”What surprised me was how much I have going for me . . . There’s a lot more of me than I ever let myself be.”
”I’m able to feel and like my own strength as a human being . . . I’m doing a lot less of this god-making of authority people.”
”The thing that helped most was discovering that I can be both loving and honest — that I don’t have to play the phony games that keep people a mile away.”
”This group has helped us talk about the things that hurt and the things we both really care about. We’ve gotten connected again!”
”It hit me that the group liked me as me! Without all the strings that I’ve attached to liking me.”
These statements, made during evaluation sessions, suggest the kinds of changes people undergo in growth groups. Not everyone has a dramatic awakening. Many experience more gradual growth. Some find group sessions unproductive and disappointing. Much depends on the particular group, its leader, and the individual’s readiness for growth.
But, all things considered, growth groups seem to be the most effective means for the maximum number of persons to experience enlivening within themselves and in their relationships with others! These groups offer a workable method by which “normal” people can break out of their boxes, discover unused strengths and deepen their intimate relationships. Growth groups are described in these pages with enthusiasm born of frequent amazement at their positive influence on others and with gratitude for the help these groups have provided in my own struggle to keep growing. My enthusiasm is tempered by a realistic appraisal of the problems and risks in any activity involving people and their relationships. I recommend growth groups, not as a magic solution to every problem, but as a practical method of helping people develop their unused strengths and abilities.
In the small, sharing group lies the power which enables persons to love more fully and live more creatively. This is the people dynamic — the power we have to recreate each other and ourselves through caring and sharing. Growth groups offer a means of releasing the people dynamic to help humanize personal relationships and to help create a world in which every person will have the opportunity to develop his full, unique capacities.
What this book offers is not a real package nor a complete design. It presents ideas and methods with which I continue to experiment and struggle. My hope is that it will prove useful to participants in growth groups; to professionals ( clergymen, teachers, youth workers, and school counselors,) who lead small groups as one part of their jobs; to counselors and psychotherapists who desire to give stronger emphasis to the growth approach in their groups; and to nonprofessionals who are in training to lead growth groups.
Many of us in the person-centered professions are discouraged with the results of present methods. We know there’s something wrong with teaching in our schools when so many students learn only a fraction of what they could. Something must be lacking in our church services and programs when a high proportion of members find religion dull, if not empty. And something is surely wrong with our social agencies when a high percentage of clients find little or no help with their problems. I know the feelings of discouragement. I also know from experience that professional renewal can occur. Growth groups ( in and out of the classroom ) constitute the most energizing and change-producing aspect of my work. The experience of the last five years and a decade of experimenting with small groups before that have convinced me that growth groups are on the cutting edge in counseling, education, and community-building.
If you’ve never tried a growth group, this book will have much more meaning if you join one and meet the people dynamic firsthand. Locating a growth-oriented group with a competent leader, near at hand and within your financial limitations, may not be easy. Check with a knowledgeable clergyman, or the local mental health or family service agencies. Many churches have growth groups open to nonmembers. Organizations such as the “Y” and the local Family Service Association agencies often sponsor growth-oriented groups. In colleges, small groups are often sponsored ecumenically at student religious centers.
If no small group exists which matches your needs, why not start one? Find a few friends with similar needs and line up a well-trained leader by contacting a counselor, clergyman, or agency. A modest contribution per person will suffice to pay the leader a professional fee for his services. Or you might start by inviting a small group you’re already in (church, school class, club, youth group, professional association, etc.) to read and discuss this book. During the discussion you can decide together whether and how to develop a group for those who desire it.
My thanks to those friends and colleagues who shared with me their varied experiences with small groups, thereby enriching the ideas and examples presented in this book; to Leonard Munter who advised me on the application of the growth-groups concept to schools; to Charles Rassieur for his work on references and on the index; and to my wife, Charlotte, for her insights and collaboration, particularly on the use of groups in women’s liberation, with children, and in agency settings.
During the struggles to organize and articulate these ideas, my thoughts have returned often to the group experiences in which — over the years — the ideas were germinated; I remember with warm gratitude the friends and fellow searchers with whom I experienced the people dynamic — the transforming power of loving people. My wish for you, the reader, is that this book may lead you to group experiences in which you’ll discover new dimensions of this power.
Howard J. Clinebell