Mankind Project provides journalist with a “very weird weekend”

The Mankind Project has been off my radar for months. However, UK journalist Tom Mitchelson put it back on with his eyewitness account published in Saturday’s UK Mail Online

I first heard about the MKP’s New Warriors Training Adventure at a NARTH (National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality) conference in 2003. Various members, including then President Joe Nicolosi, were recommending it to those in attendance as a way to support healthy masculinity.  A few same-sex attracted men who tried it thought it was great and a few others thought it made no sense to be naked in the woods with other guys. New Warriors is still recommended on the NARTH website. In view of the current critiques of the sexual identity therapy framework (SITF), it is worth pointing out that the SITF discourages experiences like NWTA. More about that after I review Mitchelson’s weird weekend.

The next time I recall thinking much about MKP was when I read Chris Vogel’s Houston Press article about the suicide of Michael Scinto. You can read all of the articles on MKP and NWTA here.

For veteran NWTA watchers, these experiences will seem familiar. Mitchelson grabs your attention out of the gate:

How our man found himself with 65 naked men chanting, drumming – and screaming their rage against women to ‘reclaim’ their lost masculinity…

The temperature has plunged to freezing. I am deep in a remote English woodland outside Exeter.

I have been blindfolded and I am standing, holding hands, with a long line of men – who, until about 24 hours ago, I’d never met before.

Together, we are stumbling through the scrub as beating tribal drums guide our way. Oh yes, and we are naked. Totally naked.

Abruptly, my blindfold is ripped off and I see we have been led to a shadowy candle-lit room. There are about 65 of us in a double horseshoe formation.

This is a ceremony where we are to become ‘new warriors’. And then the dancing begins.

I wish I were somewhere else. Anywhere else. So why on earth am I here?

Why indeed? On its website, MKP proclaims:

We’re redefining mature masculinity for the 21st Century – and we want your help!

Along the way Mitchelson seems amused that the NWTA is viewed as a path to redefined masculinity.

A leader holding a wooden staff decorated with feathers rambles on about the mission of the weekend, using the pompous jargon that would later become very familiar: words like ‘shadow’, ‘warriors’, ‘masculine’, ‘commitment’ and ‘responsibility’.

He tells us how to be a man. It’s hard to take from a man wearing face paint, carrying a feathered stick.

Whatever healthy masculinity is, it seems to involve making the world into a giant man-cave, free from those pesky women.

Everything I read from them is baffling non-speak. They claim the weekend is a ‘process of initiation and self-examination that is crucial to the development of a healthy and mature male self’.

They claim they help move men away from the ‘comforting embrace’ of their mother – something, on the face of it, some wives might even encourage. Then I am told I will ‘confront’ my ‘dependence on women’, to help me move into the ‘masculine kingdom’.

The fun begins when they arrive at the camp.

The unnamed men, dressed in black with their black face paint, want me to hand over my mobile phone, watch, books and food. I do, but I am subjected to a complete search of my bag and my body.

They discover half a bottle of rum, notebook and pen. The faux commando is livid. He shrieks: ‘Do you have problems following orders?’ I nod guiltily, stunning him into silence.

We are directed to another dark room, where all the new recruits and I sit for more than an hour. In silence. At this point, I’m just wondering what on earth is going to happen next.

Suddenly, three men burst in, give me a bandana for a blindfold and take me to a place where drums are beating. I remove the blindfold to see I am surrounded by what I can only describe as the Men In Black.

You’ve got to read the entire article to get the play by play so I will skip the cold showers in the middle of the night, the animal names (most take manly sounding names like “Courageous Wolf and Intrepid Panther;” Mitchelson takes “Relaxed Penguin”), the complaining about women and the meager breakfast. Rather, I want to highlight a significant problem, as I see it, with the NWTA. Mitchelson says it is “the most disturbing part of the weekend:”

We are divided into three groups, each of which has a so-called ‘sacred carpet’, and for about an hour each man is subjected to emotionally manipulative questioning, on the carpet, that probes into his past.

Some of the staff are very skilled at reading visual signs of hidden emotion. At times, three inquisitors demand the answers to questions that eventually leave a man weeping and apparently broken.

This is happening simultaneously on all three mats. At times, it is impossible to hear what was happening on my own mat because of the wails and screams from the other groups.

The majority of the men who participate in this spectacle positively welcome this treatment. Others appear less keen. The objective seems to be to provoke a violent reaction from the person in the circle.

One man of about 40 has an issue with his mother. He felt she had treated him badly when he was younger.

A staff man is chosen to represent the mother and, while other men stand in front of him, he is goaded to confront her by pushing through a human barrier.

Instead, he flies into an uncontrolled rage. Staff become panicked and shout ‘safety’ as they try to immobilise him. If these staff men have any professional training, I am unaware of it.

The qualification they seem to share is that they are graduates of the course I am now on. ManKind deny that any therapy takes place. They call it training.

Another man sobs as he is told to act out beating his stepfather and mother to death. Again, he feels that they ignored him as a child and treated him with disdain.

A third man is pinned to the floor by six men and has to wrestle his way out from under a blanket, cheered on by the watching men. It is extremely disturbing to watch.

Disturbing indeed. In fairness, some MKP supporters have told me that therapists are available at some of the events. However, this “guts” or “carpet work” is one of the aspects of NWTA that bothers me the most. I blogged about it before; if you want to know more, go read about the “bucketing process” or the “killing daddy” work. These cathartic techniques are of questionable value even when done by trained therapists; I know of no systematic evaluation of them and on the face they seem unnecessarily evocative of potentially inaccurate reconstructed memories.

Again, read the rest of the article to hear about the initiation and the sweat lodge. Mitchelson closes with an observation about the disconnect between what he experienced and the stated aim of the weekend.

I get home and close the door behind me. I have never felt so relieved to be back in the real world. It takes me two full days to get the strange mantras and patterns of speech out of my head.

The overriding message of the course seemed confused: That we were suppressed warriors and had become emasculated; that we had to reconnect with the wild man; and to get in touch with our feelings. It was 21st-century New Age meets Neanderthal man.

The cult-like intensity with which some of my fellow warriors converted to the brotherhood astonished me.

I had been given a chilling lesson in how easily – and how fast – the kind of men I rub shoulders with every day can alter: can become aggressive and subservient by turns; and gripped by something strange.

And something else shocked me. This was an organisation that aimed to tell me how to be a man.

Clearly, NWTA was not Mitchelson’s cup of tea. However, some men he met there seemed to like it and I suspect some men do find a way to organize their thoughts about masculinity in a setting like that. I personally would not recommend it to evangelical men for reasons I discuss elsewhere. And specifically as a help for same-sex attracted men in conflict, it is not something I would recommend. In fact, we had NWTA in mind when we wrote this in SITF: 

Some approaches to sexual reorientation may blend appropriate therapeutic boundaries and are discouraged (e.g., Cohen, 2000). For instance, therapists should not engage in dual relationships with clients or provide physical touch or nurturance to clients. Therapists may supervise or oversee the client’s involvement in physical contact with others of the client’s choosing (friend, family member) during sessions only if the client has given consent. Clients should not be expected to become physically close to other clients in a group therapy situation. Therapists should not refer clients to retreats, support groups or interventions requiring boundary violations as a condition of participation.

Ultimately of course, each individual has to decide what course to take. When making a decision, it is certainly helpful to have information. Since MKP won’t tell you what takes place on the weekends, I appreciate Mitchelson’s article so those considering it will be informed before they go.

24 thoughts on “Mankind Project provides journalist with a “very weird weekend””

  1. Diana I had a similar experience with them closing ranks when I questioned their integrity as a group after my partner became violent with me and I questioned their processes. They are ungodly practices and I thank God that my partner, now fiancé has left the group. My heart truly goes out to you and your traumatic experience. Perhaps a woman’s support group should be formed for the survivors of The Mankind Project.

  2. I initiated in a MKP weekend a year ago. My initial experience was extremely positive. My subsequent experience in iGroups has been extremely mixed for some of the reasons mentioned above. Not sure about my commitment going forward. My purpose is not to share personal information, but to keep this thread alive. This is a constructive discussion.

  3. I went through the MKP new warrior weekend about 7 yrs ago. I ended up being re-traumatized (had been abused as a child). Some old post traumatic stress was activated. Took me several weeks to get grounded and feel solid again. Most of the men going through it with me seemed to have had a good experience. Parts of my experience were positive, but the internal backlash from the weekend was brutal. The methods used were highly directive, confrontive, manipulative and a bit cult-like.

  4. Jay, Your comment is clear evidence of gross stupidity and a spiritually unconscious mind; and the remarks promote only more separation and judgement between men and women. Makes me wonder if you are young or simply juvenile.

  5. I’m writing this reply through a flood of grateful tears, Art. Thank you, thank you, from my heart to yours for sharing your wisdom and compassion. I feel heard and cared about for the first time since this nightmare began. I also feel deep appreciation for your confidence in an intrinsic purpose and sincerity of the mission of MKP. Your faith validates my original faith in this group. I did believe they were sincerely committed to helping men heal and restoring beauty in a mans wounded soul. I was betrayed by my brothers in my darkest hour, but my husband was betrayed even more cruelly, because he has lost yet another piece of his soul. I know judgements are harmful, and have worked on this one for a long time. I understand now the “brothers” who failed and abandoned me have first been failed by their own leadership. Maybe I am still a bit cynical but I believe money and personal control agendas drive this thing. Someone is responsible, but only God can know the truth about this. Today I live by Grace. I have moved on with the help of many Earth Angels who help me heal my deep emotional wounds, and find the strength to face cancer without the support of my husband. Maybe I’m a better person for the long suffering of my family. Bless you Art. Thank you. Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God. May you always know the Love you share so generously with others.

  6. I think women Posting on here is typical jealousy that they want to know about what Men are doing? They can’t believe that Men can actually survive without them and for Micheal’s Comment about this being like the White Party In Palm Springs Its Not at all like that

  7. The idea of opening such wounds and healing them while putting a man in touch with the innate power and depth of his manhood is a noble ideal that would seve all in society.

    Oh, brother. What drives people to believe this garbage?

  8. To Diana French — I am so sorry for your grief. I went through the Training Weekend about ten years ago and have a few thoughts to share, mostly to help you understand and heal some of your own sense of betrayal.

    The philosophies of Mankind Project are sound and their take on what is “wrong” with men today, I think, is mostly accurate too. Their procedures and policies are, however, naive and ignorant at best, self-serving, harmful and isolating at worst.

    Opening decades-old wounds in a man who has built an ego-shell around them is not child’s play nor the proper domain of a 48-hour intensive, even amongst trained therapists let alone those without such skills. The I group is hardly proper follow-up for anyone whose wounds are really brought up. But this is one of the things the New Warrior weekend aims at doing.

    The philosophy of exposing and healing such wounds so that a man can be more whole and more healthy and powerful is commendable. Most men are limited greatly — for example in the inability to be emotionally aware, present and sensitive — because of such woundings and poor modeling by father figures early on. The idea of opening such wounds and healing them while putting a man in touch with the innate power and depth of his manhood is a noble ideal that would seve all in society. BUT, what I think happened to your husband, and to so many others who “get in touch” with the fear and pain but are not properly guided through a “balanced” healing is that a man bleeds out the pus of the wound (anger, rage, judgment, etc.) and those men around him applaud. All else in his life be damned. This is not healing, nor loving, nor conscious. In theory, the support system is supposed to maintain the loving balance with reality. Diana, I think his support group, in ignoring you and his family responsibilities, betrayed the ideal more than he, as he was bleeding, they theoretically were not.

    Just a few thoughts. I wish you well with your healing. Do not judge either him or the ideal. The failing, I believe, is in howe much men need this healing but how few men, within the Project or not, are capable of providing it beyond an intense weekend of looking into our wounded hearts.

  9. It has been over ten years since I attended. And although there were certain positive aspects of MKP, I would not reccomend it. It may not technically be a “cult” or even an “LGAT” there is room for arguement there. But it did have many cult like tendencies. “Group thinking” were men repeat cliches and platitudes men do not truly individuate in such an environment, because most do not do their own cognitive work. The work is rushed, it can be traumatizing, and can cause prolongued regression which can be fairly destructive to an individual, family and community. Real criticism is actually discouraged, yes everyone their offers their two cents about this or that, but criticism their claims to universality is seen as “deconstructionist bullshit”, criticizing the work meant “you weren’t man enough” or “were afraid of facing your shadow” etc. Shadow work? Well let’s just say this is not really shadow work. Marie Louis Von Franz a Jungian said shadow work can not be done in groups because people will naturally conjur a confessional persona “I am greedy” “I am a liar” etc. Real shadow work is facing a much harder truth and once faced requires much more arduous and diligent work to assimalate in ones life. Is MKP all bad, well I would say their failure is very unconcious, they think they are doing “deep work” I question it. What I found was very often very arrogant, grandiose and narcissitic men strutting around professing in one way or the other how enlightened they were and how all men need to do this work to be “enlightened”. Neophyte Mysticism and megolomania is rampent there. Are there exceptions to the rule? I am not so sure. Most of the men I knew that sensed this or concur with what I am saying now left and found other ways to do soul work. Real soul work, real individuation is akin to what Freud called sublimation and Jung the transcendent function it occurs privately and not by group concensus.

  10. I would appreciate being notified as this is posted or if any replies are made

  11. I found this site because I was looking for answers to a very difficult situation involving my former husband and the mankind Project. A little background first. We were happily married in 2003, when my husband started to attend warriors meetings then. I supported him 110% because I believed he was finding strength and hope from this experience. You see, I knew my husband was a deeply wounded soul. He had been raised by a severely mentally ill, destructive and violent mother, who did not, or could not protect him. From age seven, his mother often left him in the care of a known pedaphile who repeatedly molested him. His earliest sexual experiences were not chosen but were forced on him and caused him great confusion and pain as he grew into adulthood. I loved my husband dearly and would have done anything, made any sacrifice, for him to find help and the inner peace and happiness that seemed to illude him because of the abuse. He told me he was convinced MKP could be both the catalyst and the path for his healing. I was convinced. It was not free and it was not cheap, and I do not know what kind of accountability the leaders have with regard to their money. It’s really none of my business, but I do wonder if the group is here to promote accountability, where is their own? Just a thought. After a few months of this group meeting every week and then off for weekends to be “man of service” (which also cost money,even though you worked all weekend), my beloved sweet, compassionate husband started to change, and not in a good way. He became sullen and withdrawn, and fluctuated between depression and extreme anger for no apparent reasons.His behaviors toward me became increasingly hostile, verbally and physically threatening, abusive and separative. I became very scared of him. At the same time I was diagnosed with cancer. From everything I knew of my husband in the past, he would have stood by me in my darkest hours and been my greatest champion and support as I faced the unknowns of this horrific disease. But not now. He had become extremely mean spirited,self centered and unavailable for me at any level, including financial. He kept going to the meetings and giving money to go for weekends and even to sponsor other men to go, but cancelled our health insurance during the chemotherapy and treatments because he said he could not afford it. I was forced to get a job while struggling through stage four breast cancer so I would have health insurance. He began to pull away from our intimate relationship; became so enamoured with the men in his I group to the extent I started to openly question his sexual orientation. I felt as if I was living in a really scary nightmare. I asked him to work with me to find help for our relationship through the processes he was learning, but NO DICE! This is a secret society, exclusive of the feminine, no matter what the official stand they take is, and he was not going to reveal or share any of this “process” with me. I felt ostracized and completely alone. In my desparation, I asked, even begged several of the “brothers” to help me. After all, my thinking was, they are supposed to be here to help each other, and to maintain personal accountability, integrity and honesty; to “heal the world one man at a time”. Surely they would help me, help us as a couple to find a peaceful path, even if divorce was the final outcome. Well, to my great surprise, not one of the “brothers” would in any way lift a finger or make any effort to help us. They rejected and abandoned me completely, closed ranks and will not to this day communicate with me in any way. This was, and is pretty raw treatment from a group of men I thought were my ” brothers” . The healing qualities, leadership and wisdom teaching they claim to embody and I thought was so valuable, turned out to be simply non existant. I have discovered through this very very painful time that the MKP is litle more than a self promoting, self serving, exclusive, misogynysts club devoted to nothing but themselves. There are people in MKP who are sincere, make no mistake, but the power and heirarchy of this group consists of gay or bisexual men who promote their sexual agendas through a systematic shattering of a mans necessary defences and a complete tearing down of an already weak and wounded psyche. This is done with little or no regard for the true needs of the man,. They do this without benefit of doctors, counselors or any true professional guidance. The methods they use are cult methods. I am divorced now, and as difficult as the marriage became this process was even more horrifying. The I group openly encouraged my husband to reconnect with one of the men who had molested him as a child. The man is dying from AIDS and they now live together. You know you just can’t make this stuff up! So as for the MKP, these “men of integrity” all I can really say is, not so much! If there is to be any hope for the many men and families who have been harmed and even destroyed by these highly effective soul murderers, sites like this are all we have. Pray with me. D.L.

  12. PS. At all times, women and the feminine were honored. At no time was any form of sexuality denigrated, nor was any woman denigrated. As a matter of fact, the emphasis was on respect towards women and protection of women, not exploitation.

    The emphasis on masculinity and male bonding seemed to be in a healthy context to me, with an eye towards helping and bettering the community.

    A message was repeated several times about serving humanity, the earth, doing good, making change for the better, supporting the community, and so on.

    So, while I did not have a chance to look under the rock, so to speak, the shiny side of the coin was that the staff men seemed sincere and aware of what was going on for the most part, as well as being emotionally supportive.

  13. I just did the NWTA. For me it was good. I’m watching myself for delayed reaction. I remember all parts of the weekend. It did not seem coercive to me at all. There were warnings and opt out options the whole way. So far, I feel that I benefited.

    On the other hand, it’s not for the weak minded, weak hearted, or weak spirited. I’m a pretty strong individual, and I avoid cults. I can see how the processes could damage a man, or cause a later breakdown. That’s why I say it’s not for the weak. Oh, and I don’t mean that in MKP-speak, I mean it literally.

    I did not feel coerced, or as if I was being initiated into a cult. I may or may not stay involved, but I’ll probably move on. I may make a few friends.

    While the weekend involved techniques that are also used to indoctrinate, I at no time felt manipulated. As I said though, I’m a pretty strong individual. They would have had to physically restrain me to keep me from leaving. While part of the process is to call BS out on men, I would have had no problem calling BS on them at any time.

    I had access to my clothes at all times during the optional nude sessions. All men were encouraged to stop a process or to leave the sweat whenever they felt they needed to.

    I am experienced and comfortable with the Jungian and other techniques. I don’t think I will look to one of the integration groups for further work. I’ll most likely apply it in life on my own, as I prefer.

    With all that said, my reservations about it are that MKP does not filter strongly enough for it’s own protection. I observed a couple of guys on the edge, and one guy who I was actually pretty worried about. While he was attended to somewhat, I have no idea what kind of followup, if any, will be provided.

    As far as I know, no licensed physicians or therapists were in attendance. On that basis, after going through the process and as helpful as I found it, I would not recommend it to anyone.

    There is a fair amount of role playing and general playing like the Lost Boys in Peter Pan, but the work is serious and helpful if one is strong already, has done some previous work, and is consciously ready for it.

    Actually, even though I so far feel that it was helpful, I’m not sure I would do it again.

    While the individual processes can be very helpful if practiced on their own regularly, in its entirety, the weekend is pretty taxing and as easily harmful as beneficial.

    As for continuing as a “member” of the group. Perhaps. The men I met there seem to be sincere, and seem to believe what they are saying. I did not find anything that was said as part of the script to be inauthentic. However, I can tell that continuing will take time and money, and will involve that group mind thing. Not too sure if I want to go that far. I’m in Toastmasters, and that’s enough!

  14. If you would go on the weekend, you would see that this is not relevant for MKP. Those man are asking permissions, I’ve seen it.

    But of course, it’s not the cup of tea of some men, especially journalist that just go there to make sensation in a tabloid and not be open to what the weekend can bring him 😉

    Nothing is good for everyone, it’s true with this weekend too…

    Some approaches to sexual reorientation may blend appropriate therapeutic boundaries and are discouraged (e.g., Cohen, 2000). For instance, therapists should not engage in dual relationships with clients or provide physical touch or nurturance to clients. Therapists may supervise or oversee the client’s involvement in physical contact with others of the client’s choosing (friend, family member) during sessions only if the client has given consent. Clients should not be expected to become physically close to other clients in a group therapy situation. Therapists should not refer clients to retreats, support groups or interventions requiring boundary violations as a condition of participation.

  15. Don’t get me wrong. I think on some levels it sounds kinda fun. Being in the woods, playing drums, baring all… 🙂

  16. Body shame as it relates to attractiveness, physical fitness and sexuality affects us even when we are clothed…getting at those Schemas, as you know, can be very helpful in living in the present.

  17. I have met many men (dozens?) who have had very positive experiences associated with this weekend…

    Both OSA and SSA.

    It is non-linear, meant to get at your projections and fears about men…

    Always sorry to hear when someone gets hurt at anything.

  18. I went through this crap a few years ago with a bunch of guys I know. Alot weirder things went on for us. some guys who needed medication for heart, asthma, anxiety, etc. and had it taken away from them, including their car keys and clothes and that’s when things started getting out of hand, like we were in a prison and were being held against our will. Only a couple went to meetings with the Warriors for a few months after the weekend. All dropped out completely. Virtually none of them found it helpful to their problems, as a matter of fact, some got alot worse and had to seek real professional help, which they should have done in the first place.. Having guys running around naked like a bunch of screaming banshis and pushing them to stomp on and kill their parents, wives, family members was totally disgusting and absolutely nothing good came of it. It was like one was watching a play or movie and all at once you realize that you ARE THE PLAY AND MOVIE and say to yourself, what the hell am I doing here? Many were troubled with alot of guilt and shame and still are. And yes, they paid over $600 for the weekend for the privilege of doing something none of us felt comfortable doing and were afraid if we didn’t, what might happen to us. It was like a bad dream and the joke was on us. I can’t imagine that anyone who has serious problems is going to be able to solve them on a weekend, even with the best experienced and trained therapist. This is only going to happen over a longer period of time, if it is going to happen. This Warrior’s weekend crap is nothing more than a cult where they use mind control stuff like the Moonies and just a total fraud and should be shut down as a danger to the public before some gets hurt again like that guy from Texas who paid with his life! Can’t believe that NARTH to taken in by this kind of group and would involve themselves in this kind of stuff, since it has no basis whatsoever in science. BUYER BEWARE!

  19. Haha – all little girls and boys have these games. And we nail a sign up that says “No Boys/Girls Allowed!” It’s just part of the process. We still kind of play these games when we are older. Just in a different way.

  20. This sounds like a mix of what any group of 8 or 9 year old ‘girl-hating‘ boys might do on any given night (except they’d usualy keep their pants on) and my initiation into the Boy Scout’s Order of the Arrow. But at least in the OA initiation we did some community work that meant something.

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