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The term Large Group Awareness Training (LGAT) refers to training offered by some groups in what some call the human potential movement. By using LGAT techniques, these providers claim to (among other things) increase self-awareness and bring about preferred personal changes in individuals' lives.[1] Michael Langone has referred to Large Group Awareness Training as new age trainings[2] and Philip Cushman referred to them as mass marathon trainings[3]

Large Group Awareness Training programs often involve more than two hundred people at a time.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Though early definitions cited LGATs as featuring unusually long durations, more recent texts describe the trainings as lasting from a few hours to a few days. About a million Americans have attended LGAT seminars.[4]

Definitions of LGAT

File:Conference clapping.jpg

An unrelated conference hall filled with clapping people. Large Group Awareness Training often takes place in conference-halls or hotels.

DuMerton described Large Group Awareness Training as "teaching simple, but often overlooked wisdom, which takes place over the period of a few days, in which individuals receive intense, emotionally-focused instruction." [4] Rubinstein compared Large Group Awareness Training to certain principles of cognitive therapy, such as the idea that people can change their lives by interpreting the way they view external circumstances.[5] And in Consumer Research: Postcards from the edge, when discussing behavioral and economic studies, the authors contrasted the "enclosed locations" used with Large Group Awareness Trainings with the "relatively open" environment of a "variety store".[6]

The Handbook of Group Psychotherapy described Large Group Awareness Training as focusing on "philosophical, psychological and ethical issues", as related to a desire to increase personal effectiveness in people's lives.[7]

Psychologist Dennis Coon's textbook, Psychology: A Journey, defined the term "LGAT" as referring to: "programs that claim to increase self-awareness and facilitate constructive personal change."[1] Coon further defines Large Group Awareness Training in his book Introduction to Psychology.[8]

The evolution of LGAT-providers


Lou Kilzer, in The Rocky Mountain News, identified Leadership Dynamics as the first of the genre of what psychologists termed "Large Group Awareness Training"[9].

In their self-published book, Navarro and Navarro identify Mind Dynamics as the major forerunner of large group awareness trainings.[10] They write that, although Mind Dynamics itself existed only briefly, it sparked an industry of similar trainings.[10]

Groups such as Lifespring, Erhard Seminars Training and The Forum claimed to have worked to improve people's overall level of satisfaction and interpersonal relations through group interaction.[11] [12][13]

Academic analyses, studies

"Large Group Awareness Training", a 1982 peer-reviewed article published in Annual Review of Psychology, sought to summarize literature on the subject of LGATs and to examine their efficacy and their relationship with more standard psychology. This article became one of the first[How to reference and link to summary or text] academic works to analyze and describe large group awareness training from a psychological perspective. Influenced by the work of humanistic psychologists such as Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow and Rollo May and often considered part of the human potential movement, LGAT's are[How to reference and link to summary or text] commercial trainings that took many techniques from encounter groups.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Existing alongside but "outside the domains of academic psychology or psychiatry. Their measure of performance was consumer satisfaction and formal research was seldom pursued."[How to reference and link to summary or text]

The article describes an est training, and discusses the literature on the testimony of est graduates. It notes minor changes on psychological tests after the training and mentions anecdotal reports of psychiatric casualties among est trainees. The article considers how est compares to more standard psychotherapy techniques such as behavior therapy, group and existential psychotherapy before concluding with a call for "objective and rigorous research" and stating that unknown variables might have accounted for some of the positive accounts. Psychologists advised borderline or psychotic patients not to participate.[14]

Psychological factors cited by academics include emotional "flooding", catharsis, universality (identification with others), the instillation of hope, identification and what Sartre called "uncontested authorship."[14]

In 1989 researchers from the University of Connecticut received the "National Consultants to Management Award" from the American Psychological Association, for their study: Evaluating a Large Group Awareness Training.[15] The study concluded that participation in the LGAT studied had very little impact on participants.

Psychologist Chris Mathe has written in the interests of consumer-protection, encouraging potential attendees of LGATs to discuss such trainings with any current therapist or counselor, to examine the principles underlying the program, and to determine pre-screening methods, the training of facilitators, the full cost of the training and of any suggested follow-up care.[16]

LGAT techniques

Finkelstein's 1982 article provides a detailed description of the structure and techniques of an Erhard Seminars Training event, noting an authoritarian demeanor of the trainer, physical strains of a long schedule on the participants and the similarity of many techniques to those used in some group therapy and encounter groups.[14] The academic textbook, Handbook of Group Psychotherapy regards Large Group Awareness Training organizations as "less open to leader differences", because they follow a "detailed written plan" that does not vary from one training to the next.[7]

Specific techniques used in Large Group Awareness Trainings may include:

LGATs utilize such techniques during long sessions, sometimes called a marathon session when lasting for eight hours or more.[19]

In his book Life 102, LGAT participant and former trainer Peter McWilliams describes the basic technique of marathon trainings as pressure/release and asserts that advertising uses pressure/release "all the time", as do "good cop/bad cop" police-interrogations and revival meetings. By spending approximately half the time making a person feel bad and then suddenly reversing the feeling through effusive praise, the programs cause participants to experience a stress-reaction and an "endorphin high." McWilliams gives examples of various LGAT activities called processes with names such as "love bomb," "lifeboat", "cocktail party" and "cradling" which take place over many hours and days, physically exhausting the participants to make them more susceptible to the trainer's message, whether in the participants' best interests or not.[20]

Although extremely critical of some LGATs, McWilliams found positive value in others, asserting that they varied not in technique but in the application of technique.[20]

Evaluations of LGATs

Finkelstein noted the many difficulties in evaluating LGATs, from proponents' explicit rejection of certain study models to difficulty in establishing a rigorous control group.[14] In some cases, organizations under study have partially funded research into themselves.[21]

Not all professional researchers view LGATs favorably. Researchers such as psychologist Philip Cushman,[22] for example, found that the program he studied "consists of a pre-meditated attack on the self". A 1983 study on Lifespring[23] found that "although participants often experience a heightened sense of well-being as a consequence of the training, the phenomenon is essentially pathological", meaning that, in the program they studied, "the training systematically undermines ego functioning and promotes regression to the extent that reality testing is significantly impaired". Lieberman's 1987 study,[21] funded partially by Lifespring, noted that 5 out of a sample of 289 participants experienced "stress reactions" including one "transitory psychotic episode". He commented: "Whether [these five] would have experienced such stress under other conditions cannot be answered. The clinical evidence, however, is that the reactions were directly attributable to the large group awareness training."

In Coon's psychology textbook, Introduction to Psychology, the author references many other studies, which postulate that many of the "claimed benefits" of Large Group Awareness Training actually take the form of "a kind of therapy placebo effect".[8] DuMerton writes that "... there is a lack of scientific evidence to quantify the longer-term positive outcomes and changes objectively ..."[4] Jarvis described Large Group Awareness Training as "educationally dubious" in the 2002 book The Theory & Practice of Teaching.[24]

Tapper mentions that "some Template:Interp large group-awareness training and psychotherapy groups" exemplify non-religious "cults".[25] Benjamin criticizes LGAT groups for their high prices and spiritual subtleties.[26] In an academic research-paper on "Choices", a type of LGAT, researchers credited LGAT programs with having had perhaps a million American attendees, many of whom gave positive testimonials of "healing effects" and "positive outcomes in their lives".[4]

LGATs in comparison with cults


Lorne Dawson stated in his book on cults and new religious movements that both cults and Large Group Awareness Training use similar thought-reform techniques.[27]


The American Psychological Association bureaucracy commissioned and subsequently decided not to endorse[28] and strongly criticized[29] a report by the APA Task Force on Deceptive and Indirect Techniques of Persuasion and Control, in which the so-called "anti-cult" psychologist Margaret Singer included large group awareness trainings as one example of what she called "coercive persuasion". The APA characterized Singer's hypotheses as "uninformed speculations based on skewed data"[29] and stated that the report "lacked scientific rigor and an evenhanded critical approach to carry the imprimatur of the APA." The APA also claimed that "the specific methods by which Drs. Singer and Benson have arrived at their conclusions have also been rejected by all serious scholars in the field."[30] Singer sued the APA, and lost on June 17, 1994[31] After the APA spurned the report, Singer remained in good standing in the psychological research community.[32] She reworked much of the report material into the book Cults in our Midst: The Hidden Menace in Our Everyday Lives (1995, second edition: 2003), which she co-authored with Janja Lalich.

Singer and Lalich claimed "large group awareness trainings" tend to last at least four days and usually five. The book mentions Erhard Seminars Training and its derivatives such as the Forum, "Lifespring, Actualizations, MSIA/Insight and PSI Seminars.[33]

In her book, Singer differentiated between the usage of the terms cult and Large Group Awareness Training.[33] Singer also writes that employees taking part in a company-wide Large Group Awareness Training program not only complained about attempted religious conversion, but also objected to the specific techniques used.[17]


An article in Cult Observer by Michael Langone Ph.D. analysed Large Group Awareness Training.[2] Langone noted comparisons between Large Group Awareness Training and "brainwashing" and "cults", and posited that many LGAT groups have an implied or even explicit religious nature.[2] Langone concluded by stating that he knew of no specific academic research which showed that Large Group Awareness Trainings have positive behavioral effects.[2] Langone cited a study which showed no difference between the Large Group Awareness Training test-subjects and the control group.[2][34]


The International Cultic Studies Association has grouped some Large Group Awareness Training organizations together with research about them.[35]

See also

  • Group size
  • List of Large Group Awareness Training organizations


  1. 1.0 1.1 Coon, Dennis (2004). Psychology: A Journey, 520, 528, 538, Thomson Wadsworth.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Langone, Michael (1998). Large Group Awareness Trainings. Cult Observer 15 (1). ISSN 1539-0152.
  3. Mass Marathon Trainings, excerpted, The Politics of Transformation: Recruitment - Indoctrination Processes in a Mass Marathon Psychology Organization, St. Martin's Press 1993, Philip Cushman, Ph.D.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 DuMerton, M.A., C. (July 2004). Tragic Optimism and Choices: The Life Attitudes Scale with a First Nations Sample. (Master's Thesis) (Master of Arts, Graduate Counseling Psychology Program).
  5. Rubinstein, Gidi (2005). Characteristics of participants in the Forum, psychotherapy clients, and control participants: A comparative study. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice 78 (4): 481–492. ISSN 1476-0835.
  6. Brown, Stephen I.; Darach Turley (1997). Consumer Research: Postcards from the edge, 279, Routledge. ISBN 041515684X.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Burlingame, Gary M. (1994). Handbook of Group Psychotherapy: An Empirical and Clinical Synthesis, 528, 532, 535, 539, 549, 550, 555, 556, 581, 583., John Wiley and Sons.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Coon, Dennis (2003). Introduction to Psychology: Gateways to Mind and Behavior, 648, 649, 655., Thomson Wadsworth. ISBN 053461227X.
  9. includeonly>Kilzer, Lou. "Desperate Measures Network of Behavior Modification Compounds Known as Teen Help Has Straightened Out Hundreds of Defiant Adolescents, But Its Methods Aren't For the Faint-hearted.", Rocky Mountain News, E. W. Scripps Company, July 18, 1999.
    "The first of the genre psychologists call "large group awareness training" was the Leadership Dynamics Institute..."
  10. 10.0 10.1 Navarro,, Espy M.; Robert Navarro (2002). Self Realization: The Est and Forum Phenomena in American Society, 54, Xlibris Corporation. | quote = "Mind Dynamics, founded by Alexander Everett, was the major forerunner of large group awareness trainings. Although Mind Dynamics was only in existence for a few years, it sparked an entire industry of similar trainings." }}
  11. Brewer, Maryilyn B.; Miles Hewstone (2004). Applied Social Psychology, 81., Blackwell Publishing.
  12. Tindale, R. Scott (2001). Group Processes: Blackwell Handbook of Social Psychology, 630, Blackwell Publishing.
    "EST, FORUM and LIFESPRING are all examples of LGATs, for members seek to improve their overall level of satisfaction and interpersonal relations by carrying out such experiential exercises as role-playing, group singing and chanting, and guided group interaction."
  13. Zeig, Jeffrey K. (1997). The Evolution of Psychotherapy: The Third Conference, 352, 357., Psychology Press.
    "Training or T-groups, sensitivity training, and encounter groups spread and were followed by commercially sold large group awareness training programs, such as est, Lifespring and other programs."
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 Finkelstein, P., Wenegrat, B.; Yalom, I. (1982). Large Group Awareness Training. Annual Review of Psychology 33: 515–539. ISSN 0066-4308.
  15. Fisher, Jeffrey D.; Silver, Chinsky, Goff, Klar (1990). Evaluating a Large Group Awareness Training, 142, Springer-Verlag.
    Page. vii. -- "The research reported in this volume was awarded the American Psychological Association, Division 13, National Consultants to Management Award, August 13, 1989."
  16. Choosing a Personal Growth Program: Ten questions to help you make an informed decision, Chris Mathe, Ph. D., 1999
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 17.4 17.5 17.6 17.7 "Intruding into the Workplace", Dr. Margaret Singer, excerpted from Singer, Margaret; Janja Lalich (1995). Cults in our Midst, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers. URL accessed 2007-11-19. "Aside from complaining that they were being put through programs tantamount to a forced religious conversion, employees also objected to specific techniques being used: meditation, neurolinguistic programming, biofeedback, self-hypnosis, bizarre relaxation techniques, mind control, body touching, yoga, trance inductions, visualization, and in some cases, intense confrontational sessions akin to the "attack" therapy methods that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s."
  18. Partridge, C. (2004). New Religions: A Guide; New Religious Movements, Sects and Alternative Spiritualities, 407, Oxford University Press.
  19. Paglia, Carmen (Winter 2003). Cults and Cosmic Consciousness: Religious Vision in the American 1960s. Arion 10 (3).
  20. 20.0 20.1 Peter McWilliams, Life 102: What to Do When Your Guru Sues You (Prelude Press: Los Angeles, 1994). ISBN 0-931580-34-X., pp 6-7.
  21. 21.0 21.1 Lieberman, "Effects of Large Group Awareness Training on Participants' Psychiatric Status", American Journal of Psychiatry v 144 p 460-464, April 1987.
  22. Cushman, "Iron Fists/Velvet Gloves: A Study of A Mass Marathon Psychology Training", Psychotherapy vol 26, Spring 1989.
  23. Haaken, J. and Adams, R., "Pathology as 'Personal Growth': A Participant-Observation Study of Lifespring Training", Psychiatry, vol 46, August 1983.
  24. Jarvis, Peter (2002). The Theory & Practice of Teaching, 97, Routledge.
  25. Tapper, A (September 2002). The Impact of Cults on Health. Nursing Spectrum.
  26. Benjamin, Ph.D., Elliot (June 2005). Spirituality and Cults. Integral Science.
  27. Dawson, Lorne L. (2003). Cults and New Religious Movements: A Reader, 149, Blackwell Publishing.
  28. University of Virginia Library
  29. 29.0 29.1 CESNUR - APA Memo of 1987 with Enclosures
  30. CESNUR - APA Brief in the Molko Case
  31. Decision Against Margaret Singer (CESNUR)
  32. Blim, Andrew: 'Cult Experts Sue Lawyers, Others" in National Law Journal, August 31, 1992, Vol 33, Issue 19: "Berkeley professors Margaret Singer and Richard Ofshe ... are viewed by even the lawyer-defendants as reputable scholars".
  33. 33.0 33.1 Intruding into the Workplace, Dr. Margaret Singer, excerpted from Cults in our Midst (book), 1995
  34. Hosford, Ray, E., Moss, C. Scott, Cavior, Helene, & Kerish, Burton. Catalog of Selected Documents in Psychology, 1982, Manuscript #2419, American Psychological Association
  35. Large Group Awareness Trainings (LGAT). Cultic Studies Journal, International Cultic Studies Association. URL accessed on 2006-01-18.

Further reading




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