Aug 04 2009

Victories of the Heart: Ethics of Marketing and Clinical Models (4)

Briefly, I am noting the positive effort of VOH to name the various psychotherapy models such as psychodynamic, cognitive therapy, jungian, and gestalt, upon which they base their programs.

Click here to read how the website description discusses these ideas.

While there is also a section “for only professionals“, I am only evaluating what is open and transparent to the public. I have already mentioned this “for professionals only” section seems like a bad idea, and some might call it elitist. It is bad marketing for sure.

However, these references to clinical models are offered without any detailed discussion. The thoughtful reader is encouraged to assume the lack of detail is because this is a website space issue and there is not enough room to provide more discussion.

If the “for professionals only” section offers more detail, it should be part of the main website available to everyone without discrimination.

Without any details, the website’s references to “clinical models” remains a minimalist intellectual effort.

As evidence of this minimalist intellectual effort within VOH, the “Publications” category under “For Professionals” you will find the exact same bibliography I provided as a handout for the men at VOH weekends I co-led years ago.

I was amused to still find my bibliography on the website. (My bibliography has since been removed, not sure when.)

I also found it interesting that the “Publications” section states:

“We have prepared an annotated bibliography of books that address some of the issues explored during our weekends. Download (here)”

The use of the word “We” in the sentence suggests the bibliography was the effort of at least a few hours of the leaders collaborating and putting together something more comprehensive for intellectually interested readers.

Instead, the reality is that I wrote the bibliography many years ago without any input from others and it’s use on the website was a surprise, well, not a shock to me.

If you click here, you will go to my website and see my expanded bibliography I offer for anyone interested. The similarities of both bibliographies are obvious.

One other detail is the VOH describes the download as an “annotated bibliography“, but it is actually only a reading list. My website offers an annotated bibliography.

Knowing the men who are working at this, I believe there is a sincere effort to begin exploring more scientific research to support VOH programs. This is an excellent idea. However, it is a very new effort begun sometime after 2007-08.

While I am only one of the many people who witnessed VOH from the inside and outside, if asked on a witness stand under oath, if I was ever a part of any collaborative, organization wide effort to apply psychotherapy or psychological research to all VOH programs, I would have to answer “no”.

Actually, collaborative is never a word I would use to describe the underlying dynamic in VOH. Covertly competitive, back-stabbing, mean-spirited, selfish, self-serving, ill-advised, self-defeating, confusing are better descriptions I would offer of what it was like in the decision-making circles.

My own sense was the men at the VOH top never gave anything without expecting twice as much in return.

Now, others may have been involved in joint intellectual efforts without my being aware of it. I just know I never heard concepts like psychodynamic, gestalt, jungian, or cognitive therapy used with any intellectual depth related to program discussions or evaluations. In fact, I never heard the term cognitive therapy used once.

Many of my VOH efforts to use a research based approach resulted from a request from the Chairman of the VOH board who I know was/is very interested in bringing research to the task of program development.

For example, in about 2004, he asked me to become involved in the VOH “Spirit of Generosity” training which was a badly designed effort at training volunteer staff for weekends.

Participant were asked to bring an item of personal meaning and value. Then, at some point, staff of the “Spirit of Generosity” training took the personal objects brought by participants and buried them somewhere on the grounds of Techni Center.

Yes, the participants lost their personal items forever, despite the fact that some were valuable pieces of jewelry given to them by a loved one.

When I explained privately to the VOH Board Chairman this seemed like a pretty bad idea and that some of the men who talked with me were angry that they lost valuable personal property, he readily understood the message.

Participants were asked to bring something of personal value to the experience without being informed (informed consent) they would be asked to give away the object and lose it forever. Symbolically, it was like “part of who they are” was being taken from them. And on a practical note, something of value was actually taken from them.

How is that for a terrible program concept and marketing strategy? This is where the ill-advised and self-defeating concepts are relevant.

I told the VOH Chairman that a core goal in any psychotherapy is the integration and consolidation of the many aspects of a person’s life, especially when adults grew up in dysfunctional families where their identity and well-being is assaulted daily.

To “take” something of value, and further, not ever give it back was a replication of abusive behavior common in such dysfunctional families. I saw absolutely no redeeming value.

In fact, I believed the “Spirit of Generosity” was actually more of a detriment to the men participating, perhaps harmful, and had no intellectual value, certainly no support in any psychological literature.

On the contrary, it might even be considered an effort to gain control over the men participating, make them even more dependent and confused, weaken their own identity and make them more susceptible to being influenced by the VOH power structure.

Certainly, after 25 years, the two founders and the next two leaders are still in power, wielding influence and control about all the important matters of the organization. I have used the anology of the medieval court before…except VOH had much more feminine energy…not a lot of kings and princes there fighting face to face.

Since conflict was forbidden, all conflict went subterranean, with character assassination by poison…none of them would be courageous enough to actually face someone directly and go toe to toe with different beliefs or conflict.

I personally was reminded of the common image of the bully taking something of value from the little guy to put him in his place. This is called stealing as an effort to intimidate.

Needless to say, the “Spirit of Generosity” ended immediately and a new volunteer training was created by the VOH Board Chairman and myself, called “Basic Staff Training.”

This may have been the first VOH training in which the title actually conveyed what happened at the experience! It was very highly evaluated, popular and served as the training ground for many of the newest VOH leadership in the Breakthrough Weekend.

The main benefit of this training were the educational modules on psychodrama. Participants learned for the first time in VOH’s history about the theory, methods and practice of psychodrama.

To read the early 2005 psychodrama training outline, click here.

Getting back to the “clinical models” issue, the website reference to cognitive therapy was the most surprising to me. While I was not a part of all conversations, I never heard any cognitive therapy concepts mentioned in VOH circles.

Actually, the first time I ever connected cognitive therapy and VOH was when I read the most recent website revisions.

I am not complaining as I believe the use of more cognitive therapy would be useful. However, the few sentences about the cognitive therapy influence of the Wisdom Years weekend seems like a possible stretch.

The Wisdom Years program I attended in Boston, Ma. did not have any cognitive therapy strategies or techniques. This could have changed over time, but I doubt it. Without revealing process details, I experienced a theme of staff in small groups “lecturing” participants about not being selfish, but to volunteer in the world” which I experienced as a turn off. At a basic level, it was not good listening and group facilitation. At a deeper level, it could seem shaming to us “older guys.” Again, with more information available transparently, I may change my opinions, but any effort to integrate current research on personal growth and development is a positive step to be commended.

More intellectual effort in VOH is a good idea and the men involved are very bright and up to the task. However, there may be systemic resistance to any comprehensive evaluation of VOH programs based on current psychotherapy research.

The simplicity of the website descriptions of clinical models could also suggest the managers of the programs only want to convey they are taking a professional approach to programming.

In this intellectually minimalist effort, they may be merely replacing an honest, serious approach with hubris.
I look forward to reading more about their efforts down the road.I am really curious to read about the outcomes.

Last time I checked (November 28, 2010), the “professionals only” section is still password protected.

Note the website description:

“This section of our website is for professionals only. We invite you to register for your password-protected account or to log in now.”

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