Since their initiation, LGATs have been the subject of much controversy. While LGAT supporters argue that such interventions are vehicles for personal growth and societal change and are a cost-effective means of introducing beneficial therapeutic messages to large audiences (Berger, 1977; Erhard & Gioscia, 1978; Shaw, 1977), others view them as a hazardous and irresponsible use of powerful psychological principles and psychotherapeutic procedures (see, e.g., Brewer, 1975; Rome, 1977).
A large group awareness training (LGAT) program is a personal development training program in which dozens to hundreds of people are given several hours to several days of intense instruction aimed at helping participants begin to discover what is hindering them from achieving their full potential and living more satisfied lives.
Though some advocate visualization, self-hypnosis, and other techniques for achieving self-realization, most LGAT programs focus on communication skills and the effect of language on thought and behavior. Those running the programs must excel in those skills. The trainers are motivators.
Prospective participants in The Forum, which has been classified as an LGAT, were compared with nonparticipating peers and with available normative samples on measures of well-being, negative life events, social support, and philosophical orientation. Results revealed that prospective participants were significantly more distressed than peer and normative samples of community residents and had a higher level of impact of recent negative life events compared with peer (but not normative) samples.
The data suggest that prospective LGAT participants can be distinguished from their peers and community samples along two primary dimensions: higher levels of psychological distress and a belief in a set of values that includes self-responsibility and self-awareness.
The LGAT participants also appeared to have a somewhat higher level of impact of recent negative life events compared with the peer nominees but not compared with the normative sample.
One factor distinguishing prospective LGAT participants from nominees was their level of psychological distress. Overall, the data indicate that Forum participants were more distressed than the nominees and a community sample yet were less distressed than a clinical outpatient population.
Taken together, the ability of distress and philosophical orientation to distinguish prospective LGAT participants from non-participants suggests a tentative model for explaining LGAT participation. Whereas psychological distress or dissatisfaction with current circumstances may be what motivates individuals to seek an available change activity, the kinds of values and worldviews held by individuals may steer them toward a specific change modality (e.g., an LGAT).
The LGAT format can have advantages, mainly in terms of affordability and the powerful support of being in a crowd of like-minded people. However, they have their critics, who say that they offer a 'one-size-fits-all' approach, where the group leaders make assumptions about clients' problems, and have an excessive focus on defining interpersonal relationships as the central objective in life.
LGAT gurus claim to know how to help people become more creative, intelligent, healthy, and rich. They focus primarily on the role interpersonal communication plays in self-esteem and in defining our relationships with others.
Some of the other procedures used in certain of the large group awareness training (LGAT) programs and their offshoots contain processes to humiliate people (they resemble fraternity hazing events).