Drive-thru Deliverance

It's not called est anymore, but you can still be ridiculed into self-awareness in just one expensive weekend

Richard says, "Transformation happens on the third day!"

Two days and then -- poof -- we'll be brand-new.

Mark Poutenis
This former Landmark participant attended the Forum instead of drug rehab. He holds the brochure that promises access to an extraordinary life in a short period of time.
Paolo Vescia
This former Landmark participant attended the Forum instead of drug rehab. He holds the brochure that promises access to an extraordinary life in a short period of time.

Everyone registering for the Landmark Forum is asked to sign a paper relinquishing right to a jury or court trial and agreeing to arbitration should any controversy or claim arise out of his or her participation.

But in September 1997, the company was hit with a lawsuit from a customer who claimed she was sexually assaulted by a group leader at the Dallas Landmark Forum. In the suit, filed in Dallas County, Tracy Neff claimed that in 1995, David Grill, then executive director of Landmark's Dallas branch, invited Neff to his home and assaulted her.

The suit claimed that Landmark had received numerous complaints about Grill from both students and Landmark officials relating to sexual and/or behavioral misconduct, yet still put him in charge of the Dallas facility. Landmark "should have been aware of Grill's propensity to commit criminal sexual assaults with students from a time preceding his assignment as executive director of the Dallas Landmark facility," the suit alleged.

As part of a settlement, both Neff and her attorney, Jay English, agreed to sign a comprehensive confidentiality agreement, so English can't comment on any specifics of the case. But he does offer up his personal opinion about Landmark Education.

"My set of facts in my case was so obnoxiously egregious -- I cannot say anything about it -- but I am no fan of Landmark Education," English says. "It was settled, they compensated my client for her injuries, and it was an amazing, amazing case."

Rick Ross, a Phoenix-based cult interventionist, was called in as a consultant on behalf of Neff. Ross can't discuss specifics of the case, either, but says the plaintiff was awarded a substantial sum of money, though the amount cannot be disclosed because of the confidentiality agreement. Art Schreiber, general counsel for Landmark, disagrees that the award was substantial.

The Neff case, Ross says, was one of the more shocking complaints he has heard about Landmark. "I see it as a controversial group that I would not recommend to anyone because of all the complaints I've received," Ross says.

Ross says he gets numerous complaints from people who tell him they were traumatized by the organization. He gets complaints from people who say they were pressured and relentlessly pursued by the group. And he hears from family members concerned about radical personality changes they see in loved ones spending time and money on Landmark courses.

Ross says he has even received e-mails and phone calls from people who say they have been hospitalized for breakdowns as a result of their involvement in Landmark. Kamin says that if people have had breakdowns after participating in the Forum, it isn't fair to blame Landmark.

"I'm sure it's happened -- we've had a million people take our programs," Kamin says. "There is always going to be some small percentage of people -- just like somebody reads your newspaper and has a nervous breakdown. You wouldn't attribute it to your newspaper. There are people who go into marriage counseling and have a nervous breakdown. It wasn't provoked by that experience. There are people who have breakdowns in the supermarket."

In its literature, Landmark points out that its seminars are intended for "well" people and are not designed to address issues best dealt with by physicians, psychotherapists or other health professionals. It warns that the Forum may be physically, mentally and emotionally stressful. Participants must assume for themselves, their heirs, family members, executors, administrators and assigns all risk of physical injury and mental and emotional upset which may occur during or after the program.

Landmark can provide concerned participants with a letter from Raymond D. Fowler, executive vice president of the American Psychological Association. His professional opinion -- not presented as the view of any organization he is affiliated with -- is that the Landmark Forum is not harmful.

Kamin says the company goes to great lengths to screen out people who are not emotionally stable. Forum participants are asked to voluntarily reveal, among other things, whether they have ever been hospitalized for psychiatric care or a mental disorder, are currently in therapy or have taken any prescription medications or drugs that affect their mental processes or mood within the past six months.

But Ross says he's heard from people who say they were well before participating in the Landmark Forum, and not so afterward.

Like 60-year-old Nan Kolbinger of Minnesota, who found Ross' Web site after her Forum experience. She had signed up for the Forum at the suggestion of another teacher who informed her she could receive 40 hours of in-service credit toward renewing her teaching license. She walked out after two 15-hour days, feeling demeaned, controlled and browbeaten. Kolbinger says the breaking point came when the Forum leader exploded and yelled at the participants. Kolbinger says she cried all the way home. She later met with a psychologist who she claims diagnosed her with posttraumatic stress disorder.

"I was depressed and hadn't been able to sleep for more than a few hours at a time, even after I did escape," Kolbinger says. "I said that I was okay, but then the tears would well up. I was denying how really traumatized I was. I was semi-paranoid."

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