I can’t stop reading the blog Beyond Growth right now. The site’s authors describe their work “a collaborative blogging project focused on critiquing and expanding the personal development field.” Um, yes please.
One of the best things I read on the site was in the comments section, and I keep going back to re-read it. The author, Duff McDuffee, was calling out a particular personal development course and center in his post for some potential unethical behavior. In his experience as a past course participant, the coursework involved “aggressively humiliating/shaming the client’s psychological defense mechanisms” for the purposes of inducing an emotional breakdown or catharsis (also termed an abreaction).
In case you are not already aware, this is an extremely common course format in a certain corner of the personal development world. Many people experience such workshops as life-changing events–I certainly have in the past–but the real benefits of such workshops in the long term are dubious at best.
One of the organizational leaders of the center Duff critiqued responded to his post, asking for more specific feedback about how Duff would recommend the center change its practices.
First of all, it is a huge step that an organizational leaders of this center even wrote back. It shows a level of care that is often depressingly absent in personal growth centers.
Duff’s response in the comments section was articulate, and in my opinion, right on the money. I am obviously quoting below at length (and even so, I don’t include all of his comments), so once again, here’s the link to the original post.
If I were to make requests, they would be to advertise the relational practices (at least what I’ve observed them to be) as highly aggressive and likely to bring up traumatic past events, to specifically filter out people with any history of abuse or PTSD through the use of an intake form, and to avoid using these techniques on anyone who does not give verbal or written consent.
Even better would be to seriously consider the potential harm of these techniques and consider abandoning them altogether in favor of a different philosophy and methodology.
Encourage and create a system to support critical feedback in your community especially with regards to techniques, group dynamics, safety, and consent–listening to and taking seriously the content of such feedback without engaging in emotional processing…Consider creating a way of allowing anonymity when giving such feedback.
Make your financial accounting transparent, and encourage the same for [your partner organizations]. This will help prevent financial corruption and keep accountable with your community.
Encourage a community of critical thinking. Above all, do not allow intolerance of minority groups or opinions within your community. Avoid all green-shaming, as in “those guys are just green,” or any other versions of this. Encourage rational-mind thinking–do not demonize the mind in favor of emotions, the heart, emptiness, or anything else or you’ll end up with a cult-like groupthink.
Create an explicit policy for ethical violations from community leaders and teachers, especially with regards to sexual relationships, money, and dual-relationships of all kinds. Enforce this policy.
Learn the laws regarding psychotherapy and group psychotherapy in the state of Colorado, as well as “certification” in any methodology as regulated by the Department of Private Occupational Schools. Make sure you are in compliance with the law. Hire a lawyer to help you to do so.
To anyone involved in a personal growth organization who may somehow read the above…this is it. This is what your critics are asking for. This is what it looks like to care about your participants.