In the late 80s, at the height of perestroika and the fashion for everything Soviet, Candice Henley, the wife of the founding father of Lifespring, was rafting along the Ural rivers as part of a group of American tourists. Mrs. Henley saw potential business partners in her Russian travel companions, and in 1989 the Lifespring Foundation, founded by her, conducted the first transformational training in Moscow, which began the triumphal procession of Lifespring in Russia, and then throughout the post-Soviet space.
The confused consciousness of the citizens of the collapsing USSR, like a sponge, absorbed an avalanche of pseudo-teachings, “secret” knowledge, treatment on TV and a stream of various trainings. In those literally golden times for enterprising gurus, almost any psychological seminar was already sold only because of its overseas name or origin. The first foreign troops to overcome the Soviet “Iron Curtain” were American preachers and trainers who promised lightning-fast radical deliverance from painful problems and painful symptoms. Personal growth trainings were popular not only among the nouveau riche, but also among the enlightened intelligentsia, who were interested in the “new psychology”, and among professional psychologists who sought to adopt “foreign experience”.
Despite the ban on making any notes during the seminars, psychologists compiled a complete summary of the “X-Files” of the training, which later became a professional bestseller of the 90s. In 2008, the theses of this typewritten document were published in the “Journal of a Practical Psychologist” by a specialist in the field of totalitarian sects, psychiatrist and psychotherapist Elena Ipatova. The Lifespring program appears in this description as a thoughtful, intensive and consistent program of influencing the psyche of participants. Its main tool is a provocation aimed at removing psychological protection. In professional terms, these are “conscious frustration of significant needs” (modeling of an anxious psychological state in which satisfaction of desires seems impossible), “powerful individual and group pressure”, “variability and unpredictability of instructions and conditions”, “physical and emotional stress”, “hyperstimulation “,” general overload of sensory systems. “The logical result of these influences was “initial cognitive confusion”, and then, the inevitable “shutdown of the cortex” and violent emotional reactions of the participants, acquiring a massive character, the “necessity” and “usefulness” of which were repeatedly emphasized by the trainers. The ultimate goal of almost all exercises is a declarative demonstration of hard-won “true desires.” Noisy and tedious series of mass psychosis and emotional striptease alternated with relaxation sessions using appropriate music and trance visualization techniques.
What Kurt Lewin called “unfreezing” – the destruction of the existing value system and life orientations of group members – takes place in Lifespring through “guided fantasies” that appeal to very deep and emotionally charged problems of early childhood. After a detailed immersion in children’s grievances, a generalized instruction for further actions could sound like “look carefully, cry and leave quickly.” The tendency to destroy and mourn one’s own past ends in the final meditation: the participants were shown fragments of a film, in flashing frames of which everyone “recognized” the past former life, and then, the film flashed and burned, already unnecessary.