney, appeared for KARE-TV. The complaint centers around issues of accuracy and fairness, of deceptive newsgathering, and of sensationalism in the television series reporting on complainant's program.

Background: The week of May 7, 1990, KARE-TV aired a four-part series about the Lifespring program which had recently come to Minnesota. The series was entitled "Mind Games?" A brief synopsis of the program follows.

Part I. Lifespring is described as a self-improvement personal growth program, an "exhaustive 40-hour seminar course, with participants on an emotional roller-coaster." There are pictures of a local seminar session, taken with a concealed camera; the pictures are blurred to prevent identification of the people present. Two respected citizens, both well-known in the Twin Cities area, appear on camera and state that the Lifespring program has been of great benefit to them. One of them, the president of a local computer company, states he hopes his employees will take the program. On the other hand, two other participants, one a local person, appear on camera to state that for them the program had been psychologically disturbing. John Hanley, the founder of Lifespring, is quoted as saying the program is a form of education, while other persons report that the program uses humiliating confrontational techniques.

Part II. The announcer begins by saying, "Some people attending the self-improvement seminars call the sessions positive and uplifting. Others call the group a cult." There are reports on the deaths of Artie Barnett in Portland, Oregon, of David Priddle in Eugene, Oregon, and Gail Renick in Seattle, all prior to 1980, all allegedly attributable to an inability to handle the Lifespring program. Members of the families and one of the attorneys are interviewed. It is reported that lawsuits over these deaths were settled for substantial sums. Reference is made to the secrecy of the training exercises.

A University of Minnesota psychologist, who had taken the course and liked it, also appears on camera stating, "I don't know what happened in the past, but from what I've seen, this is a very conscientious, careful, ethical group. It's not a free-for-all, it's not a cult, and they are not experimenting with people's lives." The TV reporter closes with the comment that "a variety of controversial exercises continue."

Part III. Appearing on camera are psychologists from Oregon and California, plus several other persons who claim Lifespring is a cult in the sense it is "something magical" and "surrounded by mystery." Two officers of Lifespring are interviewed, strongly denying any cult-like implications, pointing out there is no odd philosophy involved and no charismatic leader. A satisfied graduate explains that participants did not talk about what went on in the sessions simply to preserve "the spontaneity of the experience." The television reporter closes by saying, "While some say it is a rip-off, there are many who defend it." Next evening, says the reporter, there will be a report on how Lifespring is "raking in millions of dollars."

Part IV. Some controversial history of founder, John Hanley, is related. A 1980 excerpt from ABC-TV News is shown describing Lifespring as "One of the most controversial self-improvement groups in the U.S." A business magazine is quoted as saying Lifespring annually grosses millions of dollars. Hanley is reported as owning a "plush" California estate, and a person who had attended a "guest event" complains of the hard-sell. Various testimonials about the worth of Lifespring are given, and the reporter notes that the program is promoted by word of mouth, not by advertising. A satisfied Minnesota customer states his brother and mother are taking the course, and says the excitement and enthusiasm generated can look like a hard sell. A psychologist states, "There's some people who can withstand this kind of emotional intensity and there are others who cannot." The announcer says dissatisfied customers receive refunds, less their initial registration fee.

Discussion: While Lifespring disputes various aspects of the television report, the dispute, at bottom, is over the essential nature of the self-improvement program. Lifespring says it produces an educational course designed to increase personal effectiveness, using an experiential or participatory learning model. We understand Lifespring to agree that its training course may not be for everyone and that care must be taken to assure that those who are not able to handle the training are screened out. Indeed, Lifespring says it has established such screening guidelines. Lifespring claims that it has made changes in its program to avoid some of the problems that occurred during its early years. Lifespring maintains that its training course is effective and worthwhile, and that KARE-TV's portrayal of its program was inaccurate, unfair and misleading and was sensationalist in tone and substance.

The basic thrust of the four-part series, it seems to us, was simply that Lifespring is controversial and to explain the reasons for the controversy. Consequently, the television program presented persons, both professionals and participants, on both sides of the controversy. Some of the information in the television series was favorable to Lifespring. Some was not. Lifespring's defense of its program was presented with essential accuracy and fairness. At the same time, information was also presented to rebut Lifespring's defenses. Obviously, Lifespring would have preferred a report weighted more to its position, and admittedly the presentation, whether pro or con, was at times dramatic, in large part because of the capacity of the electronic media for the visual image. In the interests of fairness, KARE might have placed Lifespring within the context of motivational seminars generally, which are quite popular and which use in varying degrees confrontational play-acting models. We conclude, however, that the station did not exceed the bounds of accuracy and fairness in its report on a controversial subject. We might offer two examples to illustrate our conclusion.

One of the issues receiving considerable attention at the News Council's hearing concerned the allegation of whether Lifespring was a cult. We do not understand the television program, however, to have adopted the position that Lifespring was a cult, only that some sources thought it had these characteristics. The station properly presented rebuttal evidence that Lifespring was not a cult. (Some members, though not all, felt the station, in fairness, should have stated there was no evidence that Lifespring's program was a "cult" in the common sense of that word.)

Again, on the question of whether Lifespring used training techniques that were too confrontational, the television report gave both sides of this issue. Significant, we think, is that the station gave prominence to interviews with two well-known local personalities who spoke persuasively of how the program has benefited them. Ultimately, the merits of Lifespring will be decided not by KARE-TV's program but by a marketplace of informed customers.

Lifespring, after the hearing, objected to the testimony of a witness who had been brought to the hearing by the television station. This witness was not featured in the four-part television series, and her testimony has been disregarded by the Council. The Council is well aware that for every witness KARE might produce, Lifespring could produce an opposing witness.

Complainant next contends it was improper journalism for the television reporter to obtain entrance to a Lifespring training session posing as a typical participant, and then, with the aid of a concealed camera, taking pictures of the proceedings. The use of deceptive methods in newsgathering, while quite common in investigative reporting, has always been a troubling ethical question. Deceptive surveillance, which might be condemned if done by the government, is generally permitted by the news media. Nevertheless, the invasion of people's privacy raises serious ethical concerns.

Generally speaking, there must be some serious question of the legitimacy of a particular enterprise to justify the use of deception in obtaining information. In this case, it seems to us that sufficient controversy surrounded the self-improvement program to warrant the reporter's ostensible enrollment in the training course and to use a camera to report on the activity. The use of a concealed camera, however, presents special concerns because the camera intrudes in a special way on the privacy of individuals. Particularly is that true in this case where the camera intrudes on the activities of the third-party participants who have separate privacy interests. Here it is significant that the intrusion was lessened by the television station blurring the picture images so no one was identifiable. It might be noted, incidentally, that the deceptive visit to the training session produced nothing derogatory to the Lifespring program.

The grievance is denied.

Concurring: Bednar, Casey, Chucker, Falkman, Graham, Larson, Orwoll, Parrish, Persons, Simonett, Sundin, Swain, Tanick, Warder

Dissenting with regard to the station's use of a concealed camera: Chucker, Larson

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Re: MITT Today
Posted by: rrmoderator ()
Date: December 31, 2012 07:47AM

Another Lifespring participant experience.

See []

"Do what it takes"

By a former member of Lifespring's "Leadership Team"

I was involved in Lifespring from 1981-1984. I went through all its trainings, including the Leadership program; plus I assisted in several trainings.

The Lifespring office was located in San Rafael. I resided in Palo Alto at that time. While involved in the Leadership program and assisted trainings, I was told (not asked) to volunteer in their office as many as two to three times a week, and weekends.

The drive from Palo Alto to San Rafael was approximately one and a half-hours at the peak rush hours. I was told what my hours were to "volunteer," which sometimes meant I was expected to take time off from work or leave work early. When I told them I couldn't do that, their classic response was, "Are you willing to do what it takes?" In other words, I was expected to take time off from work. If I declined, I would be severely reprimanded and humiliated, usually in front of their staff and other graduates.

Women who had children were not allowed to bring them to the office. They were expected to find childcare, often at times late at night and on the weekends as well.

While involved with Lifespring, I was a witness to one situation wherein a graduate I knew on the Leadership Team father passed away. He had to go to LA for his father's funeral. The trainers of the Leadership Team gave him a hard time for having to go to the funeral because he would miss meetings, which he was required to attend. They told him if he missed the meetings he would be off the Leadership Team. In other words-- he was asked to choose between his father's funeral or staying on the team. He opted to be off the team.

Getting people to their breaking point was their goal [sic]. You were not allowed to have "bad" feelings--i.e. sadness, anger, grief for extended periods of time and they defined the time required. For example, the gentleman who came back from his father's funeral was not allowed to bring his feelings of grief to their arena. He was told to "get off it and move on," which is one of their many favorite expressions [see "Loaded Language"].

I was involved with Sterling Institute from 1987-1994. Their tactics were very similar to Lifespring. The rules of keeping your agreements and "doing what it takes" were the same. (Justin Sterling was a student of Werner Erhard, which ought to tell you something.)

After doing the Women's & Men's weekends, respectively, graduates were assigned to "teams." I was on one of these women's teams from 1987-1994. In 1991, my dad passed away. The week prior to his passing, he was home with Hospice care. I went to see him every day. One night I was with him, which was two days before he passed away, on a night my team meeting was scheduled. When I told my team I wouldn't be there because I would be attending to my father--need I say the reaction I got? The following week, after my dad passed, while at my team meeting, I was "read the riot act" for missing a team meeting--in other words "breaking an agreement."

The week following the 1989 earthquake, there was another Women's Weekend scheduled. Many women who had signed up for that particular weekend had dropped out. One woman, in particular dropped out because she lost her home in the earthquake. I recall volunteering at the Sterling Office a few days before the "Weekend" and they had us making phone calls to the women who enrolled. We were told to "do what it takes" to make sure those women attended that particular Weekend. When someone made reference to the woman who lost her home we were told not to allow her losing her home as an excuse.

Another woman had a death in her family and the funeral was scheduled at the same time as an upcoming "Women's Weekend." Need I say what response there was to that? Suffice to say we were again told to make sure this woman was at the "Weekend".

One thing all these organizations seem to have in common is that members are expected to "enroll" more people for their trainings/weekends. In other words, graduates were expected to be recruiters. They had you believing you were doing something worthy for their cause, so to speak.

I believe we all make choices in life and we are responsible for those choices. I admit that I willingly chose to be involved with these organizations at certain times in my life. However, to this day, as you can surmise from descriptions of my involvement--I still harbor some ill feelings.

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Re: MITT Today
Posted by: rrmoderator ()
Date: December 31, 2012 07:50AM

Another published account regarding a Lifespring participant's experience. The participant is the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

The Nominee's Soul Mate

Excerpted material

Washington Post/eptember 10, 1991

By Laura Blumenfeld

Who's afraid of Virginia Thomas? She's a soft-spoken, hard-working daughter of the heartland. A brainy Omaha lawyer who has scaled the sheetrock of professional Washington. A churchgoer who invites homeless people out to lunch. A good friend. A good family. Why the fuss over Mrs. Supreme Court Nominee?

"My real question is, Why me?" said Virginia Thomas, when asked for an interview. She has declined to talk with reporters until after the hearings. She's not the story, she said. Yet she is a compelling and persuasive figure.

"The one person {Clarence Thomas} really listens to is Virginia," said longtime friend Evan Kemp, chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. "He depends on her for advice."

During the early '80s, Thomas enrolled in Lifespring, a self-help course that challenges students to take responsibility for their lives. Most of the program's 300,000 graduates have found it be a favorable experience. There are, however, a small percentage of clients who are deeply disturbed by Lifespring's methods, which involve intense emotional self-examination.

Thomas told a Washington Post reporter in 1987 that she was confused and troubled by some of Lifespring's exercises. In one session, trainees listened to "The Stripper" while disrobing to skimpy bikinis and bathing suits. The group stood in a U-shaped line, made fun of fat people's bodies and riddled one another with sexual questions.

"At first Ginni was feeling pretty good and enthusiastic about Lifespring," recalls her minister, the Rev. Rodney Wilmoth of Omaha's St. Paul United Methodist Church, who corresponded with Thomas at the time. "But later she was concerned about its influence and began to sense the organization had a cultlike mentality."

Terry Nelson, vice president of Lifespring, said the group is not a cult and that Virginia Thomas's account of the training exercises has been taken out of context. "Are our people enthusiastic, intense and emotional? Yes," Nelson said.

Bronson Levin, a clinical psychologist in Bailey's Crossroads and a Lifespring graduate who specializes in treating what he calls "casualties," said people who are not prepared for the intense emotional experience of Lifespring or who have hidden traumas tend to become overwhelmed as childhood memories come thundering back to them during training.

"I remember Ginni felt manipulated by the group," Wilmoth said. "She was losing her own freedom of who she was."

It took Thomas months to break fully from Lifespring's "high-pressure tactics," she told The Post in 1987. "I had intellectually and emotionally gotten myself so wrapped up with this group that I was moving away from my family and friends and the people I work with. My best friend came to visit me and I was preaching at her using that rough attitude they teach you."

Finally, Daub, Thomas's boss, confronted her. "We talked about it and ultimately she thought it through and took action to extricate herself," Daub said.

Thomas contacted Kevin Garvey, a Connecticut stockbroker turned counselor, who gets a steady stream of referrals from psychologists and physicians.

"I got a phone call from her asking for help," Garvey recalled. He met with her from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Hamburger Hamlet in Georgetown on a Sunday afternoon in 1984, he said, and left feeling satisfied that the young woman would be all right. "The picture of her as a totally destroyed individual is not true," he said.

Thomas felt guilty about breaking her Lifespring "commitment," she said in the 1987 interview. She hid out in another part of the country to avoid constant phone calls from fellow trainees who felt it was their responsibility to make Thomas keep her commitment to Lifespring.

Her friends describe her as levelheaded, thoughtful, smart. Her involvement with Lifespring baffles them. But at least one close friend had an inkling.

"There's a kind of naivete about her, a kind of innocence you have to be careful with," said Wilmoth, her minister. "Ginni is a very, very trusting person -- she once invited a homeless man out to lunch with her in a fancy Washington restaurant -- I'm sure that's one of the reasons she was very susceptible to this group. She was looking for spiritual growth and trusted those people would do the right thing."

Cult Awareness

Since 1985 Ginni Thomas has been a public advocate against cult activities. She has attended Cult Awareness Network conventions, including the 1990 convention in Chicago, according to Patricia Ryan, who is the organization's president and the daughter of Leo Ryan, the congressman killed at Jonestown, Guyana. Thomas has spoken on panels and organized anti-cult workshops for congressional staffers in 1986 and 1988.

"Ginni feels she has been personally victimized and feels a responsibility to educate others," Ryan said.

CAN, however, has had its own share of trouble. Religious liberty advocates accuse it of supporting deprogrammers who kidnap members of religious groups and coerce them to undergo treatment. CAN's adversaries have included fundamentalist Christian splinter groups, the Church of Scientology and the Unification Church.

CAN officials maintain that cults tried to stifle Thomas's activities while she worked at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as a labor relations attorney during the mid-'80s. Fred Krebs, Thomas's supervisor, confirmed receiving letters objecting to her involvement in anti-cult work. He declined to name the group that sent the letters but said, "Ginni was very careful not to identify herself with the Chamber while pursuing her anti-cult activities."

CAN officials said cult groups are trying to use Virginia Thomas's involvement with the network to torpedo her husband's nomination.

"If Ginni is the wife of a Supreme Court justice, it's probably a little scary for the cults," Ryan said.

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