Fowler 1

Verklaring van Raymond D. Fowler

Raymond D. Fowler

RAYMOND D. FOWLER, Washington, D.C.

February 22, l995

To Whom It May Concern:
The following statement represents my personal views and observations and should not be attributed to the American Psychological Association, for which I am the Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer, or to the University of Alabama, where I am Professor Emeritus. I am writing this letter as an individual and not as a representative of any organization. I have no personal or financial involvement with The Forum or with any of its predecessor, successor or affiliated groups. I am writing only to describe my personal experience and impressions of The Forum program in which I participated. Several years ago my wife and I, both psychologists, signed up to attend a two-weekend Forum training program. We had heard comments about The Forum from psychologists and others and wanted to find out more about it from personal experience. Prior to attending The Forum program, I read several articles about EST workshops and Forum programs. In my 40 years as a psychologist, I have studied psychotherapy extensively, have taught and supervised hundreds of students, and am a fellow of several organizations for the study of psychotherapy. I consider myself very experienced in understanding what psychotherapy is about. In my work as apsychologist, I have had occasion to read extensively about so-called "cults" and the efforts of various groups to close down organizations and activities they viewed as cults. My experience as a forum participant was pleasant, interesting and mildly intellectually stimulating. I watched with interest as various participants, in the large room full of people, openly described aspects of their lives they wished to examine and perhaps change. The Forum leader was sensitive and adept in encouraging frank disclosures while not in any way embarrassing participants or causing discomfort. Various participants in the group seemed moved and touched by the experiences of others and many volunteered related experiences. This is not to say that no emotion was expressed: some people, talking about painful experiences or troubled relationships, expressed great sadness and there were some tears. There were no incidents or disruptive or dysfunctional emotionality. Participants were encouraged and warmly praised when they spoke honestly and frankly. No participants were badgered to volunteer personal information and many, probably the majority, sat quietly, listening and observing. My conversations with participants during breaks for meals and refreshments were that they were relaxed, interested, and challenged to think deeply about themselves. On the second weekend, some participants brought with them people who were close to them to share the experience with them. Again, on this weekend, I saw no evidence of excessive emotionality or dysfunctionality. I saw a group of intelligent, sensitive people who were challenged to examine themselves and given an opportunity to express themselves. I want to emphasize three more points.

(1) I did not experience any personal sense of harm, danger, threat, or coercion at any time during the two-weekends and I saw no evidence that anyone else did. I was, along with everyone else in the group, encouraged to sign up for additional Forum sessions, but there was no coercion or high pressure sales. Participants were simply informed of the opportunities and told how to take advantage of them. In the months following the forum experience, I received, as I recall, two or three notices of forum opportunities and one telephone call which was cordial and non-coercive. I declined, because of time pressures, to attend any additional sessions and received no pressure to do so.

(2) I want to point out that what I experienced was nothing remotely like psychotherapy. It was, perhaps, more like the kind of sensitivity training given to educators and Peace Corps volunteers and other groups of people who work with other people. It was not much different in intensity and self-disclosure than the conversations among old friends or family members might be. It certainly was not probing or intrusive or demanding. It did not expose old wounds, make interpretations or inferences about motivations and early experiences and it was not strongly confrontive. There was no psychological transference in evidence and there hardly could have been in such a large group with such distant relationships with the workshop leader. In my opinion, anyone conducting such program and calling it psychotherapy would be guilty, at least of false advertisement and perhaps of fraud. No one seeking psychotherapy should expect to find it in a Forum session, although I imagine that individuals in psychotherapy might find the Forum experience interesting and stimulating. I have talked to psychotherapists who encouraged certain of their patients to attend a forum session when they felt they were ready to do so and they uniformly felt that the experience was non-harmful and perhaps encouraged insight. (3) I would like to observe that The Forum experience in no way resembles any of the so-called cults I've read about. In my opinion, it has no "cult-like" characteristics. Its level of intensity is far too superficial to encourage the intense addiction-like behavior said to be exhibited by cult members: there is no dominating leader with whom the participants share their lives. There is no coercion, no social isolation, no peer pressure toward conformity and no required modification of behavior, lifestyle, dress, food, and relationships. In my opinion, a forum session is more like a lively participatory classroom than it is like a cult. It is far more like a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous or other self-help groups than it is like a cult, but it is less intense than either. Almost any church organization has more "cult-like" features than a Forum session. Forum, in my personal opinion, does not remotely resemble a cult and it puzzles me that any responsible person could think it does.

I hope this letter is helpful to you in assessing the nature of The Forum program. I am happy to provide it to you for any usefulness it may have.

Raymond D. Fowler, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist License #4 (Alabama)

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