(Erhard Seminars Training)
166, 2016 January)
Werner Erhard, a
former used car salesman, was born John Paul Rosenberg in 1935. In
1959, he left his wife and three children for another woman, and to
avoid being traced by his family, changed his name adopting a pseudonym
formed from the names of physicist Werner Heisenberg and West German
chancellor Ludwig Erhard.
experience while employed training and developing executives, he
studied Zen, yoga, Scientology, Gestalt, Dale Carnegie, Mind Dynamics
and hypnosis. He was expelled from the Church of Scientology and in
1971 established est. (The initials are always written in the lower
By 1975 est
grossed nearly US$10,000,000 and had become big business.
Est is based on
various Eastern and Western philosophy systems and motivational
training concepts. The core programme consists of a sixty-hour seminar,
the purpose of which is to force participants to take responsibility
for their lives and to transform their ability to "experience" life.
Thus problems in life are supposed to resolve themselves.
discomfort and verbal abuse is used to break down participants' defence
systems, and psychological games play a major part in the alleged
opening up of a new awareness of living.
strictly an "alternative" health system, est has been credited with
freeing participants from all sorts of emotional and psychological
complaints and for that reason has been included in this book. Critics
however, have condemned it as narcissistic, leading to simplistic
beliefs and inadequate conceptualisations.
The Sydney Morning Herald, March 5,
1983, labelled it, "EST. The art of selling nothing". In the article,
Yvonne Preston reported that in just twelve months it (est) had won
some one thousand converts, each of whom paid four hundred dollars for
two weekend seminars. What did they get for their money?
conducted with up to two hundred and fifty people who are required to
endure harsh physical conditions, seemingly endless and often quite
intimidating harangues from the trainer, inadequate food and sleep,
controlled lavatory breaks, no sense of time because their watches are
removed, and total dependence of trainee on trainer in an
authoritarian, almost fascist, atmosphere.
"processes" include periods of concentration on a problem and dredging
up from memory all the actions and emotions associated with it. This
recreativity affects different people in different ways.
A former est
trainer said, "I personally feel that a lot of the training is nonsense
... I thought that the talk about reality, about the idea that you
create it all, was just a heap of nonsense and I still think that to
tell people that they create everything is not the thing to do".
Many people break down, weep and feel physically sick. Psychologists
know this process as abreaction ... a time-worn physiological trick
which has been used, for better or worse, by generations of preachers
and demagogues to soften up their listeners' minds and help them take
on desired patterns of belief or behaviour.
The potential of
physiological group excitation is enormous and there are shakers,
charismatics and people talking in tongues to prove it. Political
indoctrination similarly points to a new path of salvation after fear,
anger and other strong emotions have been excited as a means of
disrupting the old bourgeois thought patterns. Once one's critical
thinking apparatus has become dismantled by the training's semantical
barrage of nonsense, the trainee is in a state of limbo, unable to
critically analyse what he is being told and how he is being
manipulated. He cannot test anything he experiences, thinks, feels or
is told. The stage is then set for the "transformation." According to
est, all reality is subjective and relative to the individual. The
individual becomes the creator of the reality he experiences. The
individual is the God of his own universe. Nothing is real unless the
individual chooses to make it real by
experiencing it in his own subjective world.
self-centredness has shattering implications when one is forced to
agree that he has desired and created every experience he has ever had.
This is one of the chief goals of the training.
the goal of the training in his ambivalent statement that, however
irrational it may seem, the graduate enthusiastically doesn't care.
"WHAT is, IS,
and what ain't, AIN'T. SO what! That's precisely what people say when
they find out.
— so what! There's an enormous amount of freedom in experiencing that.
When you really observe and experience that, it transforms your ability
to experience living."
A report on
Psychiatric Disturbances Associated with Erhard Seminars Training
appeared in the American Journal of
Psychiatry 134:3, March 1977. Five case histories were listed by
the authors (all psychiatrists) of trainees who had come to their
attention in a variety of emergency psychiatric settings. While
refraining from asserting that est per se was necessarily noxious to
all participants, the report concluded that
authoritarian, confrontational, aggressive leadership style coupled
with physiological deprivation fosters an identification with the
aggressor. The inability of this defence mechanism to contain
overwhelming anxiety aroused by the process may lead to fusion with the
leader, ego fragmentation, and psychotic decompensation".
In summary, by
stripping away the coping mechanisms, some emotionally unstable
individuals can be left in a dangerous and vulnerable condition.
exists for creating psychosis. The
Boston Phoenix, September 11, 1984, reported that attorney
Gerald F. Raglan, Jr. filed a five million dollar wrongful-death suit
in New Haven Federal District Court against "est" founder Wemer Erhard
and his company, on behalf of the family of Jack Andrew Slee, who died
at the age of 26 during a weekend est training seminar. The suit
charges that Mr Slee's death, which occurred during a part of the
training known as a "fear confront", was the result of stress
deliberately induced by the trainer.
1978. Werner Erhard: The
Transformation of a Man, the Founding of est.
1976. est: 60 hours That Transform
Your Life, Harper & Row.
A. 1976. est: making life work.
Delacourte Press, Garden City, NY.
and Burroughs, Hugh. 1993. Alternative
Healing. Halcyon Publishing, La Mesa, CA.
A. ed. 1984. Encyclopedia of
Occultism and Parapsychology. 2nd ed. Gale Research Co., Detroit.
Morning Herald, 1983. "EST: The art
of selling nothing." March 5, 1983.
Edwards, H. 1999 Alternative, Complementary, Holistic &
Spiritual Healing, Australian Skeptics Inc