Inaccuracies in the Media About Werner Erhard and The est Training

MYTH: Erhard or his lawyers suppressed media broadcasts.

This is a lie perpetrated by people with an ax to grind.  The facts are Erhard and his lawyers learned that CBS News had repudiated and suppressed its own reporting in a 60 Minutes broadcast about Erhard when one of Erhard’s lawyers read about CBS’s action in a respected magazine.  The article’s author had requested a copy of the transcript of a 60 Minutes broadcast about Erhard and was informed by CBS that it was had been removed from their archives.  The author announced the fact by writing “The 60 Minutes segment was filled with so many factual discrepancies that the transcript was made unavailable”.  There are rumors on the internet that other broadcasts were suppressed by Erhard or his lawyers, for example, a Barbara Walters interview, but that is patently false. The Barbara Walters interview is available at numerous locations on the internet, and the documentarian who produced a film about Erhard included a portion of the interview in her film.


MYTH: No bathroom breaks in the est Training

This is “a story” kept alive by the internet.  The facts are there were no locked doors but there were guidelines for est participants that encouraged people to stay in the room throughout the course. Much like when you attend a movie, theater production, opera, or any live event, you are encouraged not to leave as you would miss the “great performance”. In the est Training you were encouraged to stay in the room during the course.  No one was prohibited from leaving the room, and people actually did leave if they had to. Also, there were regularly scheduled breaks in the est Training where people were welcome to use the bathroom, eat, make phone calls, etc.

Excerpt From People Are Talking, with Richard Sher, 1979

MYTH: Est was a cult


The est Training was a ground-breaking educational program founded in the 1970s.  Neither the est organization nor its program, the est Training, is or was a cult. 

The late Dr. Margaret Singer, one of the world's leading experts on cults and author of the book Cults in Our Midst, studied est and observed the est Training.  In a sworn deposition, testifying as an expert adverse to est's interests, Dr. Singer stated that in her expert opinion, the est Training and the est organization were not a cult.

Eminently respected psychologists, psychiatrists, clergy, academics and other qualified professionals who participated in or observed the est Training gave their opinion that est and the est Training were not a cult. These professionals also gave their opinion that the est Training was effective and valuable.

Among these professionals are:

Dr. Edward Lowell, M.D., certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, an expert in thought reform and former consulting psychiatrist to the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare, stated:

''In the est training there was no point-of-view or indoctrination that was inculcated into participants, and indeed, repeatedly it was stated that nothing said in the course was 'the truth'.  Quite the contrary, the est training fostered and produced an enhanced capacity for people to think for themselves, and to participate in their own families, culture, jobs, religions, etc.  I have also carefully evaluated est on the issue of its having been a cult or cult­ like. Categorically I can report that it was not."

Dr. Christopher Was, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Educational Psychology at Kent State University with a research background in cognition and memory, stated: 

"As a cognitive psychologist and someone who has studied Werner Erhard’s programs, my studies clearly indicate that people got substantial and tangible value from participating in the est Training. Further, it is clear that the program and organization were not spiritual, religious, a cult, or cult-like in any way."

Peter L. Sheras, PhD, ABPP, Member of the Board of Directors of the American Psychological Association stated:

"As a clinical psychologist and an expert in crisis intervention, I personally observed the est training and found it to be a powerful and innovative program that provided real value to participants. I recommended it frequently to others and, when appropriate, to some of my clients. At the time it was offered, the structure and language was appropriate although some media may have mischaracterized the program as an ‘encounter group’ or part of the ‘new age’ or human potential movement. As a professional, it was my opinion that these characterizations were not accurate. The est training was ontological more than psychological in nature, was not a cult or cult-like, and would not be considered brainwashing or harmful."

Far from being a cult, est has had a lasting and significant influence in business and popular culture beyond the decade of the 1970s.  As stated in The Financial Times, April 28, 2012:  "Erhard's influence extends far beyond the couple of million people who have done his courses: there is hardly a self-help book or a management training programme that does not borrow some of his principles."


MYTH: The est Training damaged people mentally and emotionally

The est Training was studied by numerous social scientists and none found any evidence of harm.

A study prepared in 1977 by Professor J. Herbert Hamsher of Temple University in Philadelphia surveyed 242 mental health professional workers - psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers - who are graduates of the estTraining and who have worked with 1,739 patients who have graduated from the est Training.  In a survey of these professionals, 95% reported that the est Training had a positive impact in their own lives.  In a survey of their patients that had participated in the est Training in every case there was no negative effect and in 93% of the cases there was an improvement.  In this high risk population (namely patients in therapy) the fact that there was no evidence of any detrimental effect of the training argues very strongly that the training was a safe, beneficial undertaking.

“Psychiatric disturbances associated with Erhard Seminars Training”, Leonard Glass, M.D. et al, The American Journal of Psychiatry, Volume 134, Issue 3, March 1977:

This study is frequently pointed to by people who assert harm, probably because of the name of the paper.  However harm was not the finding of these scientists, who point out in their paper that the case reports do not establish any cause and effect relationship between est and a psychotic episode.  In fact, the lead scientist from the study, Leonard Glass, stated in a New York Times interview in 1977:  “We don’t know if more people become psychotic after est than after riding on the F train.”

“Observations on 67 patients who took Erhard Seminars Training”, Justin Simon, M.D., The American Journal of Psychiatry, Volume 135, Issue 6, June 1978.

Abstract: The author describes the effects of Erhard Seminars Training (est) on 67 patients--49 who took est during the course of psychotherapy with him and 18 who were seen for evaluation, consultation, or treatment after having taken est. Responsiveness to est was assessed in terms of individually predefined psychodynamics and treatment goals. Of the 49 patients who took est during therapy, 30 were judged to show some positive response and 19 were rated unchanged. The author believes that est often has a strong influence toward psychotherapeutic movement in patients with good ego strength who are motivated to change.

Finkelstein, Wenegrat and Yalom, Department of Psychiatry, Stanford University (Ann. Rev. Psychol. 1982):   “There is no proof that est causes psychiatric disorders, nor that it compromises the long term mental health of those already ill.”

Jonathan Moreno, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania, Perelman School of Medicine, writing with an historical perspective in 2014 stated:
“As to the training itself, so far as I could tell not only were est participants consenting adults, none had credibly experienced harm and many asserted they had learned useful lessons for their personal or professional lives.”

James R. Doty, MD, FACS, FICS, FAANS, Clinical Professor, Neurosurgery, Founder & Director, The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, Stanford University Medical School stated: 
“If you have followed est … where hundreds of thousands of lives are changed, you will understand this.   Innumerable studies have been done that have demonstrated very scientifically the extraordinary positive effect that est and these types of trainings have really had on people and changed really millions of lives.  The other interesting thing - there are studies that have demonstrated that people who have taken est are more empathic and are more motivated to be of service to others.” 


MYTH: Est was a religion or “new religion”

This is inaccurate and often a classification made by the uninformed.
Est was not a religion or religious in nature. It wasn't contrary to religion and did not interfere with the religious beliefs of the participants.  Est and when replaced by it, the Forum, provided no theology, dogma or doctrine to believe in and follow, there is nothing to worship and there are no spiritual practices to repeat.

Dr. Paul F. Knitter, leading theologian of religious pluralism, a licentiate in theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, doctorate from the University of Marburg, Germany; a former Professor at Union Seminary in New York and Emeritus of Theology at Xavier University; published author of over a dozen books:  “est seeks to promote many of the same ethical values as do religions (love, compassion, trust), but that does not make it a religion. I would assess the est program as an instrument of self-development, not as a means of attaining or asking for help from an outside power. To call the program and its goals religious is both to misunderstand est and to misunderstand religion.  Nowhere does [est] endorse or presuppose any kind of a religious teaching or belief.”

J. Gordon Melton, Distinguished Professor of American Religious History at the Institute for Studies of Religion, Baylor University, and the Director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion, and author of Melton’s Encyclopedia of American Religions stated:  "A religion deals with ultimate life questions beyond the limits of science that we need answers to and Scientology qualifies - but not, for example, Freemasonry or Werner Erhard's est training."

George D. Chryssides in Exploring New Religions concluded that est was not a religion or “new religion”:  "In conclusion, we can say that est made no claims to be religious, and has not attempted to change its participants’ religious allegiance, participants pursue their own religions simultaneously with undergoing the seminar."

The Right Reverend Otis Charles:  "As a former Bishop and Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School, I have participated in the est Training and, while I have never known the program to deal with God, worship, divinity or theology, each person’s religious preference and practice is considered his or her private concern and is completely respected.”

A 1987 survey of 740 randomly selected 1984 – 1986 Forum participants conducted by Arthur Young concluded: “The Forum has a genuine, positive impact on religious lives of those that participate with 50% of the participants reporting enhanced relationships to their religions.”


MYTH: Est was part of the “Me Generation”

This is a media generated story.
Dr. Jerome Rabow, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at UCLA, conducted a study on this subject in 1979, which study was peer reviewed and published.  Rabow has this to say about the results of the study:

“There was a lot of very critical commentary about est in the literature.  People … had talked about it as a very narcissistic, indulgent kind of training.  So I decided to do this study.  The surprising finding was that the graduates of est were much more concerned with the welfare of other human beings.  Here was a group of people that basically were being maligned by the media for being narcissistic, self-indulgent, self-centered, egoistic, and it turns out that they weren’t.”

Fortune Magazine’s 40th Anniversary issue (May 15, 1995) examined the major contributions to management thinking since the 1950’s and recognized Erhard’s ideas as a major innovation in shaping modern management thinking about empowering people.

MYTH: Est was part of the Human Potential Movement

This is a common mischaracterization with a label that was coined during the same time period as the est Training

Jonathan Moreno, Ph.D., Professor at the University of Pennsylvania says:  “Erhard told me that he doesn’t consider himself to have been part of the human potential movement, but he agrees that his concept of the training was part of the confluence of ideas that emerged during that period.”  “In many ways the training was the most important cultural event after the human potential movement itself seemed exhausted…”

Erhard said in an unpublished interview with David Kaiser, Ph.D. (MIT):  “While it happened during the same period, est was really not a part of the human potential movement. It was a lot more rigorous in its thinking. At that point the human potential movement was that anything from the neck up is suspect, and you’ve got to rely on from the neck down.  And that certainly wasn’t the way The est Training functioned. It was a logical unfolding that brought people to insights that they found valuable in supporting themselves regarding the quality of their life, and their effectiveness in life.”

Most telling, however, is the fact that the “father” of the human potential movement, George Leonard, is quoted as saying he disagreed with what Erhard did in the est Training.


MYTH: Werner Erhard was a used car salesman/encyclopedia salesmen

It is inaccurate and denigrating
at this point in time to label Mr. Erhard a “former encyclopedia salesman” or “former used car salesman”. Yes, in fact Erhard sold automobiles, new and used, as his first job in his teens, and his boss was Lee Iacocca. Erhard never sold encyclopedias; but again, early in his career, he sold the Great Books Program (published by Encyclopedia Britannica) to professionals for two months as training, and was immediately promoted to the position of training manager for the program. Erhard went on, while still in his twenty’s, to become the youngest vice-president of a division, albeit small, in the history of Grace & Company, a Fortune 50 Company. To characterize Mr. Erhard as a “former used car salesman” is akin to characterizing an accomplished restaurant mogul as a former waiter or an accomplished attorney as a former clerk.


MYTH: Tax evasion/abuse

Allegations of tax evasion and abuse are false.  Werner Erhard became the focus of a personal media attack that culminated in 1991 in an unfounded character assassination on the TV program, 60 Minutes, which included false claims of abuse and tax fraud. The claims were later proven false as reported and confirmed in numerous publications including Time Magazine in 1998 and the London Times in 2000; and CBS News has repudiated their reporting in 60 Minutes and has made the tape and transcript of the program unavailable.  And, as reported in the Los Angeles Daily News, September 12, 1996, Erhard won a settlement of $200,000 against the IRS for false statements made about him to the media by IRS agents.  IRS spokesmen admitted that statements attributed to them about Erhard's supposed tax liability were false, and they did not ask the media to correct the statements.


MYTH: Werner Erhard was a Scientologist; est was based on Scientology

Mr. Erhard is a lifelong Episcopalian
, and has never been a Scientologist, as confirmed by his biographer, William W. Bartley III, Ph.D. and religious writer Dan Wakefield.

In fact, as reported in a December 1991 Los Angeles Times article, the Church of Scientology engaged in a 20 year campaign designed to destroy Werner Erhard's reputation.  At the heart of Scientology's campaign was Mr. Erhard's refusal to have any association with Scientology.  According to the Los Angeles Times, Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, whose "hatred" of Erhard was passed along to his followers after Hubbard's 1986 death, was jealous of the meteoric rise of est in the public perception in the 1970s.  The allegation that Mr. Erhard was a Scientologist originated from Scientology itself as part of this campaign in an attempt to defame Mr. Erhard personally and co-opt Mr. Erhard's work as Scientology's.

Neither the est Training nor any other work of Mr. Erhard's was based on Scientology's beliefs, principles or ideas.  His work is not religious in nature and in fact contains no belief system.  The est Training and the rest of Mr. Erhard's ideas are a product of his own independent thinking and it is inaccurate to attribute his work to any particular group or body of ideas.  Like all original thinkers, Mr. Erhard owes a debt to those thinkers who came before him.  For example, you would find harmonics between Mr. Erhard's ideas and those of twentieth century philosophers Martin Heidegger and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Journalists and publications have been misled by Scientology's campaign to claim Mr. Erhard's ideas and successes as their own, and after research have immediately corrected their statements; retractions are published in Le Matin in Zurich, The Press and Salient Magazine in New Zealand, BC Business, The Calgary Herald, The Vancouver Sun and L’Express du Pacifique in Canada, International Examiner in the United States, The Huffington Post found everywhere in the world.


MYTH: Werner Erhard fled the US

In 1991 Erhard retired from business.  He reluctantly left the US in 1991 at the advice of his lawyers who had uncovered a plot to harm Erhard personally, but that was not an exile.  Erhard worked pro bono in Ireland in the area of conflict resolution, and started writing, and lecturing and teaching pro bono at universities around the world.  Erhard has lectured and taught at several US universities since 1991, Harvard University, UCLA, Yale University, Dartmouth University, MIT, University of Rochester, Texas A&M, Stanford University, to name a few.


MYTH: Werner Erhard owns/manages/controls Landmark

This is patently false, and demonstrably false (a story told only in the blogosphere on the internet).

Landmark is wholly and completely owned by its employees.  Erhard is not an employee of Landmark and has no legal or financial relationship with Landmark.

The Harvard Business School conducted a case study on Landmark and published its findings in the Harvard Business Review in 1998, stating explicitly that Landmark is owned by its employees.  Harvard doesn’t get it wrong.


MYTH:  The est Training was a “hodge-podge of philosophical bits or pop psychology”.

THE FACTS:  The est Training was a unique program that was not easily classified.  Respected by health and education professionals around the globe, est was a unique educational experience that played an integral part of the 70's culture.  Est was not group therapy, psychotherapy, an encounter group or pop psychology, and was not based on any religion or belief system.  Regarded as a breakthrough in its time, Fortune Magazine’s 40th Anniversary issue (May 15, 1995) in examining the major contributions to management thinking recognized Werner Erhard’s creation of est as the major innovation of the 1970s in shaping modern management thinking toward empowering people.  The Financial Times stated "Erhard’s influence extends far beyond the couple of million people who have done his courses: there is hardly a self-help book or a management training programme that does not borrow some of his principles."  The vast majority of the reporters who mischaracterized the est training relied solely on random opinions of people with no credentials, had no direct knowledge of the course itself, and they had not reviewed any of the scientific studies on the Training.  The late Warren Bennis, Ph.D., Past Chairman of the Leadership Institute USC Marshall School of Business and former Chairman, Harvard University Kennedy School of Government Center for Public Leadership, in speaking about Werner Erhard and the est Training said  “Werner’s genius is his contribution of the technology that takes an abstraction and changes people’s lives.  I was impressed with the structure and foundation of est.  He created a technology that has unleashed the possibilities of being human - that’s a legacy.” 


MYTH:  Werner Erhard is not a serious thinker.

THE FACTS:  Werner Erhard’s ideas are studied and discussed by eminent scholars.

“Millions have experienced the ideas of Werner Erhard, one of the most incisive and insightful thinkers of our generation.”
-David Eagleman, PhD, neuroscientist at Stanford University, NY Times bestselling author

“The profound impact of Werner Erhard’s work on culture and society is a manifestation of an incredible insight, the experience of being.  Erhard has at times described aspects of his method as ruthless compassion, and like all forms of compassion, evident here is a fundamental motivating desire to alleviate the suffering of others.”
-James R. Doty, MD, Professor of Neurosurgery, Stanford University School of Medicine, Founder & Director, The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education

“I consider Werner Erhard one of the great intellectuals of the century.”
-Michael C. Jensen, Jesse Isidor Straus Professor of Business Administration, Emeritus, Harvard University

“Theory and Practice: Ways of seeing what one claims to be the truth of some intended object of consciousness and ways of applying this truth to one’s everyday existence in order to cultivate wisdom, goodness, self-realization, and justice. The dialogical teachings of Werner Erhard speak to the importance of this relationship and its ontological significance.”
-Michael J. Hyde, University Distinguished Professor of Communication Ethics, Wake Forest University, author of Perfection: Coming to Terms with Being Human

Werner Erhard and Martin Heidegger—two intellects who independently reached linguistic, ontological, and phenomenological philosophies that illuminate each other.”
-Jeronima (Jeri) Echeverria, Former Executive Vice-Chancellor for Academic Affairs of the California State University System, Professor of History and Provost Emerita, California State University at Fresno

“Educational research confirms that without a significant intervention, students who become teachers are likely to replicate the pedagogical approaches their teachers used with them. Practicing Erhard’s approach to ontological inquiry provides such an intervention. It equips students, teachers, academics of any field to critically examine their dispositions and access more effective ways of being and acting.”
-Carolyne J. White, Professor of Social Foundations, Department of Urban Education, Rutgers University Newark

“A different you and a different me must show up each day if we are going to tackle the world’s most vexing problems. [Erhard’s work] talks us through a process of transformation by showing us what it means to be an authentic human being in an inauthentic world, and what it means to take a stand for a world where everyone matters and where everyone can make a difference.”
-Wiley “Chip” Souba, MD, ScD, MBA, Professor of Surgery, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, former Dean of Medicine and VP for Health Affairs, Dartmouth College

“Erhard’s counter-discursive approach to transformational education—and how this approach aligns significantly with Heidegger’s thinking—might serve as a starting point for a deeper Indigenous philosophy. Rooted in a more non-hierarchical epistemology, such an Indigenous philosophy promises to move us away from a colonized and deeply problematized way of thinking, toward embracing the power and mysteriousness of presence, and making possible a place-based, non-anthropocentric interconnectedness. This is the next essential step we must take if we are to survive as a species.”
-Four Arrows, aka Don Trent Jacobs, PhD, EdD, editor of Unlearning the Language of Conquest, author of Point of Departure and Teaching Truly

“Many academics in cultural studies accept postmodernity and content pedagogy as unquestionable facts of the world, but with a paltry understanding of how these ideas undermine our intention to produce morally conscious, action-oriented citizens.  … Werner Erhard’s methodology offers a cogent roadmap out of such a paralyzing paradigm of knowledge and subjectivity.”
-Dr. Trystan T. Cotten, Associate Professor, Gender Studies, University of California, Stanislaus, founder and managing editor of Transgress Press

“Werner Erhard and Michael Jensen look like an unlikely pairing but their leadership teaching fits into a broad stream of business education and research about ethics and integrity.”
-Andrew Hill, Financial Times, Management Editor

"Werner’s thinking – I don’t know any nice way of saying it – is just out there in the world. You can’t have a Master’s Degree in organizational development or human resources without picking up some of it.  And it’s usually not credited back to him.  His stuff is just out there."
-Dave Logan, PhD, Senior Lecturer at University of Southern California (USC) Marshall School of Business, and New York Times bestselling author

Erhard’s ideas, as expressed in the Forum, are examined in detail by two scholars in a 541 page book Speaking Being: Werner Erhard, Martin Heidegger and a New Possibility of Being Human, Bruce Hyde, PhD and Drew Kopp, PhD, Wiley, 2019.