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Encounter Group

Group of individuals who engage in intensive and psychotherapeutic verbal and nonverbal interaction, with the general intention of increasing awareness of self and sensitivity to others, and improving interpersonal skills.

Encounter groups are formed, usually under the guidance and leadership of a psychologists or therapist, to provide an environment for intensive interaction. In general, because the therapy takes place in a group setting, one of the goals of the encounter group is to improve the participants' interpersonal skills. A typical encounter group may consist of fewer that ten persons, one of whom is a trained specialist, or leader. The role of the leader is primarily to develop and maintain an atmosphere of psychological safety conducive to the free and honest expression of the ideas of group members. The leader remains, as much as possible, outside the actual discussion itself. Encounter group members are encouraged to fully examine and explore their reactions to, and feelings about, statements made, and issues raised, in the group. Proponents of the encounter group form of psychotherapy tend to believe that the behavior of an individual is shaped to a very large degree by responsive adaptation to the attitudes of other individuals, and that encounter groups enable individuals to discover and modify behavior that is perceived as inappropriate. The effectiveness of encounter groups is a matter of some dispute, and there is evidence which suggests that certain behavioral and attitudinal changes accomplished inside the group may not endure outside the group. Although early versions of encounter groups may have existed near the beginning of the 20th century, the encounter group technique as it is currently practiced is derived from sensitivity training procedures introduced shortly after World War II. Both the encounter group and sensitivity training techniques are now generally included in a wider array of techniques, some of which are controversial in the field of psychology, that were popularized beginning in the 1960s. These techniques are collectively referred to as the human potential movement.

This encounter group for overeaters encourages members to express themselves freely and honestly. (Photo by Carolyn A. McKeone. Photo Researchers, Inc. Reproduced with permission.)

Further Reading

Appelbaum, Stephen. Out in Inner Space. Garden City, NY: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1970.

Additional topics

Psychology EncyclopediaPsychological Dictionary: Kenneth John William Craik Biography to Jami (Mulla Nuruddin ʼAbdurrahman ibn-Ahmad Biography