Monday, March 01, 2010

My love letter from Landmark Forum.

ON NOVEMBER 3, 2009—a few weeks after the publication of my Wall Street Journal piece, "Self Help Doesn't Help...and Often Hurts"—I received from one Deborah Beroset, Director of Public Relations for Landmark Education, the following letter (via email). I suspect it is substantially similar in tone and substance to the letters that not a few journalists and others have received since 1991, when a new employee-owned company called Landmark emerged from the tumult of Werner Erhard's crumbling est empire.

In the spirit of fair play, I reproduce the document here in its entirety*. We'll be returning to Ms. Beroset and her thoughts in my next post.

Happy reading.


Dear Mr. Salerno, I'm the Director of Public Relations of Landmark Education and am writing about your opinion piece "Self-Help Doesn’t Help—And Often Hurts," published in The Wall Street Journal on Oct 22, 2009. I was frankly surprised we hadn't gotten a call from you when I read your article, which contained several significant inaccuracies about our company and our program The Landmark Forum. These inaccuracies cast Landmark Education, our programs and our participants in a negative and false light. We have written separately to The Wall Street Journal to request a correction be printed, but I wanted to write to you also, particularly given your field of expertise and the likelihood that these inaccuracies were, while very damaging to us, not the result of any intent on your part to paint our company or programs in a false light, but rather the result of your not having all the facts at hand.

Landmark Education is a globally recognized personal training and development company, with approximately 1.2 million people having participated in our programs. While we don't consider our programs to be "self help," we do recognize that we are sometimes lumped into that category. However, other categories such as LGATs are totally inappropriate for us to be grouped in (and I'll address that directly later in this letter). The Landmark Forum has been independently observed by numerous top professionals from around the world—including psychiatrists, psychologists, doctors, educators and academicians—who have clearly determined that our programs are professionally delivered, safe and effective.

I am somewhat familiar with your work and professional reputation and appreciate the fact that you are yourself critical of uninformed accusations and assertions being irresponsibly bandied about by "hit squads" on "witch hunts." Nonetheless, you published inaccurate and incomplete information. (Perhaps you were given inaccurate, incomplete and misleading information about us by some third party.)

Here is the relevant excerpt from your article:

And yet even when people aren't dying, there is no missing the recklessness of this misbegotten realm. Self-help is not benign. The $11 billion industry can hurt you psychologically, it can hurt you financially and, as we see, it can hurt you physically. It can hurt your family and friends too. Consider that today's increasingly popular "large group awareness training" (LGAT) incorporates tactics more commonly identified with psychological warfare. Facilitators bully attendees verbally and sometimes physically, call upon them to relive their worst experiences in humiliating detail in front of strangers, deprive them of sleep and even bathroom privileges—all in the name of self-actualization. In expert testimony in a 1992 lawsuit against the best-known of these LGATs, Landmark Forum (long a favored choice for corporate retreats), the clinical psychologist Margaret Singer observed that Forum "applies a number of powerful and psychologically disturbing, emotionally arousing and defense destabilizing techniques to large groups of people, in an intense, marathon-like period." How can this not have a catastrophic effect on people in a fragile emotional state—which is surely the case with a sizable contingent of those who seek out these 'transformational' courses to begin with?
Below are the basic facts as relate to each inaccuracy in the above passage:

1. Regarding the 1992 lawsuit you reference:

a. The 1992 lawsuit was not about "The Landmark Forum," but rather an earlier and different program called "The Forum," which was presented by a different company, Werner Erhard and Associates. In fact, the 1992 lawsuit was about a program delivered prior to Landmark Education’s existence.

b. You neglected to mention that in that 1992 lawsuit the jury unanimously rejected the claim that the participant in that program had been harmed by the program. It was inappropriate and irresponsible to leave out this important fact.

c. Perhaps most importantly, Ms. Singer, who was quoted in the article, testified that she never observed The Landmark Forum and had no personal knowledge of the program. This also should have been made clear.
2. Regarding Landmark Education being referenced as a “large group awareness training” or LGAT:
a. Landmark Education is not a Large Group Awareness Training or LGAT. Landmark Education’s programs are acknowledged to be some of the most effective programs in the training and development industry. Our programs do not reflect or follow the parameters of this inherently negative psychological term Large Group Awareness Training (LGAT) that was coined during the ‘70s era.

b. Numerous top experts have also stated that Landmark Education is not a LGAT, including Dr. Raymond Fowler, PhD, retired CEO of the American Psychological Association, who observed the Landmark Forum and stated in an independent report which reflected his own opinion, "Landmark’s programs are totally distinct from LGATs in their methodology, structure, purpose, design and format."
3. Regarding including Landmark Education as an organization that uses tactics commonly associated with psychological warfare, such as verbal and physical bullying, etc:
a. Your statement that Landmark Education’s programs are in the category of those using psychological warfare tactics ('Facilitators bully attendees verbally and sometimes physically, call upon them to relive their worst experiences in humiliating detail in front of strangers, deprive them of sleep and even bathroom privileges') has grossly misrepresented our company and seriously damaged our reputation. The fact is, Landmark Education has always gone out of its way to ensure that our programs are not only valuable and effective, but patently safe for our customers. Our ongoing quality control has involved having many independent, highly credentialed professionals to assess their safety. The numerous experts from around the world who have observed our programs and judged them to be safe, effective and valuable include many luminaries. Here are just a few examples of these experts and their conclusions:
i. Dr. Raymond Fowler, retired CEO of the American Psychological Association, who observed the Landmark Forum and, in an independent report which reflected his own opinion (not on behalf of the Association), was quoted as saying, 'I saw nothing in The Landmark Forum that I attended to suggest that it would be harmful to any participant.'

ii. Dr. Charles Watson, Professorial Research Fellow and Former Chief Health Officer of Western Australia and Executive Dean of Health Sciences at Curtin University, said, 'I have personally observed The Landmark Forum and other programs at Landmark Education. Speaking from my expertise and experience as a medical doctor and former Chief Health Officer, my view is that there is absolutely nothing harmful in Landmark Education’s programs. This conclusion is fully aligned with those of numerous independent studies by top experts.'

iii. Numerous other experts including: Dr. Juan Jose Sanchez-Sosa, PhD, professor for more than 35 years at Mexico's National University (UNAM), a consultant for the World Health Organization and the Mexican Institute of Psychiatry and currently member of the National Academy of Science of Mexico and the Fulbright Academy of Science and Technology; Dr. Norbert Nedopil, renowned forensic Psychiatrist from the University of Munich; and many others. While we could supply you with many additional statements (and are prepared to do so), for simplicity’s sake, we are giving you these representative examples.
b. In addition to the numerous experts who have independently observed our programs and provided their conclusions, there have been studies and surveys that independently confirm the programs’ safety and value. As mentioned earlier, more than 40,000 health professionals and educators have participated in Landmark Education’s programs. Harris Interactive, one of the largest and most respected market research firms in the world, conducted an independent survey on behalf of Landmark Education of health professionals and educators (including psychiatrists, psychologists, physicians and academicians) who have taken Landmark Education’s programs. The results show that, of those surveyed, an overwhelming 94 percent agree that Landmark Education’s programs are professionally conducted and provide great value.
While I have no desire to sell you on our programs or company or to overwhelm you with reams of information, I do want to ensure that you (a) have the facts as relate to what you wrote for the Wall Street Journal, and that (b) you have a more accurate picture of our company and programs, should you reference us in the future. And again, should you reference us in the future, we would expect to be contacted. In addition, I am enclosing an addendum and an additional study about Landmark and its programsyou may already be familiar with much of this, given your work in this area. If you have any questions or need any further information now or in the future, please do not hesitate to contact me, as I have much more in the way of studies, expert statements and other research to share, should you desire it.

In closing, I would like to express to you that we at Landmark Education are as stunned and sorrowful about the tragic outcome of the sweat lodge incident as the rest of the world. However, it is unfair and misleading to readers to create fear where it is not warranted, and to make accusations about personal development programs that have been lauded after serious review by highly credentialed experts as not only safe, but effective. Please know that we have no issue with your or anyone else’s commitment to holding program providers to account for the safety of their programs
we simply request that you ensure you have all the facts when doing so. Thank you for your considerationand again, in addition to the addendum and study I've attached herein, I am totally available to supply you with additional information about Landmark Education should you write about us in the future.
* I have made some very minor "technical" changes in keeping with house style.


Anonymous said...

Pretty irresponsible reporting on Steve Salerno's part. Many mistakes, inaccuracies. Lumping together old rumors, Wikipedia and other "information" that is not correct and keeps being repeated because the person has deadlines and doesn't want to do actual research and at timed not going the extra mile and find out what was the actual outcome of a lawsuit etc.

Accuracy is the trust and business of reporting. Straying from it is a serious mistake for possible thousands of readers.

Steve Salerno said...

What tickles me about Anon's comment is...I'm not quite sure what s/he's referring to and/or what was the springboard for this obvious vituperation. Where is my "pretty irresponsible reporting," exactly? This entire post is dedicated to a Landmark broadside directed at me; I don't even really say anything about Landmark, except in the intro (which did not come from Wikipedia), and I don't think anyone would dispute what's said there anyway. ("Old rumors"?) Unless Anon is referring to the original WSJ article, which, let's remember, was an opinion piece (but I'll have a lot more to say on that score the next time around).

Anon, if you're still out there, listening, I'd welcome a clarification here.

SustainableFamilies said...

Yes she testified that she "had no knowledge of Landmark Forums" because they bullied her into saying it.

They sue anyone who says anything negative about them, sorry but that's incriminating enough for me.

Anonymous said...

"They sue anyone who says anything negative about them, sorry but that's incriminating enough for me."

Me too. Hypocrites. Don't practice what they preach. Not an LGAT . . . LMAO!!!!!!

Henriette said...

"Accuracy is the trust and business of reporting. Straying from it is a serious mistake for possible thousands of readers."

That is funny end of itself! I know many business mags that use "unnamed" sources to spread rumors and innuendo. I see it done all the time. Heck, Fox News and MSNBC are borderline bad about this too.

Anonymous said...

I will share from my own experience and observations.

I have participated in many Landmark Education programs. My family and I have greatly benefited from them. I have also "assisted" in many different roles at various courses.

Steve stated in his article:
"Facilitators bully attendees verbally and sometimes physically, call upon them to relive their worst experiences in humiliating detail in front of strangers, deprive them of sleep and even bathroom privileges—all in the name of self-actualization".

I totally agree. Sleep deprivation is the norm. In the Forum, participants can leave as late as 1:00AM and be expected to start again at 9:00 AM. Homework, which usually involves phone calls to family & friends must be done sometime between those times.

Getting up to go to the bathroom is not prohibited but it is discouraged. The chairs are outrageously uncomfortable. If you get up to quietly stretch in the back of the room for more than a few minutes, you are told to sit down.

I have see Forum Leaders, and particularly Advanced Course Leaders totally go off on participants in front of everyone (100+ people).

I don't regret my participation. I gained tremendous value; however, I would never recommend Landmark again. I refuse to promote a business that stands for full self-expression and freedom but actively
suppresses its critics and their "freedom of speech".