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Growth Groups by Howard J. Clinebell, Jr.


Howard J. Clinebell, Jr. Is Professor of Pastoral Counseling at the School of Theology at Claremont, California (1977). He is a member of the American Association of Marriage and Family Counselors, and the American Association of Pastoral Counselors. He is a licensed marriage, child and family counselor in the State of California. His personal website is http://members.aol.com/clinebellh/index.htm, and his email address is clinebellH@aol.com. Growth Groups was published by Abingdon, Nashville TN, 1977. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.


Chapter 2: Creating a Growth Environment -- The Group's Formation and Flow


In a season of active growth, the grass in a well-maintained lawn, 50 by 50 feet, liberates enough oxygen to meet the needs of a family of four day after day. "Lawncare"1

A growth group is an experience in good human ecology. Like the lawn described above, it produces the "oxygen" of communication and caring -- as vital to your personality as physical oxygen is to your body. An effective group provides the fresh air of honesty and acceptance to awaken spirits dulled by the smog of manipulative relationships and the loneliness of a bureaucratic society. As renewal occurs, members become oxygen givers in their relationships. The individual attends a group session to find fulfillment for himself; finding this involves him in the growth of others. Thus, in self-renewal, he becomes a renewal agent for others. This is the refreshing serendipity of growth groups!

The structures, process, and leadership style which promote this vitalizing of people will be the subjects of Chapter 2 and 3. Although these matters may seem to be exclusive concerns of group leaders, knowledge of the formation and operation of groups can also be useful to group members. For one thing, knowledge on this level helps establish growth-stimulating group relationships. If growth is to occur, the split between the "expert" leader and the passive follower must go -- a split which has proved to be a key reason why people do not grow significantly in some groups. Obviously, the designated leader should have special competence and skills. One of his functions is to help members learn the skills required to become mutual growth facilitators. To produce a growth group, members must "own" the group by sharing in decisions about its operation and goals. Each member acquires a piece of the leadership responsibility.

The realization that there is no hocus-pocus in growth-group leadership should inspire confidence on the part of a would-be leader to acquire leadership training and then start a group. If you "turn on" to life through people, in a group situation, you may decide to join the chain-reaction movement of creating growth opportunities for others. An understanding of the inner workings of growth groups will strengthen your basis for doing this. Let's look at some key factors in the creation of a growth environment.

Length and Frequency

One strength of the growth-group approach is its adaptability to a variety of formats. The challenge is to be aware of the needs of your group and to develop formats which meet those needs best. Innovate and experiment until you discover what's best for your unique situation. To suggest the range of possibilities, here are some growth-group formats which have been used effectively:

Weekly meeting of one and a half to two hours -- the "standard" approach drawn from the group psychotherapy model.

A three- to six-hour meeting every other week -- e.g., Sunday afternoon, or a long evening beginning perhaps with a snack meal.

An all day meeting -- 8:30 A.M. to 6:00 or 8:30 P.M. -- once a month. (Groups with the above formats vary in length from three to twelve months and more.)

An intensive weekend -- Friday evening through Sunday after lunch -- in a renewal retreat, human relations plunge, growth happening, etc.

A nonstop, twenty-four-hour marathon. Those who need to sleep do so in the room where growth work is continuing. To avoid interrupting the flow, meals are brought in.

(As a general rule, concentrated growth meetings should be followed by a series of at least three or four weekly sessions to help participants continue growth work and apply their learnings to their everyday living.)

An intensive three- to ten-day growth seminar or workshop, combining small growth groups and larger groups for growth-stimulation through awareness exercises, mini-lectures, role-playing, creative films, etc.

A regular weekly session of one and one-half to two and one-half hours with a mini-marathon (six to twelve hours) once every month or two. The extended sessions intensify sharing, deepen group trust, and help those who find it difficult to risk being open.

Many other formats have been effective. What is important, in any format, is that it provide sufficient frequency, intensity, and continuity of experience together so that the psychological process of becoming a group will operate. If sessions are too infrequent, time is wasted at each session getting reconnected and moving to significant communication. Groups with sessions of one and a half to two hours should meet at least every other week; weekly sessions are better, particularly during the first launching-into-group-orbit phase. Established groups which know how to move to a growth-work level rapidly can use one-hour weekly sessions productively. Sessions of one and a half hours or longer, allowing a significant period of time after the reconnecting, warm-up period, are preferable.

Extended sessions such as marathons (mini- and maxi-) and retreats have real value. In training lay caring teams, using monthly, three-hour sessions, we have found that an initial, all-day Saturday session helps trainees and trainers achieve a growth-group orbit much more rapidly than three-hour monthly training events by themselves. An extended session, particularly in a sequestered spot isolated from usual surroundings, has a pressure-cooker effect, accelerating the group process. Trust and group rapport build rapidly; even shy persons are often surprised and delighted with their openness. Extended sessions can give a dragging group a growth-boost. Groups can be large and still produce growth, if they have extended sessions periodically.

The most productive groups, in my experience, have decided upon a specific termination date. ( Groups reaching the date can negotiate to set another target date, if this is possible and desirable. ) Length should be decided in light of a particular group's growth goals. Six to eight sessions are usually minimal for achieving even modest feeling-level goals. Schools and churches which plan on a September to June basis often use that period for growth groups. One church which has several growth groups divides this period into three ten-week sessions, with a break of three weeks between them. Some schedule-burdened people will commit themselves to six to eight sessions but won't join long term or open-ended groups.

A closing date motivates earlier and more persistent growth work. A "finis" in the future promotes growth in coping with feelings about termination and loss. Most important, a time limit poses the crucial question for experiencing the people dynamic in our kind of society: "Can I learn to relate quickly and in mutually-satisfying depth with these fellow human beings?" We must use even our brief encounters as genuine meetings. If we wait for "enough time" or "just-right" circumstances for significant relating, we may never find them.

Ongoing, open-ended groups, with good leadership, often develop intense mutual support. One clergyman who, over a two-year period, has worked with several couples groups in his church, reports that after a year or so they become "almost like a family." Such growth-support groups are invaluable to participants, but they require a major investment of the leader's time, often more than can be offered to one group, unless competent lay leaders can be developed.

What about open versus closed group membership? Ongoing groups eventually need to replace graduates and dropouts. Yet, each newcomer presents a problem as well as a growth opportunity -- e.g., dealing with the anxiety/resentment aroused by his "invading" a comfortable social organism; encountering a new personality; experiencing the process of integrating him into the group identity. Each time a newcomer is added (or an old member lost), the group becomes a different group and must work through to a new sense of identity. If this happens too often, the group's trust and communication never reaches a high growth level. It is best in short-term groups with personal growth goals not to add members after the second session. When members (or leaders) are added or subtracted, in any group, it's essential for everyone's feelings to be discussed openly so that group identity can be rebuilt.

Small Enough to Share and Care

The size of a group helps determine whether it becomes a growth environment. One member declared "Our group is like an oasis in my personal desert." This state can be achieved only through the trust-building communication possible in a relatively small group.

You'll get and give the most when you communicate frequently and directly with other group members. In groups larger than ten or twelve, the amount of time each member has to communicate with others and work on his own personal growth goals is too limited. You'll feel frustrated. Members of a group of six have fifteen relationships with which they must deal to interact as a group. A group of eight persons has 28 potential relationships; a group of 10 has 45, a group of 15 has 105; and a group of 20 has the staggering possibility of 190 relationships!2

This explains why seven to twelve members, plus leader or coleaders, is an optimal number for a growth group. There is a greater chance of achieving a sense of caring and community -- i.e., becoming a true group -- if the number of relational bridges which must be built is relatively small. Groups of less than five, however, provide too few opportunities for the growth-stimulus of encountering a variety of personalities, life experiences, values, and perspectives. And the absence of one or two members depletes the interaction severely.

Optimal size is influenced by other considerations. If you're beginning as a growth facilitator, start with a group of six or seven relatively healthy people. In a larger group, so much will happen all at once that you and the group may become confused. The more skills you acquire, the larger the group you'll be able to lead toward growth. The higher the maturity level of a prospective group, the larger it can be ( usually not over fourteen). A reliable index of maturity is the degree of genuine self-esteem the individual possesses ( as contrasted with a kind of "cover-up" self-sufficiency which hides low self-esteem). Genuine self-esteem is the "I'm O.K., you're O.K.,"3 feeling. Groups are self-esteem replenishing stations but they're most effective with those who have a foundation of self-worth to build on. Groups with several people suffering from distressingly low self-esteem should be kept small -- or such persons should be helped to find personal therapy.

A skilled co-leader or natural growth catalyst among the members permits a group to be larger and still produce growth. Persons who are self-affirming automatically affirm others. Whether they became so via previous therapeutic or growth experiences or as a result of having "chosen their parents well," they invariably help a group develop a growth climate. Their spontaneous self-honesty and nondefensiveness provide a catalyst for others. They are very different from persons who appear to have "arrived" but are actually hurting deeply behind their facade; such persons tend to inhibit, not stimulate, group growth.4 The real catalyst is willing to share where he is in the here-and-now, where he is hurting, hoping, finding fragments of meaning, and connecting with others.

In describing natural catalysts, I have also been discussing the way in which you as group member or leader can help develop a growth-group climate. The implicit invitation open to each participant is to become a growth facilitator. The reciprocal truths are these -- you help others grow by struggling openly to grow yourself, and you help yourself grow by sharing in growth interactions with others. This is the growth-nurturing complementary of the people dynamic.

Goals of a particular group influence decisions on optimal size. A group with narrowly focused goals can be larger and still achieve the growth desired. The level of understanding desired also influences decisions on size and format. One group, for example, wanted "to understand the psychological needs of our preteens more fully.'' If growth in head-level understanding is the objective, a group can be large. What this group wanted was both head- and heart-level understanding of their preadolescents. The school psychologist (a resource person in their planning sessions ) suggested that achieving this goal would require opportunities to discuss their own feelings, anxieties, and expectations regarding their pre-teens. Consequently, the total group -- some forty parents -- divided into five sharing groups for part of each of six evening sessions, with a teacher or school counselor and parent co-leaders in each small group. At each meeting, head-level ideas and feeling-provoking questions were discussed by the psychologist in an initial mini-lecture to the large group. Heart-level insight came through the small growth-discussion groups and through husband-wife communication between meetings.

The model used in this series lends itself to many conferences and ongoing growth experiences involving larger numbers. I have participated in workshops and retreats with fifty or more persons and witnessed a growth atmosphere develop in the group as a whole. This was achieved through both small growth-group sessions and through shared experiences in the total group -- awareness exercises, role-playing, facing negative feelings about aspects of the workshop, group planning sessions, spontaneous happenings, parties and celebrations. The effectiveness of the therapeutic community approach5 in institutions (often in wards and living units of fifty or more) and the success of multiple-family therapy, in which several families totaling up to forty persons meet to work collaboratively on family problems,6 show that people can experience personal healing and growth in larger groups. Obviously, growth methods can be applied with significant results in larger groups -- e.g., in churches, schools, and other institutions.

A Meeting Place for Growth

As to meeting places, the only requirements are privacy to avoid interruptions and comfort so that creature concerns will not interfere with growth work. Too much comfort -- large, soft, overstuffed chairs, for instance -- can make interaction difficult. A rug helps by encouraging floor-sitting which somehow reduces stuffy, surface relating. Sequestered meeting places for extended sessions tend to create a relaxed, open atmosphere; they also encourage participants to stay aboard and not find excuses to leave early. A group should meet where those who wish to can drink coffee and smoke. Although members' living rooms sound ideal, I can recall times when phone calls, doorbells, children, and "hostess" behavior almost wiped out growth opportunities. Each time a group changes meeting places, it must deal (overtly or covertly) with feelings about being a group in a different setting. Occasionally this can be productive of self-awareness -- e.g., the dramatic differences noted in the interaction of one group in a church classroom and in a cabin at the beach!

Recruiting a Growth Group

How you assemble a growth group depends on the setting. A general invitation in your organization's newsletter, giving a clear, attractive picture of the nature of the proposed group, may produce some "takers." Usually such an impersonal invitation must be followed by phone calls to likely prospects. If you're in an organization with ongoing educational, task, or fellowship groups, an efficient start might be to see whether persons in one or several of those groups would be interested in a special six- to eight-week growth experience. Study groups may be receptive to the idea of introducing a special "relationship training" dimension into their ongoing program. Take advantage of natural constellations of people by offering groups with growth goals relevant to needs.

If you're on an agency staff, you doubtless know at least a half dozen prospective clients -- e.g., recent graduates of therapy -- who would profit from a continued growth-support group. If you're a clergyman, you undoubtedly know six to eight persons (whom you've counseled and others) who would be receptive to such an invitation. A productive group in one church was formed by inviting all couples married within the last five years to join a six-week Marriage Enrichment group. Five couples accepted and formed a group.

Another church7 started growth groups after the minister and his wife had had satisfying group experiences at a renewal center. Reporting that they "wanted this experience" for their church, they announced the formation of an eight-session Couples' Growth group in the newsletter. Seven couples responded. This proved to be productive and several participants went on to personal growth workshops outside the church. Eventually some of these persons became leaders of groups for college youth. After participants in an initial group have a fulfilling experience, an organization's "grapevine" usually carries the good news -- that something need-satisfying is happening -- and others inquire about joining a group.

The invitation, announced goals, and name of your group should fit the felt needs of your people. Any invitation, written or oral, should state clearly that personal growth (enrichment, development, fulfillment, strengthening) is a primary purpose. The best names for adult groups in most settings are low-key and non-exotic. Emphasize the positive, growth-orientation by using terms such as: "Enrichment Group," "Relationship Training Fellowship," "Growth Workshop," "Personal Effectiveness Group," "Human Potentials Group," "Renewal Group," "I.P.R. (Inter-Personal Relations ) Group," "Search and Discovery Group," "Marriage Enrichment Group," "Self-Discovery Group," "Learning for Living Group," etc. Where the extremists, who constitute a small but noisy segment of the group scene, make people hyperanxious regarding all groups, it's best to use very low-threat labels such as "Sharing Group," "Support Group," "Personal Study Group," "Training for Caring Group," "Share and Care Group." Relating the groups to accepted institutional activities -- "Bible Growth Group" in a church or "Teacher Effectiveness Training" in an educational setting, for example -- helps to keep them both relevant and accepted. "Sensitivity training" and even "encounter group" are loaded terms for many who would respond to a non-threatening group name geared to their needs and acceptable within their organizations. Offer a choice of groups with different names and approaches, to meet the varying needs of people you wish to reach.

Two forms of resistance often deter group prospects. One is the erroneous belief that a growth group, whatever its name, is for "people with big problems." A minister who has been successful in developing a network of groups, suggests that one way of handling this objection is to recruit solid leader-types within the institution for the first group. When word gets around that these people are in a growth group, the "disturbed-persons" image will be dealt a decisive blow. The other form of resistance is the expressed fear that "If I come, I'll be pressured to drag all the old skeletons out of the closet." This is met in recruiting marriage groups. Emphasizing the here-and-now growth focus, and the nonarchaeological (no digging up old bones) approach of the group, reduces this fear.

Selection of Members

Experience has shown that some people profit more from growth groups than others and some probably shouldn't join at all. Careful screening of potential members is not always feasible, but the leader should try to identify those who are likely not to profit. This can be done before the first session by individual meetings with persons the leader does not know. Unsuitable persons may be referred to other types of groups more likely to meet their needs: fellowship groups for those who mainly desire support and sociability; ordinary classes for those who seek intellectual growth; and counseling or therapy groups for those with high anxiety, precarious self-esteem, or disintegrated relationships. People with deeply disturbed relationships will constantly pull interaction toward themselves, ignoring the growth needs of more functional members. For example, a couple with a crumbling marriage inadvertently joined a "Making the Most of Marriage" group. The intensity of their problems prevented the group from engaging in enlivening the functional marriages of the other four couples. Realizing their needs were not being met, the couple left the growth group after a few weeks to find the marital therapy they needed.

Almost anyone can benefit from a growth group if he has reasonably functional relationships, some appreciable degree of self-esteem, and a desire to improve his relationships, his inner vitality, or the use of his talents. Those who ordinarily cope adequately with life's demands, but are temporarily staggering from a heavy blow, can use a growth group to extract latent growth possibilities from the crisis.

A young couple, married for two years and enjoying many satisfactions in their relationship, wanted a stronger bond and better communication. So they joined a couples growth group.

A teen-age girl, coping well with her school- and peer-relationships, felt confused by the value choices facing her. She accepted the suggestion of a counselor and joined a teen "Search for Meaning" group led by her pastor.

A recently retired man, searching for new fulfillment to replace his successful job experience, joined a sharing group called "Using Your Retirement Constructively," sponsored by a center for older adults.

These are but a few examples of people who made good use of growth experiences.

The Initial Meeting

The goals of the first session include getting acquainted, starting to share on a significant level, and gaining consensus concerning purposes of the group and what each person expects to receive and give in the process (called the group "contract" or "covenant"). Here is the way I often begin. After asking the group to move into a smaller circle (they're often spatially as well as emotionally separated at the start), I introduce myself and tell a bit about the general objectives of such a group; then I invite group members to introduce themselves and say why they came and what they hope to achieve in the group. It is important -- during the first session -- to give each person an opportunity to describe his growth goals.

There is a variety of ways to get connected as a group -- joining hands in the circle with eyes closed for a moment and then discussing what each person experienced; milling around, taking a brief time to hold the hands and look into the eyes of each member, repeating his name; talking in pairs for a few minutes about topics such as "What I hope for and fear in this group," "What's most important to me right now," "What I hope to become in the next year," after which each person introduces his partner to the group, sharing what he has learned. Discussion of any of these queries usually moves a group into significant sharing.

Here is another way to start. After brief self-introductions, the leader may say:

"Well, here we are. We have seven sessions to work together on our personal goals. Each of us has unused strengths and assets, and some ideas about using these more fully. As I see it, the main purpose of the group is to support each person in moving toward his own goals. I'm looking forward to this because I know that groups like this can be helpful to both leader and members. But right now, I'm also feeling a little uptight -- anxious, I guess. I'm wondering how you're feeling."

It is important that the leader be candid about his feelings at that moment. By so doing, he demonstrates the behavior that will help the group move from superficial to significant communication. Anxiety in the beginning group is often "so thick you can cut it." Open sharing about this feeling tends to reduce it to productive levels. The leader should encourage the expression of doubts, reservations, resistance, fears, and negative feelings about previous group experiences. Positive feelings and hopes will also emerge. It is crucial to discover and encourage full expression of resentment by those who have been nagged or dragged to come -- often by well-meaning spouses. Drawing out (and respecting) these feelings, and the person's own growth goals, offers the only real hope of helping such a person to join the group for his own reasons.

The group covenant begins to take form as leader and members express their hopes and expectations for the group. Differences in individual goals need not hinder a group's effectiveness, providing all members are interested in some form of personal growth. Discussion and agreement on group guidelines, sometime during the first session, is an essential part of the covenant. I often suggest some or all of these to a group (depending on the group and the circumstances):

"Let me suggest some guidelines which can help make groups like this useful to their members. One is that everyone's views and feelings are valued. The group will be helpful to the extent that we speak openly and listen to each other. It helps keep things on a personal level if we try to speak in the first person singular -- 'I feel . . .' or 'I experience this in this way . . .' -- rather than using the third person or general statements like, 'Most people feel . . .' " (Group discussion)

"Another guideline that seems to help groups is that our main attention be on current happenings -- relationships and problems we face and also what goes on among us in the group.( If you wish to limit the depth of interaction, focus only on personal problems from outside the group, not on relationships within it.) Thus we avoid spending time in the past rather than where the action is -- in the now. A related guideline is that if significant things happen between any of us outside the group, we share them with the group; otherwise some good growth opportunities for the whole group will be missed. Do these guidelines sound useful?" (Discussion)

"Many groups agree among themselves that what others say in the group will be treated as confidential; this is to free everyone to discuss whatever is on his mind. Do you feel that this would be useful?" (Discussion)

"This can be a richer experience if new insights and ways of relating which develop here are used between sessions. Applying our findings in our everyday lives lets us discover whether we have really learned them. Is this a reasonable expectation?" (Discussion)

"Groups like this become effective if members agree to give them priority and to attend sessions unless prevented by illness or serious problems from doing so." (Discussion)

`'Some people get discouraged after a few sessions and drop out. If you should feel this way, I'd like to suggest that you attend at least the first four or five sessions before you make a decision.( This guideline is relevant only if members haven't committed themselves to a certain number of sessions in agreeing to join the group.) It takes at least that long to discover whether this kind of group will be helpful to you. If you then decide that the group is not your cup of tea, that is o.k. Just come to the group and discuss it, so that others can complete unfinished growth business with you. How do you feel about these guidelines?" (Discussion and decisions about which guidelines to use in the group.)

Some facilitators prefer to have no group guidelines or ground rules except perhaps the one about sharing fully and openly. Avoid presenting guidelines so that they sound like a federal case. They can be useful in helping a group move toward deeper trust and communication; they can reduce frustrations and hazards -- but, unless the group senses their usefulness and owns them, they become symbols of leader-dominance. Members should be free to modify or reject any suggested guidelines and offer others. The important thing is that the group discuss its way through to a consensus as a part of a common commitment to shared growth work.

Stages in the Life of a Group

Every group, like every individual, has a unique life history and identity. There are, however, some typical stages growth groups tend to go through in developing as environments of renewal.

Stage 1: Initial anxiety, testing, and attempts at connecting. In the early meetings there is considerable defensiveness ( because of anxiety), testing of each other and the leader, and attempts to relate in some meaningful way. To reduce their anxieties about new relationships, some members usually push the leader to take over and "run" the group. If the facilitator falls into this trap, the group will stay leader-dependent and never become a growth group. The leader can introduce enough structure -- e.g., content material, a brief lecturette, or awareness exercise -- to reduce anxiety and stimulate interaction, providing he uses it in a group-centered manner. The discussion about what each person wants and expects from the group and the decisions about guidelines move the group toward a sense of cohesion and common purpose. In the early sessions members usually focus on problems rather than potentials. The leader, in each stage, affirms unused strengths and resources in individuals and in the group as a whole. However there can be little depth-sharing and mutual growth-stimulation until stronger group rapport develops.

Stage 2: The honeymoon. The dominant feelings at this stage are euphoria and enjoyment of group camaraderie. One elated group member exclaimed, "It's great to have a place where you can let your hair down, be honest about your hang-ups, and know others are in the same boat!" Actually, the relatedness experienced at the start is only a foretaste of the caring of a mature growth group. Most of the feelings expressed during the honeymoon stage are warm and positive. Members luxuriate in the warming awareness that their painful loneliness is being invaded by people.

Stage 3: Frustration and questioning. In this stage there may be a spirit of group depression, flatness, and disillusion. This frustration phase is more or less intense depending on the group. These feelings stem from reluctance to risk going deeper, resistance to owning the group, and anxiety about trusting the group with one's real pain. What seemed easy during the honeymoon, now looks flat, difficult, even impossible. Anger surfaces toward the leader who "doesn't lead" -- at least not in the way we want when we're anxious. The leader may discourage dropouts by mentioning that some may feel like bailing out. His most important function is to help the group reflect critically on its own mood and interaction, to express their negative feelings openly, and to re-evaluate the goals of the experience with a no-holds-barred honesty. The struggle, conflict, and questioning are the narrow gate through which groups must go to achieve genuine intimacy and become an environment for growth. The leader shouldn't try to rescue the group (even though he's tempted) or attempt to cheer them up; his efforts should be directed toward helping them face rather than run from group conflict and frustration. In struggling together they will discover how difficult it is to connect in depth with other human beings, yet they will take giant steps toward achieving such relationships, individually and as a group. This stage is a clear illustration of the principle that growth involves struggle and pain. Old patterns of defensiveness and distancing must die before new closeness can be born.

Stage 4: Risking and trusting. Gradually, some members begin to risk openness by sharing their disappointments, their pain, their dim hopes for change. Their openness is a catalyst encouraging others to drop their facades. Communication moves to a new level; both caring and confrontation are given and received. Members discover that they can trust the group and risk being open; when they do, they experience the acceptance of the group supporting and warming them. Group ownership is firming up. The group will attempt to complete itself by drawing silent members in: e.g., "Your silence makes me feel that I don't really know you. Somehow I feel cheated." Gradually, most, if not all, members experience sufficient trust to take the leap of honest sharing, discovering therein the key to deeper relationships. Members and leader can point to the growth-blocking attitudes and behavior which prevent the use of potential. The group has now reached the level when collaborative "growth work" can be undertaken wholeheartedly with group support.

Stage 5: Effective growth work. Changes in individuals and in relationships begin to occur during stage 4; they flourish in stage 5. Members work to help one another move toward growth goals. Progress and breakthroughs are rewarded by affirming group responses. Spontaneous cheers and handclapping are not unusual. These group affirmations of growth help to stabilize new self-images and behavior. Changes in self-esteem are reflected in statements such as: "You see me as worthwhile and you know more about my messy side than anyone . . It's easier to like myself." Behavior and relationship growth is also evident. In marriage groups, couples begin to report that they've been able to get through their inner walls between sessions, interrupt self-defeating behavior, and stay friends longer. Group members who didn't set realistic goals initially are now confronted firmly by a group that cares enough not to look the other way while they live at a fraction of their potential. Leadership-facilitator functions are now shared widely within the group. Concern for others' growth is now implemented by skills learned mainly from the leader's ways of relating. Mutual growth-work is radically different from the superficial problem-solving of early sessions, described by a group member as "everyone playing Mr. Fix-It to keep the group away from him."

Because group ownership is well established, the leader can now function increasingly as a group member. He can deal with his own loneliness and growth needs if he chooses. I'm assuming that he has related as a human being -- with the full range of feelings -- from the beginning; now he and the group will be helped if he participates fully in mutual growth work.

At any stage, but particularly now, the group and/or the leader may suggest renegotiating the original covenant; in the birth of awareness and new behavior, new growth needs and goals have become evident. Ups and downs will continue to occur in the group's climate and interaction. In fact, a plateau is often reached following an emotionally intense session.

Stage 6: Closing. Terminating a group should be a gradual, growth-productive process. In each of several sessions before the end, the group should be reminded of how much time is left and asked how they feel about this. Raising this issue usually triggers growth-work that members have been resisting. A group which has achieved a sense of caring and community approaches termination with grief feelings. Coping with these in the group produces growth in the ability to live constructively with the series of losses which is an inescapable part of life.

In a sense, the closing of each meeting is a loss experience if significant relating has occurred. There are four things I do, at least in a brief way, at the end of nearly every session, and in a more systematic manner as a group's termination nears: (1) Attempt to deal with unfinished feelings and relating. Simply asking, "Does anyone feel that something is unfinished?" usually suffices. Even if the issues or relationship problems can't be resolved, it helps for the group to recognize the unfinished concerns as important. (2) Ask what continuing growth goals and plans there are. This future-orientation encourages continuing growth work between sessions and after a group's conclusion. Stating goals in the group firms them up and strengthens commitment. ( 3) Ask the group to evaluate the session ( or the entire group experience ). This surfaces hidden hurts and angers so that they can be resolved or at least verbalized. Otherwise, they'll fester between or after the group meetings. Regular end-of-session evaluations give the leader a reading on group progress and needed changes. Evaluations at termination provide valuable data for planning other groups. ( 4 ) Leave-taking. Symbolizing and celebrating what has been experienced together give a group a sense of completion. Standing in an "affirmation circle" while people express their feelings about the group and about parting is one among many ways to do this. The best leave-takings are impromptu expressions by the group -- a spontaneous song, a dance, a prayer, or some other celebration of growth. In one closing circle, a man stated his experience in words which articulate what growth groups have meant to many of us: "All my adult life I've believed with my head that 'no man is an island.' Now, I know it with my heart and that makes all the difference!"

 

References

1. "Lawncare," (Cover), Fall 1970, California edition. (Scotts Products.)

2. Robert Hare, Handbook of Small Group Research (New York: Free Press, 1970), pp. 228ff. To understand this, draw lines between dots (in a circle) representing your group's members.

3. Thomas Harris, I'm O.K.; You're O.K. ( New York: Harper & Row, 1969 ).

4. One common expression of the fear of getting involved with one's own hurt is to play "leader", this is an attempt to keep others controlled and at a safe distance by being "helpful." Such a person is often "an old hand at groups," but his behavior keeps the group from becoming a growth experience for him.

5. Maxwell Jones, Beyond the Therapeutic Community ( New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968).

6. Psychiatrist Norman Paul of Boston has pioneered this approach.

7. The First United Methodist Church, Tucson, Ariz.; DeWane Zimmerman, Minister.

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