Does Narconon work?
Success Stories

Last updated
23 October 2002
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Success Stories

I would like to write this success story attesting to my completion of the Narconon program. When I came to Narconon in September of 1999, I was in a state of desperation because I did not want to use drugs anymore, but no program that I had tried was able to help me, and I was beginning to lose hope. I always knew that I was a good person but I could not obtain any long-term sobriety. The program that Narconon offered me has changed my life. It not only helped me to stop using drugs, but it taught me how to really live again. I had the ability, but they helped me to see it, and most importantly, how to get and maintain control in all areas of my life. This has been the experience of a lifetime. Thank you. - P.L.
["Alcohol Addiction Treatment Program by Narconon and Narconon Success Stories" - <>]

One of Narconon's favourite "proofs" of its efficacy is the "success story". The organisation has thousands of these, extolling Narconon in ecstatic terms similar to the above. However, as a means of assessing Narconon's worth, they are useless. The fact that they are all success stories means, by definition, that they will not document failures. They are not even reliable as a measure of success; they are often merely a snapshot of the client's satisfaction immediately after finishing the course, and say nothing about long-term progress.

Perhaps more importantly, writing success stories is compulsory. Narconon clients are required to write "success stories" on a standardised form at the end of each course, in order to "attest" to a successful completion. This is one of Narconon's legacies from Scientology; as Hubbard stated, the key statistic for measuring the success of an organisation is "PAID COMPLETIONS ACCOMPANIED BY AN ACCEPTABLE SUCCESS STORY". [Hubbard, "Org Condition Stat Change", LRH Exec Directive 153 Int of 30 August 1971] They are not simply a method of surveying customer satisfaction; if a client does not submit a success story, he or she is deemed not to have completed the course and may have to redo it, with possible attendant financial implications. This gives clients a motive for submitting as positive a success story as possible (particularly if they have been compelled to enter the course, for instance as part of a prison sentence), thus destroying any possible remaining objectivity of the success stories.

That assumes, of course, that objectivity is sought. In fact, it almost certainly is not. There is ample evidence from Hubbard's writings to suggest that his knowledge of statistics was limited and his usage of them was confined to certain very specific lines of enquiry. The extreme scarcity of data on Narconon's long-term success suggests that the organisation makes little effort to obtain follow-up statistics, otherwise it would surely be able to quote more figures. On the other hand, it undoubtedly has a good idea of how many people have completed the Narconon course.

If one applies Hubbard's policy that "paid completions" are the key statistic, this becomes perfectly understandable; in Hubbard's view, the paid completion is the critical factor, not the amount of "raw meat" (his phrase) that signs up in the first place. Viewed in purely mercantile terms this is logical. A shop's income is directly dependent on how many customers actually buy things, not on how many go through the store. On this basis, the number of passers-through is secondary to the number of purchasers. If "paid completions" are indeed the most important objective, this would produce some odd measurements of Narconon's success. For instance, imagine that a Narconon organisation takes on 100 clients in a year, of whom 20 graduate. The following year, 200 clients are taken on, of whom 30 graduate. This represents a worsening of the graduation rate as a percentage of the total (falling from 20% to 15%) but a 50% increase in the "paid completions" rate. If the latter is taken as the key figure, the decreasing graduation rate would be ignored in favour of the rapid increase in "paid completions". This may explain why Narconon so heavily promotes its claimed graduate success rate (which corresponds to "successful paid completions") but not its apparently very much poorer entrant success rate.

Success stories are also a key tool for promotion and recruitment. A staff member is given responsibility for collating success stories (the post is referred to as the Success Officer) to "help Ron get volume high communication success stories into the hands or notice of the org's publics, enhancing and increasing desire for the Org's services." [Hubbard, "Success Officer Duties", Board Policy Letter of 14 June 1973, Issue II] Hubbard described the tasks to be undertaken:

Categorizes success stories into types of successes and results. Distributes and posts success stories and makes such available for use in ... promotion pieces and also for [recruitment] use. Sees that success stories are used. All these duties adds up to ensuring good word of month.
[Hubbard, "Big League Registration Series No. 12", HCO Policy Letter of 14 November 1971]

This is exactly the context in which success stories are used; every Narconon website and much of its promotional material contains numerous glowing success stories, repeatedly described as an "explanation of our program from the only source that matters - our students and their parents."

  • Success stories

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