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The New York State Department of Labor Job-Training Program: Applying the Progoff Intensive Journal Method
by Shirley Sealy and Tom Duffy
After Dr. Ira Progoff developed the Intensive
Journal method, he began to expand its applications to include participants
with various backgrounds and experiences. His research into how the Method would
work with those of limited education included the Job Training Program that is
As we look for new applications of the Intensive Journal method, Dr.
Progoff's pioneering research shows the Method's effectiveness and relevance for
helping people in today's society.
Dialogue House participated in an eighteen month on-the-job
training program in New York City to recruit nearly 300 workers to fill jobs in
the new high-rise annex to a geriatric residence. It was designed, with the
assistance of the New York State Department of Labor, to train and employ the
"disadvantaged"--welfare recipients, chronic unemployables--and bring them into
the cultural and economic mainstream.
The program was structured with three main elements: 1)
extensive on-the-job training lasting from 20 to 33 weeks, depending on job
classification, 2) remedial education such as basic reading and writing, English
as a second language, high school equivalency courses, etc., and 3) the
Dialogue House group workshops based on the Intensive Journal method.
The New York State Department of Labor funded the entire
program. Under the requirements of the Labor Department grant, the trainees must
have previously earned below a specified level and their former employment, if
any, had to have been at a lower skill level and lower salary than their new
jobs. As it happens, nearly 50% of the trainees had formerly received state
welfare. A number were foreign born, mostly native to the Caribbean countries,
and their difficulties with the English language had kept them in menial, low
paying work. Many of the men, both U.S. and foreign born, had held sporadic,
short term jobs before joining the program and had therefore been classified as
A new group of trainees was cycled in each month, and after five months of
training, the group graduated and assumed full time employment as nurses' aides,
dietary workers, security officers, maintenance men, housekeepers, activities
workers, etc., at the new residence building.
The Intensive Journal Program
Each class of trainees attended a large weekly workshop conducted by Dr. Progoff
as well as once-a-week, smaller group sessions led by Dialogue House staff
Individual sessions could be arranged by appointment, and each trainee had at
least three private sessions with a staff leader during the training period. The
staff leaders had been trained by Dr. Progoff, and worked under his supervision.
Some observations of Dr. Progoff may help to convey the
underlying sense of the project, and of the Intensive Journal method in
general. Dr. Progoff believes that:
The ultimate poverty is a person’s lack of feeling for the
reality of his own inner being. People in poverty situations tend to feel they
are powerless to change their circumstances because their individuality is
submerged by the group situation. Thus, they do not feel they are persons and
therefore that they have no power to redirect their lives.
The answer to poverty lies in making it tangibly
possible for a person to experience the fact that he is a person. We do that
in our program by using the Intensive Journal method in such a way that
it becomes the outer embodiment of the inner life of the individual...
When the trainees re-read what they have written in their
Journals over the period of months, they cannot help but be impressed by the
reality, the strength, and often the beauty and wisdom of what they themselves
have experienced and written. They are at first surprised at what has come out
of themselves. But, as they consider it, they realize that the contents of
their Journals are definite proof of a creative principle present in their
When this principle is awakened through the use of the
Intensive Journal method, the trainees become aware of their capacities,
and realize that they are indeed persons and that they need live in poverty no
At Isabella House, it was frequently observed that the young
men and women who were lackadaisical and diffident when they entered the program
became enthusiastic in taking care of the older patients, volunteering to do
much more than was required of them. "Pride in self," Dr. Progoff says, "leads
to pride in work, and it is thus that the tangible experience of knowing that
you are a person living a valid life is the essential factor in bringing about
an increase in the quality of work in an organization."
An initial statistical check completed at the end of the program revealed that,
of the 286 people who had entered the training program, 12 were asked to leave
because of drug use, alcoholism or physical inability; 6 quit because of illness
or pregnancy; 19 simply dropped out; 249 completed the program and were employed
at Isabella. The drop-out rate was an amazing 7%.
A follow-up check one year later showed that of the 249 who
completed the program, 151 were still working at their original level and 11 had
been upgraded to senior status or supervisor. The 87 no longer employed break
down this way:
• 31 have taken other jobs where their work schedule allowed
them to go to school.
• 29 have taken better paying jobs.
• 19 left for no known reason.
• 11 were asked to leave for infringement of regulations such
as repeated absenteeism
At the same time, these changes were noticed in the social
and educational status of the trainees:
• 37% had moved to better housing.
• 21% were continuing their education at night school or community colleges.
• 52% who were on welfare had their subsidies reduced or were off entirely.
Assessments of the Program
Louis Levine, Industrial Commissioner, New York State, commented that
"one reason the program is so unique and a model for the Labor Department is
that they worked so hard with the individual to make this more than a job."
The management is naturally pleased at the high percentage
that completed the program, entered employment, and stayed on the job. Both
department supervisors and residents have commented on the change of atmosphere
since the trainees joined the staff. They use words such as "enthusiasm,"
"interest," "kindness," and "a sense of the joy of life." An evidence of this
change, and pinpointing its cause, has been repeated requests of the
administration by long-term employees that they too have the opportunity to
participate not only in the training program but in the public Intensive
Journal program as well. Many have done so.
An indication of the "quality of work" aspect of the program
is seen in the fact that the geriatric residents increasingly made it a point to
request that trainees of the Dialogue House program take care of them, rather
than the regular employees. This preference became so apparent at the facility
that it began to be a point of friction between the two groups before it was
resolved by the Intensive Journal Method in workshop discussions.
The trainees themselves give the testimony as to what the
program accomplished. Most of them had little formal education, and many had
language difficulties. Foreign speaking trainees were encouraged to write and
read journal entries in their native tongue, translating for the group if they
cared to. Everyone was advised to forget about grammar, and as they entered more
fully into the journal work, their inhibitions about writing were dropped,
resulting in freer-flowing expression as well as improved grammar. Their
comments from interviews made ten months after training began were recorded and
are in excerpted transcriptions.
Comments from the Trainees
The following comments were transcribed from taped interviews with some of the
people who have completed the on-the-job training program and are now employed
at the geriatric center. To preserve privacy names are omitted and only initials
V. F. completed training to become a recruitment supervisor
for the training program and then of the activities department:
My experiences with the Intensive Journal method have
made me a far better person.... there was a time when I just purely hated white
people, just hated them. A white guy did something to me once in a restaurant
that hung with me for a long time. And I wanted to kill him so bad I didn’t know
what to do. But I didn’t kill him till maybe a year and a half-later. I killed
him in my Journal with my ballpoint pen...
After that experience I found out that by hating something or
somebody, that I was only hurting myself. I wasn’t hurting the people I was
hating. This came out of the Journal - after I killed that guy with my pen...
R. L. graduated to work for the Controller's Department, in
charge of stock receiving:
[Through] the Journal, I noticed one thing there - that
everything I’ve been doing in my life, I’ve been doing the same thing over and
over and over again. When I looked at my life in the past, I’ve been doing the
same thing since when I was young. It’s a repeated process, but
everything is just on a larger scale...I’ve
changed, I’ve accepted responsibility....I worked out a lot of hostility (in the
C. J. graduated to become a utilities worker in the
I see the Journal as changing my whole life...a lot of
attitudes change in the Journal. I’m not too quick to hit anymore. Before, you
could say anything and I’d go off like that and the first thing that would come
to my mind is "hit 'em." Now, I take consideration. People are telling me about
my attitudes changing. I found it myself...
P.M. graduated to work in the Dietary Department as a pantry
(If I had not come to this program) I think I would have gone
through life being scared to do certain things I wanted to do...
S.L. completed training to work as a nurse's aide:
I hadn’t been working. I was out in the streets. I wouldn’t
go home because of my parents ...The Journal...is more for yourself, to help you
straighten out yourself. Like right now, I can’t do without writing in it.. I
look forward to adding more to my life, like what can I do next that would be
exciting and good...The relationship with my parents has changed very much. I’m
more patient with them now. They see me in a different light, they see the
better shape I’m in...
W.R. trained to work for machine room maintenance:
I think it’s great, the writing where you become more aware
of yourself....I’ve changed to the extent that I’m aware you can be aware of
yourself just that much more. To me, that’s a big revelation.
C.L., a native of Panama, trained be a waitress in the
resident dining room:
They said to wait and I'd get the answer and I'd say 'who's
going to give me the answer? Nobody but myself.'...I still work in my Journal,
like on my day off, when I have anything on my mind. After I work in the Journal
I am more sure of myself now. Everything before, I doubt - I’m a person
who doubts myself very much. Now, with the Journal I don’t doubt myself, because
I know I can do it and I’m going to do it.
V.L. graduated to become a waitress in the Dietary
...I had a problem at home, I was just too impatient with my
children. This has changed my relationship with them. Like, I sat down with them
and told them I had done a lot of thinking,..and a lot of writing. I’d write and
write and then I’d reread it and reread it - and it just seemed to come right
out at me. I was the one who had been too impatient with my son. He always used
to tell me to keep my cool...Then I found out I was in the wrong... My daughter
says, "Momma, it’s made you a changed person. Before you were so cranky and now
you’ve got patience."
R.Y. trained in the maintenance department:
Before, I wouldn’t write in the Journal, now I write in it
and I get a lot of what’s inside of me out, you know - it’s out: You feel
different, everything is out of you. Before, it was all inside of me. I think my
attitude changed too. Before, maybe I didn’t even care...I started working in it
and I finally got a lot out of it...
M.A. graduated to work as a nurse’s aide:
To be in nursing you have to have patience...you can’t come
in to take care of this patient with your family problems, if you don’t feel
happy today and are just not able to take care of her...Dr. Progoff’s program is
very good to work out your feelings and try to
understand yourself...The program is good for your family, your work, whatever.
"Intensive Journal" and "Journal Feedback" are trademarks of Jon Progoff and used under license by Dialogue House.