est (Erhard Seminars Training)

(Investigator 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.

Gathering 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 case).

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.


Physical 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.


Although not 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?

Training is 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.

The est "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.
This extreme 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.

Erhard defines 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.

"Enthusiastically — 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

 "An 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.

The potential 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.

Bartley, W.W. 1978. Werner Erhard: The Transformation of a Man, the Founding of est.

Bry, Adelaide. 1976. est: 60 hours That Transform Your Life, Harper & Row.

Hargrove, Robert A. 1976. est: making life work. Delacourte Press, Garden City, NY.

Kastner, Mark and Burroughs, Hugh. 1993. Alternative Healing. Halcyon Publishing, La Mesa, CA.

Sheppard, Leslie A. ed. 1984. Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. 2nd ed. Gale Research Co., Detroit.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 1983. "EST: The art of selling nothing." March 5, 1983.

Edwards, H. 1999 Alternative, Complementary, Holistic & Spiritual Healing, Australian Skeptics Inc