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Erhard Seminars Training, or est (generally in lower-case), a controversial New Age large group awareness training (LGAT) seminar program, became popular during the 1970s. Werner Erhard (born John Paul Rosenberg) founded est and conducted the first est seminar in San Francisco, California, in October 1971.

The company originally incorporated in 1973 as a non-profit foundation in the State of California under the name of the Foundation for the Realization of Man. An amendment to the articles of incorporation, filed in July 1976, renamed it as the est Foundation.

Name Origins[edit | edit source]

Erhard adopted the name "est" from a science fiction book he had read: est: The Steersman Handbook, written by L. Clark Stevens and published in 1970. (Pressman 1993:40)

Others have noted that the word est in Latin means "it is" (or "he is" or "she is"), which seems appropriate to an organization which stressed the concept of being (as in "ground of being") and emphasised use of the verb " to be" in many of its rituals and catch-phrases. (like "I am a stand..." or "what's so").

Influences on and philosophy of est[edit | edit source]

The forebears of est allegedly include Martin Heidegger[How to reference and link to summary or text]. Erhard himself cites Zen, or as some have alleged, Westernized Zen. The "est" principle that we ourselves created this world as God and created amnesia so as to play a game on ourselves (or Himself) derives from the writings of Alan Watts, a hipster popularizer of religious thought, most notably of Zen and of other eastern religions.

As quoted in est: Making Life Work by Robert A. Hargrave, Erhard cited the influence of Zen, Subud, Encounter Therapy, Gestalt Therapy, Scientology and an obscure group known as Mind Dynamics. Erhard's supporters would later accuse Scientology of having engineered a campaign against Erhard for his borrowing of key concepts, such as "being at cause", meaning the cause of an event. The Church of Scientology regards est and Erhard himself as "Suppressive" and enemies of the Church. [1]

Stone records the interpretation, both internally (Stone 1976:93) and externally (Stone 1976:97) which sees est as a component of the Human Potential Movement.

Responsibility assumption formed an important part of the est curriculum: however, critics charge that responsibility operated only in one direction, from the top down -- est Forum Leaders and Erhard himself tending towards autocratic shows of discipline.

Nowadays, Large Group Awareness Training (LGAT) programs like Landmark Education contribute to promoting the ideas and concepts of Werner Erhard, though without stressing his name, his controversial reputation or his ideological forebears.

One can perhaps best grasp the nature of the est program by reading through some of the many personal narratives available on the web. These illustrate the nature of est from the points of view of both the program's supporters and detractors. The Psychology Today article gives a factual account and occasionally shows up in on-line sources.

Controversies[edit | edit source]

One participant, James Slee, died during a seminar, and his family sued the organization. Other participants had breakdowns. Such occurrences occurred only very rarely, and courts have never established causation.

Eileen Barker, sometimes seen as a cult apologist, wrote of the ambiguous status of est, speaking of "... movements which do not fall under the definition of religion used by the Institute [for the study of American Religion], but which are sometimes called 'cults'. Examples would be est, Primal Therapy or Rebirthing." (Barker, 1989: 149)

Finkelstein wrote on the problems of categorizing est:

"[The] literature resembles the early literature on encounter groups and other vehicles of the human potential movement; it consists of only a few objective outcome studies which exist side-by-side with highly positive testimonials and anecdotal reports of psychological harm. Reports of testimonials have been compiled by est advocates and suffer from inadequate methodology. More objective and rigorous research reports fail to demonstrate that the positive testimony and evidence of psychological change among est graduates result from specific attributes of est training. Instead, non-specific effects of expectancy and response sets may account for positive outcomes. Reports of psychological harm as the result of est training remain anecdotal, but borderline or psychotic persons would be well advised not to participate." (Finkelstein 1982: 538)

A segment on 60 Minutes in March 1991 portrayed Erhard as physically abusive to his wife and featured accusations by some of his daughters of incest and of physical abuse. One daughter later retracted allegations of violence, saying that a reporter had offered her two million dollars to "spice up" accusations. Defenders of "est" and Erhard alleged a sting operation by the Church of Scientology, as detailed in the book by Dr. Jane Self (see below).

"Est" metamorphosed — supporters might say "transformed itself" — in 1980 - 1981 into the corporate "Werner Erhard and Associates" (WE&A) and the course "The Forum". In 1991 WE&A became "Landmark Education" and the course "The Landmark Forum". Landmark Education continues to operate seminars with similar methods and teachings. Pressman, comparing the Landmark Forum with the est course, states that the courses' "words and phrases ... had hardly changed" (Pressman, 1993: 267 - 268), and that a Landmark Education course presenter equated the two courses with the phrase "when this work was first presented" (Pressman, 1993: 271 - 272).

Associated Publications[edit | edit source]

  • est and Education - Joan Holmes, current president of The Hunger Project, served as consulting educational psychologist for the preparation of the book.

Erhard Seminars Training and tax evasion[edit | edit source]

The United States IRS allegedly settled a dispute over alleged tax evasion with Erhard by paying him $200,000 for wrongful disclosure of false information. However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overturned this decision on February 8, 1995, in the case "Werner H. Erhard v. Commissioner Internal Revenue Service".

See also

  • Ellen Erhard v. Werner Erhard, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Public Record, June 20, 1996, for issues related to IRS tax-petition disputes between Werner Erhard and his 2nd wife, Ellen Erhard. The case decided as follows: "Ellen Erhard appeals the Tax Court's dismissal of her petition as untimely filed. We affirm."

Timeline of history, incorporations and name-changes[edit | edit source]

See the Hesse-Nassau Evangelical Church website for the following.

  • July 14 1992 - Alexandria, VA - federal district judge rules Landmark Education Corporation did not have successor liability, in the case brought by a Silver Spring, Maryland woman for emotional damages allegedly due to participation in the Forum under Werner Erhard and Associates.
  • February 2003 - became "Landmark Education LLC"

See also[edit | edit source]

Quotations[edit | edit source]

... Erhard Seminars Training (est), a pricey, psychobabbling series of long and demeaning behavior-modification sessions that preached the virtue of selfishness.

Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in America (2001).

Even today, abundance theory is alive and well in many religious cults and in restrictive psychotherapy trainings such as est.

— Philip Cushman, Philip in Constructing The Self, Constructing America: A Cultural History of Psychotherapy Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1995, page 130

... the Werner Erhard est seminar ... the ... lucrative application of pop psychology.

— Robitscher, Jonas: The powers of psychiatry. Boston: Houghton Mifflen. 1980, page 455

There is a large potential market for the sale of "ordinariness" as a desirable commodity. Zen Buddhists, and other monastic communities, have been offering it for years.... A more modern version of ordinariness, on sale as a commodity, was Jack Rosenberg's 'est', or 'Erhardt [sic] Seminars training'. 'est', with its pretentiously small 'e', was a sixty-hour marathon, staged over two weekends, and based in a large hotel room with up to two hundred and fifty trainees and one trainer. Erhardt used his skills as a philosopher and salesman to provide a glossy training package that integrated Zen with more contemporary psychotherapies. The aim was to get 'it' by the end of the training programme. The 'it' on offer was 'enlightenment', the realization that there is no enlightenment, no key, no secret wisdom, no crock of gold at the end of the rainbow. In other words, candidates paid a considerable sum of money to get 'nothing' out of the training, and trainees were repeatedly reminded that when they finally left the hotel room, all that would happen would be that they would leave the hotel room and carry on with their lives... Sure enough, it worked. I got nothing out of it.... Unfortunately, although predictably, est 'graduates' tended to make rather too much noise and fuss about this nothing, and lionized Erhardt as though he were something special. He, again predictably, tended to puff up with this sense of being special. Consequently, the whole movement became yet another American carnival of noise and messianism that grew rapidly at the end of the 1970s, with tens of thousands of disciples in the USA and Europe, only to decline just as quickly when it went out of fashion. Therefore the market is currently wide open for someone else to offer another version of 'nothing', designed to help us come to terms with the miracle of nothing-special existence.

— Howard, Alex: Challenges to Counselling and Psychotherapy Houndmills and London: Macmillan, 1996: 72 - 73

Oblique comedy[edit | edit source]

An episode of Mork and Mindy had David Letterman playing an Erhard-like character by the name of Ellsworth or ERC or Ellsworth Revitalization Conditioning.

External links[edit | edit source]

Skeptical web-pages[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Books[edit | edit source]

  • Eileen Barker New Religious Movements: A Practical Introduction. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1989.
  • W.W. Bartley III "Werner Erhard, The Transformation of a Man, The Founding of est" (Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., 1978)
  • Adelaide Bry est (Erhard Seminars Training): 60 Hours That Transform Your Life, Harpercollins, 1976
  • Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman Snapping: America's Epidemic of Sudden Personality Change, Stillpoint Press, 1995. [1]
  • V.J. Fedorschak "The Shadow on the Path" (Hohm Press,1999)
  • Sheridan Fenwick Getting it: the psychology of est
  • Carl Frederick est: Playing the Game the New Way, Delacorte, 1974.
  • Charles Y Glock and Robert N Bellah (editors) The new religious consciousness, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976
  • Robert Hargrave est: Making Life Work, Delacorte, 1976.
  • Ray E Hosford, C Scott Moss, Helene Cavior and Burton Kerish Catalog of Selected Documents in Psychology, 1982, Manuscript #2419, American Psychological Association)
  • Ray E Hosford, C Scott Moss, Helene Cavior and Burton Kerish "Research on Erhard Seminar Training in a Correctional Institution"
  • Steven Pressman: Outrageous Betrayal: The dark journey of Werner Erhard from est to exile New York: St Martins Press, 1993.
  • Rhinehart, Luke, The Book of Est
  • Jane Self 60 Minutes and the Assassination of Werner Erhard: How America's Top Rated Television Show Was Used in an Attempt to Destroy a Man Who Was Making A Difference Breakthru Publishing, November 1992
  • Donald Stone "The Human Potential Movement". In: Glock and Bellah (1976:93 - 115)

Periodicals[edit | edit source]

  • Brewer, Mark. "We're Gonna Tear You Down and Put You Back Together", Psychology Today, August 1975
  • Peter Finkelstein, Brant Wenegrat and Irwin Yalom "Large Group Awareness Training" Annual Review of Psychology, 1982. Quoted by Barker, 1998: 56 - 57.
  • L. L. Glass, M. A. Kirsch and F. N. Parris "Psychiatric disturbances associated with Erhard Seminars Training" American Journal of Psychiatry, 1977; 134(3): 245-7.
  • Peter Marin "The New Narcissism" Harper's, October 1975, 251:45-56.
  • Perry Pascarella “Create Breakthroughs in Performance by Changing the ‘Conversation’” (Industry Week, June 1997)
  • Eliezer Sobel “This Is It: est, Twenty Years Later” (QUEST Magazine, Summer 1998)
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  1. Church of Scientology Flag Executive Directive 2830RB of 25 July 1992, "Suppressive Persons and Suppressive Groups list"
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