The tragic story of the lives and deaths of two young women gives insights into the part a Large Group  Awareness Training played in their emotional struggles.

            The Newsweek article “The Lost Girl” tells the story of two models, Ruslana Korshunova and Anastasia Drozdova. After facing career and personal problems, the women attended a Rose of the World Large Group Awareness Training (LGAT). Rose of the World, like many other LGATs such as Breakthrough, was based on Lifespring. Rose told participants that it would help them gain personality development, create transformation and realize their goals. The women paid just under $1,000 for a three day training. When asked to confess their worst experiences, Ruslana was the most enthusiastic speaker. She confessed, cried, laughed, shouted, remembered, meditated, danced, and felt ecstasy.

            The women paid for more training. Anastasia spent almost a year attending trainings at Rose, while Ruslana was there three months. After several months, friends noticed changes in their behavior. Anastasia started arguments then burst into tears, missed castings, and became reclusive. Ruslana became aggressive. Ruslana apparently committed suicide in 2008, and Anastasia in 2009.

            Rose of the World’s reaction to Ruslana’s regression reveals something about its attitude to participants and its tendency to blame problems on them rather than consider whether the trainings were powerless, or even part of the problem. Rose assistant Volodya said,

            “Ruslana had what we call a ‘rollback.’ She felt a little strange. You’d find her wandering round town, unsure what she was doing there. Maybe she’d cry at night. But she couldn’t have killed herself. We cured her of any problems she might have. And Anastasia? She was messed up already. We tried to help her, we really tried. But she refused transformation. Blame modeling, maybe drugs, not us.” (Newsweek, “The Lost Girl,” by Peter Pomerantsev, May 9, 2011, p.57)

            Note that Rose saw emotional problems in enough clients that they had a term for it- “rollback.” This suggests that the LGAT transformation is not a core change in people, but a temporary suspension of personal failings or stressful feelings. Certainly LGAT promotional literature ever mentions the prospect of “rollback.” Volodya’s comments also imply that even a full year of trainings were powerless to help these women. In fact, their “rollback” regression describes emotions and behavior that were worse after the trainings than before. Rose believed it “cured” Anastasia even though she obviously showed deep emotional and behavioral problems.

Rose readily blamed the dead women for “refusing” transformation. This is consistent with LGAT theory, which blames people for the problems in their lives because they choose to be victims rather than overcoming obstacles. There is no hint that “rollbacks” prompt LGATs to seriously evaluate their trainings for flaws.

            “The Lost Girl” asked Rick Ross of Cult Education Forum to respond to Rose. Ross offered a different evaluation of LGATs:

            “These organizations never blame themselves. They always say, ‘It’s the victim’s fault.’ They work like drugs: giving you peak experiences, their adherents always coming back for more. The serious problems start when people leave. The trainings have become their lives- they come back to emptiness. The sensitive ones break.” (“The Lost Girl,” p. 57)

            The feeling of transformation that LGATs skillfully generate in a few hours is not the same as actual transformation of a person’s inner life and character, and “rollbacks” may take people into even worse territory than they inhabited before a LGAT.

            People have a variety of experiences in and after attending LGATs. But  cautionary stories of rollbacks should make anyone consider seriously what LGATs are, what they can do, and what they cannot.

Dr. John Juedes, 2011