Archive for the 'LGAT/Large group awareness trainings' Category

May 16 2017

Victories of the Heart Breakthrough Weekend Research by Josiah James Miller: Highly Recommended Reading!

Psychologist Josiah James Miller evaluated the Victories of the Heart Breakthrough weekend as his dissertation for his doctorate. It was recently published online and is a treasure trove of ideas helpful to the Victories organization. You can read the dissertation here.

by Miller, Josiah James, Psy.D., The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, 2017, 119; 10159295

I have read the study a few times and think it’s an excellent contribution to the evolution of men’s social movements and the origins of personal growth weekends for men.

Dr. Miller dissertation evaluates several quantitative factors related to the Breakthrough experience, such as the effect on the levels of gender role conflict, perceived social support and psychological well-being in men who attended the retreat.

His study also explores and elaborates on the qualitative experience of participants. Having been a leader of this weekend and volunteer for many years, I understand how meaningful the experience can be, so the excellent qualitative reports by participants was no surprise at all.

Dr. Miller also raises important questions for the Victories organization to consider as they evaluate this program and make plans for their organization’s future.

Kudos to Dr. Miller and the Victories stakeholders to allow a program to be evaluated and the results published online so all those interested can read and learn.

For those interested in the history and methods of men’s programs, this evaluation is very much worth reading.

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Aug 02 2016

Victories 2016: Acknowledging the Positives

I have a lot of experience in what’s called the “men’s work” field in the Chicago area. Most of my experience is with the Victories of the Heart, formerly known as the Men’s Room.

While it’s somewhat known my 2006-2008 involvement and ending with Victories was problematic, it does not reflect on this organization’s efforts to offer quality programs.

The two founding leaders, Bob Mark and Buddy Portugal (deceased)and the second leadership team, Paul Kachoris and Kevin Fitzpatrick are/were creative and effective therapists and workshop leaders. They are/were charismatic men who changed many men’s lives and their loved ones’ lives for the better.

This does not mean  they were perfect and I discuss some of the difficulties I had with these men in other writing. It’s been many years since I was actively involved and the men who are in key leadership positions have made positive changes.

The woman on the Board is a well known and highly respected therapist, teacher and author. Her input and influence is certain to enhance the organization and programs.

Since 2008, there have been many positive changes in the organization which I am very happy to see and acknowledge. These changes include:

    • movement towards a team style of leadership
    • leadership training and development
    • sensitivity and reduction of the dual-relationship problem within the organization
    • improvement in the support group program
    • development of ethics policies and standards.
    • inclusion of women on the Board
    • more diverse programs, especially the Couples weekend and Shame workshops

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Jun 09 2015

Victories and the Legal Threats to Silence My Writing: One Letter

It’s been many years since I first was threatened with a lawsuit in about 2011 if I continued to write and publish about my experience in Victories of the Heart,  previously known as the Men’s Room, now known as Victories for Men.

I so regret most of my involvement, especially in leadership and Board involvement. A friend at the time, Kevin Fitzpatrick referred me to Bob Mark for psychotherapy, then for some reason, changed his mind and suggested Buddy Portugal. Portugal was charismatic, with lots of hubris. His office seemed to be designed by an art director and interior design specialist to appeal to psychotherapy patients. It was impressive.

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Dec 09 2014

A Review: Clearing the Path: Opening the Spiritual Frontier by Dr. Robert Mark

Summary: Dr. Mark gets an A+ for writing an interesting narrative of his personal and professional development. However, a diminished grade for encouraging people to dispense with their critical thinking to entertain the possibility of higher powers and alternative realities. Discouraging a belief in science is a surprising part of this book and therapists especially should not take this advice seriously, lest they begin to practice unethically.
My acknowledgement: 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. In person, Dr. Mark is both impressive and charismatic.

As the depth of his book demonstrates, he’s 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.

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Jun 15 2014

Victories, A Men’s Personal Growth Program: Ethics & Transparency Progress

The Victories Board of Directors took a very positive step forward in creating and publishing its Ethics policy.

The key element of their new Ethics policy is as follows:

“Service Personnel who are mental health professionals shall avoid dual relationships involving their clients and Victories of the Heart unless they can be assured that (1) the relationship does not violate the code of conduct applicable to their profession and (2) the  relationship will not adversely affect their client. In particular, this means that no mental health professional will invite a client to a weekend, which he is attending as staff or participant, without full disclosure to the client of the potential change in the therapeutic relationship that may occur as a result of attending the weekend together. If more than one such client accepts the invitation, the professional must (1) disclose to each client the fact that other clients from his therapy practice will be in attendance and (2) fully discuss the therapeutic and confidentiality implications of the situation.”

Up until this new policy was implemented, it was commonplace for the therapist leaders and staff to encourage their clients to attend a weekend, preferably, the therapist’s own weekend. There were notable exceptions to this rule, particularly among the programs founders and other board members who had robust private practices and often referred their clients to other leader’s weekends.

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Mar 08 2014

Victories of the Heart: An End to Silo Mentality?

I am heartened by the creation of a new program, “Best Self Weekend” by Victories.

I like this concept for many reasons, one of them being the name uses commonly understood English words…we all know what “best self” means.

Also, it looks like some type of psychodrama will be a key part of the experience. As a key member of the team that developed the psychodrama training back around 2005, I am pleased that the current principals think it’s a good idea to use this powerful method.

Most importantly, the website states the weekend will be led by a mix of Wisdom years and Breakthrough leaders. To my knowledge, this represents the first time since a failed Breakthrough leader collaboration around 2007 that leaders are planning to let go of egos, stop competing and create a program entirely for the benefit of the participants.

I should add the psychodrama training was a collaborative program (just not with other leaders) in that Kurt Schultz and I involved a great team of volunteer men in developing the training. Many of these men are now leaders of programs and two men, Rick Simon and Ron Rooth went on to serve as Victories Board presidents.

Teaching prospective leaders how to facilitate psychodrama or what is also referred to as “heartwork” was a major roadblock to developing new leaders. I was one of these early failed leaders. During a weekend in the mid-1990’s, after absolutely no training, was told to go out and lead the next participants work. I failed and it was a regressive experience for me.

If we accept the notion our unconscious motivations show up in our lives as behavior, I wonder if the original leader teams were not motivated to develop new, competent leaders, as teaching psychodrama didn’t happen until our psychodrama training about 2005. Did they really want new leaders or men to be subservient and not compete with them for the incredible shot of dopamine which happens (at least for me) as a Victories (Breakthrough)leader?

Or maybe they wanted to make sure any prospective leader would protect them from any intense scrutiny of what really was beneath the surface. Selected on an early leader team, I was told that I and my other co-leader needed to take the founders, Buddy Portugal and Bob Mark to dinner at their favorite restaurant, an Italian place near the University of Illinois campus in the west loop area. They were already there when we arrived, at a table in a darkened corner of the restaurant.

I am not sure what the real purpose of the dinner was supposed to be, but the conversation included how leading weekends would be life-changing (it was) and the importance their relationship. I had no idea what leading a weekend would be like. When they talked about their relationship, I was struck by the multiple levels of meaning in their words and process. I was most unnerved by what I believed they were trying to tell us. I wanted to be there, feel important in their eyes, but never felt comfortable for a second.

What did seem clear was we were required to admire their relationship and replicate it as a co-leader team. We were expected to become like ” Bob and Buddy”, “Kevin and Paul”, less important versions of these original teams, but same structure and process. Perhaps, there was a felt safety in numbers. You know, the best place to hide was among your enemies.

I emphacize here the ego attachment to programs and competition between the two original leader teams had a tremendously negative impact on innovation and organizational development, from the beginnng in the mid-1980’s and especially in the post 2004 Strategic plan Victories world. The two programs involved, the Wisdom years and Shadow program had flaws, but the two leader teams would rather fight than switch.

For example, Buddy Portugal requested I send in my evaluation of the Boston Wisdom years program for a second time ( I had submitted a signed evaluation after the weekend). This led to about 30 minutes of ad hominem voicemail attacks on me, including a particularly abusive rant about me being so critical of everything and everyone, including my (biological) brother. Really?

Buddy Portugal didn’t want my honest feedback. He wanted me to endorse him and his Wisdom years program and support his effort to expend funds to develop this program in other cities. It was not a good enough program to expand and history has proven this.

I heard from other Wisdom years men who told me they agreed with my evaluation and have tried to change the program themselves. At some point, I may publish the entire evaluation, but one detail I will share is the problem I found with the small groups at the program.

There was an obvious pressure built into the language of small group facilitators. The message conveyed was we (participants) were selfish and needed to begin giving back to the world. Of course, the likely place to start was volunteering for the Wisdom years.

I never confirmed this with any Wisdom years guys, but it was obvious to me. I had heard this message from Buddy Portugal a lot. He had a pejorative view of men. When he tried to be motivational, I thought initially it was passion. Now, I believe it was anger. I think he felt resentful of some men, as if he had gotten a rotten deal in the world.

While Portugal helped many people, he died a controversial and probably conflicted person. His emotionally abusive messages to me via voicemail revealed some of these internal conflicts. Why would he turn against me? I understood him better than he realized and had been gentle and supportive to him over many years.

When Kurt asked me to play the messages for him, he just shook his head. He didn’t say much, but he had been in this same place before. Someone he liked (me) was the target of Buddy’s venom. Kurt had been asked to attend a meeting with Bob, Buddy and another man (he has a name) where this other man (who Kurt liked) was dragged over the coals.

Kurt told me all about it, as he probably did others. While this can be easily proven, I don’t think it’s necessary. I count four other men, plus me who were the target of misplaced anger.

The silos for both these teams consisted of two people…themselves. God forbid anyone from outside their silo dare to comment or criticize. We were all amoebas in their ocean.

Even if they force the old into the new by only having leader partners from those programs, I know some of the potential leaders and they are really just smart, great guys who want to offer good programs.

Unlike the original two teams primary attachment to each other and their respective Wisdom years and Shadow programs, the new principals seem to be trying to create a more collaborative leader style, programs that make sense in 2018 and offer participants a memorable, perhaps life changing experience.

I can think of any combination of the current principals for the leadership team and if they are careful to explore issues of culture (sexual orientation, color, gender, beliefs, etc) and power (shared vs. hiearchical) I think this could be a spectacular and fun experience for all.

Of course, there is no “I” in team, but Buddy Portugal is deceased, Bob Mark has moved on to the Emeritus role of supportive mentor, and the influence of Kevin Fitzpatrick and Paul Kachoris must certainly have waned after nearly 30 years.

Kevin and Paul no longer lead their Shadow weekend which never gained widespread support internally or in the larger community. In his Psychology Today profile, Victories founder Bob Mark proudly points to the successful Breakthrough and Wisdom years Victories programs, but does not mention the Shadow weekend at all. I don’t think this is a mistake.

I think it unfair to blame my public criticism for any failure of the Shadow program. They also know clearly while the controversy of the 2007-08 (approximate years) Shadow weekend’s nudity and silence, I was loyal to my commitment to them and promised to help them make the program work.

My offer was for all of the Breakthrough weekend leaders at the time, including Kurt, Joe and Steve to work collaboratively to develop a program that could be successful. They refused my offer, choosing to slog on on their own in the stubborn “silo mentality” position they knew better than all of us, certainly me, and continued in their determination to keep the Shadow program true to their preconceived notions.

I always believed the Shadow weekend was a very weak imitation of the Warrior weekend with several research based problems, especially the lack of sensitivity to potential trauma memories and risk of participants being retraumatized. One doesn’t need to know a male victim of sexual abuse might be triggered or injured by being asked to remove their clothing and remain naked in a public way during a weekend.

It was just bad judgment and their Shadow program never really recovered from a community support perspective. There were other problems I experienced at the first or earlier Shadow weekend I helped staff, including a flawed attempt at a sweat lodge.

My early attempt at collaboration regarding the Shadow weekend was naive. The “silo mentality” of the programs leaders remained firmly intact. The result has been a very poor outcome.

Now, Victories principals will say it’s a great experience and a legitimate next step for Victories participants. I have no doubt participants really benefit from the experience, but my opinion is the Shadow weekend and all the Victories programs would have been more robust and successful had Bob and Buddy and the executive leadership of the Board been more accountable and loyal to the written 2004 Victories strategic plan.

Historically, Victories has relied on a leadership structure of two men who are devoted to each other and dedicated to leading one of the organization’s weekend programs.

This type of leadership structure has some strengths and vulnerabilities. The main strength is in the continuity of the leadership dyad and their ability to improve their skills without fear of competition from other potential leaders. I’m sure Victories principals, especially the “old guard”, would describe other strengths, like the deepening of the love in their relationship and it’s impact on participants in programs.

Having had a lot of leadership experience, mainly on athletic teams and in community education programs, such as the substance abuse prevention program in Illinois, Operation Snowball, and within Victories itself, I believe the leadership dyad has caused strife, competition, lack of cooperation and collaboration (failure of weekends to occur), lack of innovation, barriers to communication, confused messaging about sexual orientation and a host of other problems.

About the confused sexual orientation messaging, the founders of the organization, the late Buddy Portugal and Bob Mark are quoted by Michael Jackman writing about men’s weekends in his the article Band of Brothers.

Jackman states:

“In some of these (men’s weekend) situations, the level of physical intimacy involved, men touching and holding each other, calls for new ways of defining what’s proper. (Bob) Mark and (Buddy) Portugal take care to discuss it frankly: “We are two men who love one another, who have developed a powerful bond in a nonsexual relationship. We do not intend to red-flag the nonsexual aspect, although it is important.”

The fact that the men’s movement is so friendly to gay men is likely to cause homophobes to break out in a cold sweat. As Mark and Portugal explain, “Gay men have the same needs as heterosexual men for connection with other men in a safe, respectful relationship that includes a sense of brotherhood and deep compassion for the welfare of the other person.”

I have read this passage many times and am always struck by the lack of clear meaning. Why stress the “non-sexual” aspect of their relationship? They say they don’t “intend to red-flag the non-sexual aspect”, but in writing the words and sentence structure in such a way, they do red-flag these ideas about a non-sexual relationship.

While this dyadic (two person) leadership model worked for Portugal and Mark, it’s not a leader structure made in heaven. It’s cumbersome, tough to develop and last, and stirs the pot related to sexual orientation without the program structure to give voice to these feelings.

It’s still hard for me to believe this happened, but a small group of Victories men thought it would be a good idea to create a video spoof depicting Bob and Buddy as the principal stars of the movie Brokeback Mountain at the annual dinner for families. I and my family found it to be a wierd and uncomfortable experience.

Such faulty and confusing decisions were more common in Victories. I won’t go into all of them, but many of them deal with the sexual innuendo and the poking fun or ridicule of male sexuality. Think the original name of the organization was “the Men’s Room and support group was “the keep it up group.”

Was it hahaha or something more hostile and negative. Most would vote for humorous, but I remain unconvinced of the jovial intentions for this sexual innuendo in organizational messaging. I have come to think of this messaging as a type of code, inside jokes and subtle hostility for those inside this sub-group or silo.

The vulnerabilities of the twosome leadership structure naturally led to the development of dysfunctional “silos” within the organization with each leader dyad developing their own teams further reinforcing barriers to communication, collaboration, and connection, thus the term, “silo mentality.”

Research shows that groups without a clear hierarchy and organizational structure fragment into sub-groups for safety due to anxiety and fear related to the more chaotic larger organization. (add Yalom citation here) Sub-groups in conflict was the norm for Victories in the 1990-2008 time period in which I am familiar. It was a time filled with excitement and meaning and horrible stress from unresolved conflict between leader dyads and other sub-groups.

As an example, I still do not know all the details about the threat of the Wisdom years program and new leaders splitting from the Victories program and going off on its own around 2007-08. I do want to know and think this is something current principals have a right to know about so as to not allow a replication of such an enormous and egregious error in the implementation of the 2004 Strategic plan.

While good men om the Board were working and donating to the larger goals of the organization, the two founders and unknown potential Wisdom years leaders were going to leave the organization and become a separate organization? This was more of a weaponized sub-group or silo doing damage. The fact that all these details and others are kept secret weakens the integrity of the organization and makes the efforts of current Victories principals more difficult.

Likewise, the controversy over the extensive nudity and silence during the 2006 (approximately) Shadow weekend was not just about nudity and silence. For me and others it was the lack of transparency by the two Shadow weekend leaders. They planned and implemented their program without sharing any information about their controversial plans for nudity and silence.

I was responsible for four participants attending this Shadow program and like others, was shocked by what I learned from participants after the weekend. Bob Mark called me and perhaps others to see if we knew about the nudity and silence, as he did not. I explained to him I knew the Shadow weekend I attended 10 years earlier had nudity, but had no idea nudity was such an extensive part of the current program.

I was a co-leader and Board member, as were many others. We not only had a right to know, but a legal responsibility to know what would happen. For two other leaders to assert themselves, plan and implement a controversial program, is perhaps the most crystal clear example of dysfunctional silos in historical Victories.

The fact the Shadow weekend has limped along with less than universal support is a clear by-product of the faulty, grandiose thinking related to the program’s origins. I have written more about this program and I know my criticism of it is the source of some effort to stifle my 1st Amendment rights by threatening to sue me if I wrote anything about Victories they didn’t like.

Silos and silo mentality are widely known organizational concepts and an excellent article can be read here.

During my involvement in Victories from the early 1990’s until 2008, the problems related to the dyadic leader model was obvious to me. A key problem was the almost delusional view that the power to change participants during what they called “heartwork” or as it’s commonly known, psychodrama, resulted from the two leaders relationship.

As a result, to be a leader in Victories, you had to find another man, develop a relationship, and somehow demonstrate you were intimate enough to join the leadership team. Words like “matchmaking” were not uncommon to hear when attempts to find leader partners for men were made.

The fact that men’s sexual orientation was not often an open topic of discussion was a ty pe of institutional homophobia. All men were assumed to be heterosexual unless they were “out” gay men. This allowed closeted gay or bisexual men to remain closeted, but ensured an internal bias against an appreciation for non-heterosexual men.

Recent research on the Breakthrough weekend found underlying heterosexist bias as experienced and described by a participant. You can read my posting on this here.

So, all of this is to say, I enthusiastically support the idea of collaborative teams and hope the staff team for this weekend have a great time and encourage this trend!

Why not offer it to the community, and not just alumni! I’m sure the principals involved explored this, but I hope to see more creativity like this from the principal group at Victories.

And please, be more transparent. Why not have someone write about the process to create this weekend and how the structure and process are similar and different from other Victories programs? I’m willing. 🙂

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Aug 02 2013

Escape From Oz: An Ebook in Progress

How can you tell you might be going to a personal growth program?

It’s easy. In the marketing materials you will find words like transformation, breakthrough, shadow, initiation, healing, a big price tag (usually over $600), and so forth.

One of your friends, family, or in some cases, therapist or coach will also be the one to “invite” you to  “a weekend.”

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 3 camps when it comes to these programs:

·         The most enthusiastic are the ones who love the experience and claim it has changed their lives for the better.
·         The ones who give it some credit, but are not likely to repeat their experience.
·         This is the usually very quiet group, but when asked “trash” the experience. This third group are the ones to file complaints and lawsuits.

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May 15 2013

Victories Psychodrama Evaluations about 2006

While training volunteers was commonplace in MKP, the VOH founding leaders preferred to act as if there was some magic secret to facilitating psychodrama, even calling it “heartwork” to suggest it arose from some deeper place in the facilitating leader’s heart or from the intense love relationship with the other leader. Kind of the idea that the warmth and caring between the two leaders would be showered upon the participants and they would be healed.

It would be nice to receive some credit for the Victories psychodrama training. Seems my role has been whitewashed and my article on the “trust circle and psychodrama” is not listed in the websites’ resources for professionals, I am suggesting this has some ethical meaning for me and the organization.

I therefore take credit now.

The National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics states:

“4.08 Acknowledging Credit

(a) Social workers should take responsibility and credit, including authorship credit, only for work they have actually performed and to which they have contributed.

(b) Social workers should honestly acknowledge the work of and the contributions made by others.” 
The concept of “who owns ideas” is the basis of intellectual property disputes.The “who, what, when and what is written/published” of these ideas are key factors.
Related to this psychodrama training, the key factors are:

  • Prior leaders had 20 years to create a similar training and did not do so
  • The training they created, Spirit of Generosity, was a very poorly conceived program which did not even address the concept of psychodrama, may even have been harming men, and damaging to any overall organizational development (evidence of this is the fact staff at this event took the item men brought and buried the item on the grounds of the training site…a man told me he lost his heirlook wrist jewelry…he was afraid to tell the staff he wanted it back)
  • Kurt Schultz asked me, no one else, to help him evaluate the upcoming Spirit of Generosity training (about 2004-05)
  • Kurt and I then participated in MKP “guts” training which helped us develop a more detailed approach to psychodram on weekends
  • Kurt and I and others collaborated to create the new training, Basic Staff Training (BST), designed to begin teaching psychodrama and the interconnectedness of different Breakthrough weekend elements
  • I insisted on a shift from the term “heartwork” to the more intellectually accurate and research based “psychodrama”
  • Now called “facilitating psychodrama”, the training created modules which could be replicated (meaning the purpose was to create a training of trainers who were NOT dependent on Kurt or myself), have been replicated, and offered to professionals as a continuing education opportunity
  • While I believe my role was critical in the training’s conceptual design and implementation, the fact it has continued, new men learned psychodrama methods quickly, were able to facilitate psychodrama under supervision during weekends, the training offers Continuing Education Credits, substantiates the successful use of my “intellectual properties”
  • I wrote the first manual for this psychodrama training which we used for every training in which I was a leader (I don’t know if it has been used since my resignation in 2008)
  • A key development factor which also substantiates my unique role in the psychodrama development is the creative way I applied Moreno’s “chorus” concept…the new team approach Kurt and I taught engaged more men in the process as a “chorus” increasing the meaning for all
  • Kurt and I even used the participants of the first BST trainings to develop a vocabulary we could learn together… for example, training staff and participants joined together to create names for different types of cradles, a standing cradle, sitting cradle and a lift cradle…in this way, we all could communicate quickly and easily during a weekend when calling for a type of cradle to use
  • After the initial success of the first BST, I even attempted to engage Kevin and Paul in the colllaborative process, encouraging them to write up some of their own psychodrama methods…they never did so (in my fantasies, I envisioned us writing a book on psychodrama together…)
  • Kevin and Paul (and the other Breakthrough leader teams) never developed a conceptual map for their psychodrama method, so terms, research, and methods were never available to teach anyone else…and their highly intuitive, individual style, successful for them, often caused a disconnect with the “chorus” or the men not directly involved in their work, especially later in the day when everyone was exhausted
  • In fact, Kevin and Paul’s only expressed judgment was the team based psychodrama method Kurt and I were teaching was like a “clusterf..k”, a derogatory term used by VOH to slur MKP’s psychodrama facilitation method
  • As another illustration of my key role, I (no one else…they were all afraid of Kurt) received a lengthy complaint from a participant (I’m sure he was encouraged by another leader…this was one of the passive-aggressive strategies between leaders) accusing me of saying “there was only one way to do psychodrama” (Kurt and I stressed during our training that we needed to use common research based terms, and where none existed, create terms we could all understand and utilize during a psychodrama…the analogy was one had to learn to walk before running…become competent in a core method before becoming creative)
  • Obviously, the other leader who encouraged this person to file a complaint against me saw me as the primary architect of what was seen internally as a new training model which challenged the sacrosanct, but mistaken view the love between the two leaders (hearts connected) created a “magical” process healing men…threatening to reveal the wizards behind the curtain were only ordinary men with stereo-phonically amplified voices
  • In fact, the new training model Kurt and I developed resulted in the development of several new leaders who have successfully led Breakthrough weekends…kudos to them!
  • I had been asked by Kurt to help create an effective training and not to protect the fragile egos of other leaders
  • My prior teaching experience and team building knowledge allowed me to influence our process even during the training to help everyone be a part of the process, and thereby guarantee the end product was the result of the best of our collaborative efforts
  • An article I wrote on the “trust circle” and its application to psychodrama was published in an academic book on therapy techniques
  • I acknowledge VOH in my biographical description, but am NOT acknowledged by Victories for my contribution (and Kurt and other men)
  • Later in about 2008, I was selected to participate as a co-host for a radio-podcast and a father’s day television show in which I regularly acknowledged VOH

I believe it’s time VOH recognized my contributions as well. In addition to Kurt, there are other men, like Rick Simon, and others who were interested and invested in the development of this training and the men who participated and valued the contribution of  my knowledge, intelligence, teaching effectiveness and ability to “walk my talk.”

In fact, another clinician who staffed a Breakthrough weekend called me after his experience to tell me how complimentary the other staff were about me and my leadership skills. I could tell he was surprised by their admiration for me and I guess he thought I would be surprised too. I wasn’t, but was grateful he took the time to acknowledge me.

But getting back to psychodrama and the confidence and skills Kurt, the other guys and I demonstrated during the training, I am offering these extremely positive evaluations  as evidence of the exceptional work we all did on this training.

Although professionally trained and very highly regarded as a lawyer, Kurt  is a gifted and intuitive psychodrama facilitator. I’m sure he and I would agree we were an excellent team and could not have developed the psychodrama training alone.

In fact, David Kaar, an MKP leader in psychodrama should also receive credit, especially the concept of steps to the psychodrama process.

There are probably no completely original ideas and the scientific method is constructive as each idea builds into other more complex ideas.

Time for VOH to credit others for their legitimate contributions. I will stand in line with everyone else.

Here are the results of the evaluations:
June 20, 2005

Men,

Thank you for taking part in last weekend’s Basic Staff Training.  It was a deep and productive experience for all of us. In addition, it appears that it also achieved its objective: giving you an understanding of heartwork theory and technique that will make you a more valuable guide to the men who attend future Initial Weekends – one whose presence will amplify the weekend’s power to change lives.

At the end of Saturday’s session, we asked you to give us your evaluation of the training program, and we thought you would be interested in some of the results.

Ratings. In scoring the program on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest), six of you gave it a 10, seven rated it a 9, and four gave scores of 8. The average was 9.12.

One-Word Descriptions. The words used were:
Awesome
Empowering
Enlightening
Enriching
Excited
Fabulous
Fantastic
Hopeful
Life-changing
Met All Expectations
Phenomenal
Sincere
Solidarity
Transformation

Comments. Here are some of the positive things you said about the program. We’ve included comments from all 17 evaluations.

“I liked the combination of explaining the process of heartwork and then doing it.”

“Small groups worked great.”

“Conversations at meals made me realize I could invite myself to participate in an initial weekend and that could be really good for both of us.”

“Demystifying heartwork was a special gift for me to receive.”

“I’m excited about bringing what I’ve learned back to my group.”

“Understanding more about the process is key to understanding more about myself and the other men going through the process.”

“I am amazed and filled with gratitude for the instant connection that this experience affords total strangers.”

“The process of demystifying heartwork and leadership will be the salvation of Victories. The idea of 18 men practicing the process is incredible.”

“Understanding how the process works is helpful, especially developing a common vocabulary.”

“I’d do this again in a minute.”

“Small group work was great.”

“VOTH is taking a wonderful new direction.”

“I went to my first staffing experience with no skills and an inadequate understanding of the heartwork process…. After this training, I feel that I really can bring something valuable – that I can help men open their hearts and, at the same time, open my own.”

“I was honored to be part of my brothers’ heartwork – it gave me great humility and opened up my heart.”

“It made me look at the word ‘service’ in a whole new way – in serving, one truly receives.”

“One giant step up the ladder.”

“I felt safe and nurtured.”

“This was a fantastic experience that perfectly addressed the process of heartwork. The ‘basic steps’ gave me a clear, easy-to-understand framework that allowed me to focus on the man and his work.”

“This was a confidence-building experience, as well as educational.”

“The program is energizing VOH as an organization.”

“It was great that it was overnight. It put us in the correct mindset to get into real work for a complete day.”

“Encouraging us to take on each role was a great experience.”

“I learned more about the process of self-discovery….”

“It was a good time to re-connect with my brothers and staff.”

“The theory explanations were extremely helpful to feeling more comfortable with facilitating heartwork myself.”

“I experienced a lot of safety.”

“I learned a lot about what makes heartwork effective. Learned the value of trusting the man’s inner wisdom and its ability to heal itself.”

Suggestions. Some of you gave recommendations for improving the Basic Staff Training program. They were:

“I felt there was a contradiction between the training goals & the heartwork – in other words, since some real great heartwork was going on, I deferred and was also led by the more experienced staff. Perhaps staff in the training for heartwork could step back a little to allow trainees to get the practice….”

“I would have liked more hands-on training with restraints for those doing anger pieces.”

“How about a book list.”

“Within time constraints it would have been nice to have spent some time teaching some of the support techniques – safe cradles, etc.”

“When presenting the heartwork process, it might be helpful to have a couple of men model it step by step – ‘Anatomy of Heartwork’.”

“…it was kind of hard or distracting to have 3 different groups do heartwork at the same time.”

“I would like more defined “dos” and “don’ts for most situations. I realize that all are different but need some defined basis to work from when facilitating.

Once again, thank for your contributions to this workshop. We look forward to your participation as weekend staff.

Bill Martin
Kurt Schultz

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Apr 13 2013

Victories of the Heart Shadow Weekend: Not Recommended as Currently Advertised

Writer’s disclosure: I was part of the VOH leadership team, staffed one of the original Shadow weekends and had a terrible experience. The VOH Wisdom Years  and Breakthrough weekends are recommended and have the potential to be life changing. I really liked both of these programs and struggled to support the Shadow weekend, despite my own negative experiences.

I have had some new information which suggests the Shadow weekend had been redesigned and is a helpful, positive experience for participants. Should I be able to obtain more detailed information about this program, I would be able to more clearly evaluate the experience and recommend it.

Right now, I can say the men involved as leaders are sincere, bright, caring men and I can only assume knowing them and hearing about the program that is a good experience. I wish there was more transparency, so I might be more enthusiastic.

The Board and leaders of Victories are tied to the past when these types of programs (LGATs) required secrecy as a way of managing the overall experience for participants. It’s a bad idea now for tow important reasons. First, it discourages potential particpants and referral sources who may be wary of the secrecy. Second, it prevents a public evaluation of the program.

For now, I express my First Amendment right to publish my thoughts and opinions about this experience in the spirit of frank and open discussion of disagreements and conflicts is in the public good. In this case, my opinions expressed here offer some limited perspective on why the Shadow weekend never took off and became a popular program in the community. Also, my publishing these opinions has come several years after my efforts to express my thoughts and opinions internally.

As I have said privately in correspondence never answered, it’s been a cruel joke played against me that I should be considered doing something harmful to Victories. To expect to be treated with respect, acknowledged for my good work, and have others be accountable to me is something we all expect. To witness or experience bad behavior in an organization, try to address it privately, see the more powerful people ignore me, then organize to degrade my complaints as those of a person experiencing an emotional breakdown publically is unacceptable. I warned them all I would write about it as I could see them circle the wagons and project blame on me, just as is often common for people in power when confronted. It wasn’t them, it was me would be their mantra.

The lack of transparency and frequent phone call deals made which went against the spirit and letter of the 2004 Strategic plan were just too much. Many of the post 2004 Board members like myself were all contributing at least $1,000 per year and probably some much more. To me, the original leaders with their Wisdom years and the Shadow weekend leaders were allowed to operate as usual, as if their respective programs were their own private business. I’m sure their other people with a very different view and I would really welcome their comments, writing or any way to make this a public discussion so it can finally be resolved.

I looked around and just could see I was pretty much alone in wanting more transparency and change. I have been accused of abandoning the group, not staying to fight it out. I just didn’t think the men involved had the insight to make the leap to the new reality that Victories was no longer a private business, but rather an organization struggling to become a functioning non-profit. I felt like it was a cruel joke on me I was trying to work diligently and openly to build something bigger and better, while others were scheming behind the scenes to get what they wanted.

The Shadow Weekend claims to help men shine the light on their shadow, or unconscious selves. However, the program itself is shrouded in secrecy making it a leap of faith for participants and potential referral sources to support the program. An organizational crisis occurred about 2007 when excessive and confusing nudity and silence on the Shadow weekend was discovered after the fact by organizational leaders. What I learned about the weekend was shocking to me and unacceptable. It mirrored my own experience of the mid-1990’s Shadow weekend. This was the weekend that involved the threatened pot smoking, rat killing, random nudity and a confusing sweat lodge. If this was an attempt at competing with the Warrior weekend, it failed.How successful is the weekend? The organization is not transparent enough to publish evaluations of programs. I was the first leader who initiated formal evaluations given to the organization for accountability purposes. I know people like the Shadow weekend and find it useful to them. To all of them I say, if it’s such a good program write about it and tell the success stories. Otherwise the website descriptions remain unchanged after many years and are not scientific or even plain speaking so ordinary guys would understand what might happen. There is the suggestion that other men who have done other programs, such as the Warrior weekend are eligible to participate. I assume this means they would have the requisite experience to manage the challenges of the Shadow weekend. My guess any Warrior guys who did the Shadow weekend might have a good time, but would rate their Warrior experience much higher.

The rigidity, defensiveness and blowback I experienced when trying to create change in this program constructively was one of the reasons for my resignation from the organization in about 2008.

While I have been assured men have not been asked to be nude since about 2008, I still do not recommend this experience.The VOH website’s attempt to describe the experience is more “hype” than substance. No research citations are offered, and Jung’s writing about the “persona and shadow” are presented as if they are widely accepted and research proven concepts. They are not.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the Shadow weekend had evolved with available neuroscience research and helped participants understand the powerful way life experiences, especially trauma, are stored implicitly and are constantly operating like a software program influencing our thoughts, feelings and behavior. Implicit memory has often been described as procedural memory, things we learn to do something later. It’s stored below our level of awareness, yet has a powerful impact on our lives. Learning to ride a bike is an example of implicit memory.

Explicit memory, the other type of long-term memory refers to the information we store consciously. Examples of this are the date of our birthday, upcoming doctor’s appointments, the times tables, information we study for school, and so on.

My discussion of memory here is very important. Jim Hopper, PhD, a Harvard professor, researcher and clinician, has an educational website devoted to the research about trauma. It’s wonderful and highly recommended. Click here to take a look.

One key point made by the research so nicely summarized by Dr. Hopper is a large number of women and men who are abused, especially sexually abused, have no conscious awareness of the abuse. So, to put this simply, men who go to a Shadow weekend who have no conscious memory of being abused and those who do have an awareness, can possibly be re-traumatized. I know I was re-traumatized by my participation as a staff person at this weekend. I could say more.

I will not go into detail here about my own negative experience as a staff person and the negative experiences of other men. I’ve written about it before and every word I wrote was true.

In using more contemporary science, the Shadow weekend could be an empowering experience where men could begin to better understand themselves. Without more information, I have to assume the bear bones structure of the program remains the same, lots of self-disclosure.

At best, the Shadow weekend is not a memorable, life changing experience. At its worst, it may be possibly retraumatizing for men who are trauma survivors.

Certainly, the program has received enough organizational support over the years and the original leaders had plenty of opportunity to build something that could last without their popularity and charisma. It has not succeeded.

Time to let it go. It’s not really the “next step” for Wisdom Years and Breakthrough weekend graduates. It’s a step, but a precarious one.

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Feb 05 2013

“Personal Growth Weekends”, Cults, and How They Use Recruitment as a Strategy for Survival and Profit

Cults…I talk a lot about the Yearning for Zion Ranch (YFZ Ranch) and the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), but what are some of the characteristics of a cult?

Keeping it simple, it’s an organization of narcissistically driven (usually) men who use a variety of methods to manipulate and exploit vulnerable people.

Here are the essential characteristics of a cult:

  • mind control…use of bizarre religious or secular ideas to enforce the obedience of followers
  • emotional disclosure…participants are encouraged to disclose private, emotionally important information…while the leaders do not share emotional information with the larger group
  • recruitment…participants are encouraged/expected to go out and recruit others to join the cult organization using deceptive and manipulative tactics
  • restriction from all outside ideas and influences ( no radio, television, computer/internet, newspapers)
  • claims that the outside world is evil and will lead to the death or damnation of anyone who betrays the cult
  • participants are manipulated to believe that they can not survive without all the cult offers them
  • participants may also be physically and sexually abused, in addition to the pervasive emotional abuse
  • intimidation by threatening to harm others or animals, especially pets, like a pet white rat, a rabbit, puppy or kitten
  • leaders are a few men who directly benefit from the cult by abuse, manipulation, threat of harm, sexual control of women and intricate financial arrangements
  • methods during the activities include various rituals, guided imagery, psychodrama, native american spirituality, sweat lodges, and over-simplified and out of context psychological ideas
  • key to all these experiences is the claim they can “change your life”
  • marketing literature will often claim the programs are based on science, but they don’t mean research. These claims are often followed by non researched based psychological ideas, such as those of Carl Jung (the shadow and persona in personality archetypes)
  • Continue Reading »

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