Encounter Groups

March 3, 1971

Report Outline
Rapid Growth of Encounter Groups
Quarter-Century of Group Development
Problems and Promise in Encounter Work

Rapid Growth of Encounter Groups

Hopes and Fears Over Movement's Popularity

The rapid growth of the encounter group movement has raised serious questions about the efficacy and even the hazards of a wholesale plunge by millions of Americans into consciousness raising and sensitivity stimulation, as it is now practiced in many places all over the country. The questioning, however, is seldom critical of the basic principles of the encounter group process, which are grounded in the findings of the behavioral sciences. It is the rare critic who does not find something to praise in the group encounter procedure, provided it is properly conducted; that is, if it is supervised by a qualified leader, if the participants are screened to eliminate those who might be hurt by the experience, and if the process is directed toward specific and reasonable goals.

Many see in the encounter group a great potential for improving human relations and thus for reducing social tensions. Much hope rests with its yet-unproved usefulness for creating a bridge of mutual sympathy between hostile groups: between blacks and whites, police and community, elders and youth. The most enthusiastic of its adherents believe the encounter group holds a key to the creation of a better society composed of more joyous and lovable human beings. Others make more modest claims for it: that it teaches individuals how to work and live more satisfactorily with others—on the job, in the home, and in society. Still others dismiss the encounter group movement as a mere cult. And there are some who condemn it as immoral and anti-American.

Concern over the development of encounter groups applies largely to the lack of legal or professional controls over their operations. The door, unfortunately, is wide open for charlatans and misguided amateurs. Their appeal is all the more insidious in view of the vulnerability of the troubled, the emotionally unstable, and other persons with problems that might more suitably be brought to the attention of a psychiatrist or a family counselor.

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