Ray Clancy, The London Times, July 21, 1992

MANAGEMENT training, self improvement and prosperity courses offered to professionals and companies in Britain by American consultants are using disturbing New Age methods that can do more harm than good, according to an investigation by The Times.

Senior managers have lost their jobs, experienced nervous breakdowns or been unable to continue with personal relationships after taking the courses. Seminars for single people are aimed at the professions including lawyers, teachers, accountants, managers and bankers. They use simple but effective mind persuasion techniques which can have a devastating psychological effect.

The term New Age covers a disparate collection of organisations, most of which have emerged since the 1960s and which offer some kind of answer to questions about religion, spirituality and philosophy.

At least 15 important companies in Britain are using these management seminars. The firms employ consultants, many of whom are based in Canada and America, or have connections there, to conduct courses. One businesswoman who suffered a nervous breakdown after being sent by her boss on a four-day course described the seminar as a combination of ''engineered stress and amateur psychiatry''. She also lost her job and is suing her former employer and the consultancy that ran the course for personal injury.

The Home Office has given funds to the Information Network Focus on Religious Movements, which monitors New Age organisations, but there is no legislation and no guidance for companies on what could be regarded as dangerous or undesirable aspects. The Association for Management Education and Development, an umbrella organisation that has 2,000 members, is drawing up a code of practice to help to determine whether courses have hidden agendas.

The Times has examined one company connected with a Californian guru and how it changed its name and re-emerged as an educational and training organisation. A year ago Landmark Education International, based in Covent Garden, London, changed its name from Werner Erhard and Associates. It has not filed accounts in Britain.

Werner Erhard, a former used-car salesman, founded his Erhard Seminar Training system (EST) in 1971. He drew upon many sources in the development of his philosophy including Zen Buddhism, Dale Carnegie's Positive Thinking, L. Ron Hubbard's Scientology and Jose Silva's Silva Mind Control. Erhard's seminars were at first 60-hour courses over two weeks designed to give insights into the meaning of life; his philosophy has been described as ''the most important of the self religions'' that developed in the 1970s and 1980s.

The title ''EST'' is no longer formally used by Erhard and his followers and the courses have been adapted for the European market. The new approach appears friendly and participants no longer have to surrender their watches or be subjected to harsh conditions. However, the seminar room can be unbearably hot and participants are allowed to go for breaks only at certain times and are not permitted to take notes.

The most popular course is the Forum, run over three days and an evening at Pounds 150 a head. It is described as a basic self-improvement course and is held in central London hotels. At the Forum held last week at the Cumberland Hotel there were 200 participants contributing about Pounds 30,000 to Landmark Education, which paid Pounds 10,000 for the rental of the Carlisle suite for three days.

John Drane, of Stirling University, who has studied the New Age movement and published a book, What is the New Age saying to the Church?, says there are reasons for genuine concern: ''There is nothing wrong with pushing yourself to the physical and psychological limits as a means of identifying personal strengths and weaknesses. In fact such techniques are the stock-in-trade for the training of military personnel all over the world.

''But there is a subtle difference between army training and the way business trainers often use such techniques. When you join the army you expect that sort of thing. When you report at your workplace for a management course, you do not.''

copyright 1992 The London Times

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TOPIC INDEX: The Forum and Similar Trainings in the Workplace