Large-group awareness training (LGAT) refers to activities usually offered by groups linked with the human potential movement which claim to increase self-awareness and bring about desirable transformations in individuals' personal lives. They are noted for being unconventional and often take place over several days.
LGAT programs may involve several hundred people at a time. 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.
Forsyth and Corazzini cite Lieberman (1994) as suggesting "that at least 1.3 million Americans have taken part in LGAT sessions".
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.
In Consumer Research: Postcards from the edge, 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".
The Handbook of Group Psychotherapy described Large Group Awareness Training as focusing on "philosophical, psychological and ethical issues." These relate to desires to increase people's personal effectiveness.
Psychologist Dennis Coon's textbook, Psychology: A Journey, defined the term "LGAT" as referring to: "programs claiming to increase self-awareness and facilitate constructive personal change". Coon further defines Large Group Awareness Training in his book Introduction to Psychology.
Lou Kilzer, in The Rocky Mountain News, identified Leadership Dynamics (in operation 1967-1973) as the first of the genre of what psychologists termed "Large Group Awareness Training". Many permutations of large-group transformation trainings were directly or indirectly influenced by Leadership Dynamics. Michael Langone notes that Erhard Seminars Training (est) became in the popular mind the archetype for LGATs.
While working for Holiday Magic, Lifespring founder John Hanley attended a course at Leadership Dynamics. Chris Mathe, at the time a Ph.D. candidate in clinical psychology, wrote that most of today's current forms of Large Group Awareness Training were modeled after the Leadership Dynamics Institute. Mathe cited Lifespring, Insight Seminars, PSI Seminars, New Warriors, and Impact as groups that were influenced by Leadership Dynamics.
"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 academic article describes and analyzes 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 sometimes associated with the human potential movement,
LGATs as commercial trainings took many techniques from encounter groups. They existed alongside but "outside the domains of academic psychology or psychiatry. Their measure of performance was consumer satisfaction and formal research was seldom pursued."
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.
Psychological factors cited by academics include emotional "flooding", catharsis, universality (identification with others), the instillation of hope, identification and what Sartre called "uncontested authorship".
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.
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. Finkelstein noted the many difficulties in evaluating LGATs, from proponents' explicit rejection of certain study models to difficulty in establishing a rigorous control group. In some cases, organizations under study have partially funded research into themselves.
Not all professional researchers view LGATs favorably. Researchers such as psychologist Philip Cushman, for example, found that the program he studied "consists of a pre-meditated attack on the self". A 1983 study on Lifespring 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 studied, "the training systematically undermines ego functioning and promotes regression to the extent that reality testing is significantly impaired". Lieberman's 1987 study, 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".
Jarvis described Large Group Awareness Training as "educationally dubious" in the 2002 book The Theory & Practice of Teaching.
Tapper mentions that "some [unspecified] large group-awareness training and psychotherapy groups" exemplify non-religious "cults". Benjamin criticizes LGAT groups for their high prices and spiritual subtleties.
Specific techniques used in some Large Group Awareness Trainings may include:
LGATs utilize such techniques during long sessions, sometimes called a "marathon" session. Paglia describes "EST's Large Group Awareness Training": "Marathon, eight-hour sessions, in which [participants] were confined and harassed, supposedly led to the breakdown of conventional ego, after which they were in effect born again."
Finkelstein's 1982 article provides a detailed description of the structure and techniques of an Erhard Seminars Training event, the similarity of many techniques to those used in some group therapy and encounter groups. The academic textbook, Handbook of Group Psychotherapy regards Large Group Awareness Training organisations as "less open to leader differences", because they follow a "detailed written plan" that does not vary from one training to the next.
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.
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.
After commissioning a report by Dr. Margaret Singer, the American Psychological Association subsequently rejected and strongly criticised  a report by the APA Task Force on Deceptive and Indirect Techniques of Persuasion and Control, in which the 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"  and stated that the report "[i]n general" lacked "the scientific rigor and evenhanded critical approach necessary for APA imprimatur."  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." Singer sued the APA, and lost on June 17, 1994. Despite the APA rejection of her report, Singer remained in good standing in the psychological research community. Singer 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 stated that "large group awareness trainings" tend to last at least four days and usually five. Their book mentions Erhard Seminars Training and its derivatives such as the Forum, "Lifespring, Actualizations, MSIA/Insight and PSI Seminars.
In her book, Singer differentiated between the usage of the terms cult and Large Group Awareness Training.[page needed] while pointing out some commonalities. Elsewhere she groups the two phenomena together in that they both use a shared set of thought-reform techniques.
The groups I'm talking about are est (and its more recent descendant, The Forum) and Lifespring, both of which use structured activities; involve several hundred or more participants and one central leader [...]
Lieberman suggests that at least 1.3 million Americans have taken part in LGAT sessions.
Large Group Awareness Training: An Historical Context. Groups associated with the human potential movement have been a controversial feature of American life during the last three decades.
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The research reported in this volume was awarded the American Psychological Association, Division 13, National Consultants to Management Award, August 13, 1989.
New Age training courses (what used to be known as "Erhard seminar trainings" [EST] etc.) marry counter-cultural values with the mainstream need to succeed, inner satisfaction with outer success [...]
[...] the dogma, recruitment focus, and high prices of Avatar courses are in themselves enough reason to be very much on guard with this organization.
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.
[...] cultic groups use large group awareness training (LGAT) techniques [...]
There is [...] an important distinction [...] between the version of though reform prevalent in the 1940s and 1950s and the version used by a number of contemporary groups, including cults, large group awareness training programs, and assorted other groups. These latter-day efforts have built upon the age-old influence techniques to perfect amazingly successful programs of persuasion and change. What's new - and crucial - is that these programs change attitudes by attacking essential aspects of a person's sense of self, unlike the earlier brainwashing programs that primarily confronted a person's political beliefs.