Looking for a new podcast to binge? Let me recommend "Good Cult," a 6-part podcast about "Lifespring," a self-help humanistic empowerment group that the podcast host, River Donaghey, grew up in. Kast Media describes the podcast:
In the 1980s, half a million people went through intense, unorthodox trainings put on by a company called Lifespring. Thousands walked out as true believers. But behind the scenes, Lifespring faced dozens of lawsuits from trainees who said that after taking a seminar, they had mental breakdowns. Some spent months in the hospital. Others attempted suicide. At least four people died.
GOOD CULT host River Donaghey never heard those stories when he was growing up. River was raised inside the seminars. Now, River is digging back into his own history to piece together the bizarre, untold story of Lifespring and its founder, John Hanley: a convicted felon-turned-New Age guru who created a movement that is still changing lives—and ruining them—to this day.
The podcast is fascinating, and it's made even better because the host, River Donaghey, is such an integral part of the story. The podcast provides a really interesting deep dive into the history of Lifespring, exposing its disturbing and dangerous content and methodologies. But the most interesting aspect of the podcast, to me, is how it reveals and documents, in real time, the host wrestling with his own contradictory feelings about and experiences of the group. If you like cult content, this podcast should not be missed!
And if you want to read more about Lifespring, here are two great articles. The first was published in D Magazine in 1988. Here, author Marty Primeau describes her experiences–including details about the various 'empowerment' activities that participants engage in–attending one of Lifespring's five-day introductory seminars in Dallas, Texas. And the second was published in 2005 and archived on the website "Cult Education Institute." In this piece author Kirsten Marcum details how her life changed after attending a series of Vistar seminars in Minneapolis. Vistar was another self-help group that was founded by a graduate of Lifespring. Marcum gets sucked into the group as she attends seminar after seminar, and eventually finds herself exhausted from the constant recruitment and fundraising that she was required to do. She also recounts her deprogramming and explains how she eventually found her way out of the group.