Person-Centered International
 


The Basic Encounter Group

Carl Rogers coined the term, ‘The Basic Encounter Group’ to identify encounter groups that operated on the principles of the person-centered approach. It is the contention of this chapter that the person-centered Basic Encounter Group is quite unique and, in fact, offers a different paradigm for group therapy. Indeed, the application of the premises of the person-centered approach in group therapy requires a re-examination of many of the usual presuppositions about group function. This includes presuppositions about leader target population, size of group, establishment of goals and ground rules, and facilitator behavior.This contention is contrary to the conclusion that the client-centered basic encounter group ‘ . . . is in the mainstream of approaches for working with groups because of its eclectic nature and its lack of distinguishing features to set it apart from other process models (Boy, 1985, p. 210).

It is important to briefly consider Boy’s rationale for two reasons. First, Boy’s conclusion, and the conclusions in this chapter, about the person-centered basic encounter group are quite discrepant. Second, Boy’s conclusion is founded on the premise that client centered theory . . . required them [therapists] to focus on and reflect the feelings of groups members’ (p. 207). That is, Boy’s focus is on what the therapist should do rather than on the development of fundamental attitudinal qualities and beliefs of therapists. This point is considerably important since it represents a focus that has fostered the mistaken identification of client-centered therapy as a way of doing rather than as a way of being, a point elaborated upon in Chapter 12.

An examination of the basic encounter group from the perspective of the fundamental premises of the, person-centered approach, rather than on response patterns of therapists, offers a rationale that leads to the conclusion that the person-centered basic encounter group is unique. This conclusion is consistent with my experience with groups over the past twenty-five years; and, specifically, with my experience over the past ten years with person-centered basic encounter and community groups where Rogers was facilitator and participant. It is also a conclusion consistent with recent literature concerned with person-centered groups (Bozarth, 1983; Gazda and Bozarth, 1983; Rogers, 1977; Wood, 1982; Wood, 1983).

The remainder of this chapter will review the fundamental premises of the person-centered approach and the applications of these premises in basic encounter groups. It will be concluded that Rogers has been quite consistent in his adherence to the basic premises rather than to the reflective process, and that the application of these premises to the basic encounter group result in a paradigm for group application which is different from other approaches.

Basic Premises

As indicated periodically throughout this book, there are three basic premises of the person-centered approach that identify it as a therapeutic paradigm different from other therapy and growth-activating approaches. These underlying premises are: (a) that the actualizing tendency is the foundation block of the person-centered approach and is the primary motivational force; (b) that the individual (client) is always his/her own best expert and authority on his/her life; and (c) that the role of the therapist is only that of implementing certain attitudinal qualities (Bozarth, 1985). That is, the intent of the therapist is to be whom he/she is while embodying the attitudinal qualities in order to promote the client’s self-actualizing process.

Rogers is quite clear throughout his writings that the therapist’s attitudes are important in creating the climate that will promote an individual’s actualizing tendency; as he stated recently: ‘We became over fascinated with techniques . . . but what you are in the relationship is much more important’ (Heppner, Rogers, & Lee, 1984, p. 16). Adherence to the importance of basic attitudes existed even during the early years of the development of the approach, when the therapy was identified by the presence of reflection (Rogers, 1942). Even then, identification of the therapy with reflection was an oversimplification and inadequate reading of Rogers’ theory (Raskin, 1948). Although there is disagreement between client-centered therapists about the centrality of particular therapist response patterns, it is clear that the basic attitudes of the therapist/facilitator are the critical foundations of the approach (Temaner and Bozarth, 1984).

The establishment of the reflective process as the core vehicle of the client-centered counselor’s response pattern is considered essential by some authors (e.g, Boy, 1985). This, however, does not mean that the response pattern should be equated to the basic premises. My contention is that the technique of reflection when equated to empathy has resulted in ‘1) conceptual confusion between empathy and reflection; 2) a focus on operational methods for acting empathically; and 3) a limitation of the empathic response modes of therapists’ (Bozarth, 1984, p. 59). Rogers is explicit about the foundations of the approach. He (Rogers, 1985) succinctly summarizes:

The person-centered approach, then, is primarily a way of being which finds its expression in attitudes and behavior that create a growth- promoting climate. It is a basic philosophy rather than simply a technique or a method. When this philosophy is lived, it helps the person to expand the development of his or her own capacities. When it is lived, it also stimulates constructive change in others. It empowers the individual, and when this personal power is sensed, experiences show that it tends to be used for personal and social transformation (p. 5).

The Transition

The transition of the client-centered approach with individuals to application in group therapy was not philosophically different. The basic assumptions remained the same. As Wood (1983) states:

The goal (and art) of person-centered therapy is to facilitate the creation of a climate in each person and the group of persons. An event in which this takes place is the definition of person-centered group therapy (p. 239).

The facilitator of the group encounter requires the same fluency as the individual therapist to ‘be fluent in the moment-to-moment action of persons in relationship without resorting to speculation and explanations of process’ (Wood, 1983, p. 243).

The essence of the person-centered philosophy in leadership behavior includes giving autonomy to persons in groups, freeing them to ‘do their thing’ (i.e., expressing their own ideas and feelings as one aspect of the group data), facilitating learning, stimulating independence in thought and action, accepting the ‘unacceptable’ innovative creations that emerge, delegating full responsibility, offering and receiving feedback, encouraging and relying on self-evaluation, and finding reward in the development and achievement of others (Rogers, 1977). This same philosophy underlies the client-centered therapist’s role with an individual client. It was, and remains, a revolutionary idea that the client might be his or her own expert, that the client’s own ideas and feelings could be more important than the therapist’s interpretations and suggestions, that the client could achieve independence in thought and action, that the client might reach ‘acceptable’, innovative self-creations, and that the client might acquire his or her own full self-responsibility.

It is the fundamental belief system and adherence to the premises of this belief system by the individual therapist or group facilitator that differentiate the person-centered approach from other individual or group therapeutic systems.

Paradigm Foundations in the Encounter Group

The functional application of the basic premises of the person-centered approach includes ‘indwelling the client to move rather than dragging him by the hair toward health’ (Coulson, 1984). It includes: being completely present and totally attending to people; promoting equivalency in people; and not presupposing what people will be like, or do, or become during or after the therapeutic encounter. The person-centered approach in groups does not usually presuppose such considerations as the target population, size of the group, establishment of goals and ground rules, or specific facilitator or participant behaviors.

The facilitator engages the world of each group participant and the developing "group mind" with the same dedication and discipline applied in individual therapy. Behavioral manifestations are different from group to group as they often are with different individuals in one-to-one therapy. Several basic considerations of group work which indicate the uniqueness of the person-centered group are noted below.

1) Target Population and Size of the Group:

The major selection criterion for group members is that each person be willing to attend and participate in the group experience. Individuals who convene groups may select participants using varied criteria that meet the facilitators’ biases and capacities; however, selection criteria, if and when applied, are based on the personal views of the facilitators. Participants nearly always select themselves to be in such groups. They are usually from a variety of geographical locations, jobs, and have multiple reasons for attending groups. Most other group approaches do presuppose the selection of their participants rather than being dedicated to the self-selection process.

The limitation in size of the group is another of the assumptions that has come to be questioned by experiences from person-centered groups. (Rogers 1970) once recommended that the best size for encounter groups was eight to ten people. Since that time, further experience with groups has resulted in other considerations. For example, the relativity of group size is commented upon by John K. Wood, who has been one of the facilitators with Rogers in hundreds of groups. Wood (1982) states:

…when we worked with 800, many people said, ‘I feel uncomfortable in this large group. . .to really be myself. I need to be in a smaller group.’ We divided into groups of 100 to 150 and immediately these people expressed relief and there was considerable personal sharing of feelings and meaningful encounter, just like any group of 10 or 12. People can quickly become personal, speaking in one conversation at a time even in a group of 800 participants (pp. 13-14).

2) Goals and Ground Rules:

Group goals are not defined prior to the group experience, since the development of the personal power of individuals is likely to lead in multiple directions. The group may develop goals, but often group plans are more common occurrences than group goals; e.g., plans to schedule meetings at certain times, and decisions to meet for certain lengths of time. Experiences in person-centered groups suggest that idiosyncratic development of personal power dilutes the development of ‘group goals’ (Bozarth, 1981). The group will often move in a common direction as though the group is one organism (Rogers, 1977). However, such direction is not in the form of goals.

3) The Facilitator:

The role of the facilitator in the person-centered group is that of creating an atmosphere in which members are enabled to discover their power and to own inner sources of healing. The facilitator does not necessarily expect that any particular process will occur, nor will he or she attempt to accelerate any particular process. If there are ground rules for the facilitator, they can be stated as openness to surprise and to their own surrender to unity (Wood, 1982). The facilitator acts on the assumption that participants have the power within themselves to resolve their problems, heal themselves, and move in positive constructive directions. Rogers describes his facilitator role in the following way:

My hope is gradually to become as much a participant in the group as a facilitator. This is difficult to describe without making it appear that I am consciously playing two different roles. If you watch a group member who is honestly being himself, you will see that at times he expresses feelings, attitudes, and thoughts primarily directed toward facilitating the growth of another member. At other times, with equal genuineness, he will express feelings or concerns that have as their obvious goal the opening of himself to the risk of more growth. This describes me, too, except that I know I am likely to be the second, or risking, kind of person more often in the later than in the early stages of the group. Each facet is a real part of me, not a role. (Rogers, 1970, pp 48-49).

It is significant that Rogers does not have a goal of encouraging other members to be therapeutic, and does not participate in self-disclosure as a way to encourage others to self-disclose. Rather, he is consistent with the basic premises; that is, treating participants as their own best experts of their lives; and, by being who he is while embodying the attitudinal qualities, promoting the self-actualizing tendencies of individuals. Rogers may offer reflective responses, or may explore his own feelings or concerns in a group, or may participate in a structured group experience.

Facilitative involvement predicated on the attitudinal qualities does not preclude a reflective response style nor does it demand a particular style of response. The therapist is free from being the expert for another person and free to allow the individual client or group member to be his/her own best expert (Spahn, 1984). The person-centered approach to group counseling and psychotherapy is a paradigm shift from most other approaches to group counseling. As such, many interpretations of the application of the person-centered approach are not adequately understood and certain facilitator techniques and behaviors are emphasized rather than fundamental assumptions of the approach. Although some client-centered therapists consider the reflective response to be the basic response pattern for client-centered therapists, it is clear that it is the implementation of the attitudinal qualities that are central to the approach (Temaner and Bozarth, 1984).

The fundamental assumption of the person-centered approach in groups is that each individual has the capacity to allow her or his innate potential (inner healer, inner self) to develop in order to become personally empowered to move in a constructive (albeit idiosyncratic) direction for self and society. The facilitator perpetuates this growth process by embodying and communicating his/her attitudinal qualities to the group without presupposing what its members should do, be like, or become.

These fundamental assumptions suggest a different paradigm from other theoretical approaches. Many assumptions about groups are altered and the facilitator does not have the intention of creating any particular group behavior. As such, the person-centered Basic Encounter Group is unique.
 
 

Adapted with permission from:

Bozarth, J. D. (1986). The basic encounter group: An alternative view. The Journal for Specialists in Group Work, 11(4), 228-232.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The Large Community Group

The intent of this chapter is to: (1) Describe the history and some features of person-centered community groups; (2) State several theoretical and functional assumptions of these community groups; (3) Discuss the role of facilitators (or conveners) in the large groups; and (4) Offer some emerging research findings from qualitative research.

Personal Background in relation to groups

First, a note about my background in experiencing person-centered community groups. As I stated earlier, I learned about the person-centered approach working with chronic, long-term hospitalized psychotics and neurotics in state mental hospitals as a Psychiatric Rehabilitation Counselor. My first experience ‘leading’ a group was with a heterogeneous group of ‘patient’ who had been placed in group homes outside of the hospital. I was exposed briefly at this time to community group meetings in one state hospital where patients voted on off-grounds passes, medical treatment and other similar decisions for their fellow patients. Other than that I had no experience in therapy or growth groups.

I facilitated many Basic Encounter Groups of rehabilitation agency clients and of graduate students prior to attending the renowned client-centered encounter group known as the La Jolla Program. After the La Jolla Group experience in 1974, I was a participant in person-centered community groups of one kind or another for, at least, one time a year to the current date. I also facilitated (or convened) large groups numerous times, more recently (since 1987) coordinating and being one of the conveners of the annual Person-Centered Workshop in Warm Springs, Georgia.

My first experience as a group ‘leader’ in the psychiatric hospital was with a group of about fifteen individuals who had entered a group home outside of the hospital after twenty or more years as hospital patients. The group was established in order to permit me to meet with all of the individuals during my community trips each week. In short, nearly every semblance of the group violated the traditional knowledge about groups (since I didn’t know much about the group literature at the time). There were over 15 participants in the group who usually met under a shade tree. The structure consisted of my request for us to meet ‘ . . .to see how things are going’. It was a heterogeneous group that was diagnosed with a variety of labels. For example, members included a sixty year old male with ‘chronic alcoholism: undifferentiated type’; a sixteen year old male ‘schizophrenic, hebephrenic’; a ‘mentally retarded’ (IQ: 50’s) thirty year old woman; a forty year old male ‘manic-depressive’; a thirty-five year old female ‘schizophrenic, hebephrenic’; a forty-five year old male ‘schizophrenic, paranoid’, and a variety of individuals with still other diagnostic labels. They simply had the opportunity to talk (or not talk) about anything. No rules, directions, orientation were ever given. It was years later that I discovered that nearly everything about the group went against guidelines for groups. Nevertheless, standard criteria suggested that every member made clinically significant progress.

It was from this early experience in the psychiatric hospital that I became interested in groups and was involved as a facilitator and participant many times and in many kinds of groups over the years. These experiences included participation in Gestalt groups, Adlerian groups, Psychodrama, Tiger training, encounter groups, and T-groups. I personally facilitated ‘client-centered’ groups with graduate students, vocational rehabilitation clients, ‘out-patients’ from mental hospitals and others. I had some experience observing several therapeutic community groups in mental hospitals but did not experience large community groups until 1974 in the community meetings at the La Jolla program. My dye was probably cast by this time. Every year from that year, I was a participant in groups of some type with Rogers and his various colleagues. I became in effect a participant/observer who, I have been told, Rogers viewed as a puzzle and wondered, ‘Why does this guy come to these groups. He never says anything’. As an aside, I have always wondered why he forgot his own admonishment when he thought a Japanese woman who never said anything in any of his classes ‘ . . .couldn’t possibly be getting anything from the class’. When she turned out to be the major force promoting the client-centered approach in Japan, Rogers said that he would never again assume that he could predict what a person was learning. I also noticed that over the years in the large groups, he became more silent himself with less need to respond to individuals. It was, at least, somewhat satisfying to me to view Rogers as moving more towards a stance in the community groups that was more akin to my way of thinking about convener activity in the groups.

In 1986, several client-centered advocates envisioned an annual workshop which developed into what has become known as the Warm Springs experience which held the twelfth meeting in 1998 (Eleven of the twelve workshops through 1998 were at Warm Springs, Georgia). This gave me the opportunity to participate and observe an ongoing experiment with large groups.

The Historical Development

The person-centered community group evolved from the framework of the client-centered approach as depicted and researched by Carl R. Rogers and his colleagues. The central theoretical base is that of Rogers’ (1959) statement of the Client-Centered Theory of therapy, personality and interpersonal relationships. This statement is summarized in several other chapters in this book.

The community group evolved with Rogers’ expanding interests. Rogers more expanded interests and efforts evolved from his interest in individual psychotherapy (1940’s & 1950’s) to the Basic Encounter Group (the term applied to client-centered encounter groups; 1960’s; see Chapter 17) of eight to ten individuals. The term person-centered crystallized in the 1970’s to denote the application of the principles of client-centered therapy to areas other than psychotherapy. Rogers and his colleagues started to experiment with the concept of large community groups of fifty to three-hundred or more individuals (Rogers, 1977). This experiment increasingly involved more and more individuals from different cultures and eventually led to an emphasis on cross-cultural groups often represented by twenty or more nationalities. The work of Chuck Devonshire (1991) in developing client-centered training programs in Europe added to the focus on cross-cultural groups. Eventually, the cross-cultural groups provided Rogers with a foundation in which to attempt workshops focusing on client-centered principles for societal change. One of his major intentions was to assist with the diminishing of international tensions among nations. John K. Wood (1984; 1994a; 1994b) has pointed to some of the difficulties in such groups including the difficulty of operating in the way that Rogers proposed. I have been told that in 1987, Rogers was recognized for this societal effort by being one of the individuals nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Ironically, when he received this nomination he was in a coma preceding his death.

Some Features

The person-centered community group usually refers to a group of thirty to three hundred individuals who meet for three days to two weeks in a psychological atmosphere founded upon the principles of the person-centered approach. The setting is generally one in which participants will have contacts in their daily activities including dormitory rooms with shared baths, cafeteria meals, and facilities which offer opportunities for participants to meet each other. There are generally small groups, topic groups, paper presentations, experiential activities such as expressive therapy; and recreational activities. These may or may not be structured prior to the meeting. They often develop from the large group community meeting. It is the large group meeting of all participants that might be described as the one major activity of person-centered community groups. The large group involves the meeting of all workshop participants who choose to attend a ‘nondirective’ meeting. There are facilitators who are dedicated to the principles of the approach and who have previously experienced such groups. These facilitators presume various responsibilities depending upon the particular facilitators. However, they are for the most part willing to go with the direction and pace of the group.

In such groups, there are usually periods of silence, anger, attempts to organize, criticism of the facilitators and expression of various emotions as well as, at times, long dialogues by participants. In the case of cross-cultural workshops, the verbal communications are translated into one or two languages. Personal encounters among individuals and power struggles among group factions often occur. These large groups usually meet for three or more hours. They usually meet, at least, once each day although they have remained as the only agreed upon meeting of the community in some workshops. The development of the "formal" activities of the workshop usually emerges from these meetings.

Person-Centered Theory

This basic premise of person-centered theory is that the human being moves naturally towards constructive growth and development of his/her inherent potentialities and that such growth is fostered by an identifiable, attitudinal environment created by the attitudes of the therapist. Again, this critical assumption is repeated in this book as a continuous reminder of the foundation block of the theory (Rogers, 1980). I have also periodically stated that the three conditions of congruency, empathic understanding and unconditional positive regard are integrally interrelated and functionally necessary and sufficient. I have concluded from Rogers’ major theoretical statement and his personality theory that the curative condition in the theory is that of unconditional positive regard (Bozarth, 1992). Genuineness is the state of the therapist/facilitator/convener that enables him or her to experience empathic understanding and unconditional regard for other individuals. I suggest it is consistent with Rogers’ statements to conclude that empathic understanding is the pure vehicle or vessel for communicating unconditional positive regard. I believe that this idea is basic to Rogers’ general theoretical statement. I think that this schema of the theory has implications for further consideration of the theory as related to community groups.

Theory and Application in the Community Group

The person-centered community group can be summarized as one application of the basic premise of the person-centered approach; i.e., dedication of facilitators to the natural growth process of individuals and of the universe. This is the fundamental theoretical point in the person-centered approach which is true whether or not the approach is implemented in individual therapy, The Basic Encounter Group, Person-Centered Family Therapy, organizations, the community group or any other human activity (Bozarth, 1991a). Several of the functional manifestations of facilitators operating on this premise in community groups are that facilitators (or conveners) entrust themselves to: (1) Trust ‘group wisdom’ as well as individual wisdom; (2) Become participants in the group as well as facilitators; (3) Trust the inherent therapeutic potential of all members realizing that any particular person may be more therapeutic with any particular group member than any of the facilitators; (4) Combine the spontaneous, genuine responsiveness with their desire and efforts to understand, and (5) Relinquish control of outcome, direction, or mood (Bozarth, 1988). The following axioms seem to me appropriate for person-centered community groups:

Axiom 1:

The basic intent of the person-centered approach is to perpetuate the nature and destiny of humans and, in doing so, to perpetuate the nature and destiny of the universe. By considering the actualizing and formative tendencies, this axiom was developed. The large group exemplifies this axiom in that a major intent of the facilitator is to create the trusting atmosphere that promotes both individual growth and the ‘wisdom’ of the group.

Axiom 2

The primary thrust and abiding intent is to be a genuine person who attempts to understand and who accepts the world of the other person from the perspective of that person. It is interesting that Rogers’ comments on understanding in the community group suggests the importance of the intention to understand and the willingness to have no preconceptions of what might occur. He states:

That’s one of the duties of learning to be truly empathic. You may not have known that this would occur-or that would crop-up-but your whole mind-set is a readiness to understand, to try to grasp what it is that has meaning for the person at this point and that gets across to the group- that desire to understand. (Rogers, 1975, p. 63)

Axiom 3

Individuals move toward the best growth mode available to them through their own best process. Another comment of Rogers relates to this axiom and is reflective of periodic references. He said, ‘The whole aim is to relinquish any attempt to control the outcome, to control the direction, to control the mood’ (Rogers,1987, p. 64).
 
 
 
 

Axiom 4

The infusion of one’s self into the group as a genuine person and group member helps to facilitate the group. Rogers indicated specifically that one thing about the facilitator ‘is the need for genuineness’ (Rogers, 1988, p. 68). Genuineness helped him to be ‘more one of the group’ (p. 68) and to even help a group realize ‘that I really was experiencing the whole thing with them’ (p. 69). Maintenance of ‘spontaneity and openness to the moment-by-moment process of group communication’ (p. 68) was one way he referred to the intertwining of genuineness and empathy in the large group.

Axiom 5

There is no pre-supposition of what people will be like, or do, or become during or after the group experience. One of the essential points in person-centered theory is that those with designated ‘leadership roles’, ‘accept what is’ (Rogers, 1987, p. 65). Rogers’ thoughts on this point are relevant here in view of discussions about facilitator roles. In The Association for The Development of the person-centered approach newsletter, the Renaissance, Rogers states:

If you’re going to expect a certain degree of affect-if you expect that of the process-then that can be artificial. If the degree of affect is what is comfortable, reasonable, or natural for this person, this group, then that’s fine (Rogers, 1987, p. 65).

And, more specifically stated: ‘It’s best to be fairly naive or not full of expectations’ (Rogers, 1987, p. 65).
 
 

I believe that these are important fundamental axioms when considering person-centered community groups.

The Facilitator or Convener

My major conclusions about facilitators in such groups are the following (Bozarth, 1996):

(1) It is most ideal not to have facilitators;

(2) If there are designated facilitators, they shouldn’t do very much except be themselves;

and

(3) That pre-conceived ideas about groups emanating from other theoretical stances have contaminated person-centered views and practice in groups as well as in individual therapy (Bozarth, 1996).

These conclusions are based upon the theoretical considerations previously mentioned, Rogers’ comments and my own observations and experiences.

Some Evolutionary Considerations

More recently, my thinking has been influenced by recent research, the Warm Spring Workshop experiences, and by mulling over the theoretical underpinnings of Rogers’ theory of therapy and interpersonal relationships.

An extensive qualitative study of person-centered community groups offers some fascinating findings (Stubbs, 1992). First, she found support for the construct of the actualizing tendency as the foundation block of the person-centered approach. Her findings also suggested support for the importance of participants experiencing genuineness and unconditional positive regard during the workshops. In addition, the importance of ‘nondirectivity’ was supported as a basic theoretical premise. Also of particular interest was the lack of reference and support for experiencing empathic understanding from others. Likewise, there were frequent references of interviewees to perceived facilitators that suggested that the facilitators might have been viewed as important; however, the importance was non-specific. That is, there were no common facilitator characteristics or behaviors that were noted as particularly important.

Mearns (1994) discusses the large unstructured group in relation to training of person-centered counselors punctuated with the comment: ‘The release into congruence enhances both the quality and the quantity of the counselor’s unconditional positive regard and empathy’ (p. 43). This is in accord with my thoughts on the nature of the central concept even though I believe it is more complex due to the intertwining of the conditions (Bozarth, 1993).

Although Rogers often discussed the facilitator as the person who embodies the attitudes, it is the actualizing tendency of the client that is the foundation block of the theory. This is the natural motivational force of each individual of ‘ . . .a tendency toward fulfillment, toward actualization, involving not only maintenance but also the enhancement of the organism’ (Rogers, 1980, p. 123). He continues to say that humans are always doing the best they can with a ‘ . . .flow of movement toward constructive fulfillment of its inherent possibilities’ (p. 117). The bottom line is explicit in Rogers’ theory; that is, it is the client who has the capacities and inner resources. The climate of unconditional positive regard enables individuals to develop their own unconditional positive self esteem freeing them from the interjections of conditional regard by society (Bozarth, 1993).

Some learnings from the Warm Springs Workshops

The first Person-Centered Workshop at Warm Springs, Georgia took place in 1987. Carl Rogers had died just a week before. The idea of an ongoing workshop was initiated at the first meeting of the Associatin for the Development of the Person-Centered Approach (ADPCA) in Chicago. The facilitators who were involved were: Barbara Brodley, Chuck Devonshire, Nat Raskin, Dave Spahn, Fred Zimring and myself.

These individuals were identified as staff on the brochure and had somewhat varying ideas of what it meant to facilitate a person-centered group. A core of students acquainted with person-centered principles from the University of Georgia was quite actively involved in creating the psychological environment of the workshop. Warm Springs is the name of the Georgia town in which the Little White House existed during the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Roosevelt spent much of the year at the center where he was close to treatment resources for polio. This historical site seems appropriate for the person-centered workshops.

Over the twelve meetings through 1998, there was a shift towards not identifying staff or facilitators. This took place to the point that only my name was on the 1996, 1997 & 1998 brochures as the person to whom to send registration forms. Only Dave Spahn, Nat Raskin and myself who had been designated conveners of the 1987 workshop attended the 1997 and 1998 meetings. There were, however, other participants who had attended most of the workshops. The first seven workshops were held for four days while the 1995 and 1996 years were seven days. The 1997 workshop was changed from a seven-day workshop to a three-day workshop due to low enrollment in the first session. Attendance was always mobile and fluid. There were always some individuals who came for only a part of a day and some who came, left and returned. There has always been a structure on the brochure that included the community group, topic groups and small groups. However, the schedule was seldom adhered to in any structured way. The community meeting was the core site of scheduling. I will mention some of my observations about this experience. These observations are:

1. The event was in large part emergent. That is, there was virtually no planning and little conventional organization.

2. Although there were no designated facilitators, some individuals assumed that there were and, as well, identified other participants as facilitators. A few people assumed that the student coordinator and myself were the facilitators. Others assumed prominent individuals were the facilitators. That is, varying participants chose to perceive varying individuals as the designated facilitators (A point consistent with Stubbs’ findings).

3. There were often statements at the end of the workshops that the experience had ‘ . . . changed my life . . . ‘; ‘ . . . been an exceptional experience . . . ‘; ‘ . . .will have a major impact on my life . . .’ There were also some who complained that the group should have been different but who continued to come back year after year. About half of the participants never return for reasons which vary dramatically. In addition, There were wide varieties of perception of the event itself from those who attended. After one workshop, I heard a range of explanations to others by participants that included: ‘ . . .It was a big party’; ‘ . . .It was group therapy . . .’; ‘ . . .great intellectual experience . . .’; ‘ . . .it was a family reunion. . .’ ; ‘ . . . it was so terribly intense. . .’

4. I periodically thought that the 1994, 1995 and 1996 workshops verged on the edge of being laissez-faire. I personally became a bit concerned. Several times, only a couple of individuals of the community came for the scheduled community meetings. Yet, the community group at the end of the workshop was one that reflected cohesion and individual satisfaction.

5. Considerable dissatisfaction was expressed during the 1995 workshop when I did not go to one of the community meetings. It was reported that the group was leaderlessly walking the grounds looking for me. One person was ready to leave and another wanted a refund of her registration fee. The concerned group met for the entire night and the next day had changed their view to that of having had a very positive workshop experience.

I have reached the conclusion from the Warm Springs experience that designated facilitators, workshop format, or the presence or absence of particular individuals are of little relevance. When people feel fundamentally free to be who they are at the moment, they move in constructive directions. And that it is often in the struggle that they find freedom and growth. The relevant question to ask might be: "How is that atmosphere created’? The general answer is ‘ . . .to be free to be themselves."

Coulson’s comment on encounter groups is, perhaps, relevant in terms of the role of the designated facilitator in the community groups. He suggested that the necessary and sufficient conditions for encounter is that there be an occasion for it. The major characteristic is to have the time for it in an unstructured situation. Coulson (1970) specifically states:

This occasion, this sole necessary and sufficient condition of the encounter, is one of stopping the action long enough for people really to come to see one another, for them gradually to have with one another the things which are so simple--to weep, to be held, to be loved-that people ordinarily are too embarrassed to mention them (p. 10).

Coulson suggests, though, that people need permission to talk differently from the way they talk in ordinary social discourse. Hence, individuals who have been in previous encounter experiences, or ‘ . . .permission-giving facilitators can help individuals to not ‘ . . .while away the time chit-chatting, vying for leadership, or in other ways avoiding honest expression (p. 10). As to the role of the facilitator:

. . .But put a facilitator in the room, imply that s/he knows what he’s doing and then suggest to him that s/he not do anything, except perhaps to gently express his/her own feeling from time to time, and this assignment of leadership will both prevent people from wasting time with such social maneuvers as contending over leadership them-selves, and also give them sufficient permission to speak honestly. People need an excuse at first to speak honestly, and the mere presence of an ‘expert’ can be sufficient excuse- he (she) doesn’t have to do anything special (Coulson, 1970, p.10).

Although Coulson is referring to the Basic Encounter Group, he also echoes the role for conveners in the community groups. Coulson’s observations resonate to the importance of the nondirectivity and lack of interference. The important aspect of group facilitation is that an atmosphere exists where individuals are free to be themselves while overall experiencing themselves as being unconditionally accepted by someone. In therapy, Rogers hypothesized that individuals’ adaptation of unconditional positive regard for themselves is related to experiencing such regard from the therapist as a significant other. In groups, there is no particular reason that the significant other should be the facilitator. In fact, when freedom in the community exists, there are many significant others accepting any given individual.

Recent Research Findings

As mentioned above, an extensive well designed qualitative research study of person-centered community groups offers some considerations for theory and practice of the person-centered approach in community groups (Stubbs, 1992). A more detailed look at Stubbs’ study is revealing. She used heuristic methodology to study individual experiencing in person-centered community workshops. She interviewed fifteen individuals from nine countries at four person-centered workshop sites held in Pezinok, Czechoslovakia; Coffeyville, Kansas; Stirling, Scotland; and Modra Harmonia, Czechoslovakia. The range of participants in the groups was from sixty to three- hundred-thirty. She summarizes her data analysis in the following words:

The emergent depictions, portraits, and a synthesized integration of the data produced a dynamic flowing among four categories: (1) The individual factors of personal influencing including the dimensions of identity and societal influencing; (2) The community factors of power and diversity; (3) Struggling depicted as organizing, dividing, and communicating; and (4) Freeing characterized by accepting, belonging, experiencing, empowering, and trusting. These four categories are interactive with each category flowing into the core category of evolving. The findings of the study indicate a process of individuals evolving and through that evolving experiencing struggling and freeing. Within this struggling, the individual synthesizes his or her own personal boundaries with the boundaries of community. (p. 2 abstract)

As referred to earlier, the results of her study supports the construct of the actualizing tendency as the foundation block of the person-centered approach in community groups. Her findings also suggest support for the importance of participants experiencing genuineness and unconditional positive regard from other group members. In addition, the importance of ‘nondirectivity’ was supported as an important theoretical premise. Also of particular interest was the lack of reference and support for experiencing the construct of empathic understanding from others. Likewise, the frequent reference of interviewees to facilitators indicated an importance of the facilitators; however, the importance was non-specific. There were no common facilitator characteristics or behaviors that were noted as particularly important. In addition, the importance of personal contact was present as was support for the idea that the group is a microcosm of society.

Implications of theory, research, axioms and practice

The implications are, simply put, that individuals who can experience the freedom ‘to be who they are’ (unconditional positive regard) can find themselves becoming freer to experience growth (actualizing tendency). Facilitators/conveners create this freeing atmosphere by trusting the process (hence, acting in ways that promote that freedom), not interfering with struggles, accepting each individual in his or her right as a human being and by being open to whatever outcome might occur. This is the essence of the atmosphere and the role of the convener to promote such an atmosphere in person-centered community groups.
 
 

Adapted paper presentations from:

Bozarth, J.D. (1992, August). The person-centered community group. A paper presented at the America Psychological Association symposium, Contributions of client-centered therapy to American psychology's 100 years. Chaired by Ned Gaylin, Washington D.C.

and

Bozarth, J. D. (1995, May). Designated facilitators; Unnecessary and insufficient. A paper presented at the national conference for the Association of the Development of the Person-Centered Approach, Tampa, FL.


 
 












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