Encounter Groups
In the 1970s and 1980s, there was a great deal of interest in encounter and sensitivity training groups. In such forums, a group of people, usually no fewer than 7 and rarely more than 20, get together with the aim of shedding their ordinarily polite social masks and expressing their real feelings. The group usually emphasizes verbal interaction, games, and other activities that encourage open displays of approval, criticism, affection, dislike, and even anger and tears, rather than the tact and inhibition of emotional expression that ordinarily govern our social behavior. The assumption in these groups is similar to that of person-centered therapy: the individual will grow in a positive way by resisting social restrictions and by interacting with others honestly and openly. Sensitivity training groups originally tended to be less extreme than encounter groups, although the distinction between the two is thin, and the terms are often used interchangeably. The sensitivity training group (T-group) grew out of conferences on small-group dynamics held at the National Training Laboratory in Bethel, Maine, in 1947. Originally, T-groups were designed to help executives and managers become more sensitive or aware of the needs of their employees. The emphasis has shifted toward individual growth in healthy people. Carl Rogers is credited with starting some of the first T-groups when he trained counselors at the University of Chicago in the mid-1940s. Encounter groups most often have a leader experienced at getting people to open up. The group may meet for several hours a week over some period of months, or it may meet as a marathon group for 24 continuous hours or more, with individuals dropping out for naps. It is thought that the intensity and prolonged time of the marathon group will break down social resistance faster, and accomplish as much as groups whose meetings are interspersed over longer periods of time. The goals of encounter groups include examining one's behavior and values, learning about people in general, becoming more successful in interpersonal relationships, and developing conflict resolution skills. Related to encounter groups are groups that are designed especially for assertiveness training. These groups help individuals stand up for their rights without violating the rights of others. Typically, a group of about a dozen people role-play in various situations that require an assertive response. Feedback and encouragement are provided by the therapist, until individuals feel comfortable being assertive (Carson & Colleagues, 1996). Most people in encounter groups do not consider themselves involved in psychotherapy. Rather it is thought that anyone can benefit from the experience in encounters where there is complete candor--something very rare in our world. Some psychologists are concerned that these group experiences may trigger serious disturbances in some of the more troubled patients who participate in them. The success of these groups depends to a large degree on the skills of the leader and the personalities of the people involved. Be cautious and ascertain if the leader is properly trained and well respected before joining such a group.

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