Progoff Intensive Journal Program for Self-Development

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 described below.

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 chronic dropouts.

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 leaders. 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 lives.
  • 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 longer.

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."

Statistical Results

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.
  • 21% were continuing their education at night school or community colleges.

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 are used.

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 Journal).

C. J. graduated to become a utilities worker in the Activities Department:

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 worker:

(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 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 Department:

...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 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.