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Encounter Groups
by Hannah Zaiv
What would happen if a group of people, as practice for life, related in full honesty with one another? Would we argue? Defend ourselves? Project, or accuse, or apologize? Would we learn to drop our walls and heal our patterns enough to get truly close to one another? Would we learn to understand, even to love, ourselves and others?

Encounter groups were popular in the 1970's when many were intrigued with the possibilities in ‘group process’ for remaking what they saw as sterile interpersonal aspects within American middle class culture. Variations of this phenomenon included T-groups, sensitivity training, psychodrama, marathons and even attack approaches. Irvin Yalom, existential psychiatrist, summarized many of the basic findings about the possibilities and power of group process in his book “The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy.“

Yalom explains in detail how most effectively to facilitate this, describing the stages groups generally go through in the process of developing, and how best to use both group and individual interventions to create a powerful dynamic process.

Yalom's book is a mainstay for many therapists who lead groups, explaining how, basically, less interference by the leader can be more. Through subtle and noninvasive interventions, a skilled facilitator using this model helps the group to create a culture of cohesion, flow, and here-and-now interaction. A well-formed psychodynamic group practically runs itself, with the interactions arising naturally, the way they would in real life, except perhaps with greater intensity and honesty. The power of this basically natural process as it unfolds can be profound, often considerably more so than in groups which utilize seemingly more elaborate and flashy techniques.

What’s the difference between a therapy group and an encounter group? It has been said that therapy groups tend to involve sick people wanting to get well, while encounter groups attract well people wanting to get better. I add that they also attract well people who are brave enough to learn about themselves in a truly honest setting, which is fundamentally and deeply supportive while providing a space for the bumps and edges of relationship to arise, and be polished.

Hannah Zaiv is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Rapid Eye Therapist practicing in Sellwood, S.E. Portland. Call for a free interview/introductory screening if you would like to be in an Encounter Group. 503-659-9384.

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