What’s it all about?
The person-centred encounter group provides opportunity to meet one another in a deeper, more personal way. “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.”
Rogers, C. (1969), Encounter Groups, p16.
Here is a very useful video taken from an encounter group facilitated by Carl Rogers that gives some idea of the essence of encounter:
It may also help to read some individuals’ experiences of encounter. We have, therefore, put together some reflections on our own experiences and invited one or two others to contribute too.
I really wasn’t sure what to expect…
My first taste of encounter was a somewhat spontaneously organised group, meeting in holiday cottages in Dorset. I’d been invited to take part, but I really didn’t know what to expect. I knew there would be 16 people, only 2 of whom I knew, sharing food and accommodation, meeting over a long weekend; and that was about it. As we travelled down I had a sense of genuine anxiety in my stomach – I didn’t “do people“ very well and the thought of being stuck in a room with so many for so long was as daunting as it was exciting.
After we’d arrived and sorted rooms, etc. and we all got together for the first informal meeting, my anxiety entirely passed, and I felt a growing sense of ease. No one spoke for a good few minutes, but the silence was easy and relaxing. I felt settled.
The group started to take off as people spoke: first of what was in their minds,. then, increasingly, what was in their hearts. Over the four days we were together, we talked about a lot. But it was real people speaking of what was really happening within themselves, trying and daring to be open, honest ,and congruent, with each other; striving to offer one another empathic listening and acceptance and unconditional positive regard.
When Monday morning came, and we set off home, I felt revived and refreshed, challenged, encouraged and more able to accept myself and be myself in my daily life. Encounter has presented me with challenges: it’s forced me to confront some difficult sides of my personality; it’s brought me face-to-face with powerful emotions, raw expressions; it’s challenged my prejudices and brought unconscious biases into consciousness. It’s also given me massive opportunities for growth. But, most of all, it’s given me a place I could be real, take risks, get things wrong, yet still be heard, accepted and valued. That’s why I love encounter.
I have been involved in PC groups since the 1960s, and just returned from [the encounter event] in Nottingham, England. I experienced a rich, dynamic, open community of real people who seemed dedicated to actively living the PC concepts rather than simply talking about them. I witnessed people looking inward to confront troublesome issues; I witnessed others listening for understanding, providing generous amounts of empathic responses, resulting in people seeming to feel heard and at greater peace as they more deeply approached and understood their inner worlds.
I personally felt cared for in ways long absent in my PC life, resulting in new friendships and a desire to return to … other group experiences with those people. One old issue for me was my hearing loss and the microphones furnished by the thoughtful planners. As soon as community members understood the need for and the implications of NO microphones, they eagerly used them, and this enabled me – and others – to be included in the community. Without this sensitive accommodation, I would have considered returning home. This was an unusually positive experience for me at a rather late period of my life, and I feel deep gratitude to the planners and participants.
Chuck Stuart, Professor Emeritus at Assumption College, Massachusetts, USA, (2016)
Cutting through power dynamics…
My key learning from attending encounter groups is of cutting through power dynamics. Most groups see dynamics being played out along the lines of Tuckman’s ‘Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing…’. Person-Centered Basic Encounter groups have allowed me to recognise how individuals deliberately or inadvertently gain power (including myself). Over the years in these groups, I have developed ways to avoid exerting power-over others, other than to avoid them taking power-over me. My sense is that the group dynamics become those described by Rogers in his Encounter Groups Book, dynamics far more facilitating of personal development for all attendees.
Mark Harrison (2017)
Breaking the loneliness
I received an email this week from someone saying how they still prized their experience at the 2017 group …
‘A couple of weeks ago I was thinking…. In particular, I wanted so much to be there with you and Dave and others I met two years ago…. how the impenetrable loneliness was penetrated…
I shall be paying attention to available encounter events as I feel ready for the experience again. How special it is to be amongst those who have a curiosity and an intention to connect, to sit together, to understand. Please know from this how much I value the work you do…‘ Anon. (2018)