Is the Lightning Process a sect?

The Lightning Process (LP) is an alternative treatment method, and both the method and the concept around it are very controversial. Are there any similarities between LP and closed denominations?

(This is an English translation of the original text found here: https://melivet.com/2022/01/16/er-lightning-process-en-sekt/)

The Norwegian organization Hjelpekilden (Source of Help) helps people who have broken out of closed denominations. I have taken a closer look at 8 of the points that Hjelpekilden believes define a closed denomination (1) and compared with the Lightning Process.

  1. «The denomination has the truth»

The Lightning Process (LP) is a trademarked alternative treatment that consists of the pseudo-scientific methods neurolinguistic programming (NLP) and hypnotherapy. (2) The method is marketed especially towards people who have the disease Myalgic Encephalomyelities (ME). The founder of LP, Phil Parker, claims that LP can cure ME:  

« Once you start using the process, your ME really should be a thing of the past. 

Parker gives incorrect information about what ME is and what it is caused by. He creates an image of the disease that fits into what LP is claimed to be able to solve. He claims that ME is to be «in the pit», and that all you have to do is say Stop!

«Once you find yourself in the pit; all you have to do is to use the process by saying Stop.”

There is no serious research that confirms such claims.

2. The truth «has often come to the leader in the form of a revelation from above»

Parker began his career as a healer. From the website Healinghawk.com in 2007:

«Phil Parker is already known to many as an inspirational teacher, therapist, healer and author. His personal healing journey began when, whilst working with his patients as an osteopath. He discovered that their bodies would suddenly tell him important bits of information about them and their past, which to his surprise turned out to be factually correct! He further developed this ability to step into other people’s bodies over the years to assist them in their healing with amazing results. After working as a healer for 20 years, Phil Parker has developed a powerful and magical program to help you unlock your natural healing abilities. If you feel drawn to these courses then you are probably ready to join.”

According to Parker’s book «An introduction to the Lightning Process» in 2012 (3), he then revolutionized this work and developed LP:

«Months of research set me on a course that would revolutionize my work, change the lives of thousands for the better, and lead to you reading this book. The result of this important research was the development of the Lightning Process.» 

3. «The leader has the power and the organization is hierarchically built around this»

LP is built up as a franchise. You must be a certified LP instructor in order to teach others the method. The instructors pay an annual license and also royalties per course participant to Parker.

4. «Knowledge is hierarchical and esoteric» 

To train as an LP instructor, you must first train as a coach by taking courses in NLP and hypnotherapy . Then you have to take the instructor course. All courses are held by Parker. The certification is also done by Parker.

NLP can also be used in a sales context. NLP is also about being aware of how people unconsciously reveal with their body language; how they feel, then know how to communicate, make them feel more comfortable with you, bond, achieve a good relationship, create a good and safe atmosphere, and then be able to influence them. This technique is called «mirroring».

5. «… doubt is unacceptable  unless it is directed at oneself»

Hjelpekilden writes: «If a person in a closed religious community has doubts, it can be explained by demon possession, which in turn is subject to exorcism. Doubt can also be counteracted by increased participation in the congregation’s activities, increased isolation from the outside world, more prayers to God, and more thorough study of the congregation’s sacred scriptures.”

LP is about believing, and convincing yourself and others that you have recovered. It is claimed that if you don’t succeed, it is because you lack motivation or don’t do the method correctly or often enough. Psychologist Bente Dahl compares LP to conversion therapy: LP and healing of gays (4)

6. «There is a high level of social control…. The management controls… access to information»

LP participants say that they were not allowed to ask questions during the course. They should also not discuss illness with the other participants or talk negatively about LP. It is not allowed to tell outsiders what is happening on the course. (5, 6) LP participants should not surround themselves or discuss LP with people who are critical of the method. (7) The secrecy surrounding the concept makes people think it is something big.

Author Gunnar Tjomlid writes in his «An analysis of The Phil Parker Lightning Process» (Norwegian text) that the participants are also “«brainwashed» into believing that only by being exclusively positively towards the method the treatment will work. If they are critical, they are to blame for their own suffering, because then they themselves choose to be ill.». (8)

7. «Guilt is used as a suitable tool»

LP participants learn to change the language from passive to active: from «I have ME» to «I am doing ME» and thus implicitly that they can choose to stop doing illness. If you don’t succeed with LP, you are told that you are not doing the method correctly or often enough or because you lack motivation. Or as the Norwegian LP instructor Live Landmark claims in the science magazine Forskning.no in 2018: «Not everyone is equipped to take responsibility for their own health.».

In 2011, the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK wrote about a 13-year-old who attempted suicide after taking a course in LP. (9) At that time, the Norwegian LP instructors in the company Active Process had had more than 250 children and adolescents on courses. (10) A father, Jørn Bjørkli, says that «To expose my child to LP I experience as an abuse – unfortunately.». (11)

8. «There are strong and simple vilifications where the good are inside and the bad are outside. Those outside are seen as inferior, poor those who have not understood what is important, they wallow in sin, etc.»

Already in Parker’s book, he gets his critics in advance. He warns that course participants are likely to experience resistance when they tell others that they have recovered. The criticism warned against is described with straw man argumentation, fictional arguments that put potential critics in a bad light – in advance.

Landmark tweets about a young man of 17 years who had no effect on LP courses and blames the parents:

“Poor, poor little boy. Where are the parents?”

Landmark also claims that children with ME can get well if only their mothers get help with their own fears. (12) By describing the mothers’ worries as irrational, they are portrayed as fragile.

Recruitment

Sects recruit their members in many ways. According to professor and religious scholar Hege Kristin Ringnes and professor of religionpsychology Dagfinn Ulland, recruitment can take place in several different phases. In the beginning, the individual may be in a crisis or in search of truth, with an underlying emotional and social vulnerability. The person may be depressed, lack experience of meaning and social belonging or search for answers to existential questions. The individual vulnerability is activated in meeting with representatives of the group. The next phase is transformation, where the social ties are forged stronger. The last phase is surrender, where the decision on a binding commitment is made. This surrender may involve participation in rituals, perhaps with isolation from family and community. While a church includes the great masses, the sect and cult will often only accept qualified persons. Recruitment can also take place via the internet. (13)

Vulnerability

Parker claims that his clients with the following issues responded really well to his treatment:

“ •  Addictions

 •  Allergies

 •  Anorexia and bulimia

 •  Anxiety

 •  Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)/Myalgic Encephalopathy (ME)

 •  Depression

 •  Fear of failure

 •  Feeling overwhelmed

 •  Fibromyalgia, migraines and chronic pain

 •  Guilt

 •  Low self-esteem, self-doubt and even self-hatred

 •  Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

 •  Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

 •  Stress and struggle”

This is how he targets people who have such problems and are in a vulnerable situation.

Qualifying

To participate in LP courses, you must apply; you must prove that you are qualified. The application form states that «It is best to take the course when you are sufficiently motivated». The questions on the form are used to measure suggestibility , ie. how receptive the applicant is to suggestion. The form also contains a commitment that is signed: «I am willing to let my critical sense rest during the course.».

Applicants must also state what problems they are struggling with and any physical and mental health challenges. In this way, LP instructors – who are not health professionals – gain in-depth knowledge of very private and personal information.

Applicants who qualify in the first round must then have a phone conversation with the instructor who assesses whether they are «ready» to participate.

Participants have had to sign a «Training Agreement» that they will «change anything that my trainer identifies as destructive». Participants say that after completing the course they had to sign a contract that they were recovered, but that they did not receive a copy of what they signed.

The Norwegian MP Sidsel Kreyberg has written about the Swedish sect in Knutby: «Knutby and LP – Recruitment and expulsion ». (Norwegian text) (14)

Recovery Norway

The organization Recovery Norway (RN) was established by i.a. a number of LP instructors and coaches in connection with the Norwegian Consumer Agency tightening the regulations for marketing alternative treatment in 2017. As of then, alternative therapists were banned from using stories from their satisfied customers in marketing. By creating an organization for those who have recovered, ie. their satisfied customers, the regulations can be circumvented. (15) RN shares stories about people who have recovered using LP and similar methods, e.g. healing through prayer.

From RN’s mission statement:

«The purpose is also to contribute to relevant research, also based on the members’ experiences. The activity consists of educational work, especially with relevance for those still sick and their next of kin, but also to health professionals, bureaucrats, politicians, other decision makers and the general public, through, for example, the use of social media, website, article writing, meetings and lectures.»

A condition for membership is that “You have to have become well through a method or strategy that broadly involves changes in thinking or behavioural patterns or human interaction». Those who have recovered with the help of pharmaceutical interventions or changes in diet are excluded.

Information control

RN deletes and hides critical questions in their comment fields on social media. People who are critical are blocked.

The leader of RN is Norwegian MP Henrik Vogt. He recruits members online. In addition, he lobbies towards both Norwegian and foreign health authorities. Vogt is employed at the Center for Medical Ethics at the University of Oslo.

Vilification

Vogt claims that those who are critical of LP are ME activists and a movement with anti-scientific features. He uses straw man argumentation and claims that it is RN’s members who are being discredited – and not the method and the concept. He accuses his opponents and those who are skeptical of using the method against ME of having prejudices against mental illness: «The stigma against mental illness is boiling beneath the surface» Vogt stated to the newspaper Dagbladet in May 2020.

Money

There is a lot of money involved in LP. The course costs NOK 20,000 for 3 days of 3-5 hours. It can be difficult to admit that the method doesn’t work when you have invested that much. 

Training as an LP instructor costs NOK 100,000. The annual license is NOK 9000. In addition, there are royalties per participant, sale of books and motivational lectures. (2)

According to the newspaper Finansavisen in 2011, Landmark had earned NOK 10 million on LP courses in less than 4 years. (16) Landmark’s motivational lectures are in reality marketing of the method. The lecture was previously available on the internet; «Live Landmark – Fra press til prestasjon».

Both Vogt and Landmark are also journalists and have written dozens of opinion pieces in Norway’s largest newspapers. Both have run extensive lobbying activities towards health authorities, politicians and other organizations for a number of years. (17) The aim is to have LP approved and included as part of public health services. Landmark stated to the newspaper Romerikes Blad on 23 March 2011: «- Getting LP approved in the public system will make it possible to reach more people. NAV [The Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administratio] should cover the course, and already does so at some local offices.». Today, NAV is recruiting participants to a study under the auspices of Lørenskog municipality where 110 ME patients will be treated with LP. RN contributes to the study with «user involvement».

A customized image of a problem (the patients) is formed and then the solution is presented; LP is a fast and cheap solution for the authorities; the participant pays for the course themselves and the responsibility for recovery is transferred to the patients.

In 2013, Landmark requested a meeting with the Minister of Labor and Social Affairs at the time, Anniken Huitfeldt:

«Why do I want a meeting with you? Because I mean to see that both doctors, employers and society in general facilitate the disabled by maintaining a focus on illness which I believe from experience is very unfortunate. Today’s sick leave opportunities lead several of us potentially able-bodied women into unnecessary disability.» (18)

British health authorities warn especially against LP as treatment for ME. The NICE guidelines for ME/CFS state that «… the Lightning Process should not be offered to people with ME/CFS». (19)

In 2017, Landmark gave a lecture at a seminar for Hjelpekilden. Hjelpekilden is a voluntary organization that provides help and support to people in problematic breaking processes with religious environments. The minutes state:

«It soon became apparent that her method, the Lightning Process, was very similar to the methods used in charismatic religious circles. This therefore led to major reactions from those of our participants who had a background in charisma, and the speaker chose to cancel her speech due to the participants’ skepticism.». (20)

There are people who have had help and benefited from LP against various ailments, and although LP may not be a religious sect in the traditional sense, the similarities are disturbing. The media, politicians, health authorities and the social services should be aware of this.

Written by

Nina E. Steinkopf

Former HSE and Quality Director, now ME-patient and patient advocate

Sources

  1. Hjelpekilden: Å forlate et lukket trossamfunn
  2. https://www.philparker.org/
  3. Phil Parker (2012). “An introduction to the Lightning Process”
  4. Psykolog Bente Dahl, Nordlys (2010). LP og helbredelse av homofile
  5. 17 ME-pasienter (2017). Lightning Process er skadelig for ME-pasienter
  6. Venke Midtlien (2020). Beskrivelse av LP; kurset og metoden
  7. Yle, Finlands public broadcaster (2021). «Det är inget annat än hjärntvätt«
  8. Gunnar Tjomlid (2010). En analyse av The Phil Parker Lightning Process
  9. NRK (2013). Forsøkte selvmord etter ME-kurs 
  10. Nina E. Steinkopf (2021). Treating children with the Lightning Process
  11. Jørn Bjørkli (2020). Å utsette barnet mitt for LP opplever jeg som et overgrep – dessverre.
  12. Live Landmark, VG (2015). «ME-mødrene trenger hjelp.
  13. Hege Kristin Ringnes og Dagfinn Ulland (2014). Individet i religiøse sekter: faglige synspunkter på rekruttering, medlemskap og brudd. Danbolt, Lars Johan; Engedal, Leif Gunnar; Stifoss-Hanssen, Hans; Hestad, Knut; Lien, Lars (Red.). Religionspsykologi. Kapittel 18. s. 257-271. Gyldendal Akademisk.
  14. Lege Sidsel Kreyberg (2020). «Knutby og LP – Rekruttering og utstøting»
  15. Nina E. Steinkopf, (2018). About Recovery Norway – and what ME-patients are up against 
  16. Finansavisen (2011). Grunderintervjuet
  17. Nina E. Steinkopf (2019). A Messiah in the Norwegian health care system? 
  18. Live Landmark (2013). Email to Postmottak AD; Møte med arbeidsministeren
  19. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (2021). Guidance 206: ME/CFS; Diagnosis and management
  20. Hjelpekilden (2016/2017). Final report: From victim to resource.

Updated January 18th 2022 and May 7th 2022.

Én tanke på “Is the Lightning Process a sect?

  1. Tilbaketråkk: Recovery Norway is a Lightning Process organization | MElivet

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