The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy

By Irvin D. Yalom | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 16
Group Therapy and the
Encounter Group

Fads and fashions change in the fields of psychotherapy and personal growth. And it is difficult to overestimate the rapidity of that change. Earlier editions of this book contained a lengthy and heady chapter on encounter groups, studded with extravagant predictions, my own and those of others, about the perdurable destiny of the entire encounter group movement.

Yet, today, preparing this fourth edition, and poking around in the cold ashes of the encounter group movement, I can't help but wonder whether I should even discuss encounter groups at all! After all, the encounter group movement has vaporized, leaving behind few remaining signs. Growth centers, university bulletin boards, underground newspapers post no encounter group offerings. I have spoken to many younger mental health professionals who ask, "What is an encounter group?" There was a time when university dormitories churned with debates about whether to permit growth institutes to conduct marathon groups for students in the dormitory common room. Intense debates still rage in today's universities, but about environmental, multicultural, gender, and sexual harassment issues--not about encounter groups!

Still, there are several reasons the well-educated group therapist should be familiar with the history, the mechanics, and the ethos of the encounter group. First, though the encounter group movement is dead and buried, the sophisticated technology of the encounter group persists and is widely employed by groups that are very much alive. Let us examine some remnants of the encounter group movement.

In 1991, a large survey of small group membership sponsored by the Gallup Institute and accompanied by three years of in-depth case studies and interviews revealed some astounding results: 40 percent of all Americans eigh

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