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Niels Hoven

The Landmark Forum cult?

Landmark Education, aka “the Landmark Forum”, is the most prominent of a style of “human potential” seminars known as Large Group Awareness Training (LGAT). Just some of the many others include PSI World, est, Promise Keepers, Lifespring, the Mankind Project, and the Kairos Foundation/More to Life (source: Wikipedia).  There are a lot of people out there who say these weekend seminars transformed their life, but there’s also a lot of people out there who call these companies cults.

I’ve had a number of friends go through LGAT seminars.  Some of them I respect a lot. All of them have had overwhelmingly positive experiences. Of course, since Landmark is essentially brainwashing its participants and reprogramming them, that’s about what you’d expect. Which is not to say the program doesn’t work, just that you have to take these opinions with a grain of salt. 

I’m considering taking one of these programs, but if anyone’s going to be messing around inside my head, I want to be fully informed beforehand. So this morning I started reading about them in depth.

(UPDATE: I was unknowingly lured into an LGAT weekend program, the Millionaire Mind Intensive, and was nauseated by how easily the seminar leaders sucked hundreds of thousands of dollars out of the participants pockets. See my post My Large Group Awareness Training Experience: Millionaire Mind Intensive)

Landmark Education offers the opportunity to address your emotional state directly.  Using a combination of hypnosis, NLP, emotional contagion, and motivational speaking, they break you down emotionally and rebuild you. Some people’s lives are shattered by the experience. Some people find a new inner strength that enhances all their relationships, but others find themselves unable to relate to anyone outside the Landmark community.

You might think that reading all this would turn me off, but to be honest, I’m more curious than ever.  I’ll be reading more about Landmark and other LGATs over the next few months.  Here’s where I’m starting:

Negative info on Landmark:

Pros and cons:

Tons more links:
(The neutrality of the article is under dispute, so skip the article and go right to the links section at the bottom, organized by positive and negative opinions.)

Cults in Our Midst

20 comments… add one
  • Super Tuesday

    Ask me about this sometime.

  • If you want to check out some more information on Large Group Awareness Training organizations, including links to research articles and relevant videos, check out this new blog:

    The Truth about Human Potential Seminars

  • Melody

    I’ve been on the more to life course. i did it many years ago, i had always heard it was similar to landmark but hearing this summary of it, it sounds absoltely nothing like it – maybe they have the same goal i have no idea but as for nlp, hypnosis etc, not at all. Any tools/processes you learn you go through yourself, although there is help and support if you need it – the work you put in i suppose equals what you getout of it, most people get a hell of a lot out of it. I
    myself am a therapist, healer, bodyworker etc who has experienced lots of forms of healing including hypnosis and nlp etc – what i can say is that the processes on the more to life you are in your usual state of mind doing them, guiding yourself. i think they are a great way to gain empowerment for yourself in a very down to earth cut the crap way, that have beautiful and uplifting results on all levels.

    as for reprogramming, if you wanna reprogramme yourself (or let go of the beliefs about yourdelf and life that are false and don’tserve you) like i said the tools cut through the crap ( the crap could be the drama invested in therapy concepts for example – they are kept so simple there is no need to have any particular psychological standpoint from which to come from), I still find the more to life tools in all the different forms of healing work i do to be a great point to work from.

  • GB

    I went on the More to Life course about 15 years ago. It was then called The Life Training.

    I went with some trepidation, as they did not say beforehand what the course was about. The course was very, very intensive, over about 3 days. However, I did not feel brain-washed. There were some very positive outcomes for me, although I have to admit that I did not keep up with practising the techniques, and the effect has worn off.

    I was extremely concerned that there were some very vulnerable people there, who were encouraged by the ‘trainers’ to air their problems in public. The trainers were not qualified psychiatrists, and I was concerned that they might have done more harm than good. For example, one guy described in some detail how he was sexually abused as a child, and I was concerned that after bringing all this stuff to the surface, the trainers did not do enough to support him in his fragile state, and instead moved onto somebody else.

    On the whole, I would say that if you are reasonably stable and secure you could benefit a lot from one of these LGAT courses. If you have some serious unresolved hang-ups, there is a risk that matters could be made worse for you. By analogy, a fitness course might be a great idea for someone who is already reasonably fit, but a really bad idea for someone with a heart condition.

    It did not feel like a cult. For example, they have never contacted me since the course, and they have not asked for money, etc. A few years ago, I bought some course follow-up material from them at fairly minimal cost, and they did not use that as a sales opportunity.

  • Of course, since Landmark is essentially brainwashing its participants and reprogramming them, that’s about what you’d expect.

    Unproved assertion, based on ignorance and hearsay, followed by reasoning based on that assertion.

    Go; I dare you.

  • What’s interesting to me is that so many people would buy into the fear that is perpetuated by the media concerning these types of groups. Personally, I can only speak of my own experiences, concerning one particular organization – the Kairos Foundation/More To Life Program. I have been through several of their courses over the last twenty five years. What stands out for me about the Kairos Foundation (a non-profit educational organization, by the way), is the level of integrity that they hold themselves to. There is no hidden agenda behind the work that they are doing with people. No one in the organization is getting rich from it. As we all know, every organization has operational costs. That is why the Kairos Foundation charges fees for the course work that they present. And what I can tell you is that the quality of the people leading these trainings is quite amazing, in that the trainers are all very well educated, professional people who are successful in their own lifes before they qualify to lead trainings with the Kairos Foundation. Most of them have Masters and/or Doctorate degrees in psychotherapy or other disciplines. The two co-founders, Brad Brown and Roy Whitten, both hold Doctorates.

    My own experience going through the coursework has been quite positive, though not always easy. It can be difficult at times to confront our long standing patterns of negative thoughts and behaviour, and the ways in which we relate to ourselves and to our fellow human beings. But the work is well worth it. I have witnessed some really amazing changes in my own life and other people who have done this coursework. It can be very empowering.

    To label the organization as a cult, or cult-like, would be very shortsighted. With all of the turmoil and destruction we see happening around us in our world, it is nice to know that there are people out there who share a larger vision of how we can relate in a positive way to ourselves and to each other.

    I encourage everyone to explore the possibilities.

    By the way, they also offer coursework in the corporate sphere, under the names InteractionUs and InteractionUK. You can Google them to see their list of clients and the focus of the work in this realm.

  • Rueben – Nowhere in my post did I claim there’s a hidden agenda. Even in an organization like Millionaire Mind which is taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from its participants, I believe people at all levels of the organization sincerely believe they are improving the lives of the workshop participants. But no matter how good their intentions are, a quick Google search reveals many documented cases of participants whose lives were destroyed as a result of participating in an LGAT seminar.

  • I read your blog entry concerning Millionaire Mind. Sounds like a bad acid trip to me. I hate to be the one to tell you this, but the writing was on the wall. Something called ‘Millionaire Mind’ should have tipped you off that there were sharks in the water. I am always suspicious of for-profit organizations that are selling instant karma.

    Yes, I certainly believe that people need to do their due diligence before subjecting themselves to any organization – be it religious, educational or corporate. That is part of what being a mature, awake and aware adult is all about. And yes, I am well aware that there are alot of manipulative, money grubbing people out there with less than honorable intentions. Does that mean that all people and organizations are that way? No.

    I think that we have been unduly influenced by the mass media to believe that no one is trust worthy. Corporate America will tell you that they are the only ones who truly have your best interests at heart. It’s a real shame that people refuse to throw their television out the window and get on with the business of living. We step into a crowded elevator and suddenly get interested in our shoes, afraid to look each other in the eye.

    I have spent quite alot of time at rickross.com reading about various groups. I certainly believe that he is indeed providing a valuable public service, and that alot of these groups need to be watched very carefully and held accountable for questionable practices. I’m well aware of the influence that people like Jim Jones and David Koresh have had on their followers. I am also aware of the influences that mainstream religion, such as Catholism, has had upon millions of people throughout the ages, some of which is good, some of which is bad.

    I’m also well aware of the controversy surrounding Werner Erhard/est/The Forum. Landmark is not an organization I particularly feel compelled to get involved with, mostly because they are a profit generating enterprise, though I accept that alot of people feel that the coursework has been of value to them. I also accept and respect those who attend Sunday school at their local church. Myself, I’m not particulaly religious, though I acknowledge that religious organizations are central to alot of people’s lives and gives them a sense of community they might not otherwise have.

    Alot of the Large Group Awareness Trainings are modeled after est. Some are probably more beneficial than others. I believe it depends on the expertise of the people leading the trainings and their intent. It’s interesting to me that alot of people misinterpret the format of these trainings, and are quick to ridicule the ground rules that are established at the onset of the trainings. Within the More To Life trainings, these ‘rules’ are called disciplines. They are a very simple set of requests that everyone is asked to abide by (including the trainers) over the course of the training. You would be surprised at the number of people who struggle with the most mundane of ‘rules’. Nonetheless, these ‘rules’ are a brilliant part of the training. They are designed to challenge people to do what they say they are going to do, and to do it with respect for themselves and others. Not because someone else tells you that you have to do it, but because you choose to walk through life with dignity and respect. Pretty simple, really. How many people walk through this life begruding the ‘rules’ we are told we must follow? I’ve learned that it’s okay for me to want to stop at stop signs, and to honor my word that I will be on time for work each day, and to show up for dinner when I say I will. It’s really about living my life out of a space of integrity, instead of out of resentment because ‘they’ aren’t giving me what I want and ‘they’ are pulling my strings.

    Another thing people notice in these trainings is that all of the chairs in the room are neatly aligned, and everything else in the room is properly placed. Yet another chance for people to notice how we can live our lives impeccably, not perfectly, in a world that is full of disarray, disharmony and chaos. We are the ones who created this mess of a planet. And we are the ones who can clean it up. We have the power. It’s our choice.

    As far as the long hours are concerned, this is yet another opportunity for people to see that they have choices in life. The long hours are not designed to wear people down so that they are susceptible to ‘brain washing’. The long hours are designed to illustrate that we can be much more vigrant, energetic and fully engaged in life than we ever believed possible. How many people in Seattle do you know who are walking around in a fog most of the time? I meet lots of them here. It’s easy in this climate to pretend that we’re half dead, instead of fully alive.

    There are alot of other things I’ve learned through my experiences with the Kairos Foundation. If you think it’s all mental masturbation and manipulation, then you open yourself up to becoming yet another bitter, angry old man someday. You deserve better than that.

  • This is a short, five minute clip that was filmed at a More To Life memorial service for Brad Brown. The woman speaking is Sue Oldman, who is a Senior Trainer. If you listen carefully, you may get a sense of the gratitude she has for someone she knew well and deeply admired. It’s not about hero worship. It’s about gratitude for the contributions each of us are capable of making toward the betterment of ourselves and of those that we share this experience we called Life.



  • aimee

    Landmark is just like everything else in life. You try something and you get your own experience. As for me, i thought it was great. It was fun sometimes and difficult at others. In the end i learned more about myself. I personally don’t see anything wrong with that, i mean isnt that why we are here. Sometimes i felt pressure, but when i really looked into it, i was giving myself the pressure. We are all individuals free to say no. I think landmark becomes a problem for people when they give in to something they dont want, then blame others for their decision. I just made a decision to say yes when i meant yes and no when i meant no. As for pushing it on people- yea i definitely felt they did that, but at the same time landmark continuously says they are a business and they want your money. I just told people about landmark if i felt like it. if they wanted more info – i gave it. if they didnt- i didnt. the only thing that does annoy me is the people who never went to landmark and have so much to say about it. shut up- go and then talk about your experience. bye

  • passerby

    I participated in EST training in 1981. Had heard about it for some time. Sounded kind of fun and challenging. Nothing wrong with new experience of almost any kind in my book. I find the worry warts out there kind of amusing. That’s what gets me about all the internet horror stories about Landmark. They completely disregard a human’s instinctual curiosity and desire to challenge that instinct for the opportunity to acquire new skills. These individuals sound like hopeless desk jockey homebodies. Fearful of minor injury and unpredictable outcomes. Risk taking is nowadays confined to reality TV for so many who see that kind of adventure as external and unattainable for their miserable selves. Reality TV has completely warped the need for challenging oneself with REAL physical stuff like snowboarding, biking, or whatever suits one’s burdened and atrophied physique. Landmark is no different than any challenging physical activity except it is for the mind. I am a skeptic and fiercely critical thinker. I went in to observe, report and experience. I had a few life issues, obviously not as extreme as the many other wretched souls in attendance. But I didn’t see this as about one’s past, rather it is instilling tools for one’s future. I know nothing about the other rackets mentioned and they sound ridiculous. Landmark is now $385 in some markets. Quite the bargain for the uninitiated. I’m no cultist and have not been back to Landmark(EST) though have followed the news over the years. I found it to be essential and enlightening. I’m an athlete, builder, gardener, musician and a whole lot more. The opportunities and achievements over the last 28 years have been broadened and enhanced by my participation in the forum. If you are a weakheart, you need this. If you are a blowhard, you need this. Get off the prejudgement, presumption and twisted anticipation. Most of all get off your ass and do something fun exciting and real in life. Anyone who is out researching this stuff these days are met with the Rick Ross site and a host of cackling friends who are sworn to all this horrifying hearsay. Good luck in life and the coming challenges for our standard of living. I’d say Landmark is more pertinent than ever in our current Main-Stream-Media awash culture.

  • If you want to read about my recent experience look here…it is an ongoing project.

  • Seth

    I just participated in the More to Life weekend course. The course was recommended to me by a great friend who I have the utmost respect for. She is a thoughtful, peaceful, loving person.
    I found the weekend to be transformative. I went in with a wary, but open, mind. I can happily say that my experience bears NO resemblance to the descriptions of other life training groups. In fact, while I have no experience with groups other than MTL, based on the comments above, I would not put MTL into the same category as the other groups described here.
    With the exception of 10 minutes out of the WHOLE weekend, there was NOT ONE mention of buying a book or attending another MTL course. There was no soft sell, no hard sell, there was no sell, period.
    I am home now, feeling strong and healthy. I may participate in another MTL course, I may not. All I know is that I have a new set of tools that I can call on to help me process the experiences – good and bad – in my life. And, I made some incredible friends! I am empowered to be the best me. We are all endowed with this potential; for me, I just needed to some help to realize it. MTL certainly isn’t for everyone – the self-searching, self-revealing is not easy and can be down right scary – but it was for me. Peace.

  • musuoka

    ?Being good is must; successful, however, is plus?I do believe that with my hard early life, solid educational background and ample working experience

  • Anthony

    I advise strongly against the More To Life Program. I attended in 2010. MTL is a cult organisation feeding on the vulnerable in society. At the end of the MTL weekend you are encouraged to pay it forward by making monthly contributions and by ‘sponsoring’ friends and family to attend the course. You are also urged to get involved; volunteer to be a ‘Team Member’ at future events and purchase additional classes. MTL might be on the lesser scary end of the cult scale, but it is a cult. MTL uses the power of group persuasion to alter behavior. There may be no malicious intent behind MTL (I have not yet discovered any) but that is not the point – the cult model of MTL means that the most vulnerable will be recruited and will be made to feel good about contributing their time and money to help grow and manage the MTL organisation. This is a living, breathing cult folks. Stay away!!

  • Rueben

    So, Anthony, tell us more about the structure of the organization and the methodology they employ to brainwash the weak and vulnerable. Is there a central figure at the top of the hierarchy that the participants bow down to in reverence ? Or is the organization structured more like a corporation, with people choosing to pursue leadership roles ? Is it registered as a non-profit educational charity, or is it a for-profit entity ? Are the trainers a bunch of religious kooks, or are they highly skilled individuals who hold Masters and Doctorate degrees in their chosen fields ? How long has the organization been in existence ? Do they have a prison program, working with correctional administrators to present their agenda to inmates ? Do they offer their courses to the employees of Fortune 500 companies ?

    Fill us in with the details, Anthony.

  • AlSiouxFalls

    Personal development class, no more no less, not god, not the devil. Like all things, you get out of it what you put into it. And no, Landmark (and other such classes) is not a cult.

  • AlSiouxFalls

    Personal development class, no more no less, not god, not the devil. Like all things, you get out of it what you put into it. And no, Landmark (and other such classes) is not a cult.

  • A really wonderful test for whether an organization is a cult or not is, “do they want you to be your own authority (or do they want to be your authority)? From a healthy spiritual and psychological standpoint, becoming one’s own authority is our mandate. We have a seminar we offer to break the spell of these you’ve listed as well as one’s you haven’t. Good luck to you Niels!

  • Constance Byrnes

    what are your thoughts on the hoffman process?

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