Nov 26 2008

Searching for Oz: Risk of Harm from Personal Growth Groups

Published by at 5:35 pm under Counseling & Psychotherapy

In July 2009, Colleen Conway committed suicide by jumping from the balcony of the shopping mall where she and the other participants were engaged in an exercise led by James Arthur Ray, a well-known personal growth leader.
What was the exercise they had paid exorbitant sums of money to perform? They were told to dress as homeless people without any money or identification to experience the dread and poverty of homelessness.
Ray and his staff were alerted that a woman had committed suicide in the mall, but did nothing to help identify Ms. Conway. As the story goes, Ms. Conway had refused to dress as a homeless person, leading to speculation Ray may have criticized her for not following his expectations.
There’s quite a bit more about this story with allegations that Ray and his staff knew Ms. Conway had committed suicide, but were determined to keep this fact secret from the other participants in this program.
The suggestion is that if the other participants knew that Colleen Conway had committed suicide, the foundation of James Arthur Ray’s philosophy and program would be revealed to be a fraud. In fact, Ray’s program was really based on a number of new age slogans, and the psychological manipulation of his participants to reveal stressful and traumatic life events to others in a group process.
This manipulation typically results in the breakdown of a person’s natural psychological defenses, regresses them against their will to earlier traumas, leads to some type of catharsis, and can leave them destabilized, afraid, and more dependent on the leader of such an experience.
It’s not uncommon for people in the mental health field to know about the use of mind – body therapeutic techniques to help people access stored emotional memory of trauma. We know that negative life experiences are imprinted more powerfully in the human brain, because they are associated with our survival. We need to know that fire can hurt and kill us, so that we only get burned once. We then learn to avoid fire and be careful when fire is close by.
So, it really is not that complicated to create the type of psychological intensity that opens the pathway to trauma memory for human beings. This is especially true when this process occurs in a group setting where the dynamics of each individual member come to play, interact, and result in a potentially swirling altered state of awareness.
Having been there and done that personally and as a leader, I can attest to the ease with which human beings can be enabled to access, traumatic memory. My special interest in neuroscience enabled me to understand this process and use it therapeutically for participants of the weekends in which I was a leader and part of the leadership team.
There’s no doubt the James Arthur Ray knew very little about the neuroscience related to how trauma impacts the way memory is stored. His methods were dangerous and while he was never accused of any wrongdoing in the death of common Conway, his negligence in leading a sweat Lodge in Arizona just a few months later in 2000 and resulted in the deaths of three people and the hospitalization of dozens.
James Arthur Ray was later convicted of neglectful homicide and served 18 months of a two-year prison sentence.  The trial revealed a lot about the fraudulent claims of expertise by Ray, including training in leading a sweat lodge. It was a horrible experience for all the participants, with temperatures up to about 200 degrees inside the lodge.
People were concerned and told Ray about their concerns. Ray ignored their concerns for some unknown reason, leading to the deaths of three and the injuries of many more.
Ray shot to fame as a result of the book and movie “Secret” which claimed to offer a clear pathway to wealth and abundance by thinking positively. It wasn’t science, but millions didn’t care about the lack of science in the approach. Their own humanity made them vulnerable to the false and exaggerated promises from self-absorbed gurus like Ray who preyed upon these people and their wealth.
Colleen Conway’s sister talks about her being swept away by Ray so much she spent thousands of dollars she didn’t have.
The writer of the blog, Salty Droid interviewed Colleen Conway’s sister Lynn and writes this in their blog:
“The Harmonic Wealth Weekend was a major success against poor innocent Colleen. Such a success that Colleen was manipulated into purchasing one of Ray’s most expensive events :: The Spiritual Warrior in Sedona Arizona. Yep! You heard that right :: Had Colleen survived Ray’s July seminar … she would have been in the sweat lodge…
But for some…reason Colleen just couldn’t wait until October to be back with James Arthur Ray. She added two other Ray events to her schedule on short notice. Taking unexpected road trips (and) spending money she didn’t have. One event was in St. Cloud, MN (and) the other in Chicago.
At the Chicago event Colleen participated in the damaging ‘board-breaking’ exercises that have been reported elsewhere. She came back injured and changed. Suddenly she seemed more serious. She eliminated all ‘negativity’ from her life, filtering out news and events that weren’t in conformity with her new “Harmonic” views.
After Colleen’s death Lynn found that she had been filling out 3×5 cards with what looked like James Ray’s sayings or directives. They were all over Colleen’s house, hundreds of them, along with spiral notebooks full of similar gibberish. Colleen had been directed to keep a list of her ‘old limiting views’ and her new ‘harmonic views.’
Lynn sounded anguished recalling her feelings at seeing that Colleen had lined though many of the values that 2008 Colleen would have treasured. Scratching off pieces of herself, one at time, and replaced with empty lies.” (Salty Droid, October 2009)
Colleen Conway, the three people who died in the sweat lodge, and the scores of other people injured by Ray represent the extreme risks people take in the pursuit of happiness, healing, and material wealth.
If one is healthy enough and not a survivor of trauma, it’s possible they can participate in such events and not be injured.  Many also find ways to benefit in terms of friendship and sense of belonging. A group can offer shelter from the storm.
If the leaders and program are experienced, well-trained, knowledgeable in the neuroscience related to the way the human brain stores negative or traumatic memory, and there is an effective screening process to prevent people who may be injured by the event, many good things can happen. I have witnessed this myself.
Few people will be interested in this book, but I have the unique perspective of participant, volunteer and leader of personal growth weekends over more than 25 years. I have been a supporter and critic from the inside and outside. While I regret most of my many years of involvement, I learned a lot about myself and the mostly men who strive to profit financially from the suffering of others, as well as those who search for fame or a temporary sense of excitement, a short burst in their low self-esteem.
I learned I was only popular when my contributions served the people and system. My weekend leadership teams always got high marks and my contribution to the training in psychodrama appears to be lasting, even though I have been outcasted by the organization for my public criticism. I’m still proud of my accomplishments and willingly stand by them in my writing herein.
I write about myself mainly, my ideas, my experience and the risk, especially for complex trauma survivors like myself, who trust others who may know much less than they suggest and lack awareness of personal qualities which do not confirm their positive self-concept.

I remember the night the young priest from the parish knocked on our front door. I was probably about 10 years old.

When I opened the door, he said something like, “I was in the neighborhood and thought I would stop and make a visit.” I knew priests made an annual visit to families, but didn’t think it was that time of the year.

He came in to our small, perhaps cramped, living room, the opening of the front door blocking the view of our television briefly. He sat down on the L shaped couch across from my father who was sitting intensely staring at the television, his eyes blurred and mannerisms affected by his chronic intoxication.

The priest tried to make eye contact with my father to make small talk. My father barely acknowledged his presence. Was he ignoring the priest or was he just so out of it he didn’t even realize the priest was there?

I was used to this picture. When my father would be sitting on the couch, drunk, but quiet it was a relief for me. I wondered sitting there, watching the priest and my father, whether there would be a scene.

Would my father enter into one of his alcohol infused episodes where he would target the priest for his psychotic venom? Maybe he would just yell at him and force him to leave the cloistered room where watching television could be a dangerous activity for me and my family.

I could see the priest begin to give up, perhaps he was dissociating like me, wishing my conscious mind out of my body, so I could exist somewhere else, somewhere safe.  I think perhaps the priest may have had an alcoholic father too and knew the dangers and suffering I and my family were experiencing.

I was relieved to think this, but at the same time threatened. How could he help? There were no words in 1963 to discuss or explain what was happening to me.

The priest became more and more silent, slowly sinking into himself, like a balloon slowly loosing air, shrinking and shriveling into almost nothingness. I knew that process well.  Be nothing, so you can be more invisible and pretend to be somewhere and someone else.

The priest left, saying nothing more to my father. I struggle to remember if he said anything else to me. He probably shook hands with me, looking into my eyes silently telling me he understood and wished there was something he could do.

Was I relieved when he left? I don’t know or remember. My mind-body was skilled at erasing myself from the suffering reality to which I endured on a daily basis. I was probably grateful no one was more hurt by the visit of the priest than the impact of a sullen, drunken man who could threaten you just by their disheveled malevolence.

My memories of this experience are stored like many of the other traumas, fragments of images, feelings, and sensations more vivid because of the intense emotions it triggered. I only knew I was afraid. If asked to describe myself, I could say I was a good student, played sports and had friends. The idea I would also share that I was a prisoner in my small, Philadelphia row house with a father who was drunk and dangerous was far off the mark.

I had no words to describe the intense fear and sadness I experienced on a daily basis, and felt ashamed of the drunkenness of my father. The fact he could become unhinged and enraged unpredictably only added to my dread, my ability to disappear, and wish my father would leave and never come back.

I was traumatized, in the way experts today call complex traumatization. It was a never ending feeling of fear for my safety and the safety of my mother and two brothers. I never felt safe.

How could I feel secure in my own identity? I was a young guy and seemed to grow and progress in my academic and sports life. Those were parts of me where I had some control and support from healthy adults.

Of course, I was not alone in my struggle, though I felt so. Millions have experienced similar tragic family experiences or been exposed to other types of violence, even war.

We become lost, constantly trying to find some type of inner peace and happiness.  We become searchers looking for our psychologically safe home.

The searching for home is a common theme in most stories and mythology.

The Dorothy story in the  Wizard of Oz is such a story about searching for home and it reaches us on many different levels. The music and their lyrics, acting and phenomenal characters engage us in the mythical search for intelligence, courage, love, and finding our mythological home.

The symbolism is there for all of us to discern, but finding home has important meaning for all of us. It can be taken literally, as in getting back home where we can feel safe and protected.

Symbolically, finding home can also refer to an awakening, a maturation, enlightenment, healing/recovery, and so on.

Think of the mythological journey of Odysseus struggling to get home after the 10 year long Trojan War. (Wikipedia, Odysseus, 2016) It’s quite a story about survival, violence, drunkenness, and the foolhardiness of war.

A major theme in the Odysseus story is how material possessions do not bring us happiness. Odysseus and his men stop at a city, rape, plunder, get drunk and pass out as a protective army is marching to the city in the night to liberate it. His men are nearly annihilated, with all but three of his ships destroyed. Odysseus, a few of his men, and their three ships escape and limp back towards home.

Suddenly, his ships face a swirling funnel which begins to swallow his first two ships. A spirit figure appears and tells him she can protect him, but only if he asks. Odysseus’s first impulse is to put on his armor, get his sword and threaten the spirit figure. Then, his ship begins to swirl around the funnel of water, soon to sent to the depths of the sea.

Odysseus sees the light, asks to be saved, then is plucked from his swirling ship as it disappears into the sea.

As the waters calm, the keel of Odysseus’s ship pops up to the surface, the spirit figure gently sets Odysseus down on the floating keel, and Odysseus paddles his way home.

His effort to get home is an epic struggle and reveals the importance of breath and life.

Many fairy tales have themes of young people (often female) being snatched away by spirit figures to journey on some hair-raising adventures. These adventures symbolize the kind of chiseling life experiences that help these young people enter into adulthood with power.

A great example of this is the story of Vasilisa and Baba Yaga. (Wikipedia, Vasilisa the Beautiful, 2016) Discovered as one of the original stories passed down in the oral tradition, it tells the Cinderella story without the romance and whitewashing of violence. Vasilisa is sent to her apparent death to get fire from the witch Baba Yaga who flies around in a bathtub and lives in a house that dances on chicken legs.

Watch this youtube video describing this wonderful story. (Youtube, 2016)

Vasilisa does complete all the impossible tasks set to her by Baba Yaga and returns home. She enters her house and shows the fire in her palms to her evil step-mother and sister who are shocked by her return. In a flash of fire, the step-mother and sister are completely incinerated. How’s that for symbols of awakening and empowerment!

Vasilisa returned home, awake and empowered, and remind us of our own human journey. Who doesn’t want to live in the world with more awareness and power?

A more modern story about finding home is the novel and movie, Cold Mountain. (Wikipedia, Cold Mountain, 2016) A Confederate soldier weary of the death and destruction of war, deserts to return home to his wife and tranquil life on his farm. He travels far to get home, yet his sense of good will causes him to be lost in the end.

He lets his guard down and is killed in the shadow of his home. Perhaps his death is symbolically telling us to remain vigilant, not to trust anyone lest we remain lost in the world or destroyed.

All these ancient and modern stories are about the strength of the human spirit to face life challenges, succeed or pay the price, perhaps with our lives. Humans have struggled to survive since the beginning of time and have faced injury and death from any number of threats.

Our imperative to survive has evolved a remarkable internal system of knowing when to fight, hide and run away. Our survival brain differentiates between safe and dangerous data, then stores it to help us stay safe. The complex mind-body process works well if humans have a relatively safe and loving childhood. When exposed to situations beyond their ability to understand and cope with, it’s another story.

Research has shown exposure to even one acute traumatic event, like an accident, witnessing a death (think war and urban violence), or a fire along with more chronic exposure to violence through abuse can change the development of the brain and creates high risk for psychiatric and medical problems throughout the life span. (Andrea, 2011)

A few years ago, after tragic financial losses in the 2005-08 recession,  I pursued  elaborate brain assessments, including a Brain SPECT and neuropsychological testing to help me understand how I could have made such poor investment decisions. I had made about $600,000 after investing in property in Florida in the early 2000’s. I was talked out of these profits by a smooth Countrywide mortgage broker and his wife who lured me into failed investments in Colorado in 2005, just as the market was beginning to tank.

I wondered what had happened to me. I was someone who had pretty good self-esteem based on the vulnerable early family life I experienced. I was smart in school, popular, good athlete, captain of all the teams I played on, leadership award winner, and so on. Yet, I knew there were roller coaster periods of my life, where my success was followed by failure. I knew also I was an academic underachiever.  I struggled academically in high school and college. Psychological explanations alone were inadequate. I didn’t have a death wish, or fear of success.

It took neuropsychological testing and brain scanning to solve the mystery.

The results of the evaluations were dramatic for me. My brain showed evidence of damage in multiple areas. The chronic flow of adrenaline and cortisol from early childhood abuse, years of playing football, head injury from falling from a galloping horse, damaged neurons and neural circuitry leaving me vulnerable to chronic fear and anxiety and cognitive problems.

While in grade school, I placed in the 98th percentile in national academic testing, yet my college SAT scores were positive, but not exceptional. I had a friend who scored in the 1400 range, while my scores were about 1,100. I had trouble especially with advanced math and science, courses which required memorization and easy recall of facts.

I suspected my academic problems were a result of the intense emotional distress in my alcoholic family. I was only partially correct. The trauma of my alcoholic family caused physical damage to complex neural networks in my brain, exacerbating my emotional and cognitive distress, further damaging my brain’s neurons and networks.

It was a vicious cycle compounded by the lack of knowledge within the mental health field about the physical impact of trauma and the limitations of talk therapy.

I learned when calm and doing familiar tasks, I was very smart. However, when faced with unfamiliar tasks, without even adding stress, my intellectual performance dropped dramatically. Being diagnosed with cognitive problems was shocking, but it explained a lot.

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is an intermediate stage between the expected cognitive decline of normal aging and the more-serious decline of dementia. It can involve problems with memory, language, thinking and judgment that are greater than normal age-related changes. (Mayo Clinic, 2016)

My evaluation showed there was a risk of Prefrontal Lobe Dementia, but fortunately, a later MRI ruled that out. Dementia is a result of structural damage to the brain involving the loss of neurons and damage to larger neural networks. The damage is irreversible and can be progressive. In my case, the neurons were “sleeping” as neuroscientists like to say, still there, but not awake. So, neurons can be healthy, damaged or “sleeping”, or dead, such as in dementia or alzheimers disease.

I lucked out with damaged neurons and it explained a lot.

I was wounded and in some ways I didn’t understand. Some of my efforts to heal during my life were probably harmful, especially my entry into the emerging  men’s personal growth weekends in the early 1990’s. These weekends featured many intensive experiences which more than likely reinforced the problematic neural pathways which kept me trapped in a cycle of success and failure.

Also, being a therapist, my high intelligence abilities and other strengths made me an attractive target to be engaged in the leadership of these men’s programs. This was perhaps my downfall. I was groomed and funneled into the  Victories  leadership program, not because it was an appropriate part of my treatment plan, but to fulfill the founders dream to expand their program, perhaps in a futile competition with the Mankind Project’s New Warrior Training Adventure weekend.

My brain, at its low functioning state was no match for the manipulation and political machinations I experienced.

Like Mark Twain said,

“It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.” (Goodreads)

I was being fooled, but would have never believed it back then. I had become attached and dependent on certain leaders. I believed them and believed in them. I no doubt was fooled by the failed promise of healing and success. I would like those years back.

There were many examples of how I felt manipulated and used by the Victories principal leader after I reconnected with the organization and became a co-leader.

One simple example was the request and expectation by the two Victories principals I and the other 7 leaders at the time contribute $150 to cover the fees paid to a writer who was commissioned to write a play promoting Victories work.

It was a stupendously bad idea. I had some intuition, but like a lot of people, was willing to grant these men their whim. They were larger than life and were the therapists for most of the leaders and those-who-wanted-to-be-leaders. What was this pattern of developing personal and other relationships with clients? Was it for the benefit of the client or Victories’ principal who mostly benefited financially?

The programs themselves when they were privately owned prior to 2004 were lucrative for the leaders, despite what they would argue in public. The profit, plus the glory, was helium for  ego balloons waiting to be filled.

I knew enough not to attend the reading of the draft play and was relieved with my decision to maintain some personal integrity.

When asked at the last full leader meeting to donate to the production of the play, I understood we would “share ownership” and would derive some profits if it was successful. Then, I heard there was another request for donations at the reading of the play. Wasn’t this a contradiction? Were the principals saying one thing to me, certain leaders and something else to others? Should I have asked for clarification then? Yes.

Later, I asked for a refund or a copy of the play, and my request was ignored.

True, I had begun to openly question the stalled organizational development. I was not happy about what I considered (in-my-opinion) the significant deviation from the 2004 Strategic plan. The all for one and one for all culture expressed by that planning process quickly disintegrated into a non-democratic, non-transparent competition for resources, of which the principals need not really compete. They had supporters who essentially said yes to whatever these principals wanted.

This unhealthy competition essentially bifurcated the organization into two larger sub-groups. One was driven by the principal leaders desire to build and expand the Wisdom years program. Contrary to the stated goal of the 2004 strategic plan to develop formal policies and procedures for leader selection, these principals went off and appointed several “leaders” for the Wisdom years on their own. Essentially, this was the way it had been done in the past.

I began to ask questions about this tangential and damaging development, even at Board meetings. Paul Kachoris was asked to be the liason from the other larger sub-group (everyone not involved in the Wisdom years) to begin a dialogue and establish a joint meeting. I’m not sure why, but Paul didn’t do a good job informing us and the Board of what was happening with the Wisdom years. There was never a meeting between our two sub-groups.

Paul, like the other 3 principal leaders was brilliant, charismatic, effective, but had difficulty seeing parts of himself that did not reflect his positive view of himself. His approach to conflict was sort of “let sleeping dogs lie, even if they’re barking.”

The dogs were barking here and pretty loud. I only heard through back-channels the Wisdom years sub-group considered separating itself from the larger organization. To me, this simply confirmed what I was witnessing and experiencing.

The principal leaders and their Wisdom years group had already separated themselves from the larger group, behaving in a demanding and competitive way. Not the best strategy in program development, especially a program you want to move from the assembly line and expand across the country.

I can only guess Paul was either kept in the dark or chose to allow the Wisdom years group and the principal leaders flounder and consider separating from the overall organization. I admit I am embarrassed I didn’t know what was happening then (2006-2008).

I had high hopes and had been excited by the promise of a more highly functioning organization. Instead, there was more chaos, the sub-groups of the larger organization being set against each other by principals with vested interests, which I considered counter to the intention and goals we agreed upon in 2004.

The current board of directors and the last two presidents have made some progress and deserve credit for creating some of the changes the 2004 strategic plan called for.

Another quick example was the decision made by someone behind closed doors to use organizational funds to buy the remaining copies of the Victories of the Heart book written by the founders. I believe a few thousand dollars was spent, although I never knew the total. It was not a transparent decision made publicly at a Board meeting.

Several key Board members were wealthy, so it’s possible they used their own private funds, but the points of this example are threefold. First, the founders, who were widely viewed as wealthy individuals themselves, were given a gift by individuals representing the organization or the organization itself in the purchase of the books. Second, the process was not democratic or transparent. Third, it represents the lopsided influence wielded by these two charismatic, brilliant therapist founders.

Whether we were all psychotherapy clients of them or not, I can only guess we all idealized them to some extent, wanted to please them, and be liked by them. I know I felt this pressure myself and could see this dynamic in others. It was a lot of power and, in this context, was exercised in ways sometimes confusing.

I’m sure many saw this gift as a great idea. I know my experience was ambivalence. I boaught the book on the open market, but was very concerned about the image of the founders as gaining unfair advantage due to their power among us. I didn’t think they needed the money, at least that’s what they said when concerns were raised by people like me about the leaders sharing the profits from weekends.

The few leader teams at the time (I was briefly a leader during the time of leader profit sharing in the 1990’s and again in 2004-05 period) who heard people express concern about the shared profits from weekend leadership were quick to say things like , “I only make about $1.25 on an hourly basis for all the time I put in…”

Yet, most of those leaders and certainly the two principal teams led weekends for many, many years in which they earned a profit from the weekend. I didn’t object to them earning profits. I objected to the organization being referred to as a non-profit and the issue of leaders sharing profits being minimized and shut down. It was more ambiguity which created doubt among people-in-the-know and a lack of trust in the messaging.

Was the Men’s Room, later Victories, an above board non profit with selfless, professional leaders?  There were differing opinions on this and there needn’t have been.

So, with the lack of transparency around money, I thought the purchase of the founders’ books was somewhat imprudent. I didn’t complain loudly about it, as I was informed of the decision well after it was made and the purchase and transfer of books completed. I could only shrug my shoulders and move on.

I did complain more directly both during individual conversations with the two founders and Board president about the constant honoring of the founders at the annual fundraising dinner. I had  been to many of these and the pattern was the same. There was some type of program where the founders would be given some type of positive attention, maybe an award.

It wasn’t like they didn’t deserve the positive credit for their accomplishments. They did, but I would add, to do so over and over diminished the award itself and the founders.

Even when they honored someone else, it was typically someone who was beholden to the founders in some way, like the leaders of a local women’s program or the Evanston YMCA where one of the founders was an adviser. I didn’t think there was a sense the dinner could be a gathering where the founders could be seen as generous, smart and humble.

I don’t think I need to cite research to say humility goes a long way in any person, especially those who have already been successful and were loved and admired by many.

I told the founders directly I felt the pattern of them being honored could result in encouraging resentments among others who felt like their own contributions were ignored or minimized. Like the idea of giving a red rose to the man who was seen as doing the “greatest” men’s work at the end of the original Men’s room weekends, the founders could be seen as having a more positive vision of themselves than was shared by all.

Leadership is challenging, no doubt. These men’s positive qualities were many, but they had personal characteristics of which they seemed unaware. It was up to this fledgling organization of good men to help the founders lead in a way that would be generative, not self-absorbed.

My concern seemed to be shared by others. After a Board meeting, someone made the decision to “roast” the other leaders, as a way of acknowledging our contributions and allow the organization to convey a more inclusive identity around leadership. It could be seen as evolving from a private workshop business started and owned by the founders, to something larger and more visionary.

I do not know for certain who or how the “roast” idea was made. Aside from my complaint,  I had no involvement in the process, but it seemed like progress to move from a sole focus on the founders, to other individuals, each of whom made vital contributions.

I may talk about this in another part of this book,  but there was no “roast of the leaders” at the annual dinner. Instead, there was something much, much worse. A group of men got together and videotaped a satire of the two founders as the main characters from the movie, Brokeback Mountain.

To me, (in my opinion), the 10-15 minute video was at once homoph0bic, confusing and embarrassing. It was the only dinner I forced my teenage daughter to attend. After the video, she asked, “what was that…?”

I was so naive, I thought the “roast” was still going to happen. When the program dragged on and it was obvious there would be nothing else, my daughter said, “I thought you were going to be roasted Dad…” I told her I did too and didn’t know what had happened.

Like in the pressure to support the idea of the play, the founders had so much power, I don’t even think they knew what to do with it. They needed feedback and support to adopt a new leadership path, like supporting the development of the organizational infrastructure, as outlined in the 2004 Strategic plan.

It would have been so easy for them to to do this. The Plan was written and would only take minimal effort to review and begin to implement. I would not have filed complaints a few years later, perhaps the Wisdom years would be more popular and the Shadow weekend wouldn’t have experienced the nudity and silence controversy, there would have not been the rat and pot episode, and perhaps the program might be seen as having more value in the community.

The founders took the hard way, with themselves at the center of the decision-making, only looking for people to agree with them. It was terrible to experience and worse to look back and remember.

I will say I think if things had been different some of the serious health problems principals experienced and one death, may have been better managed or averted. I only speculate here.

I began to emerge as an internal critic, but had the support of the Board president and was respected by the emerging new generation of leaders within the organization. It wasn’t until I began to experience blow-back from specific principal leaders I realized I was on a collision course with principal leaders who I began to see as resistant to the changes we had all agreed upon.

They no longer owned their weekends, but the psychological meaning of that was still not integrated by them. They seemed to experience a type of denial called the denial of meaning and impact. They knew a strategic plan called for focusing first on infrastructure, but acted in self-focused ways which ultimately were damaging to the organizational development process.

I was increasingly critical of this in the 2006-2008 period and became a scapegoat.

The older pattern of hidden conflicts guiding the process and the scapegoating of anyone who seems to be critical of principals or breaking the hold of the principals on the emotional devotion of their followers.

Of course, the play idea got some initial traction because of this blind devotion to the founders, but went absolutely nowhere. A lot of volunteer’s money and energy was wasted on this not-so-great-as-they-thought idea.

I was fooled,  but my intelligence offered me some intuition, which I eventually followed.

My more accurate diagnosis helped me understand many of the problems I had identified had a physical basis, my damaged brain. Treatment of my brain became my focus and this required me to do less, exercise and relax more and do what I knew the best over and over.

I was done with the searching for the next best weekend experience to help me heal. After I began treatment for my brain related issues, I began to see and understand things more clearly. I became unwilling to entertain the myopic and self-interested views of those around me in men’s weekend work.

As I see it, there was a huge risk for me with my cognitive impairment to mistake apparent kindness, phone-call outreach, and the occasional “let’s have coffee” as actions of reliable friends. These men who I viewed as healthier, more competent, successful and wealthy, needed me and other men with limited ability to engage critically in the relationships. In other words, these seemingly more powerful men liked their followers to be only adoring followers.

As I learned the hard lesson, these men were more like the wizard in OZ whose tiny stature was hidden by his amplified voice. The Wizard’s power was derived from his persona, the image he projected in Oz, not his authentic self. The symbol of the Wizard is the fraudulent person who saves himself in the end. All along, as sweet as he seemed, he had only one interest, maintaining power at all costs and ignoring the welfare of those around him.

The wizard “talked the talk” but didn’t “walk the walk.”

In Victories, the Shadow program has had about 20 years to develop a following, yet it still hobbles around trying to find success. I have been very critical of this program, but it obviously does not have the support of many other people, or it would have expanded by now.

My dislike for this program is based on my own personal bad experience (rat/pot) as a volunteer for the first or one of the first weekends, the use of “shadow objects” which ultimately were re-traumatizing for me and perhaps others, the negative experiences of men I know who participated, and the burden placed on the organization, its volunteers and funding to keep it alive. A cost benefit analysis may provide data suggesting this program should be retired.

One of my legal disputes with Victories centered around my experiences and judgments about this program. It was alleged in the threatening attorney letter I was lying and distorting the facts about a particular incident I experienced involving leaders wanting me to join in smoking pot and killing a pet white rat. I was not lying, but the power structure then, and perhaps still, was determined to protect the wrong people.

This is the cruel joke, I have been the one who has been threatened and bullied into silence.

If you google “killing a pet”, you will be shocked to see the associations with this type of behavior.

My sense of betrayal by men I thought I could trust and who I had supported for many years was a huge wake-up call. It wasn’t a sudden awakening. It took a long time, an accumulation of experiences which intensified after I became a leader in 2004, where I experienced the lack of effective communication, conflict resolution, and attention to the 2004 Strategic Plan.

The behavior of key people went beyond the sharp elbows and working at cross purposes in even the best functioning organizations. In my opinion, the level of disregard for the purpose we had come together in a strategic planning process in 2004 was brutally ignored for the purpose of self-promotion. As if these men did not get a big enough piece of the pie before, they were here now to consume as much as they could.

It was a competition without formal rules. These principals relied on their loyal, but uncritical followers. If one of these principals would say, “Bill abused me”, this would be the truth. How could it not be?

I had to fight to get into and remain in my intelligent parts of my brain and assert myself. This writing is part of that effort. I have communicated my intention to write and publish to Victories, willingness to edit or amend anything they feel is inaccurate or misleading, and also defend myself  if they sue me.

I remain incredulous that they would want to silence me and threaten me with lawsuits, as I was the leader most dedicated to the 2004 Strategic plan and the success of all the programs. My part in the creation of the highly successful psychodrama training and support for the Breakthrough and Wisdom years program are evidence of this.

I was vulnerable, like so many others. I experienced severe trauma, but didn’t know I had sustained brain damage. It was the brain damage which made it difficult to critically evaluate the motives and reliability of these men who were placing their ambition to be great men’s program leaders above my welfare.

A profound and unmistakable example of this blind ambition was the fact that my therapist, a weekend leader, decided my treatment was to be ended, immediately before I was to begin my role as a weekend leader myself. Predictably, I failed at the weekend leader role, but this therapist failed me by putting his ambitions and desire to expand his program above my serious PTSD and undiagnosed brain problems.

I don’t blame him for not understanding I had cognitive impairments, I don’t think many therapists would have thought about that back in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s unless they were well trained psychologists who better understood neuroscience research. However, this therapist marketed himself as an expert and was referred by someone who I thought I could trust.

Even without knowing about the brain issues, the severe trauma I experienced had not been treated and I experienced what is called a premature termination. It’s most common that clients terminate therapy prematurely. Money can be an issue. I think it’s rare that the therapist is the one who terminates therapy prematurely, as in my case.

The therapist turned out to be excellent for such issues as life transitions, divorce, and other life adjustment problems. He was very charming, charismatic, engaging, and  beloved by most of the clients he worked with, colleagues and friends. He had the largest office in the suite, back and to the right of a longer hallway. Upon entering the office, a beautiful oak roll top desk caught your attention with no clutter and assorted brochures about upcoming programs he was marketing for himself and others.

As you turned to the left there were comfortable cloth upholstered chairs and loveseats with luxurious, seemingly hand woven comforters available should it get cold I suppose or maybe for decorative purposes. Then, various men’s work period art and artifacts would draw your attention. A terrific piece of art by Dick Levon, another therapist/artist/leader at the time, then assorted paraphernalia like drums, Native American items, ceramic art from his wife, all of which certified him as in the deep channel of the men’s movement/work river.

He often spoke of his high fees in a pejorative way to me. He would say, “therapists should charge $100 for each decade they were in the field.” Who speaks like this in the therapy room with another therapist as client? I always had the sense he wanted me to do well, but mostly do well as a soldier in his program’s army.

At some later point, I noticed a new work of art on the wall behind the loveseat where I spent my time in his office. Whatever was there before was replaced by a large framed image of the back of a man walking hand in hand with a young boy into the sunlit day.

It was impossible to miss, but he asked me right away if I noticed.

“What do you think of the new art piece?”  I told him it “was nice.” What else would someone say? It wasn’t some incredible work of art. He told me it was done by the wife of one of the early men who tried being a leader, but left. Apparently, they were still friends or knew each other some way still. I write these details to make it clear to anyone who thinks I may be making this up. The facts he had this art piece done by the wife of someone else and hung it in his office are verifiable. I have a right to write about it.

In truth, the art piece was another example of this principal having reduced insight about some of his personal tendencies and characteristics. I found it significant the art piece was only visible to me on my way in to sit down, while it was something he would stare at throughout his day/night in his office.

It also wasn’t clear who the adult man was…a father, a therapist, a stranger, even implying something more sinister. I don’t need to cite research on priming and grooming of children to  be later molested by someone who previously was warm and friendly. To me, it was the “icky” part of involvement with Men’s Room/Victories. What did all the hugging mean? Why was “this is the organization where men hug and women shake hands” such a common message?

As I learned later, my celebrity therapist was not a deep swimmer in this “men’s work” river. I never witnessed him engaging personally in any of the exercises or psychodramas familiar to this work. He had a persona he protected, but the close observation by a former client, later colleague in men’s work, provided me with insights perhaps not available to others. He was soft, rolly-polly and dressed often in expensive clothes and vest. His shoes were of the Gucci leather loafer type with gold bands across the front. They were not inexpensive.

To the careful observer like me, it was an oddity he and his leader partner wore the same shoes, exactly. I’m sure not all the time, but often enough for me to notice. This was also true of the other principal leader team. I found it cute, but a little odd.

It was materialistic in an expensive way, similar to the focus on their expensive cars they drove. Right before one of the very few all leader meetings I experienced, there was a conversation about the expensive cars, like BMW’s, recently purchased. It wasn’t in the symbolic way of looking for some meaning why middle-aged men wanted to have sporty, luxury cars, or long, flashy sports cars.

I felt uncomfortable during this conversation. I was driving my old Toyota Avalon with 180,000 miles or so. Someone quipped, “hey an Avalon! That’s the poor man’s Lexus!”

Did he think of this as a compliment? I don’t think so. I don’t think he was oblivious either. Was he someone used to making fun at others expense. I will never know the answer to this. It’s not like he stopped himself quickly and said, “hey, I’m sorry, no offense! That was a dumb thing for me to say!”

I found it pejorative. Were these men who had never played on a sports team where they could learn the value of team effort, support for the all-for-one? This pejorative style seemed to be a part of the deep current in this river flow I was in. The first weekends I helped staff, I found the Saturday night after the deeper work of the men during the day to not have the type of reverence I felt it deserved.

I found agreement in others and at least the weekends I led, our Saturday night was respectful for the men’s work during the day. In and out of their presence, we held them in reverence.

It’s left for me to look  back and remember. I had been referred into this circle of men as a psychotherapy client. After a misdiagnosis and premature termination, I was interacting with men with whom I struggled to connect, still looking for Oz, that safe place deep inside of me.

But yes, I was a therapy client, my celebrity therapist did his best, and didn’t charge his least. Since I couldn’t afford his high, no insurance accepted fee, he encouraged me to book sessions every two weeks. I needed two session weekly, really.

As a therapist, there were 3 stages to our sessions.  He would greet me energetically, walk me back to his office in a somewhat animated way, hand on my shoulder. Then, the second stage would be me talking about myself, my issues and concerns. He listened intently, yet about midway through, it was apparent his eyes would be strained and begin to flutter closed. He struggled to stay awake at times, but by the third stage of the therapy, he was ready to bring the session to a close and you would know it.

He could be with you intensely, then move you along to get to his next client. I can understand why he loved referring men to his men’s weekends and the follow-up groups. It was like a co-therapy process for him. The other men, therapists and participants alike, became like a larger group therapy process with all the problems related to groups like triangulation, lack of effective authority systems, and the dangers of dual and multiple relationship problems happening all the time.

The chaos which would often accompany involvment in the leadership groups and volunteering for weekends and the organization kept this principal in a central position. He always offered to “consult” with me (and I’m sure others) after I became a leader. I know he loved to hear about the other leaders and, of course, to consult with him garnered him a top fee.

I know I wanted and needed a longer individual therapy relationship. I don’t think he was very comfortable with that as it would have potentially revealed too much about him personally. He seemed more comfortable in his role of paternalistic, supportive therapist and celebrity men’s weekend leader.

Working briefly and ineffectively with me guaranteed I remained dependent on him, the other two leaders I was attached to so much, and my other assorted leader activities.

No doubt he was a celebrity therapist. He went to great efforts to let one know about his close, loving relationship with another principal who was brilliant and also widely respected in the field.

He was not so transparent in his negative views of some other principal leaders. Unfortunately, he would use the therapy room with me to pass on his negative views. As an example of this was a story he loved to tell me about a dinner with the other leaders and their wives where a cake was baked with a ring inside.

The object was to see who would “win” the ring when the pieces of cake were passed out. He, of course, won and he enjoyed describing the way it irritated the other leader. I usually just listened to these overt triangulation efforts and tried to remain neutral…the same as I would with the other leader in this triangle.

Part of the reason these men refused to mediate with me and chose to degrade and demean my complaints and myself as a person was I confronted them on these issues and asked them if they understood how damaging it was for them both to be in conflict, agitating and sabotaging the others behind the scenes and damaging the organizational development process.

If someone reading this thinks I am lying or defaming someone, there is evidence about this intra-organizational sabotage and I know several people would testify to the accuracy of my statements here. Even the consultants’ report describes what they called systemic problems and the inappropriate scapegoating of a Victories principal in the pre-2004 period.

The situation I mention involved these principal leaders blaming someone else who was doing his job, making efforts to help the organization evolve from a private business. He was in a key position, yet became swallowed up in the divisive conflicts between the leaders.

While everyone in a conflict needs to take some responsibility, the level of responsibility needs to be apportioned to levels of authority. The principals ruled and the result wasn’t  a look at the internal structure and rules governing operation. It was rather a scapegoating process where one person was blamed. I was not directly involved in this conflict, but heard a one-sided version on two different occasions from two different principals.

After studying all the documents I had related to my own conflicts with principals, I came across the consultant’s report and realized the same scapegoating dynamic I experienced had happened back in 2003-04.

I was easily persuaded by these men, especially when my other colleague was someone I admired and also respected. How else can I explain why I became engaged in something ultimately detrimental to my interests for so long and now find myself writing about my experiences to gain some type of resolution and healing of my wounds.

I thought back at the time I received voice mails which offended me that I only needed a sincere apology. I thought I would receive one. I did not. When the apology never came and the tables were turned on me as the one who had offended the other person, I realized the systemic problem within the organization.

I had heard of this other person being involved in intense arguments with other volunteers. These were well known in the backwaters near the organizational water coolers. I heard about them often, mostly because the eye witness to them was not a therapist and was confused about what he had witnessed. It seemed to him to be an angry lashing out at a more helpless volunteer.

And it was.

For me to receive these voice mails, surprised me as I judged myself to be a highly loyal person and used my “high” intelligence and abilities to support and improve the organization at every turn. For this person to describe me as “chronically negative” seemed to me a more personal attack, confusing in itself.

In trying to understand what happened, the written words of this person offered me some insight. I offer no citation in order to keep this person’s identity as private as possible. He  writes about his resentment towards his father:

“…when I get there, my father, so gentle and soft spoken all his life, grasps my sleeve and unleashes his rage, you idiot,, you fool, you got damned good for nothing idiot. How could you be so stupid? You let the check go!..”

I am looking at this crazy man, my father, and I’m considering euthanasia… On the spot. Choking him right there in the street.

when we are safely back in the car,  I turned to my father and let him have it. I spend every ounce of energy,, unleashing my own rage and frustration, my total incredulity over his behavior, his complete lack of gratitude, is uncaring, blind, cool, hideous treatment of me under the circumstances. I below my talk, all pent up everything  pours out of me.

… Raised to be a giver, with a capital G, just like my father,  there was a voice bored me that day. That’s still to this day, says,  look at all I’ve done for you and what do I get? I carry this attitude, the skirt and disappointment down under.  It can resurface with a vengeance when I’m faced with similar circumstances. There are even times when I set up circumstances that will give this darkness inside of me a voice.

This passage and other writing by this principal makes me wonder if he is not in some way setting up the circumstances where “this darkness inside of” (his words) him has a voice. The speed with which is resentment about my evaluation of his program goes to his resentment of me and his personal criticisms of me being “chronically disappointed” suggests there is more going on.

We all have wondered how others have thought of them. To hear it vividly recorded on voicemails is another thing entirely. I am surprised,  but not shocked he doesn’t apologize. When it doesn’t happen quickly and after he meets with the Board president, makes me wonder what their conversation entailed. Did he get permission and encouragement to stonewall me?

Later conversations with this person tell me no. He was also very upset with the whole conflict and almost resigned himself. I know he doesn’t fully understand the process and why it became so important to me to hold this person accountable. I was being bullied and the bully thought I would just be deleting his offensive voicemails and that would be it. However, the voicemails came one after another so quickly, I didn’t even have time to delete them.

I realized I was experiencing something bigger, a scapegoating process, which I now understand several other guys experienced as well in the pre-2004 time period.  Consultant’s were approached to analyze a particularly significant “personnel” problem. The problem was described as “personality conflicts” by the organizations principals, but the consultant’s report challenged that idea.

They stated that the conflict seemed more like a systemic problem where a person who challenged the status quo was being blamed for what was a common problem in organizations with strong attachment to charismatic leaders. I can not remember where I got the report, but suspect the consultants were the same ones who led the 2004 Strategic Plan. They had asked all of us to write some ideas down to be considered at the retreat.

They really liked the report I gave them which described the similarities and differences between Victories and MKP’s Warrior weekend. I suspect one or both of them had done the Warrior weekend and my report helped them better understand Victories and the programs.

I still have my report to them, as well as their report about Victories organizational vulnerabilities, along with notes  and minutes from about every Victories meeting and issue with which I have been involved. I understood clearly at the time, that when things are in writing, with dates, one can more easily substantiate they are being truthful.

Sadly, there are so many ways for humans to be wounded in the world. This is not a new thing, but research has provided a window into the profound way we can be injured. There are basic ways we all understand, like illness or physical harm. However, the wounds from mistreatment, neglect and abuse are less visible and more difficult to understand and appreciate.

The image of the Syrian boy who was traumatized in a bombing dramatically depicts both the physical and emotional impact of trauma. Click here for images.

Knowledgeable people understand this traumatized boy is the norm for any war torn nations. It had a shocking impact on the West because we relate immediately to the haunting eyes of the child and imagine his physical and emotional pain in real terms. His image shocks us from the complacency of our lives distant from the trauma of wars.

Besel Van der Kolk talks about his early career working in Veterans health care and treating soldiers from the Vietnam War. As he begins to understand the impact of the war on the hearts and minds of these soldiers, he realizes there are no organized treatment programs to help them heal. In fact, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was not even recognized in the field until 1980.

Here’s what the National Center for PTSD says about the origins of this diagnosis:

“In 1980, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) added PTSD to the third edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III) nosologic classification scheme (2). Although controversial when first introduced, the PTSD diagnosis has filled an important gap in psychiatric theory and practice. From an historical perspective, the significant change ushered in by the PTSD concept was the stipulation that the etiological agent was outside the individual (i.e., a traumatic event) rather than an inherent individual weakness (i.e., a traumatic neurosis). The key to understanding the scientific basis and clinical expression of PTSD is the concept of “trauma.”

In its initial DSM-III formulation, a traumatic event was conceptualized as a catastrophic stressor that was outside the range of usual human experience. The framers of the original PTSD diagnosis had in mind events such as war, torture, rape, the Nazi Holocaust, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, natural disasters (such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and volcano eruptions), and human-made disasters (such as factory explosions, airplane crashes, and automobile accidents). They considered traumatic events to be clearly different from the very painful stressors that constitute the normal vicissitudes of life such as divorce, failure, rejection, serious illness, financial reverses, and the like. (By this logic, adverse psychological responses to such “ordinary stressors” would, in DSM-III terms, be characterized as Adjustment Disorders rather than PTSD.) This dichotomization between traumatic and other stressors was based on the assumption that, although most individuals have the ability to cope with ordinary stress, their adaptive capacities are likely to be overwhelmed when confronted by a traumatic stressor.

PTSD is unique among psychiatric diagnoses because of the great importance placed upon the etiological agent, the traumatic stressor. In fact, one cannot make a PTSD diagnosis unless the patient has actually met the “stressor criterion,” which means that he or she has been exposed to an event that is considered traumatic. Clinical experience with the PTSD diagnosis has shown, however, that there are individual differences regarding the capacity to cope with catastrophic stress. Therefore, while most people exposed to traumatic events do not develop PTSD, others go on to develop the full-blown syndrome. Such observations have prompted the recognition that trauma, like pain, is not an external phenomenon that can be completely objectified. Like pain, the traumatic experience is filtered through cognitive and emotional processes before it can be appraised as an extreme threat. Because of individual differences in this appraisal process, different people appear to have different trauma thresholds, some more protected from and some more vulnerable to developing clinical symptoms after exposure to extremely stressful situations. Although there is currently a renewed interest in subjective aspects of traumatic exposure, it must be emphasized that events such as rape, torture, genocide, and severe war zone stress are experienced as traumatic events by nearly everyone.

Van der Kolk is one of the most respected clinical researcher in the trauma field and has long promoted an integrated mind-body approach to healing trauma. Mind-body concepts have gotten a lot of notoriety in the mental health field, but there are some very important distinctions as it relates to the treatment of trauma.

I had the pleasure of having sharing a few meals with Dr. Van der Kolk and some colleagues while attending a two day conference with him awhile back. He’s as down-to-earth as he is brilliant, creative and impactful in the trauma field.

We talked about his testifying against pedophile priests in support of victims as an expert witness helping the judges and juries understand that human beings can experience trauma, forget about it, and remember it later.

Here are his ideas expressed in a interview:

“…from my vantage point as a researcher we know that the impact of trauma is upon the survival or animal part of the brain. That means that our automatic danger signals are disturbed, and we become hyper- or hypo-active: aroused or numbed out. We become like frightened animals. We cannot reason ourselves out of being frightened or upset.

Of course, talking can be very helpful in acknowledging the reality about what’s happened and how it’s affected you, but talking about it doesn’t put it behind you because it doesn’t go deep enough into the survival brain.”

Van der Kolk teaches us that trauma is stored in fragments and sensations in the deeper part of the sub-cortical brain, so that talk and talk therapy is not able to reach and heal those traumas.

In order to heal trauma, a more focused mind-body therapy is necessary.  In an article on the “limits of talk therapy”, Van der Kolk states:

“When people get close to reexperiencing their trauma, they get so upset that they can no longer speak…It seemed to me then that we needed to find some way to access their trauma, but help them stay physiologically quiet enough to tolerate it, so they didn’t freak out or shut down in treatment. It was pretty obvious that as long as people just sat and moved their tongues around, there wasn’t enough real change.” (Wylie)

For me, knowing trauma memory was stored implicitly, I was able to better conceptualize how to both heal myself, trauma clients and develop more effective, evidence based methods to utilize psychodrama during Breakthrough weekends and in the Psychodrama training.

To know the difference between the two types of long term memory, explicit and implicit memory is very important.

Explicit memory is the type of memory we learn and remember consciously. Explicit memory includes episodic memory which are memories of significant life events, graduations, birthday parties, weddings, funerals, and so forth. Episodic memory also includes knowledge about the world.

Implicit memory is critical to understand the way trauma is “remembered”by the brain.

Implicit memory is often referred to as “procedural memory” or memory which helps us learn how to do things. The most common example used is learning to ride a bike, but also includes such things as learning to play musical instruments and sports.

It’s memory we utilize without really thinking about consciously. After learning, we just get on the bike and ride. Our memory is stored implicitly and is accessed below our level of awareness. We don’t stop and think to ourselves, “ok, here’s the bike, first I’m going to get on the bike, put my feet on the pedals, push off, balance and start to ride.” We’ve learned all this before and it’s stored implicitly for us to utilize when necessary.

Implicit memory includes priming and procedural memory.

Priming is the process where a response to a stimulus can be conditioned, so the same response occurs more permanently.  An example of this is Pavlov’s research on dog’s salivation when presented with food. Pavlov presents food to the dog, then the dog salivates.

He then notices the dogs begin to salivate just when he enters the room. He’s confused by this initially, but then notices the dogs salivate when his lab assistant enters the room also. He accidentally discovers classical conditioning where a response can be engineered through exposure, association, and repetition.

This is how priming works. Here’s an example. Think of fruit that’s yellow. If you answered banana, you’re in the vast majority. Some people I ask when explaining this process say lemons. Ok! They’re both a result of priming or classic conditioning. We’ve seen a lot of bananas and lemons!

Exploring the impact of priming with trauma, the story gets a little (or a lot) more disturbing. The grooming of a child victim by a sexual predator involves priming.

In her book about predators, Anna Salter, describes her groundbreaking research on sexual predators. She learned directly from predators telling her their methods that they would identify many, many children, then target the ones they believed they could most easily manipulate.

They then would begin the priming, the subtle getting closer, touching, classically conditioning the child to accept more and more physical contact, until the sexual assault would take place.

It’s a hideous example of how these child victims learned implicitly through priming to be sexually assaulted without protest.

Priming is also involved in our fight, flight, numbing process. Adults who grow up in an alcoholic family often have negative reactions to the smell of alcohol or become wary when around someone who is drinking. These are unconscious reactions having been primed by countless repetitions of life with an alcoholic.

There are also many stories about how others witnessed Jerry Sandusky, found guilty of sexually abusing young boys at Penn State, engaging in “inappropriate behavior” with boys. Sandusky referred to this as “roughhousing” in his defense. Well, it’s most likely there was “roughhousing” done to prime (condition) the boys to accept more and more physical touch until he could sexually assault them.

Implicit memory also includes procedural memory, the type of memory we learn unconsciously, so we can accomplish something later. Learning to ride a bike is the most common example, along with such things as learning to play a musical instrument and emotional responses like remembering to be afraid when we perceive something dangerous.

So, it may be obvious, but the storage of trauma memory is a complex and profound process which can doom a survivor to a life where their survival response, the fight, flight or numb, is always activated producing adrenaline and other stress chemicals associated with disease, mental health problems, brain damage, pain and suffering.

It’s also very important to understand that trauma memory is stored in fragments and sensations. We can experience the intense emotional (terror, anger, fear) aspects of these memories, but may not connect them to a traumatic event from the past.

This is the task of psychotherapy with someone highly trained and experienced in the treatment of trauma. This means a guru, shaman, or charismatic workshop leader is not the right person to entrust with the treatment of trauma.

While treatment of trauma may require years of trust building, listening and attunement between therapist and client, we know specific methods are more likely to result in positive outcomes. These methods include such things as  exposure therapy, EMDR, Brainspotting, and attachment based therapy.

It’s significant to note here I do not mention personal growth weekends or workshops as a way to treat trauma. They are absolutely not appropriate. A competent therapist will know if and when attending such a program may be a good idea, but there are many risks due to the way trauma memory is stored implicitly ready to be triggered at any time.

I like to say trauma memories are frozen in our hearts and effective therapy begins to melt the ice, allowing us to feel lighter, more at peace and heal.

Science might say we are accessing trauma memories stored implicitly and integrating them with explicit (episodic) memory. We begin to connect and integrate powerful emotions with the actual event or fragments of memory of events.

It’s a powerful journey for both therapist and client.

Since the 1980’s, clinicians and researchers began to develop concepts and treatment methods to deal with the profound impact of trauma in the relatively recent past. I know myself as someone living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.While there has been great progress, clinical practice has not yet caught up with the research. I know this from my own personal and professional experience.

Near the end of the Oz story, we learn Dorothy was rendered unconscious by fever and illness. Her whole journey was a feverish dream which manifested her darkest fears of losing her home and loved ones. In her case, it would mean death. There was no simple pill for her to take to heal. She lived in a time when healing mostly came in the way of loving care, prayer and attention.

We see the worried looks and joy of her loved ones, everyone we had already met in the wonderful story, as they celebrate her awakening and return.

Dorothy’s healing awakening mirrors the miraculous healing of the heart and mind today as a result of the advances in the trauma field. Van der Kolk and many other researchers and clinicians continue to develop innovative, science-based mind-body methods reaching into the deeper parts of the brain where trauma is stored.

I’ve been a practitioner over the last few decades integrating methods such as interactional guided imagery, psychodrama, EMDR and other mindfulness methods. These are all useful and powerful tools in the treatment of trauma and done ethically following clinical research and protocols can result in dramatic healing.

Oversimplifying the healing process, we can say in the safety of the clinical relationship, a client can begin to access, express and heal emotional memories from traumatic events long ago. Even those who have no memory of trauma and may claim their childhoods were about as perfect as they could be, can discover harsh, even horrible memories of mistreatment, often at the hands of parents and family members, those who were supposed to be trusted and loved.

Sometimes these memories erupt to the surface with deep sadness and crying. It’s like the safety of the clinical relationship provides the warmth needed for the ice freezing those memories in a place of not-knowing melts, allowing the felt experience of that younger self to be released.

This can be a beautiful, powerful turning point in the life of the client and a cementing of their relationship with the therapist.

However, it’s not difficult to trigger these powerful, stored memories in human beings. Trauma survivors are triggered all the time and their defense strategies often deployed to protect them from such assaults. So, rather than difficult to trigger, therapists need to be attuned to the difficulty the trauma survivor has in remaining calm and grounded.

It’s a paradox for trauma survivors to suffer so much pain, protect themselves, while simultaneously needing love, safety and healing.

As a result of this paradox of pain and neediness, trauma survivors are extremely vulnerable to those wizards with amplified voices who promise to help us feel better, prosper and heal.

We can meet these wizards at personal growth weekends, workshops, and the like.

There are many psychotherapists in the Chicago area who are familiar with personal growth workshops and may have referred many of their clients.

I think it can be assumed the vast majority of people who attend these programs benefit in some way, some tremendously.

It’s oversimplifying, but there are probably 4 camps when it comes to these programs:

  1. The most enthusiastic are the ones who love the experience and claim it has changed their lives for the better.
  2. The ones who give it some credit, but are not likely to repeat their experience.
  3. This is the usually very quiet group, but when asked “trash” the experience. Typically, this group files complaints and lawsuits.
  4. The people who are selected to help with program development and/or staff the program who become disillusioned and resentful of the grandiosity of principals and their (the volunteers) uncompensated and unrecognized work.

Certain people make it through the program with positive experiences and find they are encouraged to volunteer in the organization where they provide free labor on behalf of leaders and programs.

These are the ones in the 4th camp who become disillusioned and resentful.

Often kept in a state of suspended growth and development, these people can also feel exploited, even after many years looking back.

I can hear them saying, “…was I called friend/sister/brother because I supported those leaders unquestionably and made numerous referrals to their programs?”

Even though these individuals perceived they were getting a lot out of the experience, hindsight may lead them to ask themselves, “why did I do this and what was I really getting out of it?”

Worse, of course, are the people injured or killed.

While it may seem negative to raise these issues the facts remain individuals with preexisting medical and mental health issues, like myself, may be ill-advised to participate in these programs.

Even very healthy people can be seriously injured or killed by placing their trust in charismatic leaders who ultimately only view them as a source of revenue and additional referrals.

A quick view of the research offers multiple examples of serious negative outcomes for participants of these experiences. Among many, here are a few examples:

  • Mind dynamics, considered the forerunner of personal awareness/growth programs began in 1968, then closed operations in 1973 after being investigated for fraudulent claims and practicing medicine without a license
  • The 3 deaths and injuries of participants of a James Arthur Ray program (Stroud, 2015)
  • A suicide at a James Arthur Ray event where Ray denies any responsibility
  • Reports of psychotic episodes after the Landmark Forum (Glass LL, 1977)
  • Reports of at least 30 lawsuits, high percentage of complaints, psychiatric hospitalizations and deaths after Lifesprings programs
  • Report of a suicide after a Mankind Program weekend (Wikipedia, Mankind Project, 2016)

Obviously, these are very serious problems, and any family member or friend would be concerned and upset by these occurrences. I offer citations and links to help anyone interested do additional research to learn the details of these events.

Research suggests people who are in some distress are more likely to attend LGATs like Landmark Forum. An article in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology states:

“A study was conducted to assess the psychosocial characteristics of individuals who become involved in large group awareness training (LGAT) programs. Prospective participants in The Forum, which has been classified as an LGAT, were compared with nonparticipating peers and with available normative samples on measures of well-being, negative life events, social support, and philosophical orientation. Results revealed that prospective participants were significantly more distressed than peer and normative samples of community residents and had a higher level of impact of recent negative life events compared with peer (but not normative) samples.”  (

Regarding the MKP death, Warren Throckmorton, a university psychology professor has written about the suicide after the MKP program in Houston, TX in some detail and a simple google search offers many other links to newspaper articles and commentary about this tragedy. (Throckmorton, 2008) The man apparently had some pre-existing mental health concerns, yet went to the weekend, came home, complained about the program, then killed himself.

I have experience with both the international Mankind Project’s New Warrior Training Adventure and the Chicago area Victories of the Heart. I have staffed weekends for both programs and became a leader of the Victories of the Heart Breakthrough weekend.

I was encouraged to engage in both programs around 1990, but became more connected to Victories, then the Men’s Room, because of a friendship with one of the principals and the persuasive influence of the Men’s Room principal who I was referred to for therapy.

The highlight of my experience was being  part of the collaborative leadership team with the late Kurt Schultz which helped create the Victories “facilitating psychodrama” training program which has achieved great success since the first program in about 2004-05.

Kurt and I also were co-leaders of the Breakthrough weekend and developed more collaborative, cohesive leader teams where we all pretty much felt “all for one and one for all.” We became good at what we did and our weekends were well received. As we moved along, we had many referrals and reasonably full weekends.

Our leader team instituted an evaluation process and always scored about 4.7 on a 5 point scale. The comments of the participants were enthusiastic and inspiring. Life-changing was the common theme. Aside from the huge burden of responsibility, it was an incredible experience to share in such momentous work with these men.

The Breakthrough weekend was the brainchild of Bob Mark, PhD and the late Buddy Portugal, LCSW. It’s conceived with a balance of engaging men in a process of deep personal exploration, identifying ways they could change and grow, then providing a support group after the experience to encourage continued growth and development. Dr. Mark and Buddy Portugal received awards from the American Family Therapy Association and the Family Institute for this particular aspect of work with men.

There is no doubt the Breakthrough weekend was my favorite men’s retreat. I found it similar to the MKP Warrior weekend in structure, but different in ways that I felt were positive for me and participants. To describe the difference, I would say the Warrior weekend offered a more individual, confidential path to personal growth, where the Breakthrough weekend was more a whole group experience where participants and staff were together, facing and supporting each other more transparently.

The similarities might be more familiar to someone who has done both weekends and has a thoughtful approach to program planning. To me the stages of the experience were identical- entry, engagement, processing important life events, planning, support system for future growth.

No doubt I believed the Warrior program offered more effective follow-up programming and my efforts in the 2004-2008 period failed in improving the Victories follow-up group program.  They have made excellent improvements in the support groups in the post 20o8 time period for which the most recent Board presidents and Board members deserve a lot of credit.

However, most of what I write about is in the early 1990’s to 2008, with most emphasis in the 2004-2008 period when I returned and became a leader and Board member. I don’t think it’s libelous to write honestly about what I think went wrong or some of the damage I experienced.

There were a few changes Kurt, I and our leadership team made to the Breakthrough program in 2004, but essentially the weekend was the same as all other Breakthrough programs. No doubt, the program  had the potential to be life-changing, and at times, a lot of fun. I can only assume the same is true now.

One subtle change we made was to be more welcoming of the participants in the very beginning. The Victories principal leaders were overly influenced by the Warrior weekend, which in turn was influenced by the processes of earlier personal growth programs to be less welcoming (I use this word as to not reveal any of the stuff these guys want kept secret) when participants arrived.

For example, it was common for many of the early personal growth weekends to take watches from participants in the beginning, so they would not be aware of time and their movements were somewhat restricted. Programs that continued this practice may have believed this was an original idea of theirs, but someone earlier had experienced this or heard about it and copied it for their own program, leading others to believe it was their good idea.

Perhaps there is no such thing as a truly original idea?

But Kurt and our team just welcomed the guys whenever they arrived, helped them with their stuff, answered questions, then invited them to join us in the dining hall for coffee, juice, fruit where we as staff could mingle with them.

We got to know each other quickly, with informal introductions, warmth, and comraderie. This immediately served to begin to integrate the two sub-groups, participants and leader team, into one larger, more cohesive group.

The authority structure was clear. We were the leader team and were comfortable and confident in this role. This allowed the participants to begin to shift from anxious or skeptical to trusting.

I understood the powerful role of the sub-cortical brain structures in regulating the fight, flight, freeze mode and our slight innovation became a gateway change for us and contributed to the success of the weekend. I knew our leader team being transparent, open and honest would help create a safe place for the participants who would be called upon to do the same over the course of the weekend. And they did.

Our transparency and welcoming made a difference, even for us as a leader team. We were less afraid and more able to be in our more competent selves.

I know we also had a ridiculously fun event on the weekend which was timed to offer some relief from the intensity of the overall experience. Some of the leader team were really skilled at having fun and this was what happened at this event. Around the time, conflicts and problems with various aspects of the programs, Kurt talked with a few people who suggested we do something else in place of this ridiculous event, so we did.

I thought it was really fun though and to see powerful and successful men like Kurt and other leader team members and participants get down to having fun is still a wonderful memory. I know if Kurt was alive now, it would be one of the things we would laugh about and remember fondly.

Laughing, no doubt, is good for the heart and soul. Kurt and I did it a lot, even during our last meeting before his death.

I still find it befuddling the principal leader teams felt wedded to programs to which they were identified, the Wisdom and Shadow programs. The Shadow weekend never had the following within the organization the Breakthrough and Wisdom years program were able to develop.

For such a small program, already struggling with the detouring of unresolved conflicts through others, the demands of 3 programs without sufficient infrastructure was an unnecessary and heavy burden. And so much of the success of these programs was based on the charisma and persona of the leaders themselves.

Even now, the Wisdom years, often described as “the only program of its type” in the country (maybe the world?) back around 2007, offers several weekends a year and has definitely not expanded to any other city, nor will it at any time soon. The Wisdom years, like most programs Victories, suffered from an over-hype which left some participants disappointed, as I was after my Men’s Room weekend around 1991.

It could not have been much fun for these men to carry on such personality burdens. Perhaps they needed to over-hype programs to get attention. They were trapped in a cage of their own construction. Though self-constructed, I wonder if they really understood the architecture of these cages.

I will perhaps never know if these Victories founders and the other principal leader team understood the neuroscience involved in the action oriented work done during their early Men’s Room, later Initial and then Breakthrough weekends.

I have studied their books and spent time with them in weekends and meetings. I never read anything about neuroscience in their writing or heard them talk about it. They perhaps focused, to a detriment, on the centrality of their loving relationship, disclosure and catharsis (release of stored emotions) without a firm research based understanding of all that was going on within each individual participant and the larger group.

There were other times when the principal leaders would “wing it” and programs would adapt to circumstances or whims and not resemble the original program very much. For example, I was talked out of participating in the Warrior program by my therapist, a Victories principal and weekend leader, so I could attend his Men’s Room weekend, which he described to me as much better than Warriors. He also told me the Men’s room was expanding, while suggesting the Warrior program was having trouble finding participants and in a decline. This was not even remotely true I would later find out.

In fact, his Men’s Room weekend I attended featured a relative of a principal leader and his wedding party, all of whom had no idea what they had gotten themselves into and diminishing the experience greatly for the rest of us. That Saturday night after many of us spilled our “guts” (maybe why Warriors call it “guts”) out during the day, we were taken to a darkened space, lit by candles and a fireplace. It would have been a neat experience, had it not been for the ritual Horah celebration for the leader’s son.

Yes, we were called upon by the leader to lift his relative on a chair and dance around the room with him. I even held one of the legs of the chair. I aimed to please for sure.

It was an egregious example of the rampant dual and multiple relationships within the Men’s Room, later Victories. So many of the participants in these weekends were clients of therapist/leaders it was common to share stories of “which leader is your therapist?”

Dual and multiple relationships are simple to define, more difficult to evaluate. In these personal growth weekends, it can be as simple as a client attends their therapist’s program. It gets more complicated when the client may have felt pressured to attend, or as in my case, disappointed by the outcome, made uncomfortable in a forced meet of the therapist’s relative, and pressure to celebrate him, a total stranger to me.

There are also other complications such as the pressure to disclose personal information which for me was always my trauma history. Was I like the trained monkey who danced when the accordion played? I wasn’t alone in this, of course, I name no one else in this dynamic. Others may look upon this opportunity to have dual relationships with their therapists as a great honor.

Needless to say, I never experienced any other weekend featuring the relative of one of the leaders, nor a Saturday night program such as I and the other men experienced.

In the scheme of things, it became characteristic  of the reduced empathy and insight about such whimsical program shifts. It was negative and the support group I was in was impacted negatively.

I was so swept up in supporting this program at the time, I was not so offended by the pressured participation (how do you say no?) of this dance for the son. I was one of the men who volunteered to hold him up on his chair as we danced around the darkened room. I had played in many games where our team lost, but we kept on playing, doing our best.

My fellow weekend members were not so charitable and it became an ongoing issue of resentment in the group, rightfully so. We had paid about $600, and the experience was contaminated by the dual and multiple relationships of a leader involving his son in the weekend.

Was there no one to advise against this poorly conceived, perhaps random idea? I secretly suspected later there were not enough registrants for the weekend and the son and friends were filler. These leaders had tremendous influence and most people were cheerleaders for them reinforcing their own positive view of themselves and program. I’m sure no one was critical of the idea of the boundary crossover of a son of a leader and his friends celebrating a wedding at this men’s weekend.

Having become a leader in this program and participated in many other weekend events, I know a lot that can happen. What happened here was more of a big deal than I imagined and one can safely say, the leader who celebrated his son had personal characteristics of which he was unaware.

Men’s weekends, like the Men’s Room featured a process where participants would access and express intense emotions, often considered a breakthrough experience. Called “heartwork”in Men’s Room/VOH and “guts” in MKP, this process is most similar to traditional psychodrama created by Jacob Moreno.

You can watch an early psychodrama demonstrations here and here.

These intense processes, I think, are the engines which move these weekends. It is a process which triggers the memory system, so that stored trauma memory can be accessed, processed and integrated. There is definitely the risk of retraumatization, a key problem with the intense work at personal growth programs.

What does it mean to be retraumatized? It means that a trauma survivor either inadvertently or intentionally through a failed therapy technique re-experiences the emotional distress of an earlier traumatic event without the therapist establishing safety and appropriate clinical protocols.

The trauma survivor needs to be fully informed about the goal and methods of the treatment method and agree to participate in the use of this method. The ultimate goal of the method is for the distress related to the traumatic event to diminish. There are clear guidelines for the therapist’s use of exposure therapy, EMDR, Brainspotting, and guided imagery which protect the client from retraumatization and offer the opportunity to diminish the distress and suffering of trauma.

In men’s weekends and other personal growth weekends, how well these programs protect against retraumatization and offer follow-up and support is very important and a way to evaluate their potential for harm.

In the Men’s Room/Victories, I experienced the more random, harmful strategy with no safety or clinical protocols or informed consent. I have no doubt I was retraumatized by the activities I was subjected to, especially the re-enactment of a very serious traumatic event in my adolescence

I can use myself as an example in that I once used a butcher knife from our kitchen to threaten my intoxicated father to stop abusing my mother, brothers and I.

Looking back, I believe I was not helped by weekend leaders who encouraged me to bring a replica of this butcher knife to use in a random re-enactment exercise. It was a recovered memory for me and I wonder now if I wasn’t some type of “interesting case example” to be displayed at weekends to encourage other participants to believe in the healing powers of leaders.

You’ll have to pardon my own self-degradation, but I think I was acting sort of maybe like a circus bear, dancing and growling for the audience on cue. I was good to have on staff because I would bring men to the weekend and could be relied on for self-disclosure, although it wasn’t a sound psychological activity for me.

I know the so called leaders also brought what they thought  were weapons, like a switch blade and handcuffs. They used them as props to intimidate or express their sense of hidden power. However, they were props. For me, the butcher knife was a replica of a real knife I used for protection of myself and family. It wasn’t a shadow object to put on the mantle. I had trouble bringing it from home and handling it during the weekend. I wrapped it in a towel to hide it’s triggering damage to me.

These were the same leaders who thought it would psychologically beneficial to smoke pot and kill a pet rat prior to a weekend where they were the leaders in charge and I was the support staff. These unorthodox ideas and activities, along with the idea of commissioning the writing of a play about men’s work, the very flawed homophobic video shown at a fundraiser, expanding the Wisdom years to other cities, 30 minutes of voicemails I found personally insulting, using donations and funds from fundraising to purchase the founders remaining Victories books, and the serious lack of attention to the 2004 Strategic Plan provide at least a partial explanation as to why I resigned in 2008.

I’m pretty sure these leaders believed this re-enactment exercise would be helpful to me. They had benevolent intentions, but it was not helpful. This use of trauma related objects for re-enactment purposes was particularly harmful to me. It was not healing at all, as evidenced by the diagnostic work I completed several years ago showing brain damage, likely from earlier childhood abuse.

It was like an inappropriate and incorrect version of exposure therapy done without my informed consent. There was definitely a belief in the healing power of disclosure, but in this case, it had the reverse effect of creating discomfort for me and an increase in anxiety and distress. I didn’t feel safe.

For them, I can only guess they believed I needed to access, express and resolve the feelings associated with the trauma in my life related to the butcher knife. They were probably correct in this assumption, but their method was harmful. I can imagine no scenario where the use of a knife as a weapon to re-enact trauma in any type of therapy setting, let alone a men’s weekend, would be helpful, much less therapeutic.

I also think it’s possible they gained some sense of power from displaying their shadow objects for staff and participants during these events. I know they were not the victims of the sustained abuse and neglect which I experienced, so to dabble with such items in their own lives could be exciting and empowering.

I  know watching them display and talk about these objects was more an intimidating emotional experience for me. These men were very articulate and I was sure they absolutely knew so much more than me. To see them handle their dangerous shadow objects only added to their mystique as leaders.

Looking back now, I have no idea of their thoughts, as they have never written anything about their methods, nor offered any scientific evidence supporting their use of such methods. My criticism now  does not mean I wasn’t attached to these men; I was. I idealized them and felt their connection to me was important, even for my survival.

Now, I’m sure there were other participants who felt like this exercise was very helpful. I am not arguing the fact that since it was harmful for me, it should be banned from use. To reduce any risk of harm, yes, it should be discontinued. However, if there is sufficient evaluation of this sort of method by competent professionals, there could be refinements that reduce risk of harm.

Although the founders of this program wrote a book, there are no citations or references to any evidence based research supporting their methods. Same is true for the Shadow program.

At one point, I encouraged other leaders to join with Kurt, I and the other volunteers to write more about the psychodrama they were leading. The idea was to write more to describe the process, so others could learn. I admit I had the fantasy we could write a book about psychodrama at men’s retreats.

I remember they looked at me with sort of a “fill in the blanks” type of stare. I only have to guess they thought I was “depressed with psychotic features” (Anonymous email, 2008) or maybe felt intimidated to try to put into words how they facilitated psychodrama. The early leaders believed their power to change men through heartwork was something spiritual, like the power of god/universe was being channeled through them into the participant. I think it very likely it was easiest to diminish me, rather than look more deeply into their own vulnerabilities.

For me, I was very afraid to try to facilitate psychodrama or heartwork as they called it. I tried it and felt I did a very poor job at it. With my brain vulnerability especially, to be thrown into leading without training was not effective. So, I pursued training at MKP where training for “guts” or psychodrama was readily available. Kurt and I attended a training together there and this led directly to the successful development of the psychodrama training Victories runs to this day.

So, catharsis, or talking about uncomfortable issues and disclosing traumatic or negative life experiences were a major focus for these early leaders in the Men’s Room. Not for themselves so much, but for participants and volunteer staff.

One could say the personal sharing during these early weekends was helpful to men opening up, often for the first time. There were times, however, where it was possible men shared too much, making themselves too vulnerable and risking retraumatization. The leaders with whom I worked never really talked about the need to be careful about self-disclosure. For them, it seemed the more you shared, the better.

At these times, it seemed to me the “talking cure” didn’t work as well as it could have. In 12-step work, it’s referred to as “telling war stories” where episodes of substance abuse were told in some ego gratifying way, rather than with insight and remorse. I want to protect the confidentiality of this process, so will not say more about the process itself.

Rather, it involves the question whether or not disclosure is helpful or harmful. It’s a complicated question with some interesting research, yet I never heard any discussion about the helpfulness of this particular exercise. I know we discussed this in my own leader team and made some subtle changes which I think made it a safer experience for all involved. The change involved staff remaining silent during the process, rather than expressing any positive or negative judgments.

The term “talking cure”,  referencing the early development of psychoanalysis, was actually created by the famous patient of Josef Breuer,   Anna O.  who went on to become a “leading feminist, developer of social programs for women, and social reformer.”

Freud often gets credit for the creation of this concept, but it was Anna O. who led the movement of the early psychotherapy field into the realm of talk therapy.

I find it interesting to note that Anna O.’s case has engendered debate about whether or not her symptoms were psychological or neurological, as some scholars have said the  “examination of the neurological details suggests that Anna suffered from complex partial seizures exacerbated by drug dependence.”

So, the “talking cure” (Anna O called it “chimney sweeping”) was helpful to Anna, but was not the cure for her as she had ongoing problems which required attention and care. Her brilliance and effectiveness as a human being, however, led to her having a huge impact on her world at the time.

As my be true in Anna O.’s  case, my cognitive and emotional problems have a strong connection my poor brain health. As that was not diagnosed, the apparent treatment plan, in the minds of Men’s Room/Victories principals focused on my self-disclosure in unsafe group settings, which only reinforced the patterns of abuse I had experienced in my life.

Certainly, neuroscientists and brain-based clinicians are always evaluating how someone’s vulnerability may be connected to brain problems. This is especially true as it relates to the unique way our brains are impacted and the way they store trauma memory.

Scientific research has made dramatic progress since then, especially in the knowledge about how trauma impacts memory and effective treatment methods.

This is so important as survivors of trauma often do not have access to treatment or receive inadequate, non-evidenced based treatment, such as myself years ago. Without proper knowledge and healing, trauma survivors are at a high risk of being “recruited” to attend one LGAT, personal growth program or another.

LGATs of all sizes can be opportunities for growth for some, a place for narcissists to establish a following, or trauma survivors to be injured. It’s probably a big gamble and the individuals who claim expertise often are not being truthful.

Look at the example of James Arthur Ray. Most of the training or expertise he claimed was truthful and his con job ultimately led to the death of at least 3 people.

Because of the unique way trauma memory is stored, humans need to feel safe in order for that memory to be accessed. (Van der Kolk B., 2014) Perhaps every human being experiences trauma, yet not everyone is traumatized.

Trauma survivors have a tremendously difficult time putting together a cohesive, personal story because the effects of trauma interrupt and damage the normal storage of memories.

Personal growth weekends also create a lot of intensity, which has the potential for people’s implicit trauma memories to be triggered, accessing trauma memory spontaneously. Unless handled appropriately, this can lead to retraumatization.

So, during personal growth weekends, processes are designed to create enough intensity, so the participant is able to access, identify, process and hopefully resolve, these implicitly stored trauma memories.

My unique contribution to Victories was my interest in neuroscience, trauma and how experiential therapy methods helped human beings heal trauma. Other leaders in the program, I think, focused on their intimate relationship being the healing element.

I began to apply neuroscience research to psychodrama and participated in the expanding, collaborative leadership team developing the first psychodrama training. Kurt, the team, and I began teaching this at the psychodrama training we created and also on the Friday mornings before every Breakthrough weekend.

All of us on the leadership teams began to have a common understanding of what we were doing, the conceptual map based on research, and common language and methods so we could all speak together and collaborate on behalf of the men. It was a beautiful time for me, Kurt, and I think the other guys.

I had some truly wonderful experiences working in the leader team we created. Many of those guys are now in leadership positions in Victories and have made many, many positive changes. I also like many of the workshops offered via the MKP men’s centers all over the globe.

Not everything about these two local programs (MKP has a center in Chicago but is an international program) is perfect and MKP has had its share of controversial moments, complaints, deaths, and a few lawsuits.

Victories has perhaps enjoyed more popular support in the community and I have already mentioned the awards the program and its founders have received. They created something profound and it continues to evolve in some positive ways.

What led to the creation of these and other personal growth programs?

It’s surprising in a way that more leaders and stakeholders of these organizations have not studied the historical connections to other similar programs.

In the social science literature, these programs are referred to as large group awareness trainings (LGATs). (Wikipedia, LGATs, 2016)

LGATs evolved out of the Human Potential Movement (HPM) and the New Age Movement (NAM) in the 1960’s and 1970’s. They shared similar goals in helping people increase self-awareness and become more empowered in the world, but had significant differences.

Suzanne Snider in her excellent article, est, Wernard Erhardt and the Corporitization of Self-Awareness, states:

“the HPM and NAM movements diverged philosophically when it came to attributing the source of human experience. The HPM (think Werner Erhard or L. Ron Hubbard) credited/blamed each individual as the sole determiner of his or her own experiences, whereas NAM (think Shirley MacLaine, but please think well of her) explored spiritual, metaphysical, and extraterrestrial realms as forces guiding and even determining a person’s life.” (Snider, 2003)

Suzanne’s article is a fascinating review of this history and anyone interested in these issues will benefit from starting with this article.

So, LGATs started with lofty goals of increasing self-awareness and personal success and the methods were a mixture of many common psychological techniques, like guided imagery, self-hypnosis, meditation, group process, and more unorthodox methods, like enforced no-bathroom use for long periods of time (people apparently wet their pants) and verbal abuse.

Suzanne goes on to say:

“the Human Potential Movement (programs) engaged in far less soothing awareness-training sessions, filled with screaming and crying and verbal abuse. HPM groups such as Lifespring, Mind Dynamics, and est aimed (often in competition with one another) to goad us into more fully realized versions of ourselves…”

I never experienced any of these LGATs, though my wife attended the Landmark Forum here in Chicago and encouraged me to attend a orientation session. It was a fail, as the young woman leading the event seemed barely out of college and her diagrams on the blackboard left me pretty confused.

However, it’s clear Landmark Forum has evolved away from the verbal abuse and confinement of participants during events. Their website makes it clear there are breaks and meals and participants can be assured of not wetting their pants, as occurred at earlier est trainings.

But those early LGAT sessions had to be pretty memorable. For me and any of my Catholic school friends, the idea of someone standing in the front of the room verbally abusing us is pretty easy to imagine. We experienced that all the time.

Most of these early HPM programs were motivated by profits and there was a lot to be made. Over time, modifications were made, like est became Landmark Forum and continues to this day to offer programs which many find very helpful. Wikipedia reports there may be as many as 2.4 million graduates of Landmark Forum programs. (Wikipedia, Landmark Worldwide, 2016)

One has to admit there is something happening in Landmark which people find meaningful. In fact, the Landmark website features an endorsement from Alan Menken, 8-time Academy Award Winning Composer who says:

“This is basic training for the mind, the heart and the soul. It is the most positive transforming experience I’ve ever been a part of.”

There are other celebrity graduates of Landmark who offer a boost in testimonial value to the organization. No doubt, Landmark Forum, the direct descendant of est is mainstream now and boasts millions in revenue yearly.

Landmark is only one of the LGATs reviewed in the literature both from the point of view of success and failure. A law firm defending Rick Ross of the Cult Awareness Network wrote a an excellent review of the litigation involving Landmark’s attempts to quiet it’s critics. (Skolnik, 2006)

These attorneys understand the power dynamics of larger, powerful organizations like Landmark use of litigation. Here’s what they say:

“In an effort to suppress this unfavorable dialogue about the company, Landmark, like Erhard before it, has repeatedly used litigation and threats of litigation as an improper tool to silence its vocal public critics.

This type of lawsuit — typically accusing the defendant of defamation and related torts — is known in various American jurisdictions as a SLAPP suit: i.e., a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation; a lawsuit brought not for its merits, but for the specific purpose of silencing a vocal critic, often one who is unlikely to have the financial resources to defend himself.”  (Skolnik, 2006)

It’s quite a read and shows clearly an organization with a lot of money and attorneys can make people’s lives miserable they deem harmful to their image/brand.

Not sure if  I am proud or not, but I have had four SLAPP lawyer letter threats, a verbal and an email threat of being sued for slander, defamation, etc from Victories and Victories principals. The verbal and email threats were an effort to silence me by suggesting they  would sue me if they believed my writing was harmful to Victories.

That the others might be lawyers was all the better.

Why not? This is what lawyers do for a living and the reputation of people and organizations are influenced by what information is public and what information can be kept private. Who wants their mistakes or negative revelations from the past to surface in the public arena?

After the most recent not-so-veiled threat, I just decided I would not be intimidated any longer and would publish my experiences. Besides being protected by the American constitution, I am telling the truth.

Look at the remarkable trends in the current (2016) presidential race. I don’t think anyone could have predicted the negative information being revealed about Donald Trump, except the people to whom he spoke to or behaved in abusive ways towards. They knew about it, but were either afraid to speak up or were threatened.

The same is true for Roger Ailes and his sexual harassment and abuse of women at Fox news. He survived through manipulation and intimidation for years hiding behind pay offs or the threat of legal action, should anyone consider complaining. It wasn’t until someone decided they were not going to stand for the abuse any longer, the pain became too intense, that they stood up, publicly complained via lawsuit t hat Ailes was defeated. Although it’s hardly a defeat when he walks away with $ millions.

So in this less regulated area of LGATs and personal growth weekends, there have been a lot of lawsuits, threats of lawsuits and some settlements. At least one “leader”, James Arthur Ray, was convicted of negligent homicide and went to jail.

I know there are many more very unhappy people who have been more damaged than helped by these programs. I know some and speak to them.

When you consider the effort to silence critics of LGATs, you begin to question Suzanne Snider’s definition of the HMP movement as:

“well-meaning… a movement which put a premium on human possibility, with an emphasis on the spiritual side of humanity.” (Snider, 2003)

One wonders why programs which claim to do such good in the world would need to be so harsh in their effort to squash people’s First Amendment rights. I guess one reason is because they can.

No one would be surprised by the rampant sexism in Hollywood and the intense pressure on women to remain silent against their abusers. Mila Kunis wrote a powerful “open letter” confronting an unamed movie producer who pressured her to pose semi-nude for the cover of a magazine. Here is what she says:

“You’ll never work in this town again.” A cliché to be sure, but also what a producer threatened when I refused to pose semi-naked on the cover of a men’s magazine to promote our film. I was no longer willing to subject myself to a naïve compromise that I had previously been willing to. “I will never work in this town again??” I was livid, I felt objectified, and for the first time in my career I said “no.” And guess what? The world didn’t end. The film made a lot of money and I did work in this town again, and again, and again. What this producer may never realize is that he spoke aloud the exact fear every woman feels when confronted with gender bias in the workplace. -Mila Kunis

To read the letter in its entirety, click here.

Ms. Kunis speaks to the fear of actors feeling like their careers and livelihood are being threatened.

I myself felt that way when I decided publish honestly about what happened to me after the principals who ignored my good faith request to mediate my concerns and complaints. Why wouldn’t these men even tell me they were not going to mediate with me? I had to ask a Board member what they had decided to do about my complaints. He said, “Didn’t (Board member) tell you?” I said, “No.”

He then reported to me the Board essentially wanted the one of the other principals about whom I complained and I to do mediation. The other person finally stopped the cat and mouse game, met with me, then had his attorney send me a threatening letter, telling me this person would never meet or mediate with me and I should cease and desist.

It wasn’t the only lawyer letter I received or threatening messages about lawsuits if I wrote anything they “considered harmful.” I experienced it as an effort to intimidate me into silence as the conflicts I wrote about ran counter to the “branding” and persona of the people involved. It wasn’t like I had been the only one to run afoul of this authority system and to become scapegoated in the process. There were others, I was only the most vocal and public.

When the characteristics of these organizations are explored, it becomes more clear why there are attempts to silence critics and discredit their criticism.

The main characteristics of LGATs include the following:

  • creation of an altered state of awarenes
  • catharsis or the intense expression of emotions
  • rebirthing or some exercise leading to a sense of new beginnings
  • recruitment
  • engaging participant graduates as volunteers

It’s been fascinating to me that many people involved in leadership of these programs have not understood the historical influences of other LGATs or even the underlying structure and processes of these programs. Social scientists have been studying LGATs for decades and there is a lot of interesting literature out there.

I know on some level MKP and Victories would object to being called a LGAT. However, even a quick review of mission, values, methods and organizational structure, the characteristics of an LGAT are obvious. Chief among them is the idea of recruitment.

Mind Dynamics started in 1968 and is widely understood to be one of the first, and perhaps, most influential LGAT, leading directly to the creation of est or Erhard Seminar Trainings, which then evolved to become the Landmark Forum operated by Landmark Education. A second LGAT evolving from Mind Dynamics was Lifesprings Seminars.

Writers suggest Mind Dynamics and it’s owner were influenced by Edgar Cayce, Theosophy, Silva Mind Control and Curtiss’ Depression is a Choice. (Edgar Cayce, 2016) (Theosophy, 2016) (Curtiss, 2016). I’m providing links here for anyone to read more about these early influences on LGATs. It wasn’t all pretty and Mind Dynamics was sued for false advertising and forced to cease operations in the early 1970’s.

Most of the smaller Chicago based programs have been influenced greatly by the Mankind Project’s success. Imitation is flattery and I know the MKP guys welcome other programs learning from them and moving on to create other programs. MKP has been an incubator for leadership, healing & recovery, and global change. With men’s centers in many parts of the world, they bring the opportunity for health and well-being to tens of thousands of men and their families, especially through their skillful use of psychodrama.

One example of this influence is my own participation at psychodrama training workshops sponsored by MKP or men associate with MKP, like David Karr. I thought it was a great learning experience for me. When I began to work with my leader partner, Kurt Schultz, in the Victories Breakthrough weekend, it was apparent we had to develop a conceptual map about leading psychodrama. Kurt was very good at it, but I was not and needed to do catch-up. I had been trying to study psychodrama and MKP offered the only way to do so at the time.

Our work there with the other participants was very helpful and enabled us to continue to work with the informal team of guys at Victories to develop a cohesive way of teaching and facilitating psychodrama. I credit my relationship with Kurt Schultz and the other guys for their ability to collaborate in what was a transformative step in the history of volunteer training in Victories. Many of those men are now leaders and Board members/stakeholders in the organization. I am very proud of this accomplishment.

I mention the transformative step the psychodrama training enabled for Victories. It was a creative group process beginning with Kurt, myself, David Karr, George Rounds, and MKP guys, and then the Victories volunteer guys who now form the leadership of the Breakthrough and Shadow weekend programs (to the best of my knowledge).

My four years of collaborative leadership with Kurt and the rest of the men on the team(s) was very meaningful. They know who they are and the good things we accomplished in creating a training for volunteers who wanted to learn psychodrama.

Should I have even been as involved in Victories as I was? My answer is a pretty clear no. My brain vulnerability suggests the types of activities I experienced were not helpful, and perhaps harmful to my brain functioning. My vulnerability made me more open to manipulation and trust in others who were not deserving of trust.

I almost entered the leader training in the Warrior program and wonder now if it would have been different for me. It was a much larger and more diverse organization. They needed leaders and therapists like me were appreciated. Also, I could have played a useful and easier role as a co-leader in the Warrior weekend. Unlike Victories, there was no glass ceiling beneath the feet of 4 original leaders who may have felt unnecessarily competitive with emerging leaders.

When I later staffed a Warrior weekend, my experience was remarkably different than in Victories where I felt insignificant, underutilized, and somewhat demeaned in a “chop wood, carry water, take out the trash” servant role. I don’t believe my experience was unique. I know others felt the same way as I did. The expectation of supporting and deferring to the leaders was a clear expectation at the Men’s Room.

At the Warrior weekend, it was fun to be a part of a large staff working on behalf of the guys who came to the weekend. The Warrior weekend is a big production and many hands are needed to prepare the space and all the elements of the event.

Lots of guys, doing lots of things, smoking cigars, talking in small circles, having fun, embracing, visiting the sweat lodge to connect with the Water Pourers, crying and grieving. There was a lot to experience and take in. As staff, we were able to participate in any part of the weekend exercises so long as we were free. It was all good.

At the Warrior weekend, the leadership structure was one Full Leader and three co-leaders, a key difference from Men’s Room/Victories. It was a shared, collaborative leadership style which was at once effective, democratic and engaging.

I was enthused throughout the weekend, but the ending Warrior staff circle where men described their experience and checked out was an experience I will never forget.

It came to me speaking and as I looked around the room, I began to cry from a deep place inside my heart. I liked what I knew of the staff men and respected their voluntarism and skill, especially in the psychodramas (they call it “guts” work) they facilitated for the men.

I could see that small though my staff role, I was an integral part of something larger there that weekend. It was energetic, honest, and big enough to help me grow. It was hard not to want to be a “men’s leader” back then, but I could see that there were many men available to mentor me and there was a leadership track to follow. Through hard work, men could earn the right to be a leader in the Warrior program.

I also had a realization about Men’s Room. While staffing  weekends, I was in awe and mesmerized by the creativity of the  leaders with whom I volunteered. I thought of those leaders as almost “gurus or shamans.” I initially saw them through my young guys eyes as creating miracles with their hearts, hands and minds. I couldn’t imagine there were others like them anywhere.

Well, there were. They were regular staff guys at Warrior weekends all over the country, later the world. I witnessed the same sort of miracles both during my own Warrior weekend and later more clearly as part of the staff. Regular staff guys facilitating brilliant and creative “guts” work (psychodrama) helping to change men’s lives.

Seeing and comparing both programs, the Men’s Room felt like I was like looking behind the Wizard’s curtain,discovering the Wizard was a small guy with an amplified voice. These guys had all participated more or less with the Warrior program. They had to be influenced, so why not be more transparent. When I gushed over the Men’s Room leaders’ psychodrama facilitation, why not talk about it as something they learned instead of something they divined? My idealization of them received it’s first scratch.

On the other hand, the Warrior guys were just doing it as part of teams, never taking credit in any way for their creativity or pushing someone else out of the way to maintain their place in the spotlight. The leaders of the weekend actually took a back seat and acted more as coaches helping the staff guys become more skilled. Leaders didn’t have to shine at the weekend.

I could see that these Warrior staff guys were learning this process they called “guts” work and facilitating it skillfully, changing men’s lives. It wasn’t something “spiritual” or resulting from some vertical connection to g-d. It had been learned and there were a lot of teachers. For the first time, I could see myself doing this.

It wasn’t just “guts” facilitation. There were many processes during the course of the weekend that helped men see the importance of their connection to others and gain knowledge about the sometimes terrible way they led their lives. It was a neat way of learning the difference between how men wanted to be seen and how they were really leading their lives.

I made a decision at that moment to pursue the leadership development process for the Warrior weekend. I believed there was no leadership opportunity within the Men’s Room/Victories program for me.

What I saw of the dyadic (two men who “were committed to each other first”) model just didn’t resonate and I had no idea how I could “qualify”, whatever that might mean. I suppose it was a form of homophobia, but if so, it was confused by the fact that these early leader teams professed their deep attachment and connection to each other while also having wives and children at home.

Here is how the founders describe their connection, closeness and attachment in their book, Victories of the Heart:

“One day in a supervision group on intimacy we found ourselves paired together with the instruction to tell our partner something that he/she wanted for ourselves….” (Mark P. R., 1996, p. 26)

“I remember sweating. I was extraordinarily uncomfortable until I let go of the urge to perform and allowed my mind to come to rest on (his) ample forehead…Reassured, I let my gaze drop to his deep brown eyes. Now it comes to me: I want your brain, I say, Give me your brain. The relief is tremendous.” (Mark P. R., 1996, p. 26)

“One of the strongest elements of our weekend experiences with men is for them to see the kind of relationship that the two of us have. It is important for us to make clear that ours has many imperfections and is still emerging. But we are two men who love one another, who have developed a powerful bond in a non-sexual relationship. We do not intend to red-flag the non-sexual aspect, although it is important.” (Mark P. R., 1996, p. 171)

These two men were committed to each other in a passionate way and as they said often, this relationship was the source of great meaning and creativity for them both. This was evident to any who knew them or participated in one of their weekend programs.

I just didn’t think I could muster up enough interest in such a deep male-male relationship. I liked having good friends, being connected and part of teams. This type of relationship seemed uncomfortable to me.

I think my co-leader Kurt also felt comfortable in the company of the larger leadership team we created. He had a few friends who were terrific guys with a great sense of humor and a very authentic and real way of relating to men. It was great to be with them and I don’t think Kurt or I were worried about how each of us would feel if we had other closer friends.

I’m just thinking of this now as I write. I don’t think either of us gave it another thought. Whereas the other leader teams seemed more closed to me. They probably had their own close leader team guys, but certainly this played a negative role in the strengthening of sub-group cohesion, at the expense of the larger group.

Given this more systemic view of organizational dynamics, it makes sense the other leaders and “their guys” might have felt threatened and defensive.

I’m reminded of the time my daughter’s soccer team was in a tournament in Hawaii. She and her friends took surfing lessons from a native Hawaiin. He asked use where we lived and we replied Chicago. I asked him if he had ever been to Chicago and he said, “I’ve never been to the United States.

I just nodded, surprised he would say “never been to the United States”, when Hawaii was one of the states in the United States. He saw Hawaii as separate and apart from the US. So it was with the Victories sub-groups. Separate, apart and definitely unequal.

One of the internal problems for me was the ambiguity and confusion around the issue of male sexuality. With all the talk about men loving men and entering into committed, devoted relationships, you would have thought the issue of homophobia and/or heterosexism might be discussed. It was not.

The issue of male sexuality never seemed to be fully explored and addressed in any of the programming of which I was a part. I noted there always seemed to be gay men who may have been married to women or not who did not feel comfortable “coming out” and being more open in the Men’s Room environment.

In some ways, male sexuality seemed to be addressed with more innuendo.

In their book, Mark and Portugal describe how they determined the name for their program. I was pleased to read this in their book, as I and many others always wondered about it. The purpose of the program was terrific. They state:

“…explained the concept of an experiential weekend for men-keeping the numbers small, inviting men from different age groups and backgrounds, not using last names or discussing specific lines of work. The idea was to create a safe arena where men can tell their stories of their lives in a non-judgmental environment. The dynamic should free men to open up in all the places we shut down or subdue ourselves in order to survive.” (Mark, p. 30)

Even as I read this now, I am moved by the power of the words and opportunity for men to become more comfortable in sharing and caring about themselves and others.

I also just shake my head in confusion when I read the way these authors describe the name. Written on a napkin, it says,

“The Men’s Room,where men can expose themselves emotionally, where the zipper that keeps us locked up inside can be opened.” (Mark, p. 30

While I assumed the purpose of the program pretty clearly just from participating, reading about the name’s origins and meaning left me confused and uncomfortable. The logo of the Men’s Room was also what appeared to be a room, with a corner door opening and the male symbol seeming to come out of the room.

Language and symbols for sure can create multiple meanings. Was the logo a closet with men “coming out” or all men opening up and revealing themselves emotionally? A logo is by definition is an emblem, symbol, graphic design to identify and brand an organization in the public realm. Seeing a logo should quickly lead one to understand the purpose, mission of an organization.

When the logo works on multiple levels, it can create ambiguity and a mixed marketing effort. I think this was true with the Men’s Room both in name and logo. Men enter a bathroom, pull down their zipper, and open their pants to urinate. It’s sort of a stretch to think of “opening the zipper” meaning men opening up emotionally and sharing more of themselves.

When you consider the ambiguity of the name and logo, then add in the name for their support group was the “keep it up group”, it’s pretty clear the meaning begins to be more sexual innuendo, and perhaps degrading messaging. By definition, the support group was for men who needed help “keeping it up.”

Plus, the name given to support staff was “service man”, rather than the simple term of staff. “Service man” again begins to suggest the support staff are “servicing the weekend, the leaders of the weekend, and the participants.

Perhaps, the founders were not aware of the widespread use of the term “sexual service”, rather than “sexual slavery” in reference to the Japanese and Korean women forced into slavery to meet the sexual needs of the Japanese military during WWII. It wasn’t until after 1992, the term “sexual service” was changed to “sexual slavery” to more accurately depict the violation of those women’s human rights and dignity.

So, “service man” would not have been my first choice in names for volunteers in the Men’s Room, nor the other names I have discussed.

The other evidence of the ambiguous sexual innuendo was the homophobic video shown at the annual fundraiser. I have already discussed this video.

First, I had conversations with Kurt, Buddy Portugal and a telephone conversation with Bob Mark and then with the Board at a Board meeting. My message to them was I believed using the annual fundraiser to express adoration for the founders may have a reverse effect. Rather than adding to the legitimate credit they deserved for their work, it was becoming a tired, predictable part of the event which diminished the work of others and cast them in the negative role of attention seekers and the rest of us as fawning sycophants.

Someone suggested an alternative would be a “roast” of the other leaders, which would have included me. I thought it would be better than another plaque for Bob and Buddy. I even brought my teenage daughter to the event for the first time, telling her some guys were going to say some funny things about me and others.

Instead, my daughter and everyone else were subjected to a homophobic home made video. It was painful for me to watch. Then there was no roast of other leaders. My daughter looked at me after the video and said, “…what was that?” Then she asked “when are they going to do the roast?”

It was all very uncomfortable for me and looking back, par for the course.

I would have felt more secure myself about the meaning if all the language and symbols were more clear.I remember once feeling as though I was being asked if I were gay or bisexual. It was an ackward moment. I had been talking about my sexual relationship with my wife and the listener said, “the guys were wondering about you…” I took it to mean the guys were wondering if I were attracted to men sexually.

The ambiguity had to be one of the reasons why the Warrior weekend became so much more popular among men than the Men’s Room in the early years. If  you’re a man and could attend a weekend called the Men’s Room or the Warrior weekend, which might you choose first?

And sex talk is much more open and direct at a Warrior weekend. Whose gay, straight, bi-sexual is much more transparent.

While I understood the program’s description of the “two men committed to each other” model, I found over time it cut both ways. It served as a protected sub-group for the two leaders, but gave them an unrealistic sense of their own importance and served to disconnect them from the other leaders and volunteers. There was a confirmation bias process which had the potential to limit and distort perceptions.

One outcome of this sub-grouping in group therapy research language, it meant the Victories organization was divided up into sub-groups which increased anxiety and conflict within the larger group. (Yalom, p)

Leadership in Men’s Room was also hierarchical. There were two founders, then they selected the additional leadership teams. The role of the staff was not to lead, but follow in admiration of the two leaders. Staff were mainly to support the process and follow requests by the two leaders.

Most knowledgeable therapists understood the pattern of clients going through a process of “idealization” with the therapist. I saw this time and again, and in fact, I did “idealize” Men’s Room leaders. I was young, vulnerable and easily influenced at the time. I became part of the guys who were supposed to help the organization become something bigger than it was. Often referred to as a “mom and pop” organization, the two leaders made every effort to “grow the organization” in the best way they knew.

They were the founders, it was their program, they had a right to do it any way they wanted. I saw the problem as they wanted the dynamic success of the Warrior program, but didn’t want the public, non-profit structure with the democratic leadership style. These men, I think, were more in the authoritarian-paternal/maternalistic mode.

It’s a pretty risky process for the therapist/leader who does not know how to deal with this idealization. The proper method is to notice and describe what is happening in the relationship, so the person/client does not see the leader/therapist in some unrealistic manner.

I often will just say something like, “you’re just noticing something in me you haven’t quite recognized in yourself yet. I am pretty human and have gone through many of the things you have, so it’s ok to take me off the pedestal. The positive growth is because of the therapy relationship, not me in particular.”

In those early years, there was no blueprint for organizational growth. I think it safe to say the Men’s Room/Victories principals were not interested in growing their program until the early 1990’s. The mistake they made was to focus on selecting leaders who were committed to each other first, then expecting them to recruit and build their own following.

Recreating the charisma and respect the founding leaders had was no easy task. I’m also not sure the founders were interested in having other leaders exceed their success. The founders talk about men’s competitiveness and jealousies in their book, but addressing those complicated emotions in real relationships was more challenging. I believe this was one of the organizational failures after the 2004 Strategic Planning process.

Recruitment became essential if there were to be more weekends and leaders and it was one of the worst characteristics of LGATs.Who wants to go to a costly weekend and then get home and tell others they should sign up for the next weekend. MKP with their Warrior weekend had been doing this successfully as men really did have a powerful experience other men could see and want to experience for themselves.

For the Men’s Room/Victories, the leaders of weekends were also therapists and the target of their recruitment was unfortunately their own clients. I myself worked with one of these leaders in therapy.

It was a bad experience all around, including misdiagnosis, inappropriate encouragement to participate in men’s work, being invited to his home, his birthday party, leadership in his program, and premature termination coinciding with my selection to be part of a leader team. Not good, especially after I learned of serious brain damage likely caused by early childhood abuse.

Should therapists recruit their clients to attend weekends in which they are a leader? This was an ethical issue and created countless dual-relationships throughout the process, some with bad results, like with me. My strong opinion now is no.

To their credit, the current Victories leadership have a rule now that therapist leaders are prohibited from having their own clients attend a weekend they are leading. This is a good thing and big step forward.

So, when I decided to enter the Warrior weekend leadership process, I informed the Men’s Room/Victories leaders. Their response was unsettling. My friend and I were requested to meet with two leaders and we did so at my office in Chicago. We were kept in the dark about the purpose of the meeting, but I had a fantasy.

I thought (and wished) these two men would ask us to share the leadership of the weekend my friend and I had done so much to help prosper. I had always referred 2-3 men for every weekend and my friend was a musical genius who was universally loved by every man who participated in every weekend.

While others can say we were not that important in the grand scheme of things, I knew from my part of every athletic team I played on that the best leadership came in following the leader, supporting them in their efforts.

My friend and I did this routinely. He with his music and intuitive genius, me with my extensive role on teams and in leadership. I was content not to be the leader and found it to be a relief. It was a respite from my parentified role in my alcoholic and dangerous family and the demands of leadership I had previously experienced.

So, my fantasy was only a fantasy. We were told that the other leaders wanted us to be the next leadership team (was it the 3rd or 4th?). However, they had decided they wanted us to run a non-residential weekend, as there (seemed) to be a need for it. Actually, I am sure they felt we were not up to the challenge of leading a residential weekend. I know this mostly because at the time, it was true.

A weekend date was set and a new brochure insert was created. Of course, we paid for the production of the insert. Then we worked on developing the staff team and recruiting (there is that word!!).

It was an uphill climb, but we were doing our best. A few months before the weekend, I received an announcement in the mail (there was regular mail then). The Men’s Room organization announced another weekend offering on the same weekend of our non-residential weekend. It was a weekend with a writer who considered himself a shaman.

I was angry about this and made phone calls to find out how the organization could do this. I was told not to worry, it would have no impact on our weekend. Sure.

Next, about 2 months before the weekend was to occur, a colleague called me to tell me he had called the Men’s Room to sign up for our non-residential weekend and was told “not to bother, the weekend was not going to happen.”

Whoever told him that was right. The weekend did not happen. My friend and I decided to find a way to slowly and peacefully extricate ourselves from the Men’s Room and our responsibilities for the non-residential weekend. This was about 1994-95.

I could be wrong, but I came to believe the Men’s Room guys wanted to divert me from joining the Warrior leadership training. Perhaps they thought if I entered the Warrior weekend training, they would lose my friend’s involvement. He was an enormously talented and popular guy. Whether I am right or not, it worked.

A terrible experience where I was asked to smoke pot and kill a rat around 1994 sealed the deal for me and I separated from the Men’s Room, now Victories, until 2004 about ten years later when I was promised things would be different.

Things were somewhat different, but that’s a longer story. The highlights of the 4 years between 2004 and 2008 were my involvement on leadership teams learning, teaching, and facilitating psychodrama within the Victories Breakthrough weekend.

Understanding what I know now about my vulnerable brain functioning, I do regret involving myself in men’s work leadership activities. I could have participated, got what I could out of the experience and not engaged in the unhealthy interpersonal sharp elbows, common in any organization, but more complicated when the elbows belong to psychotherapists who are supposed to subscribe to relevant professional ethical codes.

There have been two Board presidents since 2008 when I resigned and I like the refinements and changes they have made. These men deserve a lot of credit and have carried on the vision of the late Kurt Schultz, who led Victories from a for-profit part of leaders private psychotherapy practices to the non-profit organization it is today.

I believe there could be even more progress if there was no secrecy and programs and processes were transparent.

Keeping program details secret has been important to LGATs. I hear a lot about keeping things secret from Victories people because they don’t want anyone to copy their ideas. Perhaps other reasons may be the idea surprising participants is a key element, perhaps to enhance the experience.

I wonder looking back if the reason the Shadow weekend had so much secrecy was the principals didn’t want to be held accountable and could change aspects of the program without scrutiny of the larger organization. Realistically, keeping things secret is a legacy of the older LGATs in order to guarantee participants may not be turned off before they enroll in the program.

A lawsuit against MKP several years ago led to more transparency on the website where prospective participants can learn more about what actually happens. Victories has also increased their transparency with their Breakthrough and Wisdom years weekend website descriptions, yet keeps their shadow weekend processes more secretive. This secretive process is one reason I have been so critical of the Victories Shadow weekend over the years.

Victories seems to be increasing the transparency of the Shadow weekend, as their website now offers more detailed testimonials from participants which offers insights into the experience. I was impressed by what I read and could tell these men had a meaningful experience which might even be called life-changing.

I helped staff one of the first Shadow weekends and did not have a good experience. I was asked to smoke pot and kill a pet rat, but appear to have talked the leaders out of such an outlandish idea. However, like all bad experiences, this was imprinted very powerfully in my memory system, so it’s been difficult for me to change my opinions. Other negative experiences as a leader caused me to lose confidence completely in some of these men.

When events bother us, they cause our neuronal activity to increase, thus causing us to remember these experiences more vividly. It also is a simple fact of evolutionary biology that our direct ancestors were able to remember bad stuff, so they survived. This developmental pattern evolved to the present day where for better or worse, trauma survivors have difficulty forgetting the bad things they remember.

Victories also had an open, free meeting (August 2016) to learn more about the Shadow weekend, probably an experiential program just a few weeks ago. This was a terrific idea and evidence of the better judgment of the current Board leadership who may understand the benefits of transparency. I would have actually gone to this had I known in time and will watch for another opportunity. The old days of “you should do this program I can’t tell you about because it’s better you don’t know what will happen” are over.

I swore I would never go to another Shadow weekend, but I would love to know the ways in which it’s been improved. I’ve been assured it’s been redesigned and believe the people who have told me this. I have always been against the keeping stuff secret, but in this case, I believe the Shadow weekend’s viability as a program has been damaged. I have been privately and publicly critical, but several problems existed which made it difficult, and for me, impossible to refer men.

Although the leaders of this program had decades to create enthusiasm, the program is offered, at best, once a year. By any marketing standards, it has not been successful and it could have been. The conceptual material is there and the leaders have been some of the most popular, intelligent and charismatic leaders in the organization.

The date has passed for the most recent Shadow weekend scheduled, but it’s unclear whether the weekend had enough participants to occur. I suppose my criticism of this program may be pointed to as a reason for low attendance, but the Shadow weekend has been controversial within Victories since the beginning. I had a terrible experience as a staff person, then disconnected from the organization.

After I returned in 2004, the Shadow weekend had the controversy over nudity and silence. To me the larger problem was I and the other leaders and Board members knew nothing about the program. How could that have been possible?

So, I may be the only person who has criticized the Shadow weekend openly and written about it, but many others also have not been avid supporters of the experience. Again, although someone can make the argument I should be sued for publishing critical opinions about the Shadow weekend, I would argue I am providing important information for the Board to review and prospective participants to consider. I’m not writing about how the Shadow weekend in 2016 is structured, as I do not know.

This is where secrecy is a bad thing overall for organizational and program development. A small group of people can say, “yea, secrecy is great”, but in the real world, people think critically and are wary of information being witheld.

I think the current non-therapist and female Board members, stakeholders, and program leaders has been helpful to Victories. These non-therapists guys I know are bright and successful men in their own professions. The most brilliant example of this was Kurt Schultz who I was lucky to have mentor me and enable me to stretch into a leadership role in the Breakthrough weekend.

Kurt was one of the most effective and widely respected lawyers in the country, placed in the top 5 of his graduating law school class, was a veteran (when other men were seeking military deferments), and dedicated himself to public service as a Board member at various Chicago social service agencies. Kurt was a successful, wealthy man who I knew helped others financially almost whenever he was asked. He was certainly generous in his contributions to Victories and needy causes.

I’m not saying Kurt was perfect. He and I disagreed about how much leeway to give the founders and Shadow program leaders. I tried to convince him it was important for them to understand they no longer “owned” their weekend programs and planning and implementation of the programs should be under the scrutiny of the organization.

I had convinced Kurt of the need to create a functioning program committee to be made up of leaders and Board members to begin to oversee the program development process. I suggested that Paul Kachoris should be the Chairperson as he was very smart and held in high esteem by most everyone, except the other principals. I thought this would be an important nod to the new order of things, where the principals didn’t get their way through the indirect voicemails, private discussions and discussions in what should have been therapy sessions.

I was to be on the committee with Paul. Although Paul didn’t have a systemic view and was part of the internal resistance to change, I felt he would begin to understand the vital importance of moving the organization away from the idolatry of the founders and leaders, such as himself.

A consultant’s report referred to some of these systemic problems and referred to the deference to the founders as sort of “cultish.” (Consultant’s report, 2004)It was definitely not a cult, but also not a well-functioning non-profit yet. The consultant’s warned the stakeholders in 2004 of the dangers of ignoring the widely researched organizational problems when organizations with strong founders and family run businesses try to grow or transfer power. It can be a mess and in Victories, it was not pretty all the time.

In fact, I received the offensive voicemails right before the first meeting of the program committee. I never was part of it and have no idea if there is such a thing in the organization still. I hope there is.

I think Kurt could have been more forceful in establishing a process of organizational change. There was a changing of the guard, but it was widely ignored. In its stead, buying the founders books, giving them awards, allowing the collection of money to commission a play, and unwisely allowing them to create a competing Wisdom years organization with leaders was a mistake.

As powerful as Kurt was, he sort of allowed the foxes to continue to live in the chicken coop. I think Kurt was like most of us in that we had experienced or witnessed so much negativity and conflict, he wanted to pursue the path of peace. I know his opinion was to allow logical and natural consequences to show the founders the Wisdom years was not ready to expand to other cities. He was a brilliant man and this strategy would have worked better (it did work this way) if it in fact was more transparent and evaluation mechanisms were put in place.

I know Paul Kachoris may have taken on some role as a liason between current leaders and the Wisdom years program. I know the expansion efforts failed in the 2004-2008 period, but heard through the grapevine the founders and Wisdom years group considered separating from the Victories organization and becoming it’s own profit or non-profit program.

I wish someone would write about this issue, so I could be more clear about what went wrong so that competent and bright men would sabotage themselves and the organization so successfully. To me, I became more critical of my own decisions to donate my $1,000 per year to the organization as a Board member and be involved at all. As I write about it now, I kinda shake my head in disbelief. My only explanation is my undiagnosed brain damage at the time. My cognitive problems did not allow me to understand what all the “moving parts and people” meant. I do now and am writing about it.

To absolutely anyone who has been involved with Victories, Kurt is well-known as a great program leader and the President of the Board who guided Victories through its tumultuous post-2004 Strategic plan period. This was a very difficult period, as new policies were created which led to leaders earning a fixed stipend, eliminated leaders sharing profits from weekends, and increased calls for accountability.

You can do the math. With 20 participants paying $600 and the average costs for each man being about $200, the leaders shared in these profits. So, the stipend was a big step down. I know. In my first weekend as a leader, I shared the profits, while the very next weekend I received the stipend, a 50% reduction in compensation. I admit I felt a little tweaked, but wonder how the other leaders felt who earned substantially more profits for nearly 20 years.

The other problem Kurt had to deal with was the power dynamic related to program decisions and the allocation of resources. The founders were intent on building a Wisdom years leadership group and expanding this program to other cities. Boston was the first target city.

Ironically, I attended the Boston Wisdom years weekend, in part to support the guys and attend a weekend where I would have more anonymity. I later became embroiled in a personally damaging conflict which, like most conflicts, was layered on the surface about content issues (how I thought the program could be improved) and process issues (who had the power to make decisions now and the “who do you think you are” kind of blowback for any upstart to give honest feedback when asked.

Kurt had his hands full trying to appease and satisfy the founders and their interest in expanding the Wisdom years, while still keeping the larger organization stable and in the necessary transition. It was not easy for him. I would hear some of these conversations while we were driving and talk about them with him afterwards.

Despite being powerful, Kurt was perhaps a more loving and compassionate human being. He had plenty of dealing with conflict in his professional life and really didn’t want more. Like most of us, he wanted others to be happy and would sacrifice a lot to help that happen. I knew many times, he felt pressured to please the principal leader teams.

It wasn’t he felt their programs were especially powerful (Wisdom and Shadow programs), but he was content to allow them to learn from natural consequences. At least this was his rationale. He and I agreed the Wisdom years would not make it out of Evanston and there were problems with the Shadow weekend, he just didn’t want to exert top down pressure on these men, thinking they would learn from their own outcomes. I thought he was wrong then and now.

I don’t think Kurt or I understood what was at stake then. Kurt and I believed the creation of the Program committee would serve as some central place to evaluate programs and make changes. My conflict with the principal leaders erupted right before this group was to convene and I never made it.

One can blame me for the complaints I made against the principal leaders. However, I was the one who was the loyal Victories supporter who went to the Wisdom Years in Boston. Anyone there will say I was a good participant, supporting men, the process and getting what I could from the experience. I liked it.

However, I was asked twice to give feedback, once after the weekend and I did so in my extensive evaluation where I also signed my name. Then a second time after I “bumped into a principal” when I was getting additional brochures for the Wisdom years ( I was already recruiting) and was pressured to recruit.

It was a mess, I was involved, but it was not of my making. We needed the two psychologists who guided our 2004 Strategic plan to remain connected and help us remain true to the changes agreed upon. They were excellent, but radical and would have removed the power of the founders and other principal team from their sense of ownership and entitlement.

The 2004 Strategic Plan called for a process where conflicts would have been faced head on. Conflict addressed appropriately may have avoided all the sharp elbows, the damage of conflicts going subterranean, and the understandable, but very petty jealousies about just about everything.

I was the biggest advocate for an expanded leadership team and a move away from what I considered the cumbersome and conflict inducing dyadic leader structure. However, I can see how each leader team developed a cadre of guys which formed a safe and beautiful place for them. An oasis from the seemingly endless demand to smile and say fine, when so much was brewing under the surface.

What person doesn’t feel better after talking about a problem with their partner or friend? How brilliant men can languish in the mire of unresolved conflicts for decades is confusing and tragic. I heard “I love you” a lot. I guess it’s partly true that love means you never have to say you’re sorry. I also learned “I love you” is limited to when I agreed with them and kissed their ring. Secrets always create a wall between people.

The progress in making programs and their processes more transparent is welcome in the world. All medical and mental health care is based on the premise of “do no harm” and informing patients of diagnoses and available treatment options. A personal growth weekend promises change, even transformation, so to keep details secret runs in conflict with the ultimate goal of the program. It’s counterproductive to keep such positive programming secret.

I remember sitting in leadership meetings at Victories and conversations with MKP folks many years ago saying, if we know this program can be very helpful, we should be more transparent. If it’s too secretive, even stakeholders and board members of these organizations may not know what happens.

This was certainly true with the mid-2000’s Shadow program. Although the Board of Directors had legal and ethical duties, we had no idea what was happening at the Shadow weekend. This was as unfortunate, as inappropriate.

None of these programs are perfect and one person’s transformative experience is another person’s waste of money. I understand this.

Needless to say, licensed therapists are advised to avoid any leadership role in such weekends. Although the threat of malpractice may be low, they should imagine what might happen if someone is seriously injured or dies during a weekend where they have some official role. There will be an investigation, perhaps criminal charges, and lawsuits.

Notably, there is the James Arthur Ray program which had a national audience, thanks to Oprah Winfrey. Ray’s program exploited vulnerable people for a lot of money. Each participant paid $15,000 for a personal growth experience in which 3 died and several injured in a failed sweat lodge experience. (Stroud, 2015) James Arthur Ray, (Times, 2015) was convicted of negligent homicide in the deaths of three of his followers.

Another example of a psychotherapy practice evolving into a personal growth program is the Wright Institute, the brainchild of Robert Wright and his wife Judith Wright. Robert (Bob)Wright is a graduate school colleague of mine who now runs his own graduate school or something akin to this. Knowing him from then, I do believe he is doing this now. While there may be scores of Wright’s clients whose lives have been transformed, one only use google to learn of many who have filed complaints.

Generally, these programs have charismatic leaders who put naive people into intense exercises where an emotional release takes place. Often, participants may be the psychotherapy or coaching clients of leaders of these program, increasing the risk of exploitation. How can a psychotherapy client refuse his own therapist or coach?

During these programs participants have what’s called a “catharsis” where emotional memories stored implicitly are released. This may provide an immediate sense of relief, even healing, if the exercise is done well. A successful breakthrough like this creates a profound sense of connection between the participant and the facilitator therapist.

Ethically, this can be argued as a good and bad thing. Good because it can cement the relationship and bad because it can inflate the status of the therapist to unrealistic proportions. One of the arts of therapy is for the therapist to remain connected to the client in ways which equalize the relationship so change is more seamless and not dramatically associated with the magic of the therapist.

In my review of Bob Mark’s book, Clearing the Path: Opening the Spiritual Frontier, I explore Dr. Mark’s centrality to the positive changes in his client’s lives. A constant theme is his encouragement of the reader to reduce their doubt, in a sense become more open to the spirit world. I didn’t know Dr. Mark very well, but understood his training in family therapy and Gestalt and could see this influence in the creation of the Breakthrough weekend. For you history buffs, this was originally called the Men’s room program.

Without giving away details of the Breakthrough weekend, one can easily recognize Dr. Mark’s expertise in designing the program, the initial phase of connecting, building a safe container for work, helping participants begin to focus internally, then engage them in a deeper process where emotional memories can be accessed, explored and resolved, then the preparation for the return to ordinary life with the opportunity to continue the work in a group with other interested participants from the weekend.

There is no doubt I liked the Breakthrough weekend a lot and had many, many memorable experiences with assorted members of leadership teams. My most gratifying times were with Kurt Schultz who helped me and other guys (many of whom are current leaders and Board members) be leaders.

While I liked the experience, I had concerns about the structure of the early Victories organization, the Men’s Room. It was essentially an offshoot of the leader’s private practice and leaders shared profits from the weekend. Most often, leaders had many of their own private practice clients participating in their weekends, creating dual and multiple type relationships, a dynamic which risks the exploitation of the client by the therapist.

Among the founders and early Victories leaders, there was a sense the therapist/leader and their relationship was the source of change for participants. It was like the therapist/leader were magicians and magically changed and healed others.

The truth is these guys were kind of magical and their relationship, especially Bob and Buddy, were very creative. Their writing confirms this belief in themselves.

Paul Kachoris’ poem “Sculpting Out of Thin Air” also hints at this internal source of magical artistry. Here is a link to Dr. Kachoris’ poem with music by the always creative Andy Mitran. It’s a youtube video, so you can hear Paul’s captivating voice and inspirational words.

So, there is a lot of evidence about the greatness of these guys, yet most of us are more mere mortals. We aren’t so charismatic, or our brain damage (me) limits our abilities to change the world.

I remember the angry confrontation I experienced after the only joint leadership weekend back in January 2008. The participants had a good experience, but the leader team was splintered and split and I became the target at our followup meeting. I was blamed for doing something I absolutely didn’t do…interfere with the work of two leaders.

I merely stepped up to help facilitate a psychodrama, at the request of other leader team members. These two leaders who were upset with me never mentioned anything to me or anyone else about their plans to work together, but chose to confront me in a surprising way. I had heard their complaints during the weekend about another, more powerful leader, yet, their only complaint was about me in this public meeting. I agree I am sensitive, but I felt slammed inappropriately.

When I responded with the facts that they had not told me or anyone of their plan to work together and it was unfair of them to criticize me, it made no difference. Like most meetings, I had the sense it had been pre-planned. I’ll do this, then you say that, then this will happen.

These principal leaders usually performed these maneuvers in triangles. They placed someone else between them and whoever they wanted to silence, put down, or defeat (and these were colleagues and volunteers.) This happened in the pre-2004 crisis which led to the Strategic planning process and the pattern continued with the leader response to my informal, then formal complaints.

It was an enormous amount of work to contain conflict, rather than resolve it. In this case, it increased conflict and my mistrust of these other two leaders to understand themselves and their relations with me and others. My trust had already been dented, but this added to the insecurity and anxiety among leader teams (sub-grouping). The additional problem for me was I had the sense these other leaders had talked to at least one other leader and gotten their approval to confront me, even though there was no cause.

I later came to suspect their complaint was more a projection of their sense of confusion and impotence in a shared leadership team process. Their firm belief was that the healing that occurred for men was a result of their intense, loving relationship of the two leaders. When I stepped up, their impotence surfaced and they were not even able to ask me to step aside, which I no doubt would have been willing to do.

While I can see their point of view about their loving relationship and it’s potential to do good in the world, it was not the rule we followed at that late time in the day. We had worked in our teams most of the day, and we agreed to deliberately mix the leader teams to help us develop more of a shared process, one for all and all for one.

Sadly, it didn’t happen and the unpleasant interaction at our meeting was another scratch to my idealized images of my colleagues. There was a real fall from grace at that time, mixed with other disappointments and confusion.

One might say, well, you both had responsibilities to make the relationship work. However, the reality was I had usually been a volunteer, making referrals (many) to these men, then upon becoming a leader, I just expected a more positive, supportive, honest relationship. The scheming and sharp elbows was very disappointing.

I only had one more meeting like this right after I received the offensive (to me) voicemails. I went into this meeting having listened to the voicemails in the car with Kurt on our way to this meeting. Kurt was upset too, having been in this situation before.

When I went into this meeting, ostensibly to try to resolve the problem of whether Shadow weekend participants should be nude or not, the tables were turned again. We spent most of the 90 minute meeting “sharing our feelings” until the end when one of the principals issued his proclamation of what the solution would be. Afterwards, I came to believe it all had been pre-planned, as in the previous meeting.

The routine rules of group process, keeping things inside the group, be honest, promote democracy and respect were not followed. I can only surmise the leaders of the Shadow program were angry at what they felt was an intrusion on their ideas, rights, and psychological ownership of the program.

My idea of collaborating as a larger team to refine and recreate the Shadow program (after many years) was never mentioned. I and the others had spent an enormous time and it was all wasted.

The extensive problems with the Shadow weekend were going to be solved by the ideas of someone outside our leader circle who suggested the men be asked to change from their clothes into gym shorts. I knew this from the meeting where I was present in 2008. It was a bad idea then and now, if still done.

How and where they were asked to change into the gym shorts remains a mystery only known to participants of the weekend and the leaders. There is no transparency in this issue and my latest veiled threat of legal action came when I inquired about it.

Having spent too much time already on the problems with the Wisdom years, tequila, singing, negative messaging and the resulting offensive voicemails from principals, I decided to resign.

It was not the end, obviously, as I continue to write and the hostile relationship between me and VOH has not been resolved.

Looking at the outcome research in psychotherapy, the power of the relationship, not the therapist stands out.  For men as brilliant and charismatic as the principal leader teams, it’s understandable why they would believe so much in themselves as the source of change in others. It’s definitely at least partially true.

However, for the more mere mortals of us, we don’t have to have magical powers. We can offer an authentic relationship from which the power for change can be nurtured. It’s not a vertical process where the therapist/leader channels god into the room and heart of the client/participant.It’s a more interpersonal process.

Here’s what I said in my review of Bob Mark’s book on spirituality:

“Therapists do not create magic to change their clients; they experience it right along with their clients. Together, the magic of the therapeutic relationship unfolds, changing both the client and the therapist for the better.”

I could see this leader/therapist as central and source of change in the style of the early leaders in Victories. It wasn’t technique, as there were no techniques to identify, teach or use by anyone who wanted to be a leader.

I witnessed some duplicity too when Victory leaders soaked up the idolatry of volunteer staff who were in awe and mesmerized by these leaders psychodrama facilitation skills. I learned later these leaders learned a lot while participating in the MKP Warrior weekends and I-groups. I was like Dorothy discovering the Wizard was just a little man with an amplified voice.

For them, it was their own unique gift and the love for their partner that flowed into the participant to create change. One can look at this simplistically and say the leaders thought of themselves as mother-mother, father-mother and were providing unconditional love to their hurt and injured child.

This can also be viewed in a more grandiose way in that the leader sees himself and their relationship with their leader partner as some type of “leader as central source of power” where they create miracles out of thin air. I sensed this in Bob Mark’s book on spirituality. It was about him as a conduit of spirit energy, reading palms, throwing stones, etc which created the change.

This type of thinking is flawed and disregards the voluminous research on the attachment and neuroscience. Understanding that research as I did, and trying to integrate it into the Victories programs was welcome and applauded when it came to the psychodrama training, but led me into conflict with the leader teams for the Wisdom years and Shadow weekends.

I made a good faith effort, but grew tired of the old systemic problem of leaders swinging sharp elbows, working behind the scenes to get Kurt on their side, then issuing unilateral pronouncements about the way things were going to go. After one of the last meetings I attended, I might have said more clearly…by the way, thank you for wasting many, many hours of my time and having me show up for a 90 minute meeting which gives you the chance to show me how much more powerful you are than me and how little my opinion is worth to you (my words).

I felt I made too many compromises. Going way back to about 1994, there was the attempt to get me to smoke pot and kill a pet rat prior to a weekend. I refused and apparently persuaded the other men to not do this as well. Then, there was the anti-semitic rant to which I was exposed, the pressure to drink tequila (I didn’t)and allow the tequila to be poured down my pants onto my genitals (I did, but never again) as the prelude to two different weekends. At no time did any of these leaders ask me if I was abstinent from substances (I was) or if I would have any objection to killing a defenseless pet rat.

I wasn’t asked. I was told, this is what we’re going to do.

The coup d’etat was the 30 minutes or so of what I experienced as degrading and disrespectful voicemails by my former therapist and principal leader who brought up his negative judgments about me being “chronically negative” even about my family, which could have only come from our therapy sessions 15 years earlier.

Here are a few of the key messages I found upsetting and inappropriate:

“…one more time. Sorry we have to converse this way, but so be it. I would be happy to have breakfast or lunch, whatever and some day talk in person. I’m certain I had a reaction to what you referred to as your low level anger and irritation and I’m not surprised how deep it goes. You know, you’ve done a lot of things over the years and let me tell you my first reaction is always love and care for you and concerned about how you are feeling about a lot of things. I think over the years, for many years, I have been very supportive of you, but sometimes I hear you talk and get concerned about where it comes from and sometimes I get a little bit hurt and angry because you’re chronically disappointed about one thing or another and I’ve listened to you for years, not about me only, but about your brother, the program and about people and I’ll be honest with you, as your friend and your colleague and you are always being critical of someone and I hear it a lot Bill and I really do for you because I listen very closely to what you say.

Bill, I don’t. I don’t feel any need to talk about what happened 10 years, 13 years ago, I don’t remember anyone slamming you (hahahaha), I’m sure it was the case, I have no doubt about that, but I think you are off base with several things, one of which is the kind of support I’ve given the program regarding groups and infrastructure. I think you’re way off base….

You’ve got your opinion and I’ve got mine, but I think anyone who knows me would disagree with you about my commitment to the small groups, ongoing groups and the infrastructure. Have I been involved as you have been in the groups? No, I’ve moved away from that so I could do other things, but it just feels like sometimes that you’re just not going to be happy with certain things, and if I’m one of them, I’m one of them.

And I would like you to look at the whole gestalt of our relationship and realize that I’ve done some very good things that I rarely hear about from you and whether I put your evaluation on the bottom, I don’t remember that, I really don’t, maybe I did, but you have a tendency to be critical of how tacky I was for doing that and to use words that are really very pinching…

So that’s where I am . If you want to discuss it, we’ll discuss it then. I want you to know I am sorry that you are chronically disappointed about me, or anything about the program, but you know, that’s just the way it is, and I always welcome your honesty, you know that…

I will always meet with you and welcome conversation because I have a lot of love for you and your family, I always have. It’s been a long time Bill, stay in good health.


“We usually don’t talk this much in a month as we have over the last 24 hours.

When I left the last message to you about aggravation and stuff, please understand that I have a lot of care for you as a person. You and I have had a very long, meaningful relationship and I just needed to share with you some of my concerns, so I hope that’s the way you heard it.

I also called at a time quite honestly, because I’ve thought a lot about it, now that I’m driving home after a man that I’ve worked with off and on for over 15 years, left a message that was difficult to hear, put a lot of work into this man, that he’s going to leave our work, but not in a way that is healthy. I think I was troubled by that, I really do.

In any case, you know this work that we do is very much in the heart and trenches, so if we need to discuss anything, let me know.

I don’t need to discuss it anymore, but if you want to fine. I just thank you for taking the time and effort, for (which) I have always very deeply appreciated.

So, with regards to the rest of your life, good luck with the soccer, you’ll let me know about the case and all of that.

We’ll be in touch Bill. Take good care, have a nice weekend.


“…got your call and email and of course, it’s very, very disturbing and painful that (ahh) my (ahh) referring to you as being chronically disappointed (ahh) would cause you to do this (my resigning).

You were the one who was angry at me initially and all the stuff about whether I’m in support of the program and you’re leaving because of something I must have said and I’m very disappointed and very, very upset (ahhh) mostly because of my care for you, our friendship and the work we’ve done (ahh).

You know, I’m willing to listen to that message again, but I remember I just responded with my own truth.

So, with that said, I am to have lunch with (Board member) and of course, this will be discussed and I am sorry with the action you have taken.

I appreciate that you talked (in my resignation email to leaders) about the dream and not what happened between you and I. I don’t know if you have done that with anyone. I have not.

And in terms of getting clear, of course, I want to get clear with you. I don’t feel the need to have it supervised or structured or facilitated. I’m surprised by that. I think you and I have every bit an ability to put out on the table whatever happened and feelings associated with it.

So, I mean, you know, do I want to sit with the council (ahhh) that doesn’t even feel good to me. It really doesn’t, but I will do what needs to be done, as I always try to do.

So, I hope you have a different dream tonite and this can be worked out. I’m making myself available to have a conversation about it and get clear with it. You can tell me what you feel and I can tell you what I feel because that’s the way these things get cleared.

You don’t have to take your mitt and go away (ahhh). I really don’t think you have to and even about your dream about grandiosity and shame (ahhh), if you think I shamed you, (hahahaha), it would be mutual. I can feel that way too, but I told you my truth. The best way to reach me over the weekend is….

I call upon us, you and I, to sit down, over dinner, take a walk, I don’t care, just you and I and I don’t need anybody else for an intervention either to be honest, I really don’t.

Sorry that this has happened, but it did (hahahaha). It happened for a reason, we always know that.

# 4

I’m staying late in the office, I just got your email so obviously one of the differences between us is I choose not to email everybody when we talk, you do, and I want to tell you how bill, with both of us in the wisdom years, our memories are not intact, you know, because I want you to know very clearly that when all this started, I talk to you, probably on Wednesday, yet it was a Wednesday, and I offered to come to your office on Friday, March 7 Saturday, March 8 or Sunday, March 9 and you came back to me and said very clearly and appreciated the sense of urgency.


I was willing to demonstrate because obviously in the recent voicemail. It suggested that you are important to me and I had to come back to you and tell you that the Friday, March 7, I would not be able to meet because I had a personal conflict and would not be able to meet that. ahhh yes I offered you the seventh, eighth and ninth, but I had to go to that personal conflict, but I did offer you Saturday, March 8 Sunday, March 9.


You told me maybe the 8th would work, but you have to work it out, so you know what! Stop it already, bill! Okay, I did immediately respond. It was after it that you couldn’t do it that weekend, but we couldn’t find a time that I couldn’t do it for three weeks or so ahhh I couldn’t do it for a variety of reasons.


So please, you know what! If you’re going to email some of your stuff, you know what, do it as accurate as possible, because it’s just not true.


I didn’t want you to wait 3 to 4 weeks. I wanted to originally meet immediately the next weekend. And if you’re going to be nasty like this, I’ll start telling you and other people that that was not accurate.


Okay, now I really do want to meet with you ahhh, which yes, I’ve already made very clear to you, but I don’t have any need, any need whatsoever(!) to replace any kind of other event or experiences with the victories board…


I just want to talk with you about the CD and our relationship, and in fact when I come to talk with you, I have no intention(!) of going into everything about victories of a heart…


It’s not my intention ahhh…  My intention is for you and I get clear with each other, clean with each other, accountable with each other and hopefully, hopefully, and I mean this sincerely, Bill, at the bottom of my heart resolved with this already!!!


The issues that you have ahhh with victories, well, you’ll do what you have to do with that, okay ha ha ha!!!


Now with that said, and that’s the truth, because I feel it… Here’s the deal, I’m not going into every event I have coming up, but suffice it to say I truthfully can meet with you next on a late afternoon on Friday, May 23, come to you, the first time I’m in town, bill, I come back on the 21st, on Saturday 24th, Sunday the 25th, got a wedding in Ohio in the next week.


I’ll come to see you on the morning of Friday, June 6, seven or eight. So those are the times, bill, we can of the 23rd, 24th 25th. Those are the dates that I can do it.


I’m sorry we have to wait ahhh, but don’t, ahhh don’t be too critical of that. Okay, because you’re the one who told me you couldn’t do certain times, and I’ll honor that.


So, the ball is back in your court. If you want to email me the time and email everyone else, go ahead, but I think at this point, you can just call me or email me and let me know.


And again, I’m willing to come to your office. So let me know the best time that we can meet.


The best to you, your wife and daughter.


# 5

Staying late at the office so after listening to those two messages which, in this case, I will keep, ahhh, after those messages, it’s apparent to me that my attempt to see you, to call  you at home last night to speak with you, you know, whatever I do. It’s never going to be good enough for you, ever! Ahhh,


So I’ve gotten to the point. Finally, when if I was wrong about Saturday, March 8 and Sunday, March 9, my apologies, ahhh. I didn’t blame you for not being available, you make so much! of so little! with that, ahhh.


I’ve talked to nobody about it, about who is right and who is wrong, but you need to do this, so at this point, Bill ahhh, I offered six dates May 23 24th 25th of June 6 78, so you don’t want to meet with me!, Bill, you want to say I won’t meet with you!


So that’s what you have to do I accept that and I will hold to the fact that I offered those dates ahhh, , that I call you in good faith, in that you ahhh, you know, I’m on your list !! Ha ha okay ha ha Ha


Whether it be your brothers, or whoever I am on your list and you’re not going to take me off.


And I wish you well…this is my truth and you, ahhh, your truth is not the truth. Ha ha ha, okay, as my truth is not the truth ahhh. It’s both true and it’s also both false.

I’ve not heard  you, once in a long time, take ownership of what might not be false, ahhh, of what , might not be real and right in your place… and I’m wrong and that’s all you need to do is to make me wrong, so Bill, I’ve gotten as far as I can. I made the offer. I called home. I talked to (name) for a moment, ahhh,


I really wish you well and it makes me sad you’re going through a hard time and in my heart, and all I could talk about is I wanted to be somebody who ahhh, didn’t hurt you and wanted to support you and you’ve got it that I am the devil, and a lot of devils, and you are not going to change your mind. Because you’re tenacious, you know that, you’ve always been like that, it’s one of the things that I always liked you, but now I don’t like it! Okay, now I don’t like it, and I don’t want to play more.


So you can send me emails or you need to do.


You know, bill I will be very available if you ahhh reconsider and want to meet on one of those dates… we can meet in my office, or I will come to your office, but don’t keep calling or send me scathing emails!


I haven’t sent you many scathing emails, I haven’t even sent you a scathing voicemails, since the first one, which I will listen with you!


So that’s it. Okay. I don’t want to hear from you anymore about it and it will be what it will be and I sincerely, sincerely! wish you well and wish you no harm, as I do to all the Martins.

Whatever anyone heard or believes about these messages, I was offended by the personal nature of his criticism, and despite his stated willingness to do anything, meet anytime, do what needed to be done, he did not.

The organization failed to force him to meet with me and resolve this. I suggested private and confidential mediation. Somehow he must have been forced to meet with me once, then afterwards I got a threatening letter from his lawyer telling me he would never mediate with me and I should cease and desist from contacting him.

People can read these and derive multiple levels of meaning. For me, it is my only way to assert myself in a way to tell the full(er) story of what happened.

A clarification here is my initial complaint was about what I felt were offensive voicemails. He offered to listen to them again to self-evaluate, then refused to listen to the voicemails unless I listened to them with him. It became very manipulative and a game of cat and mouse, where I was most often the mouse.

He also makes it clear he will limit any of the discussion to the ways I felt offended and the ways he felt offended, as if they were co-equal and all that was at stake. Truthfully, I had become appalled at the entitlement the principals had and the deviation from the 2004 Strategic plan. And then to feel personally and unfairly attacked by both principal teams was shocking to me.

I was not willing to stand idly by and not confront them. And why I am writing about it still today.

Rather than any remorseful, apologetic message, it’s clear that the body of the psychological message is a personal attack that I am “chronically disappointed.”

He can’t make my statements wrong, although he denies the objective truth that he and the other leaders didn’t do a great job at building infrastructure to grow the organization. I’ve said this many, many times.

This particular conflict originated when this leader put pressure on me to “recruit” and resented my telling him there were more problems with increasing participation in the Wisdom years program than “recruitment.”

He asked for my feedback about the Wisdom years, he didn’t like it, then sent me more messages defending his ideas and criticizing mine. I told him to stop sending me messages and not to give my feedback to anyone else, that I did not want to be involved in the Wisdom years drama.

Initially, it seemed apparent to him that he understood he had crossed the line with me and he would apologize. However, he set then cancelled an appointment for us to meet on the day his wife had an art show in Evanston. He had originally told me he could step away from helping her for a time and meet with me.

There was then a cat and mouse game where he avoided any meeting with me at all. I resigned.

I then received a lengthy email from the only person involved in this drama who was willing to address the issues directly and attempted to take some responsibility and expressed grief I had resigned, or as this other leader might have said, “took my mitt and went home.”

This other colleagues words were shocking, but validating the behind the scenes sharp elbows and personal attacks for me. He was upset that I gave up trying to address the conflicts which had emerged and said:

“…you gave them the opportunity to attempt to rally us around them, thus using us as a shield against you. They did not succeed…we were clear with them that many of the things you were saying were not off the wall. And I really defended you against them…you lost another “middle” and separate ground and then everyone was making about you just having an emotional breakdown and not giving you credence for the many important things you were saying. (Again in the Victories Board meeting of the 7th of May 2008 I said that about you in front of 18 men…”  (Anonymous email. 2008, May 17).

I remember reading this back in 2008, but I really missed the idea that my complaints both about the personalizing the criticism of me being “chronically disappointed” and the organizational ones about the principal leader teams spending more time protecting their own turf than collaborating to build infrastructure were discounted as the words of a man having an emotional breakdown.

I don’t know if my mental health was discussed in this open Board meeting or not, but you can bet I wish I was there to defend myself. I was upset, having had the awakening I was lured into a bad investment where I lost at least $800, 000, but also had probably wasted my time supporting and working tirelessly on behalf of this organization which failed to hold leaders accountable for questionable behavior.

I was not surprised as I had seen how people in power manipulate circumstances and people to deny and avoid any accountability. However, I must have thought it would be possible to get some resolution through mediation. The VOH Board recommended it, but it was so light a recommendation, this person just said no after one meeting. He then had his lawyer send me a threatening letter stating he would never mediate with me.

Then there was the prevailing view in 2004 when I was recruited to come back to Victories all the problems were the result of one person (think scapegoating) and the organization was now on good footing and moving forward. I remember meeting Kurt for the first time at the meeting which was supposed to be a clearing for the end of this process. I was not a part of the inner circle and didn’t know what was actually happening behind the scenes.

Kurt had trouble understanding as well and didn’t know how to explain it to me. Reading some of the comments from the Strategic Plan and thinking about my own experience, I realize there was something systemic going on. It wasn’t one person. It was all of the people and elements within the system and the rules and norms of this system.

My opinion is the rules and norms were to follow the leaders blindly, honor them, and avoid honest and direct feedback and conflict resolution. When I realized how much resentment I experienced by being honest, I began to realize the organization I re-joined in 2004 had not really changed very much.

Names changed and Board members were recruited and offered their time and money generously. However, it was still felt to be the principal’s organization to do what they felt best, no matter what others thought. For me to speak up unleashed a quiet anger from them which sought to isolate, discredit and discard me.

I have only recently gotten confirmation from the report I read of an organizational crisis in the pre-2004 period. The report suggested there was a systemic problem which may have resulted in the scapegoating of a principal at that time that was trying to improve the functioning of the organization. He was tar and feathered, in a way similar to me.

A multiple page email I received from a VOH principal detailed the behind the scenes maneuvering to avoid addressing my complaints and discredit them and me by alleging I was having an emotional breakdown. I will create a citation here and offer a direct quote from this email to prove I am not making this up. I really appreciated this person writing to me and making an attempt to be accountable to me.

Instead of moving forward after the great start with the 2004 Strategic Planning session, there were stops and starts and sideways movement. Having been involved in many development efforts, like the Illinois Teen Insitute and Operation Snowball, I expected there to be more of a team effort. (Snowball, 2014) Certainly, the other members of the Board participating in that Planning process may have expected the same.

When I finally resigned with as much exhaustion as protest, some of the other principals were surprised. This should not have been surprising at all, as this particular team had criticized me after a shared leadership weekend, then ignored my attempt to collaborate openly in improving a program and generally acted in sharp elbows behavior which like with other communication, I found disrespectful.

These were men of whom I had higher expectations. The dyadic leader structure problems were highlighted by the communication problems I experienced. These men would spend large amounts of time with each other thinking, feeling, planning, and reinforcing each other’s view of the world. In their view, I was now the person who was like the others, trying to change them, not recognizing their exceptionalism.

Maybe their thoughts were, ‘how could Bill ever think he could match our knowledge and experience…’ Left alone to speculate in their dydadic team, they could think and rationalize almost anything. During the follow-up meeting for that shared leadership weekend, I was shocked to be the target of their complaint.

The complaint itself also made no sense, as they were upset I had stepped up to lead a man’s psychodrama and interfered with their dyadic plan to facilitate the work of this same participant. How was I supposed to know this? They hadn’t told me or anyone else on the leadership team.

At the same time, many of the other team members came up to me to alert me this participant was going to step up soon and they wanted me to make sure I stepped up and facilitated the man’s work. These were men who knew me and had been trained by me. They knew I was skilled and would be able to provide competent facilitation. I did not deliberately interfere with anyone’s facilitation of work. To wait and surprise me during a follow-up meeting was as ridiculous as insensitive.

I looked at these men, then at Kurt. I sensed this may have been planned which was part of the old systemic patterns. Mainly, I was shocked by the thought process of these men. I was completely innocent of their accusation I interfered with their plans, as I had no idea this was their plan. It seemed incredible to me they didn’t realize if they had made their plan clear, I would have had no problem stepping back.

To me, it seemed like this represented a projection of sorts. They blamed me for interfering, perhaps symbolically taking away their power. If they had looked more deeply into their own psyches, they may have uncovered their own anxiety about being powerless in that context. They were accustomed to being the leaders in charge, with new staff people all the time to admire and fear them, listen to every word, such as I had done for many years.

In that shared weekend context, they were like fish out of water, trying to survive and find their way. Kurt, I and the rest of the leader team were having a great time collaborating and doing the best we could on behalf of the men. While I and we other staff were having a great weekend, these other men were not.

I’m thinking now of the college fraternity where I lived and how I told the chapter I was not planning to become an active member and was moving into the dorms for sophomore year. I had been disgusted by the rampant alcohol abuse, providing alcohol to high school seniors visiting and what I suspected was the sexual abuse of an intoxicated first-year, female student. This was never discussed, but I reported it to the school many years later.

The point here is the majority of the upperclassmen secretly voted to “blackball” me after I told them I was moving out. Classy. It’s widely known a characteristic of narcissism is to react with rage when they feel criticized. In terms of this fraternity, I had to ask what this blackballing meant and although it was the responsibility of the men who blackballed me to speak with me, you can guess none of them did.

They were probably drunk when they did it and were afraid to confront me directly. I had been on the freshman football team and had the second highest grade point after the first semester in the freshman class.Like with Victories, I still liked many of the friends I made from that class, but they were sworn off having any contact with me. I was persona non grata, just as I had become with Victories.

By now in my own personal journey, I was recovering from a deep depression, having begun anti-depressant medication and was beginning to see things more clearly. I could see how being a leader of these weekends was a powerful experience, a rush of amazing proportions. I was hooked by the extreme positives of leadership and also my crusader effort to change some of the ways Victories operated, especially an effort to move it away from the dyadic leader model to leadership teams, leader selection by merit, competent evaluation of programs, and ethics policies and standards.

My efforts, although consistent with the 2004 Strategic Plan, were confronting the principals in ways in which they were not accustomed. It was not pretty and I decided I would not be able to sustain my efforts. I was challenging both their fundamental beliefs about what made the Breakthrough weekend (at least) work. They felt criticized, understandable, and reacted. It was not in my character to ignore such reactions.

To view some of my accomplishments asserting myself on behalf of vulnerable people, view here and here on my website.

I also knew something else was deeply wrong with my judgment and ability to maintain a stable mood that participation in Victories was not helping.

In my own search accurately diagnosis my vulnerability, I did diagnostic brain scans and neuropsych testing. I learned I had brain damage likely from early childhood trauma which directly caused many of my life’s ups and downs. Serious medical and mental health problems men’s work would never cure. So, it was all a bad idea for me. Some gains and good times, but likely the stress of it all caused more damage.

The anti-depressant medication I was prescribed was helpful right away. It was the “vitamin” my body and brain needed. With the correct levels of serotonin, I began to sleep better and think more clearly. I also was diagnosed with hypogonadism (low production of testosterone), so adding testosterone to my medication regimen also made a big improvement in my energy levels and improved brain functioning. It was all good.

Devoting myself to Victories, especially when it meant a more uncritical support of the original leaders dreams, was no longer a good idea. I knew the effort to expand the Wisdom years to Boston would fail. I participated in that Wisdom years, experienced the program, and met the possible Boston leaders. I knew it had very little chance to fly.

I was asked to give my evaluation both at the weekend (I signed my name) and afterwards. In sum, I said I had a wonderful experience and enjoyed being there and helping the Boston program get started. I also offered specific parts of the weekend to change. You can guess how popular this made me. Only in some ideal and unrealistic world would my change efforts at that time have been well-received.

How would you get men to do a Wisdom years in Boston? Only through some recruitment effort by guys who knew very little about the program with virtually no source of referrals locally.

It’s ironic I became embroiled in a conflict about the Wisdom years, as I was determined to stay out of the undercurrent of disagreement. When I returned from the weekend, Kurt nonchalantly asked me how I liked it.

I told him it was great and I enjoyed myself, especially the dose of “geritol” they gave me before bedtime!. Kurt laughed with one of his full-throated laughs and we enjoyed our moment of brevity. Then he asked me about a particular practice on the weekend.

I told him I had seen that before and was surprised they did it at the weekend. I won’t say more about Kurt’s view, but at the next Board meeting, he spontaneously raised the issue and appointed another Board member and myself to “study” this practice and make recommendations. The other Board member and I looked at each other as if to ask, “did you know he was going to do this?” We both answered silently, no.

I made a joke to make sure everyone there knew there was no conspiracy against the Wisdom years and I did not know about this appointment. Kurt knew I did not want to get involved, but when Kurt asked, you said yes.

Fortunately, the other Board member called me a few days later and told me the issue was dropped and there was no need to “study” it any longer. We were both relieved to pull ourselves out of the hornet’s nest without being stung. I was naive to think the hornets were not still buzzing.

The 2004-2008 period when I had re-engaged in Victories was a tough period when the original leaders had to yield the total power they had over programs and details and allow the Board to assume authority.

I do not believe this time went well and think it was ultimately harmful for me. There are several neuroscience concepts which help explain some of the unresolved conflicts, but implicit memories are very important. (Zimmerman, 2014)

Memories of hurt and injuries are stored implicitly with no time stamp. This means whenever triggered, the stored feelings can surface as if the hurt and injury had just occurred. Such is my life and the life of other trauma survivors. The brain damage I lived with only made matters worse.

Recruitment is a key characteristic of an LGAT. It becomes problematic when the participants are encouraged (some might say pressured) to become ambassadors for these programs and recruit other family members and friends.

It’s not too fun to have one of these individuals start to pressure you to attend one of these weekends.

The Mankind Project has made many contributions in the personal growth arena, especially making psychodrama, a sophisticated therapy model, available to many thousands of men (and some women) around the globe. I think this one of its significant accomplishments.

While they can be criticized for other aspects of their program, they have developed a way of training and facilitating psychodrama that is quite excellent. They have specific types of psychodrama that are offered for specific types of presenting issues during their weekends.

The men facilitating these exercises have experienced psychodrama themselves, received training, and are being supervised or teaming with more experienced leaders during the program.

Over the years, the Mankind Project has been forced to confront some problems in their programming and have made progress in creating more transparency (men know what they are getting into), attempts to evaluate the mental health of potential participants, and other ways of bringing their program into the 21st century.

The Mankind Project has also influenced many other personal growth programs. While these programs would publicly deny any influence, the similarities are unmistakable to a well-trained eye. While these other programs may deny this, imitation is a form of flattery. In some cases, I would suggest an unhealthy type of envy. It’s called Warrior envy.

These other, smaller programs have faltered as the “identity quest” of the 1980’s and 1990’s has faded, especially when such programs were organized around charismatic leaders who financially profited from their programs. Many participants and volunteers in such programs could see through the veneer of greed and eventually dropped out.

When these programs are built around charismatic personalities, internal conflicts are often suppressed. Anyone who dares to challenge the “leader” is likely met with some type of threat, expulsion, etc. It’s usually not pretty. This inability to address and resolve differences and conflict can damage organizational ability to grow and expand.

So, although I was in and out of involvement myself for many years, I tread cautiously. It seems impossible to create any quality control, although I think Victories and Mankind Project do a pretty good job with this.

Individuals have been hurt and killed in the past, but hopefully, this will not happen in the future. There are too many good men trying to do good things.

Do I recommend these local and national programs anymore? I mention them as possibilities, but nothing else. I wouldn’t encourage anyone to join a church, synagogue, mosque or other religious institution.

I know providing good psychotherapy based on research will be more helpful to individuals in developing better lives. Let people choose their own organizations. That’s called self-determination and it’s a good thing.

Like in everything we do, look before you leap. It can be a long way down.

Addendum 1. Victories of the Heart, my book review:

Writer disclosure: I know Dr. Mark and the late Buddy Portugal and was part of the men’s organization they founded including being a leader for one of the weekends. I also was asked and wrote a narrative they included in this book. I said I liked the book, but I admit to going back and forth. Endings with people and/or organizations are often not good experiences. My ending was not good and so I will try to manage any of my negative bias.

These two men became larger than life for most of us involved in the program, which likely became a problem in itself. Think the Wizard of Oz where we find the Wizard is this small guy whose voice is magnified. He doesn’t really have the magic, but somehow knew others needed to believe in something greater than themselves.

Psychotherapy clients naturally idealize their therapists. When the therapist develops an additional type of relationship, problems can be created. It’s called a “dual relationship” and the early formation of this organization was unfortunately rife with these type of relationships.

It’s easier to idealize a therapist in their office when they are empathic and compassionate towards you in a one-on-one relationship. Extend that to trying to build a men’s organization with clients and former clients and you have trouble.

To their credit, these authors built the foundation for what has become a better organization. They made it clear they did not want to earn any money from the work of other leaders. This clarified an important boundary about money within the organization. Both these men were independently wealthy (I think) from their robust practices, so earning some percentage was not only unnecessary for them, but not part of their value system. The fact the organization now is on pretty healthy footing is evidence these men did a good job of nudging the organization towards progress.

Although I have been critical of the winding path this organizational evolution took, it does not undermine all of the good that has taken place over the years. I remember being at one of the annual fundraisers and a wife present shared spontaneously, “…this program saved my marriage.” This comment was unsolicited and completely sincere.

For me to say, “well, when I was involved back then, there were sharp elbows, ego bruising and even back-stabbing…” would come as no real surprise to anyone else involved back then or anyone in any other organization. I don’t think this is a revelation or anything newsworthy.

From 2004-2008 when I was most involved, the principals struggled to accomplish there dream of creating programs in other cities, like the Warrior weekend had been able to do decades earlier. These authors must have felt the conflict between the organizational need they take a lesser role in decision-making, as the volunteer board became more established.

The last two Victories board presidents have been great and the current board has excellent representation. I would have much rather been involved during this period of time.

For me, I was caught in the middle of four powerful, intelligent and charismatic men. I thought it possible to engage and do well, despite my own vulnerabilities. Unfortunately due to my cognitive impairment, I faltered and failed when trying to negotiate the complexities of an organization still mesmerized by the glow of the leaders. I bruised some egos by speaking and writing truthfully and paid the price. I know now I should have enjoyed the participation and left, rather than join the organizational development process as a volunteer and leader back then.

Back to the book, for anyone involved in the “men’s movement” of the mid-1980’s to the present, this book is worth reading. The stories the author’s tell about men and their work is at times compelling and rich in describing the transition in psychotherapy from listening only to a more body centered approach. The author’s stories about holding sobbing men and helping point them to resolving grief is true. As a leader myself, I witnessed this over and over at the weekends with my leadership team. My co-leader was especially powerful and was always selected by the men as a substitute father to re-enact and repair some type of damaged parental love relationship. You kind of have to be there to believe it.

This book also reveals so much more about the two men. Buddy Portugal is deceased, but he and Dr. Mark had a unique relationship that could cut both ways. The book does reveal the intensity of their relationship and the gifts they brought to each other. It also reveals a lot about their men’s weekend, which can be seen in a historical context with other organizations, called “large group awareness trainings (LGATs).” Human beings are still pretty lost, but in the 1980’s people, mostly men, with grand ideas set forth to “show the way.” Victories’ development was hampered by the lack of formal administrative infrastructure and the petty jealousy among leaders to be the “best boy.”

The leadership requirement to be in a dyadic (twosome) relationship with another man also prohibited creativity, collaboration, and organizational development. It was very much like a family business, where the sons had a lot of ideas, and while, the parents seemed open, innovative ideas were left dangling or deep-sixed. An especially revealing experience for me was immediately after I presented a workbook to help guide participants in their follow-up groups at a Board meeting, one of the founders announced he and the other leader were writing their second book, which would be a workbook for participants of their newest program, the Wisdom Years.

All of us just looked at him, knowing him, and let it pass. There was no second book written. It was a moment for him to let one of the “sons” shine in an effort to improve a part of the program in dire need of improvement. Predictably, he chose to compete and a “good enough” idea was never implemented. This is only one example of the petty jealousy which damaged organizational development.

I think few people have really read the entire book. One particularly interesting reveal is how these authors decided on the original name for their program, “the Men’s Room.” Of course it conjures up all sorts of imagery familiar for men, but to my surprise, the explanation does involve more than innuendo. Buddy Portugal describes how Dr. Mark “picked up the napkin (with the name) and handed it to me. It said, ‘The Men’s Room’, where men can expose themselves emotionally, where the zipper that keeps us locked up inside of ourselves can be opened.”

The organization, now in it’s 4th stage of development has made some incremental improvements, for example having elements of a more realistic team leadership approach, detailed ethics policies, improved support group trainings, and from what I have been assured a revised shadow weekend. All good!

Men such as myself who offer critical analysis are not popular. I wish it were not so. I invested a lot of energy in the organization and people and have made it clear I would like to be treated in the respectful way in which I deserve. When it worked for the powers to be for me to be critical, such as revising the Spirit of Generosity day and creating the psychodrama training, I was very, very popular. Oh well. So it is.

Addendum 2: Clearing the Path, my book review:

Writer’s notet: I was involved in Dr. Mark’s men’s program and have insights about him and his work. Perhaps, there is no good ending in a relationship with people or organizations. This was true for me, so any negative views I express may be colored by my ending experiences.

I was very curious about this book when I learned it had been written and recently had a chance to read it. I surprisingly enjoyed it, as an autobiographical account of the author’s development as a human being and professional therapist, rather than as a textbook on alternative therapy.

In person, Dr. Mark is both impressive and charismatic. As the depth of his book demonstrates, he is very intelligent and highly skilled as a therapist. You can tell he has an ease and comfort with traditional forms of therapy and having seen him in action, I can confirm he is an exceptional agent of change in people’s lives.

His book is a timeline of his own evolutionary process and offers an interesting reflection of what was happening in the psychotherapy field along the way. Trained as a traditional psychologist, he describes his movements outside his own and his professional field’s comfort zone, into a more shamanic practice. Dr. Mark effectively describes his use of the I-Ching, Tai Chi, hypnosis, imagery, drumming, altered states due to tequila and/or imagery in his own personal work and work with his clients. No doubt, his own personal shamanic work is the most fascinating part of his book.

As Dr. Mark suggests, shamans have been an organic part of every community since the beginning of civilization and have used most of these methods, herbs and whatever healing substances they could find. There was really nothing else. Between shamans and our ancient grandmothers, kindness, warmth, holding, and magic were the only options.

Dr. Mark taught Tai Chi at one of his men’s retreats at which I attended. He taught us to flow and release, bringing energy from within and letting it out in the world. It was the eternal healing method of accessing internal energy and externalizing it, providing some relief from our human suffering. He wasn’t too serious about all of it either and allowed for a lot of humor to mix in with the seriousness of the powerfully subtle movements. It was a brief exercise in an intense, potentially life-changing weekend experience.

Dr. Mark takes us along on his life journey, finding meaning in the unknown, and ways to anticipate and predict what may happen in the future. For him, throwing coins, reading palms and analyzing handwriting are all elements of exploring alternative realities and powers. His book demonstrates his belief about how powerful and effective it was for him and his clients. In a sense, it demonstrates the faith part of change. He doesn’t try to convince his readers about any contemporary religious ideas, but rather encourages the suspension of doubt so the possibility of a “higher power, or god” might be experienced.

He tells the story of his friend Doug who seemed stuck in an ordinary, superficial way of viewing the world. Dr. Mark says,

“…I asked him if he could suspend his rational mind and his judgments and hold out the possibility that some “God”, spirit, a power greater than he and unknown to him, actually existed. And, I asked, ‘If it did, what would that mean to you personally?”

Dr. Mark goes on to describe how his friend is moved by this idea that some things in life may be beyond his control and his efforts to control them were a source of distress. It’s a great lesson Doug learns, and the theme is the possibility that God exists, some power greater than ourselves being the source of change in the world.

This belief in a higher power was surprising to me about Dr. Mark. I realize I never got to know him well even though I spent a lot of time in meetings and workshops. I don’t remember him ever speaking about this deeply held belief about spirit in the world. There is certainly some relief to the idea that “things happen for a reason, or TANA, as he describes in the book. If some things happen for a reason, then we humans don’t have to blame ourselves for something we hate about ourselves or shame we have felt about life’s unfortunate events.

However, there is something else science tells us about non-scientific beliefs. Namely, humans have a tendency to incorrectly believe in the spirit world, god, prayer, our ability to influence people and events around us, or what is called in the experimental research world as “magical thinking.”

Regarding an extensive research project by the University of Oxford, the website Science Daily reports,

“The £1.9 million project involved 57 researchers who conducted over 40 separate studies in 20 countries representing a diverse range of cultures. The studies (both analytical and empirical) conclude that humans are predisposed to believe in gods and an afterlife, and that both theology and atheism are reasoned responses to what is a basic impulse of the human mind.”

So, as humans we are predisposed to a belief in gods and an afterlife, so religion, and interestingly, atheism both respond to that innate human need. The researchers did not try to answer the question as to whether god or the spirit world exists or not. Their project focused on a cross-cultural study of whether notions of god or afterlife are taught or part of our essential humanness.

Dr. Mark’s book presents his own personal beliefs about god and spirit. His alternative methods are based on the idea that there is a spirit world and he is able to find insight, knowledge and power through his ability to connect with the spirit world. His message is an invitation for the reader to believe in the energy available from the spirit world.

In his chapter, “Answering the questions of youth”, Dr. Mark offers many interesting answers to questions he has been asked most often by clients and ones he imagines we readers may ask. He has an interesting answer to whether it’s possible for someone who does not believe in god to “still believe in miracles, powers greater than myself, energy or what you call spirit?”

Dr. Mark answers,

“Why not? All of what I have discussed would lead one to see that if there is spirit or energy beyond our 5 sense perceptual abilities, then no one belief or non-belief system has the corner on the ‘miracle’ market…and never forget that spirit resides everywhere…that means within each of us.” (Mark, 2010, pp. 152-153)

Researchers have given a name to what Dr. Mark is inviting his readers to believe. It’s called “magical thinking.” Researchers at Harvard have been able to prove that educated adults can be led to believe they had the power to influence events completely beyond their control. (Pronin, Wegner, McCArthy, & Rodgriguez, 2006) It’s provocative research suggesting there is something very human in our desire to believe we can have some influence over seemingly uncontrollable human events. Many of us can probably remember a time when we were forced to pray about something over which we knew nothing else might help, like a loved one in surgery. What else could we do?

So, the magical thinking we could have an influence over people and life events is common and scientific research helps us understand that although we might believe or want to believe we are have some power to change the course of human events, we do not.

Why Dr. Mark would spend the enormous effort to write and self-publish his book asking us to forgo our critical minds and accept the fact he has some magical powers to read palms, tell the future, and alter the course of his clients’ lives is perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of his book.

At one time, I think I would have believed him; now I do not. As well, he is not asking his readers to believe him, simply to dispense with their critical mind and give the notion of some higher power a chance.

Dr. Mark invites us to lessen the grip of our internal “doubter”, the part preventing us from knowing other states of reality. This is not a book about scientific research. In fact, therapists working in these times should never seriously consider most of the methods presented in this book. There is “magic” in the therapeutic process, but it’s in the authenticity of the relationship between therapist and client.

Therapists do not create magic to change their clients; they experience it right along with their clients. Together, the magic of the therapeutic relationship unfolds, changing both the client and the therapist for the better.

Dr. Mark’s book is a revelation about one man’s journey into the unknown, searching for his deeper truth. For this message, it is well worth the read.

A friend just the other day told me, “Hey, you were around when it was called the Men’s Room!” I smiled and said yes. I guess it’s nice to be remembered.

Endings are usually pretty complicated. My ending(s) with Men’s Room (Men’s Room), later to be renamed Victories of the Heart (VOH) was, well, complicated.

What people may not know is I had two endings with VOH, one in about 1994-95 when it was called Men’s Room and one when it was called Victories of the Heart in 2008.

In about 1994, a friend and I were selected to be one of the early leadership teams in the Men’s Room. I don’t think I was really that popular, but my friend was. I think it was assumed that together we made a good team.

It was not a good fit for me then, but that’s not the interesting part of the story. It’s how the leaders at the time made their decision.

In the early 1990’s Men’s Room leaders had a competition going on in their own minds about the rapid growth of the New Warrior Training Adventure in Milwaukee and Chicago. The Warrior weekend is now on 5 continents with about 200 weekends a year and many men’s centers such as the one here in Chicago.

It’s safe to say that the Warrior program resonated with men on an international scale and their leadership development promoted a bottom up type of growth. Not so for the Men’s Room, now Victories.

While I had a vague sense of being “groomed” for some leadership position in the Men’s Room, I didn’t believe the structure was right for me. I staffed a weekend shortly after participating and imagined it would be a better experience for me.

Instead, my friend and I were the only new/working staff and were essentially the “carry water and firewood, vacuum the carpet and take the trash out” guys.

While we were working, the other six men essentially were sitting around engrossed in each other and their training. Understandable, but my first view on the tiered process of leadership in the Men’s Room. I didn’t like it. Separate and unequal.

Don’t misunderstand, watching the leaders facilitate the weekend and “heartwork” was incredible. I felt honored to be present. My extensive family therapy training and personal work helped me see how profound it was for men to begin to face their vulnerability and trauma. I was at least a witness, even though my role was insignificant.

Later, I staffed a Warrior weekend and my experience was remarkably different.

It was fun to be a part of a large staff working on behalf of the guys who came to the weekend. The Warrior weekend is a big production and many hands are needed to prepare the space and all the elements of the event.

Lots of guys, doing lots of things, smoking cigars, talking in small circles, having fun, embracing, visiting the sweat lodge to connect with the Water Pourers, crying and grieving. There was a lot to experience and take in. As staff, we were able to participate in any part of the weekend exercises so long as we were free. It was all good.

At the Warrior weekend, the leadership structure was one Full Leader and three co-leaders. Already a key difference from Men’s Room/Victories. A shared, collaborative leadership style which was at once effective, democratic and engaging.

I was enthused throughout the weekend, but the ending staff circle where men described their experience and checked out was an experience I will never forget.

It came to me speaking and as I looked around the room, I began to grieve from a deep place inside my heart. I liked what I knew of the staff men and respected their voluntarism and skill, especially in the psychodramas (they call it “guts” work) they facilitated for the men.

I could see that small though my staff role, I was an integral part of something larger there that weekend. It was energetic, honest, and big enough to help me grow. It was hard not to want to be a “men’s leader” back then, but I could see that there were many men available to mentor me and there was a leadership track to follow. Through hard work, men could earn the right to be a leader in the Warrior program.

I also had a realization about Men’s Room. While staffing those weekends, I was in awe and mesmerized by the creativity of the leaders with whom I volunteered. I thought of them as almost “gurus or shamans.” I initially saw them through my young guys eyes as creating miracles with their hearts, hands and minds. I couldn’t imagine there were others like them anywhere.

Well, there were. They were regular staff guys at Warrior weekends all over the country, later the world. I witnessed the same sort of miracles both during my own Warrior weekend and later more clearly as part of the staff. Regular staff guys facilitating brilliant and creative “guts” work (psychodrama) helping to change men’s lives.

Seeing and comparing both programs, the Men’s Room felt like I was like looking behind the Wizard’s curtain,discovering the Wizard was a small guy with an amplified voice. These men had all participated more or less with the Warrior program. They had to be influenced, so why not be more transparent. When I gushed over the Men’s Room leaders’ psychodrama facilitation, why not talk about it as something they learned instead of something they divined? My idealization of them received it’s first scratch.

On the other hand, the Warrior guys were just doing it as part of teams, never taking credit in any way for their creativity or pushing someone else out of the way to maintain their place in the spotlight. The leaders of the weekend actually took a back seat and acted more as coaches helping the staff guys become more skilled. Leaders didn’t have to shine at the weekend.

I could see that these Warrior staff guys were learning this process they called “guts” work and facilitating it skillfully, changing men’s lives. It wasn’t something “spiritual” or resulting from some vertical connection to g-d. It had been learned and there were a lot of teachers. For the first time, I could see myself doing this.

I made a decision at that moment to pursue the leadership development process for the Warrior weekend. I believed there was no leadership opportunity within the Men’s Room/Victories program for me.

What I saw of the dyadic (two men who “were committed to each other first”) model just didn’t resonate and I had no idea how I could “qualify”, whatever that might mean. I suppose it was a form of homophobia, but if so, it was confused by the fact that these early leader teams professed their deep attachment and connection to each other while also having wives and children at home.

Here is how the founders describe their closeness and attachment in their book:

“One of the strongest elements of our weekend experiences with men is for them to see the kind of relationship that the two of us have. It is important for us to make clear that ours has many imperfections and is still emerging. But we are two men who love one another, who have developed a powerful bond in a non-sexual relationship. We do not intend to red-flag the non-sexual aspect, although it is important.” (Mark P. R., 1996, p. 171)

These two men were committed to each other in a passionate way. This was evident to any who knew them or participated in one of their weekend programs.

I later understood the “two men committed to each other” model cut both ways. It served as a protected place for the two leaders, but gave them an unrealistic sense of their own importance and served to disconnect them from the other leaders and volunteers. In group therapy research language, it meant the Victories organization was divided up into sub-groups which increased anxiety and conflict within the larger group. (Yalom, 1985, pp. 333-342)

Leadership in Men’s Room/VOH was hierarchical. There were two founders, then they selected the additional leadership teams. The role of the staff was not to lead, but follow in admiration of the two leaders. Staff were mainly to support the process and follow requests by the two leaders.

Most knowledgeable therapists understood the pattern of clients going through a process of “idealization” with the therapist. I saw this time and again, and in fact, I did “idealize” these leaders. I was young, vulnerable and easily influenced at the time. I became part of the guys who were supposed to help the organization become something bigger than it was. Often referred to as a “mom and pop” organization, the two founders decided to try to expand the organization in the best way they knew, select leaders.

It’s a pretty risky process for the therapist/leader who does not know how to deal with this idealization. The proper method is to notice and describe what is happening in the relationship, so the person/client does not see the leader/therapist in some unrealistic manner. I often will just say something like, “you’re just noticing something in me you haven’t quite recognized in yourself yet. I am pretty human and have gone through many of the things you have, so it’s ok to take me off the pedestal. The positive growth is because of the therapy relationship, not me in particular.”

In those early years, there was no blueprint for organizational growth. Recruitment became essential if there were to be more weekends and leaders. Unfortunately, the therapists recruiting seemed to always begin with their own clients. I myself worked with one of the Men’s Room leaders in therapy.

Should therapists recruit their clients to attend weekends in which they are a leader? This was an ethical issue and created countless dual-relationships throughout the process, some with bad results, like with me. My strong opinion now is no.

To their credit, the current VOH leadership have a rule now that therapist leaders are prohibited from having their own clients attend a weekend they are leading. This is a good thing and big step forward.

So, when I decided to enter the Warrior weekend leadership process, I informed the Men’s Room/Victories leaders. Their response was unsettling. My friend and I were requested to meet with two leaders and we did so at my office in Chicago. We were kept in the dark about the purpose of the meeting, but I had a fantasy.

I thought (and wished) these two men would ask us to share the leadership of the weekend my friend and I had done so much to help prosper. I had always referred 2-3 men for every weekend and my friend was a musical genius who was universally loved by every man who participated in every weekend.

While others can say we were not that important in the grand scheme of things, I knew from my part of every athletic team I played on that the best leadership came in following the leader, supporting them in their efforts.

My friend and I did this routinely. He with his music and intuitive genius, me with my experience on teams and in leadership. I was content not to be the leader and found it to be a relief. It was a respite from my parentified role in my alcoholic and dangerous family and the demands of leadership I had previously experienced. My leadership here involved helping this team be more cohesive and supportive of the two leaders, who were finding their way in those early weekends.

I was very attached to these men and once explained to them I felt I needed them to survive in the world. Ours was a multi-faceted relationship. My talents and “high brain” functioning were not needed during weekends. I was like a tight end on a football team, making blocks for the stars with the ball, occasionally catching a pass for yardage. I was content.

So, my fantasy was only a fantasy. We were told that the other leaders wanted us to be the next leadership team (was it the 3rd or 4th?). However, they had decided they wanted us to run a non-residential weekend, as there (seemed) to be a need for it. Actually, I am sure they felt we were not up to the challenge of leading a residential weekend. I know this mostly because at the time, it was true.

A weekend date was set and a new brochure insert was created. Of course, we paid for the production of the insert. Then we worked on developing the staff team and recruiting (there is that word!!).

It was an uphill climb, but we were doing our best. A few months before the weekend, I received an announcement in the mail (there was regular mail then). The Men’s Room organization announced another weekend offering on the same weekend of our non-residential weekend. It was a weekend with a writer who considered himself a shaman.

I was angry about this and made phone calls to find out how the organization could do this. I was told not to worry, it would have no impact on our weekend. Sure.

Next, about 2 months before the weekend was to occur, a colleague called me to tell me he had called the office to sign up for our non-residential weekend and was told “not to bother, the weekend was not going to happen.”

Whoever told him that was right. The weekend did not happen. My friend and I decided to find a way to slowly and peacefully extricate ourselves from the Men’s Room and our responsibilities for the non-residential weekend. This was about 1994-95.

I could be wrong, but I came to believe the Men’s Room guys wanted to divert me from joining the Warrior leadership training. Whether I am right or not, it worked.

A terrible experience at a Shadow program around 1994 sealed the deal for me and I separated from the Men’s Room, now Victories, until 2004 about ten years later when I was promised things would be different.

Things were somewhat different, but that’s a longer story. The highlights of the 4 years I was involved on leadership teams involved learning, teaching, and facilitating psychodrama within the Victories Breakthrough weekend.

Understanding what I know now about my vulnerable brain functioning, I regret involving myself in men’s work leadership activities. I could have participated, got what I could out of the experience and not engaged in the unhealthy interpersonal sharp elbows, common in any organization, but more complicated when the elbows belong to psychotherapists who are supposed to subscribe to relevant professional ethical codes.

There have been two Board presidents since 2008 when I resigned and I really like the refinements and changes they have made. These men deserve a lot of credit and have carried on the vision of the late Kurt Schultz, who led Victories from a for-profit part of leaders private psychotherapy practices to the robust, non-profit organization it is today.

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