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10 October 2017

I just did a course called the 'Landmark Forum'. It was weird but not too weird so I'm pondering whether to take their further courses or even go back.[More:]

This is a fair overview of what goes on: link

"In practice it sometimes felt like a cross between an existentialism seminar and large scale cognitive group therapy."

We'll see... I like the experience/social environment but they seem very hardcore in trying to get your relatives etc to also attend.
I have never been to a LF event but from all I have read about it I never want to go to one.
posted by arse_hat 11 October | 01:12
When I was googling "is landmark forum worth it" one of the auto-complete suggestions was "is landmark forum a cult", which was a bit concerning. I went anyway--figuring, I'll go and see. These seminars are not secretive and they are reimbursed by corporations etc so it's probably not unacceptably wonky.

My take after the first couple days (of 3.5 days of sessions) is that it's definitely not a cult--the information they provide is relatively simple and the base philosophy is kinda Stoic/Existential/Buddhist -- like, be present, be mindful, step out of your past and your identity. And more importantly, contrary to cutting you off from your friends and family, they encourage the opposite: rebuilding close relationships.

My general take

I liked the general information and perspective they shared. They are very focused on having participants take actions rather than just dispensing knowledge, which is kinda cool and useful.

But what's left unsaid in their brochures etc is that the real work of at least this initial class/forum involves suddenly calling up people you know, and fixing any problem you have with them by admitting your fault in the situation. They call this 'enrollment'. I couldn't really do it -- I don't randomly call up people anyway, never mind in such a context -- but I took an easy way out and at least called my Mom during one of the breaks to say I've done some work, haha.

My skeptical take

They are very dogmatic about how they analyze people's problems (i.e. your behavior is based on your identity, which in turn is based on events in your past.)

I thought it manipulative that they mix their lessons with the actions they suggest. 'The thing that is stopping you from taking action prescribed at the forum is what's stopping you in the rest of your life.'

They also want you to drag your whole family and friend network into their system which seems particularly problematic. Of course they say it's for the benefit of the people you're recruiting, but metaphorically speaking, this approach is like a cancer or something, lol.

My analytical take

They really create an interesting environment. This was probably the longest 3 days of my life, like nothing I've experienced before.

I think there are at least four aspects: (1) a charismatic leader (instructor) (2) The long 14-hour sessions (3) sleep deprivation between sessions--you leave at 11pm and have to be back by 9am, not to mention doing assignments in between (4) the vulnerability and sharing leading to strong camaraderie.
posted by Firas 11 October | 02:59
Oh and it's important to add--the instructors are not just charismatic but have very keen insight.

By Day 2 when I was zoned out and slinking away to a snack break, one of the junior leaders assisting cornered me and talked to me for like 30 minutes (I was saying, you know, I'm in the middle of various things these days, working on an app, refreshing my portfolio/resume, etc., so I don't think I need to be calling anyone like that because my current challenges aren't relationship related) and the way he ended up describing my life situation, and connecting it to my personality and relationships with various people, I felt like he had surveillance cameras in my house. lol.

I guess after you coach a ton of people, most humans fall into various templates so you can kinda 'get' their deal quickly.
posted by Firas 11 October | 05:28
Do you know about "est?"
I could say more . . .
posted by Obscure Reference 11 October | 11:02
Yeah. I suspected it grew out of the whole 1960s/70s and that proved to be true. Apparently est was way more hardcore with not letting people even go to the bathroom, being confrontational and so forth... our instructor was telling us that even when he did the forum in 1997 his instructor used to directly insult participants (which our instructor didn't do.)

I'm puzzling over whether to go back... I like their whole approach in general except for the whole 'suddenly make phone calls to admit you did something wrong in your relationships' thing and the very aggressive 'take the next course' & 'recruit your friends and family to join' thing.
posted by Firas 11 October | 11:39
Sleep deprivation? RUN
posted by brujita 11 October | 13:17
Yeah, it sounds like est or Exegesis. Not good, imo.
posted by Senyar 11 October | 14:35
I hear you guys... and I gotta admit that the program sounds a bit strange... but, but... they're so friendly! lol. It's rare to be in situations in life where people are so intensely connected and supportive like this.

I guess I could seek the same thing other places... make friends at a gym, join Toastmasters, whatever. Anything that doesn't involve 14 hour days and pressure to recruit family...
posted by Firas 11 October | 15:03
The "friendliness" is love bombing, another cult tactic.
posted by brujita 11 October | 15:24
I see that you disabled your mefi account, but were there any members near you with whom you clicked?
posted by brujita 11 October | 22:03
I don't think I've met any Mefites in real life. I disabled my account mostly to save time (although thanks to social media now there's even more ways to waste time online than there were when I was active on mefi, lol.)

This thread has increased my skepticism for sure. But I also don't want to be unnecessarily prejudiced just because their tactics may be somewhat strange or cult-like. I would want to analyze the situation based on what I personally get out of it vs. what I have to put into it. That is to say, I would want to look at results rather than process.

For example, a few years ago I got really into low-carb eating. People don't really understand it and many people still say you'd get a heart attack doing it, but the results for me were awesome. (I need to get back on it though.)

So going through a rigid 2-3 days of 'training'/'coaching'/whatever these LF people call it every few months is not too problematic for me if it can genuinely impact me positively. I'm more concerned about their recruitment thing--about how much pressure they'd put me on to bring others into the fold--than getting not-enough-sleep for a couple days.
posted by Firas 12 October | 00:24
Appreciate the comments/thoughts though! Speaking of rare spaces, while I've talked at length to a couple people about this whole LF thing, I appreciate mecha for being able to write about random stuff like this. It's kinda clarifying to concretely write things down. Would be cool if this site sticks around (and to make everyone comfortable we could hide the archives or make old posts visible to participants only.)
posted by Firas 12 October | 01:03
recruitment: also cult

fwiw I've also done a low fat ketosis diet with results....though my parents were not supportive(I was still in high school) and the diet Dr. was a jerk who told me that no one likes fat people.
posted by brujita 12 October | 08:48
So, I'll say more.

My link to Wikipedia above explains (scroll down) how est became Landmark. It's not just similar--it's a direct descendant.

My younger brother (the one who had, a year before, turned me on to LSD) did est and then recruited my entire family (I being the only holdout). He described est as the McDonalds of enlightenment. (Don't assume that this recruitment thing will stop because you politely decline. They will want to know why you don't want to share this great thing you discovered with those you love and your reasons will be dismissed as excuses.)

It makes rational sense to "fix" your relationships by calling up people--right now, because waiting is clearly an excuse to avoid a discomfort that you can't convincingly argue for. Succumbing to this kind of pressure is immediately rewarding--you got something unpleasant out of the way and now things seem to be better. The underlying idea is that, if you can't rationally defend something, you must be wrong. In fact, they are professionals at this argument and you're just improvising your response.

If you find things like relationships or community difficult to navigate, they will "solve" these problems for you. They will provide instant closeness along with a new way of seeing the world that makes (instant) rational sense and seems to explain things you never quite understood.

Things to look for: how big a part of these people's lives is LF? Which people have been involved in it the longest and can you talk to people who have left? You want to see the long term effects, not the short term ones.
posted by Obscure Reference 12 October | 09:44
Also, check how successfully they maintain relationships with those who don't want to become like them.
posted by Obscure Reference 12 October | 09:46
Wow, OR, thanks for talking about your experience. Definitely makes me even more cautious. And that's a good description of how they work past your objections.

Yeah I think the 'McD of Enlightment' analogy is not inaccurate. For example, the deepest point they led us to at the end of 3 days was 'life is empty and meaningless'. (I even took a photo of their whiteboard during the break: link).

This seemed to be an emotional revelation to some participants (at least in the moment) but I was already familiar with Existentialism, and I'm already familiar with the "Signifying nothing" Macbeth soliloquy which they read out next among a couple other quotes.

I plan to go to a 3-hr seminar (the cost of which was included in the forum, so heck might as well) in a couple weeks but if I get more 'enrollment' (ie. make phone calls) and 'recruitment' and 'sign up for advanced course' pressure there, I'll probably bail.
posted by Firas 12 October | 14:06
"I plan to go to a 3-hr seminar"

Firas, please don't.
posted by arse_hat 13 October | 02:01
Firas, do you have a Team You where you are?
posted by brujita 13 October | 16:31
Guys I appreciate the concern for sure. I was just musing out loud in here but your thoughts and comments have been helpful in analyzing this situation.

Will let you know in a couple weeks whether I went back...

Incidentally I came across this article that confirms as OR said that the recruitment thing doesn't stop: link

"Near the end of my course, one participants had become so disillusioned by the constant pressure to bring other people into the Landmark fold that they had a tearful breakdown at the front of the room in which she lamented that she had gotten so much out of The Forum, and she so dearly wanted to be able to share it with her loved ones, but that she couldn’t do it now because her experience in the SELP had shown her that they wouldn’t be “safe” and that they would be bombarded with pressure to become salespeople for Landmark. I empathised with her."
posted by Firas 14 October | 01:53
They're gonna spam you forever.
posted by stynxno 14 October | 06:55
Firas just make sure you won't be spending money on them.
posted by jouke 14 October | 08:00
stynxno: yeah I figure :| Apparently they don't always call from the same number either. Will have to spend months (years?) cutting past being polite and just hanging up on them.


Yeah agreed. This is exactly how I got out of registering for the Advanced Course actually, by saying someone had reimbursed me for the forum (well, their company had reimbursed them after their manager suggested it, but I didn't need to get into details.)

Their stuff is not too expensive--I'm pretty sure if you do the entire 6 month curriculum it ends up under $5k--which is much less than most Tony Robbins et al programs are like.

One mistake they make is 'selling past the close'. On the third day I brought a friend as they say, and he was kinda interested in the forum (and I was kinda interested in the Advanced Course), but the way random volunteers keep asking you why you haven't signed up, when you want to sign up, etc. kinda backfires.

I wasn't too annoyed--I knew the people were genuine and it's not a financial scam or anything like that--but his point was, even if they don't get financial incentives for signing people up, they do get incentives within their group like becoming a 'leader'. Which is true. He compared it to Toastmasters which also tries to pull you in deeper into volunteering for their program all the time, but he said Toastmasters is upfront and you can see their whole system online. It doesn't get revealed in this random way.
posted by Firas 14 October | 11:24
Oh God. I studiously avoid anything to do with the Forum and anyone who has anything to do with the Forum. I've seen roommates, relatives, and colleagues get sucked in and also push to suck me in, using any number of intrusive tactics. It's poisonous stuff, very manipulative and a money mill.

Part of the thing is, it's impossible to get the full view of the organization at the entry level, because the actual structure is not being shared with you. So very often, people at the entry level decide it's "not that bad" and decide to go further. That's part of the architecture. It's not multilevel marketing because *you* will never make any money, but it absolutely depends on viral marketing, so much so that even posting about it here could be a little fishy. Please don't cite it as your enrollment effort.

Also, I don't think it's fair to compare it to therapy, because it's not actually therapeutic, doesn't handle clients with individual treatment strategies, and doesn't provide a supportive environment for clients.

You might want to check out some of these past MetaFilter threads about it.

posted by Miko 14 October | 18:03
even posting about it here could be a little fishy. Please don't cite it as your enrollment effort.

I was gonna get offended--like really, after ten years we've interacted on here?--but at least the forum has taught me to separate what people do or say (what they call 'What Happened') from my feelings about what they do or say (which they call 'The Story'). lol.

It's poisonous stuff, very manipulative

Yeah as I sat there listening to them talk about how repeatedly telling someone to register is taking a stand on their behalf ('Stand' is part of Landmark jargon) I was thinking--what about consent? It doesn't sound like respecting consent to ask someone to do something a dozen times.

it's not actually therapeutic

I talked to someone while waiting for a cab outside who said that the forum had helped him achieve breakthroughs that he hadn't in years of therapy. I'm skeptical though because of course making 'reparative' phone calls will leave you with a couple days of 'highs' but what are the long term effects, weeks or months from now?

One similarity between Landmark and regular therapists is that they love digging into your past, which annoys me (lol.) Landmark dials it up to an extreme level, but in general I resent this concept that someone may be shy, or adulterous, or prone to procrastination, because of things that happened when they were eight years old, or something their Dad or Mom did. I guess I have blinders on though, and think of myself as too much of a self-created person, when in reality childhood shapes us all.
posted by Firas 15 October | 01:36
I was gonna get offended--like really, after ten years we've interacted on here?-

I think the way to look at is that even after a lifetime of knowing someone, even after living in the same house with them for years, even after working side-by-side with them for years in a trusting relationship, you can find out that the Forum temporarily has claimed enough power over their thinking to turn you and your human relationship into the fulfillment of another project assignment. It's happened to me with people that close to me, so it certainly shouldn't be reason for offense for an online acquaintance. You're encouraged to turn all your human connections into fodder. Everything is recruiting.

of course making 'reparative' phone calls will leave you with a couple days of 'highs' but what are the long term effects, weeks or months from now?

Exactly; it replaces inaction with action and that can be temporarily relieving for some people. But it isn't the same as doing therapuetic work. The tell: you'd have to ask other people in the person's life how healed and progressed their relationship really is.
posted by Miko 15 October | 20:36
of course making 'reparative' phone calls will leave you with a couple days of 'highs' but what are the long term effects, weeks or months from now?

Exactly; it replaces inaction with action and that can be temporarily relieving for some people. But it isn't the same as doing therapuetic work. The tell: you'd have to ask other people in the person's life how healed and progressed their relationship really is.

An analogy from my own experience: in AA's 12 Steps there are two steps devoted to making amends. They are 8 and 9 of the steps, which need to be followed in numerical order. That's because the preceding steps involve a lot of work to get you to the point where you're ready to make amends to people you've hurt in the past - "except when to do so would injure them or others". Having worked through steps 1-7, I knew what my part was in relation to the things I needed to apologise for. I also knew that there were some situations that would be made worse, not better, by me contacting the people involved.

There's a temptation when you're newly sober to phone everyone up you've ever wronged and say sorry. But if I'd done that, it would've given some people a 'free pass', effectively absolving them of any responsibility for their part in past events that caused harm; these things are rarely one-sided. I might also have re-opened old wounds that should have been left to finish healing by themselves.

So newcomers are advised to wait before apologising to the world, told to work through the steps and then see where amends need to be made - at the right time.
posted by Senyar 16 October | 11:33

Yeah, that is a much more sensible approach.


Yeah I can understand your concern. It seems like Landmark could gain a lot of goodwill by laying off the aggressive evangelism and just doing regular marketing but my sense is that they are very reluctant to change anything in the structure of how their program has been since the 70s. So it's probably going to take a huge epiphany if it ever happens.
posted by Firas 16 October | 14:15
So it's probably going to take a huge epiphany if it ever happens.

It's all about money, and this model works really well for them, so I don't think there's any incentive for change.
posted by Miko 16 October | 20:55
So just to tie things up here, I got busy with work and couldn't go to their first seminar today and it looks from an email like they cancelled my registration for their other 9 seminar events that were included in the forum. They are huge sticklers about attendance and punctuality and stuff like that. I guess (unless I decide to go back in the future) that's the end of that...
posted by Firas 25 October | 11:21
did they return your money?
posted by brujita 26 October | 14:36
Hi brujita, nah it wouldn't make sense at this point -- the payment was for the initial 3 day course, not the seminar series. I guess I could call them and find out if I can somehow attend the other seminars but I'm kinda 'over it' for now -- got too much going on in terms of work stuff and making a new resume/portfolio etc to be spending time in group coaching sessions with lots of insider concepts and jargon and people crying and all that.
posted by Firas 26 October | 16:52
this made me pretty happy || Thursday 3-point update