Archive for July, 2013

Jul 30 2013

Personal Growth Weekends: They Can be Great, But Look Before You Leap

I know something about personal growth weekend programs. There’s a lot to compliment. These experiences can be a lot of fun, engaging for even the most reserved person, and can jump-start folks on the road to recovery from a lot of bad things. However, they are not for everyone.The programs I know the best are the Mankind Project’s New Warrior Training Adventure and the Victories of the Heart. I have participated and staffed both weekends and became a leader of the Victories of the Heart Breakthrough weekend and helped to create the Victories psychodrama training program.

Unfortunately, my psychological and cognitive vulnerability suggests I shouldn’t have involved myself in volunteering and/or becoming a leader in men’s weekend programs. There are just too many moving parts and my brain was and is just not healthy enough. I knew I was a survivor of severe early childhood trauma, but had lived with serious brain health issues, especially with my frontal brain system which had not been diagnosed.

My particular cognitive vulnerability is described as a “minor cognitive impairment.” I wish this simply meant “where are my car keys?” It doesn’t. It’s a more complex problem which includes taking a very long time completing tasks, the more difficult ones taking longer and me being more prone to mistakes. When my brain was first scanned, there was some concern  I had pre-frontal lobe dementia. I didn’t, but was very fearful until I could get an MRI which ruled out any dementia.

For me it means, when I’m doing something I understand and have repeated many times, like facilitating psychotherapy, or even psychodrama, I do well and intellectually function around the 86th percentile or better than about 14% of other human beings. However, doing something new and add complexity, I can drop down to about the 10th percentile or 90% of others can do better and more quickly. It’s more complicated, of course, but this is what I have learned about myself. Better late than never.

Like many trauma survivors, my earlier therapists, and the one who engaged me in men’s work, had very little knowledge of the complex way human brains are damaged by trauma.

The lack of knowledge isn’t surprising. This was around 1990 to 1994 and much of the research on trauma, memory and the brain was being completed and published. When the Catholic church fought back against the lawsuits by sexual abuse victims of clergy, a key debate was whether there was such a thing as “repressed memory.” Many of the plaintiffs in these lawsuits were claiming they suddenly remembered their abuse after decades of forgetting.

In my first therapy session, I told my story and suddenly the memory of a particularly traumatic event flashed into my mind and I began to sob. This men’s work therapist looked at me with a little shock, but was comforting to me. Had he known more about the impact of trauma on the brain and memory, or even gotten some type of consultation, I think he could have been more helpful to me. Sending me headfirst into men’s work was not appropriate for me. He and I both didn’t know any better. The difference, I didn’t claim to be the expert.

Therapists who have studied the impact of trauma on the brain and evidence-based treatment methods would have more readily diagnosed me appropriately and help me not engage in such stressful activities as were demanded in the men’s work field.

However, a treatment plan of some individual therapy and then full immersion into “men’s work” , including intensive weekends, leaderless men’s groups, and helping to staff weekends was not appropriate for me. It was too intense, too much adrenaline, too much all of us replicating our family of origin, being stuck with no viable conflict resolution process available.

MKP may have been a better context for me since there was more structure, leader training, and the organization needed leaders all over the world. Victories was smaller, local, and I experienced more confusing dynamics, which felt competitive sometimes. Generally, the interpersonal stuff in Victories was not very compatible with my nature and nurture.

My engagement with Victories resulted from my association with a grad school colleague who I liked a lot. Of all the friends I had in Chicago, he reminded me most of the friends I grew up with. My brain was messed up, but I knew I liked having guy friends who were capable of deep and meaningful connection. I became very attached to he and his partner.

I had many memorable interactions with these two men. After my first men’s weekend, my friends partner came out to greet me by my car to introduce himself and connect. It was a really nice gesture and obviously one I didn’t forget. There were other events, many in the course of men’s work, where we laughed, cried, danced and I felt wrapped in the type of connection and love my younger, injured self, yearned for.

I was attached, no doubt.  My defensive psyche allowed these two guys in and there was healing in my idealization of them. I thought our connection meant we were becoming friends too, reliant on each other. I tried to take it to a social level where would connect “outside of the boundaries of men’s work. I invited them and their spouses to a concert, a dinner, and it fizzled.

Perhaps my damaged brain made it difficult for me to see the shadow side of my idealization for these guys. Certainly, the emptiness of my soul desperately needed them, in any way possible.

Therapists who work with clients with severe trauma will understand how attached I became to these guys. At the intrapsychic level, I saw them as key to my survival in the world. And they were. I was coming out of a significant life crisis and their friendliness, warmth, and support was life-giving to me.

They wanted me and a mutual friend to help them staff weekends and we did so for several years. This increased the amount of time we spent together and the opportunity to share often miraculous repair of damaged souls. Seeing these two men in action was quite remarkable and only reinforced my attachment to them. If they wanted me to jump, I would say “how high?”

The first time I didn’t want to do something they asked was when they met with my friend and I and told us the organization wanted us to be a leader team to run a day-time, non-residential weekend.  I actually thought they were going to ask us to be a permanent part of their leadership team, so, yes, I was disappointed. I really didn’t have an interest in being a weekend leader in Victories.

I had been staffing Warrior weekends and could see a clear path to leadership there. I still didn’t know how damaged my brain was, so I, like many men then, was entranced by men’s work, being with men at camps, and the powerful psychodrama that happened there.

So previous to the invitation to be a leader in Victories, I had decided to pursue the leadership training in Warriors and had informed my friends, therapist and his partner. They had been kind enough to allow me to staff with them and I didn’t want them to hear it somewhere else. I knew there was competition among the two men’s programs and I understood I could be seen as changing teams. The invitation to be a Victories leader came after I told them I was pursuing the Warrior leader training.

Whether there was a conscious connection or not, I think my informing them I was pursuing the Warrior training placed some pressure on them to keep me in the fold. They were perhaps ambivalent about me becoming a leader in their program, but were sure they didn’t want to lose me to the lure of the Warrior program, by then soon to be the dynamic, world-wide men’s program.

Being a co-leader in the Warrior program would have been a much better fit for me. I would have earned it through the leader training and evaluation system, rather than being selected as in the Victories program at the time.

This was the context for the invitation to co-lead the non-residential weekend. In fairness to the four to six men (2 men leader teams) running weekends as a private practice, they probably had reservations about me as a leader. Had seen things which brought them pause?

There never was a good feedback loop back then. I was invited into leadership, the weekend I was supposed to co-lead was not really anyone else’s priority and the leaders then probably just assumed it would not happen.  Or maybe they really didn’t even think about it very much at all. It was not effective leadership development, a problem I was devoted to fix years later.

The fact the weekend did not happen is evidence that I was not capable in that system at the time to be a successful leader. My resignation felt right; I met with the leaders at one of their meetings and explained myself, and left. I still supported those guys and the program.

Perhaps, it was me thinking through a complex task and seeing I was not up to it. I  knew I had fun during these weekends and saw them as a positive thing in the world. I also had been a leader all through my life, being seen by others in that capacity, always tapped to fill that spot. Some I did well, others I found myself mired in conflict I hadn’t foreseen and did not have the brain skills to resolve.

In this situation, I and my friend said yes, but it was shortlived. Speaking for myself, the role of leader at that time was pretty lonely, at least for us. I’m not sure if we were even invited to leader meetings. I certainly didn’t feel like a leader and we resigned without even getting a few referrals to the scheduled weekend.

However, I did get involved and I’m especially proud of the psychodrama training Kurt Schultz, I and some other great volunteers created. It led to guys learning psychodrama and therefore being able to be competent leaders of the Breakthrough weekend. The current and previous Presidents of the board were part of that team and I think they are great guys and have provided good leadership to that organization.

Others from that team are on the board or staffing or leading weekends and have made positive changes. Some of those changes include a movement towards a team style of leadership, sensitivity and reduction of the dual-relationship problem within the organization, an improvement in the support group program, and very significantly, the development of a strong ethics policy and standards. These four areas were very important to me and I am  happy these guys have stepped up and moved the organization in a more positive direction.

Another positive development with Victories is the addition of the Couples weekend and a workshop on Shame by well-known and respected Chicago area psychotherapists.  This is a good step forward and begins to broader based program. One more positive is the entry of women on the board of directors, thus creating a more diverse culture among decision-makers.

While it’s somewhat known my ending with Victories was problematic, it does not reflect on this organization’s efforts to offer quality programs.

I have been most critical of the shadow weekend, but as is true for trauma survivors like myself, it’s tough to accept things change. The way our brains store trauma is timeless, meaning when accessed these memories have a quality of being “felt in the now.” While I know ordinary time has passed, literally about 22 years (wow!), I have still carried my negative feelings with me.

Are these negative feelings realistic or in proportion to the experience? Maybe yes, maybe no. I’ve wanted to know details about this weekend to see what actually happened many years ago.  Most likely, my feelings were hurt, where the predominant feelings were sadness and fear.  I’ve struggled to understand what happened and why.

Just today I read a quote by Soren Kierkegaard,

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” 

How true is this for me, and perhaps other trauma survivors, especially those with damage to their brain. I can only understand my life looking backwards. Unable to fully understand it while it’s happening in the moment, I am forced to piece things together later while looking back. This means I’m stuck looking back into the past trying to understand the motives and intentions of men who I sought out as  mentors and friends. What did the threatened rat’s death and pot mean? Why the negative voicemails and comments about my therapy? Some of the information I have received has been helpful. Most helpful has been the kindness in the voices of some of the guys who might not be so upset at me for trying so hard to resolve the conflicts.

I know many of them, if not all, believe the conflict was my doing or at least equally my doing. They didn’t know the whole story and all the details. For some of them to speak to me and not treat me as a harmful person has been a little corrective for me. I know I have to judge myself, but I am sensitive to the judgments of others. This was a huge part of my life and to end so ignominiously is a tragic thing for me. I don’ think I deserve what happened to me. I gave a lot and in the end my complaints about they way I felt I was treated should have been aired and processed more openly, as I requested.

What does it mean for those in power who I complained about to have refused to address my complaints openly and then organize others to dismiss me and my complaints as coming from someone experiencing an “emotionally breakdown.” What did it mean for me to read someone write to me and say,”“YOU ARE NOT CRAZY…perhaps a bit depression with psychotic features, but even “crazy” people see many truths…” What would it be like for other men with no mental health training to hear such things from other men who are more learned and respected?

Is this defamatory for me to defend myself and my truth? Is this me trying to harm an organization I devoted so much time and energy to? No. Not at all. This is me, a trauma survivor understanding my life backwards, trying to make sense of what happened to me as a loyal person, an honest person lodging complaints about people more powerful than me directly to them, then when the complaint is ignored and ridiculed, expanding the complaint to others who I believed (my opinion) had hijacked the strategic planning process, bifurcated the organization into two competing teams, and then scapegoated me when I objected and complained about this underlying systemic dynamic.
On a recent phone call, I could hear myself asking for “a little credit” for my part in the creation of the psychodrama training. I laugh at myself now when I hear myself saying, “it would have been good to get a little plaque…” how ridiculous is it for someone many years later wanting a plaque! It’s pretty funny.  As if those guys, overworked volunteers as I was back then, have nothing to do but give someone who had a controversial ending with the organization a plaque!

I can be ridiculous in my brutal honesty. It’s true I believe I deserve to be treated with more respect and dignity than I have.

I have pressed the envelope with previous and current Victories decision-makers. I’ve received assurances the shadow weekend has changed and evolved into a program of which I might be less critical. I think I have bothered them enough with my private and public demands.

I accept these assurances, in part because the men offering them to me really have no historical stake in the program. One of them told me he had done the weekend so he knew it was a good experience. This meant a lot to me and I wished I had been able to get this information more easily.

Begun in the mid 1980’s, Victories, known then as the Men’s Room, was essentially a private practice for the therapist leaders. Each leader team had their own bank account, shared profits from weekends, and had some creative leeway in programming. I was selected as part of one of the early leader teams…I think the fourth team with a friend. It was not a good experience for me and after a dissatisfying experience helping to staff one of the early mid 90’s Shadow weekends, I stepped away from the organization, aside from referring some men to its programs.

I was encouraged back in 2004, when the organization was attempting to grow beyond the private practice, founder dominated organization to a non-profit structure with a functioning board of directors. I was excited about this development and participated fully in the 2004 strategic planning process and was hopeful about helping this organization grow.

What I didn’t know at the time was I had a serious cognitive impairment which was a part of my complex psychological profile. I knew I had a history of PTSD and recurrent major depression, but felt they were in remission and I didn’t need to be wary of entering into such a tenuous stage of development for this organization with a history of exciting programs, but internal instability. There were brilliant men involved and an understandable level of conflict about how to move forward.

So, not knowing how fragile my cognitive functioning could be, I moved headlong into my involvement with successful outcomes leading weekends, and sometimes unsuccessful outcomes with organizational and program development, later outright failure. Hindsight, we know, is 20-20.

I was most vulnerable in understanding the limits of my abilities, when to back off and give up. I assumed the best and didn’t realize when others in the organization had different ideas. I thought all the other leaders were on board with the strategic plan which required a focus on infrastructure development, program evaluation, training of new leaders and vision/mission work.

Instead there was a lot of political maneuvering back and forth, much of which I missed entirely. I used to think I was  pretty smart. My neuropsych evaluation has helped me understand there are a lot of times,  “I ain’t that smart.” While I am talented in many ways, my serious cognitive impairments suggest I was in the wrong place doing the wrong things involved in “men’s work.” I should not have been doing it. Going to a weekend was fine; trying to survive the politics was nearly impossible for me. Conflict, especially if unresolved and involving me, simply sent me into the lowest functioning possible.

In my opinion, organizational development in this 2004 to 2008 period was hampered by the founders desire to expand the Wisdom years  program in other cities whi;e other aspects of the organization were not prioritized. A DVD of programs and marketing materials did seem to neglect the Shadow weekend and one can imagine the leaders of that program, having a sense of ownership, might feel slighted.

When the DVD was planned, the two Shadow weekend leaders, the second leader team, were left out of appearing on the DVD. I spoke up and encouraged the manager of that process to include them.  I admired them greatly and felt they would be terrific on the DVD, and they were.

The internal organizational conflicts between programs and respective leader teams served as a challenge to the immediate task of implementing the strategic plan. Rather than a “all for one, one for all” energy, a lot of time was wasted marketing for both programs and less attention to the other more pressing needs.

There was also a reticence in evaluating programs to determine whether they were still a good fit to the organization.  I became very unpopular when asked to evaluate the Wisdom years and did so. I’m in my high brain functioning evaluating programs, and my suggestions were pretty good. The Shadow weekend had it’s own “come to Jesus” moment after a weekend concluded and other leaders and Board members were not happy.

Also, there was a split between key leaders at the time. One side wanted to let the Wisdom years leaders try to expand and accept the natural consequences of whether or not they could successful. I was on the other team, though I think I may have been the only one on this team, who felt the organization had an obligation to evaluate and change programs based on the 2004 Strategic plan. I knew the Wisdom years was “not yet ready” to expand and thought it was our responsibility to help them.

I had gone to the Boston Wisdom years and liked the experience a lot. However,  in no way did I think it was ready to expand. One of the problems with the two leader structure was the two leaders could convince themselves of anything. I think there’s some research about this (note to bill, find research).

And leader teams had guys who loved them and would tell them anything, like how great this program is, when it wasn’t. It was great, but not like a program product the world would stand in line to sign up for. Providing an honest evaluation of the Wisdom years created a hornet’s nest for me. There was so much that could have been done to improve the quality of experience for the guys. My evaluation showed that.

Some good things happened during my second stage of involvement spanning 2004 to 2008. Immediately, I was asked by Kurt Schultz, my co-leader and the powerful new president of the board, to evaluate the Spirit of Generosity program. I did so, and without specifying the obvious problems, worked with Kurt and others to create the very first psychodrama training in the history of the organization.

We had a blast doing this, using a local YMCA camp for an overnight which we all enjoyed a lot. Kurt and I did some training in the MKP “guts” method or some variation of that by David Karr, a really bright and effective psychodrama facilitator in the MKP program. Our training with David enabled Kurt and I to develop a foundation of language, methods and types of psychodrama to learn ourselves and teach others.

In looking back, I see this as my most valuable contribution to the development of Victories in it’s post 2004 efforts to change and develop. There’s no doubt many 2 person leader teams failed between the 1980’s and 2004 partially because it was so difficult to learn how to lead psychodrama, known internally in the organization as “heartwork.”

Technically, these programs are all described as large group awareness trainings (LGATS). LGATS evolved out of the human potential movement in the 1960’s and influenced the development of many programs using intense emotional methods similar to encounter groups of that time in a larger group format over several days designed to help people improve their lives.
The four main characteristics include the following:

  • creation of an altered state of awareness
  • catharsis or the intense expression of emotions
  • transformation/lifechanging/rebirthing or some exercise leading to a sense of new beginnings
  • recruitment

I am not criticizing the programs above when I say they would be considered large group awareness programs (LGATs) in the psychological literature. It’s just the term social scientists use to describe them.

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 led to the Landmark Forum operated by Landmark Education. A second LGAT evolving from Mind dynamics was Lifesprings Seminars.

Most of these 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.

For some reason, keeping processes secret has been important to these programs. 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, yet keeps their shadow weekend processes more secretive.

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.

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.

Along with the deaths and injuries, there have been lawsuits, threats of lawsuits, threatening lawyer letters, and attempts to justify why it’s ethically appropriate for therapists to encourage clients to attend these programs. When a therapist encourages a client to attend a personal growth weekend, their role as therapist is made more complex. No longer is the therapist and therapy room only a safe place to explore the intimate details of a person’s life history.  The therapist becomes a auxiliary arm of the LGAT “recruiting” for these programs. The result can be be exploitive and damaging to the client. Not always, but I am aware of many problems.

As an example of this problem, my therapist was a leader in the Victories program. I began hearing about men’s programs and was interested in participating. I told him I was planning to attend the New Warrior Training Adventure in the coming month. (They were held frequently.) He told me not to, that I should wait to do his weekend, then called “the initial weekend.” So, responding to the power of the therapist, I followed his advice.

Overall, I had a good experience, but there was a significant problem. This same leader’s son was getting married, so he and all his friends also attended the weekend, so there were two big subgroups…all us guys in need of “transformation” and these younger guys who always looked like they did NOT want to be there. It was one of the dual relationship issues which caused some problems within Victories. If my brain functioned better, I would have limited my involvement from that point on.

Looking at it ethically from the risk of multiple relationship issues, my therapist first of all interfered with my desire to attend the warrior weekend, suggesting he knew more about the negatives of that program and describing his weekend as better (for me). He also alluded to what I learned later was the effort by he and the other few leaders to expand their program. I think there were 2 other leader teams in training at that point, so the 6 of them had plans to grow the program. As a therapist, I probably seemed attractive to them.

Moving on ethically, there was the invitation to attend this weekend by my therapist knowing his son was also attending, thus exposing me to overt and covert feelings between he and his son. His son was also expected to be part of the after weekend support group. So, I was expected to develop an intimate relationship with his son while still continuing my therapy with him.

Anyone with any ethics training can see how complicated this would be for anyone, let alone someone like me, a therapist, with severe trauma issues and cognitive problems. My attachment to my grad school friend and his partner caused me to overrule any of my own intuitive doubts.

The two therapists who led this weekend essentially “owned the program” so received all the profits from the experience. They controlled the program, so if they wanted to bring their families along, so be it. It would have been good to know this though.

For a therapist to encourage a client to attend one of the therapist’s programs, the nature of the therapeutic relationship changes, confidentiality is compromised, and it’s not good. The client may have some sense of honor to be at the weekend, but the professional therapy relationship is forever altered.

It’s worse when the experience is over-hyped, as was my experience, so that the actual experience was less than what I expected. The high number of clients of therapists on staff also complicated matters. There were even sons of therapists staff at the weekend confusing the whole purpose of the experience.

When I attended the Mankind Project’s New Warrior Training Adventure, I had a much different experience, more confidential, deepening, and therefore more positive. I knew almost no one at that weekend, so felt more safe exploring my inner self.

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 and was recently convicted of negligent homicide in the deaths of participants in a sweat lodge.

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 Wright, or Bob, as I knew him in grad school was a friend and someone who I “hung out” with back in those days. His career has had some really high trajectories. We had lunch many years ago and he was encouraging me to do some of his weekend workshops and trainings. I did not. But I did find a really good youtube video which shows a personal growth workshop in action. Click here to watch.

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 an “abreaction” where emotions perhaps stored for decades are released. This may provide an immediate sense of satisfaction, even healing, if the exercise is done well.

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 more 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. Some filed complaints and lawsuits. For example, James Arthur Ray, was so negligent, he was recently convicted of negligent homicide in the deaths of several of his “true believers.”

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 an organizational ability to grow and expand.

The latest Victories board, as I have said, has made many very productive changes which has given the organization an excellent opportunity to grow. It’s been an evolution and the original founders and early teams deserve credit for initiating something that has taken on a life of it’s own. These men and women and those before them deserve a lot of credit. The transition from an organization revolving around founders and powerful leaders has evolved into a well-functioning non-profit with all the governance and internal organizational structure to go with it.

There are committees, policy and standards, transparent decision-making, ethics policies and even now women on the board. There is also a trend to offer programs the community seems interested in attending. Before, the programs were already planned and the volunteers, often the clients of leaders, were expected to go out and sell them to the public, sometimes not even knowing what was going to happen on the weekend.

Programs like the Couples weekend and the single day workshops are really smart choices programmatically and a win-win for the organization and the community.

These are really great developments.

The current board is implementing changes I fought for while involved from 2004 to 2008.  The organization and its principals were not yet ready for the changes, even though they were spelled out in the 2004 Strategic plan.

The leadership on the board at the time decided to give Wisdom years expansion a try, rather than make it an internal, whole organization decision-making process. This resulted in what I have called the “bifurcation” of the organization into two separate, but unequal, competing structures, the Wisdom years group and all others.

For the record, I supported trying to expand the Wisdom years to other cities. However, after attending it in Boston, I felt certain the weekend needed changes to develop a broader based following. It was pretty easy for the founding leaders to motivate men to attend if they were the leaders. The were brilliant, charismatic, and, for the most part, genuine in their empathy for the participants.

I really wanted to stay out of the Wisdom years challenges at the time, but paid the price for being honest in my evaluation of the experience. There was just so much uncertainty at the time. I know my bias was to remain true to the spirit and letter of the strategic plan which called for one leadership team, not two and unified policies and standards.

People at the time did the best they could do, given their strengths and vulnerabilities.  This includes me. Should I have even been involved? No. My brain issues and resulting mental health problems made me both a prime target to be exploited through my desire to please others, and run into conflict with more powerful individuals who I felt were doing the exploitation.

My resume speaks to this. I fought against the alcoholism in my family and initiated an intervention which led to my father’s abstinence from alcohol for the rest of his life, resistance to the Vietnam war (conscientious objector), leader of campus demonstrations, initiating action against the most popular fraternity on campus for their violation of the freshman women’s dorm where a friend of mine was accosted in the shower, development and expansion of the big brother/sister on campus, founding staff person of the Region II Operation Snowball program, and so on.

In my life, I have been a formidable advocate for those with less power in the world. I saw Victories as an incredible program to help men begin the internal journey to healing. I was the one who initiated the study of neuroscience in the implementation of the psychodrama training. My leader partner and my training with MKP folks, like David Karr, dramatically shifted the paradigm in the facilitation of psychodrama during weekends.

I was sincere, transparent, an advocate for the positive changes which now seem to characterize Victories. Rather than being threatened with lawsuits, I should have been treated with more respect and offered the opportunity to mediate the conflicts which arose between me and the original leaders.

So, although I was in and out of involvement myself for many years, I am now wary of such programs. It’s difficult to create any quality control, although I think the Mankind Project does the best job with this and Victories is getting much better.

I don’ t know much about the inner workings of the other small and larger LGAT’s out there. I know Landmark forum continues to chug away.  A large research study demonstrated that no real harm occurs to participants, though the initial progress of the experience seems to wear off over time. (note to bill, get citation)

Do I  recommend these local, national and international programs anymore? I mention them as options. Sometimes men have already participated and had great experiences. I no longer enthusiastically recommend these experiences  just like I wouldn’t encourage anyone to join a church, synagogue, mosque or other religious institution.

I think the Warrior Weekend, Wisdom years and Breakthrough weekend can be a great experience for most guys. I know of many, many men whose lives were transformed by the experience. I don’t intend to harm these programs or take anything away from men who swear by these experiences.

I just raise the caution that participants like me with serious health problems must proceed with caution and make sure prior therapy and medical treatment allows for the experience to be beneficial, not harmful. For sure, I do not recommend anyone like me get involved in any leadership of these programs, no matter how attractive it may seem.

Definitely, anyone with serious mental health concerns and/or cognitive impairments should rely on an evidence based treatment plan. I know providing good psychotherapy based on research will be more helpful to such individuals in repairing harm, healing trauma, living effectively within the range of their cognitive vulnerability, and developing better lives. People need to heal and attend one of these intensive experiences when it will help, not re-traumatize them.

This is especially true if, like me, you are a severe trauma survivor, but may not be aware of any cognitive impairments. I think it’s likely anyone exposed to life threatening violence in the home as a very young child, as I was, likely has some damage to their  brain.

When someone tries to “recruit” you to do a weekend program promising to change your life or find your “darkness” within, look before you leap. It can be a long way down.

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Jul 19 2013

John Gottman Relationship Scales: Evaluate Your Relationship Here

Gottman 17-Areas Scale

1.    Staying emotionally connected ___, or becoming emotionally distant___
Check all items below:

  • Just simply talking to one another.     Not a problem___     A problem___
  • Staying emotionally in touch with each other.   Not a problem___     A problem___
  • Feeling taken for granted?    Not a problem___     A problem___
  • Don’t feel like my partner knows me very well right now.  Not a problem___A problem___
  • Partner is (or I am) emotionally disengaged.         Not a problem___     A problem___
  • Spending time together.   Not a problem___     A problem___

2.    Handling  job and other stresses effectively____, or experiencing the “spill over” of non-relationship issues

Check all items below:

  • Helping each other reduce daily stresses     Not a problem___     A problem___
  • Talking about these stresses together    Not a problem___     A problem___
  • Talking together about stress in a helpful manner   Not a problem___     A problem___
  • Partner listening with understanding about my stresses and worries  Not a problem___     A problem___
  • Partner takes job or other stresses out on me   Not a problem___     A problem___
  • Partner takes job stresses out on the children or others in our life   Not a problem___     A problem___

3.    Handling issues or disagreements well ___, or gridlocking on one or more issues____
Check all items below:

  • Differences  have arisen between us that seem very basic   Not a problem___     A problem___
  • These differences seem unresolvable    Not a problem___     A problem___
  • We are living day to day with hurts      Not a problem___     A problem___
  • Our positions are getting entrenched     Not a problem___     A problem___
  • It looks like I will never get what I hoped for    Not a problem___     A problem___
  • I am very worried that these issues may damage our relationship   Not a problem___     A problem___


4. The marriage is romantic and passionate___, or the it is becoming passionless; the fire has gone out____

Check all the items below:

  • My partner has stopped being verbally affectionate.     Not a problem___    A problem___
  • My partner expresses love and admiration less frequently.  Not a problem___ A problem___
  • We rarely touch each other.  Not a problem___     A problem___
  • My partner (or I) have stoped feeling very romantic. Not a problem___ A problem___
  • We rarely cuddle.   Not a problem___ A problem___
  • We have few tender or passionate moments.       Not a problem___ A problem___

5.    Our sex life is fine_____, or there are problems in this area____
Check all the items below:

  • The frequency of sex.        Not a problem___ A problem___
  • The satisfaction I or my partner get from sex.     Not a problem___ A problem___
  • Being able to talk about sexual problems.    Not a problem___ A problem___
  • The two of us wanting different things sexually.   Not a problem___ A problem___
  • Problems of desire.     Not a problem___ A problem___
  • The amount of love in our lovemaking.    Not a problem___ A problem___

6. An important event (like the birth of a child, job loss, changes in job, or residence, an illness, the death of a loved one) has occurred in our lives_____. The relationship is dealing with this well____, or it is not___.

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    Jul 13 2013

    Accurate 3-D Image of the Brain Now Available for Study

    Using the healthy brain of a deceased 65 year old woman, scientists have now created an accurate 3-D image of the human brain to be used in research, education and other scientific efforts.

    To watch a brief video of this project, click here.

    To read more about this project, click here, and here.

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