The person-centered group

Encounter Groups

Because of the unstructured nature of the group, the major problem faced by the participants is how they are going to use their time together - whether it be eighteen hours of a week-end or forty or more hours in a one-week group. Often there is consternation, anxiety, and irritation at first - particularly because of the lack of structure. Only gradually does it become evident that the major aim of nearly every member is to find ways of relating to other members of the group and to himself. Then as they gradually, tentatively, and fearfully explore their feelings and attitudes towards one another and towards themselves, it becomes increasingly evident that what they have first presented are façades, masks. Only cautiously do the real feelings and real persons emerge. The contrast between the outer shell and the inner person becomes more and more apparent as the hours go by. Little by little, a sense of genuine communication builds up, and the person who has been thoroughly walled off from others comes out with some small segment of his actual feelings. Usually his attitude has been that his real feelings will be quite unacceptable to other members of the group. To his astonishment, he finds that he is more accepted the more real that he becomes. Negative feelings are often especially feared, since it seems certain to each individual that his angry or jealous feelings cannot possibly be accepted by another. Thus one of the most common developments is that a sense of trust slowly begins to build, and also a sense of warmth and liking for other members of the group. A woman says on Sunday afternoon, 'If anybody had told me Friday evening that by today I would be loving every member of this group I would have told him that he belonged in the nut house.' Participants feel a closeness and intimacy which they have not felt even with their spouses or members of their own family, because they have revealed themselves here more deeply and more fully than to those in their own family circle.
Thus, in such a group the individual comes to know himself and each of the others more completely than is possible in the usual social or working relationships. He becomes deeply acquainted with the other members and with his own inner self, the self that otherwise tends to be hidden behind his façade. Hence he relates better to others, both in the group and later in the everyday life situation.
(From Encounter Groups by Carl Rogers, 1970, p. 15)