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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, and his email address is Growth Groups was published by Abingdon, Nashville TN, 1977. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.

Chapter 3: Leadership and Tools for Growth Groups

My hope is gradually to become as much a participant in the group as a facilitator.... If you watch a group member who is honestly. being himself, you will see that at times he expresses feelings, attitudes, and thoughts primarily directed toward facilitating the growth of another member. At other times, with equal genuineness, he will express feelings of concerns which have as their obvious goal the opening of himself to the risk of more growth. This describes me, too....

Carl Rogers1

The key to any group's ability to release the people dynamic is the nature and quality of its leadership. The process described in Chapter 2 usually will evolve if the leader possesses growth-facilitating skills and is himself a growing person. The same qualities and skills which are essential to the creation of growth groups tend to release human potential in task groups, study groups, supportive-inspiration groups, and others.

The leader-facilitator brings his know-how and personhood to the group as resources for doing three things: ( 1 ) facilitating the growth of individual members; (2) developing a group climate and style of relating which release individual members and the group as a growth-stimulating organism; (3) continuing his own growth. Carl Jung once suggested that the test of an effective psychotherapeutic relationship is whether or not it produces change in both the therapist and the patient. This criterion also applies to growth experiences. If the leader risks and grows, most group members will also.

Growth-Leadership Functions

What does the leader do to facilitate growth in a group?

1. He assembles and launches the group ( as described in the last chapter).

2. By example, he teaches growth-awakening relating. A growth-facilitating style is caught by members as much as taught. The leader tries to be as self-revealing, caring, and trustful of the group as he would like them to become. A recent graduate offered this sound advice on enhancing my effectiveness in teaching: "Howard, let it all hang out!" Translated, this means let people know you, risk sharing yourself, including your struggles and vulnerability and love. A leader helps the group move from superficial socializing to need-satisfying relating by sharing his own feelings and responding to the feelings of others. He listens, not as an expert to a needy client, but as one hurting, hoping human being to another. He knows that every individual cries out for affirmation as a unique person. He encourages listening that affirms -- listening to a person's words and to feelings that are too painful or precious to trust to words -- by listening and responding on this level himself. ("Let's see if I hear you, Joe, in this thing with your son . . ."). At first members barely listen to themselves or each other; with help, they tune in on the wavelength of feelings. They do what Paul Tillich called "loving listening."

3. The leader facilitates development of group identity through significant relating and sharing. He does this by fostering group-centered interaction. By linking behavior he encourages members to look to each other for understanding and help. In an early-stage group where most communicating is toward him, he may observe: "Sally, that sounds to me like what Bill was saying earlier. Do you two see any connection?" Or: "Jerry, you've been through a situation similar to Mac's. What would you say about it?" When messages ricochet off him to others, the leader may invite the senders to speak directly to the intended receivers.

The facilitator fosters group-centeredness by not playing "expert answer-man" or the usual teacher or leader roles. Here's a segment from a marriage enrichment group (session one):

Group member: (to leader) "It might help us get started if you would tell us what sort of things we should discuss in a group like this."

Leader: "I'll be glad to share my ideas, but I'm sure some of you have ideas about how you'd like to see us use the group. What do you think?"

By avoiding the authority-centered role, the leader puts the responsibility where it belongs -- on the group -- thus helping them activate and use their own resources. In psychiatrist Eric Berne's terms the leader mobilizes the members' Adult sides by refusing to play Parent/Child (leader/follower ) games.2 This is more than a technique for developing group-centeredness. It's an expression of the leader's trust in the releasable inner resources of each individual, trust in the group as a potentially helpful organism, and trust in the process by which the people dynamic in individuals and groups is released. Implementing this trust is a crucial function of a growth facilitator.

4. The leader maintains awareness of both the individual and the group organism. He tries to stay tuned to the changing moods, themes, waves, interaction patterns and levels of both. As individuals share in significant ways, their worlds of experience and meaning begin to overlap, producing a new reality -- the group. Like any other organism, the group is more than the sum of its parts. A unique life and "personality" of its own develop. This organism becomes a growth-stimulating environment.

The leader seeks (never succeeding fully) to maintain wholegroup awareness and to foster this in members so that they can improve their group's interaction.

Leader (to group as a whole) "How would you describe our relating during the last half hour or so?"

Curt: "We're on a head-trip, playing it safe!" (Agreement in group.)

Leader: "Any feelings about this?"

Curt: "I'm damn mad at the group and myself. Let's stop avoiding each other!"

Consider this facilitator's comment to a group that had gone flat: "I'm at a loss to know what's going on right now. I get a blaah feeling. How do the rest of you see it?" This honest leveling did several things. It mobilized group efforts at self-awareness and self-understanding; it dispelled the flatness by precipitating here-and-now involvement; and it freed the leader from any pretense of always being "on top of it," tuned in, fully aware.

5. The leader focuses on releasing the unused potentialities of individuals and the group, thus encouraging group members to do the same. Small groups tend to do postmortems of old failures, archaeologizing (digging in the past for explanations of present behavior), and pathologizing (focusing more on problems than potentials). While dealing with those lively spooks from the past(For example, strong inner dependency ties with parents must be severed before a person is free to grow as an adult in his own unique direction.)

which influence present behavior profoundly, the facilitator puts at least equal emphasis on the present and the future: What do you want and hope for? What must you do now to move toward it? When the past comes up, it is related to the present and future: "How does that relate to your current situation and goals?"

Leader: (At a family growth retreat) "If your family is anything like ours, we could spend all weekend analyzing past mistakes and present problems. But how about a different approach -- some discussion of the things we like about our families and some planning in each family of what we want to build on these strengths in the next year?"

This approach communicates hope and affirmation: you have the power to move toward change in your family.

We tend to hide our light from ourselves as well as others. A caring group can help you discover the latent person within you with all his unused possibilities.

Leader: "Jim, you seem to be down on yourself. Would you be interested in what group members see as your assets and strengths?"

Along with emphasizing the choosing of realistic growth goals, a leader encourages planning and taking steps toward achieving them. In-group practice of new communication and relationship skills permits mutual coaching and nurturing of growth.

6. The leader encourages the group to employ the growth formula -- caring plus confrontation produces growth. A confrontation without caring triggers only defensiveness. It is caring -- so much that one refuses to ignore self-defeating behavior -- that elicits self-awareness. The New Testament describes such loving confrontation as "speaking the truth in love" (Eph. 4:15).

7. The leader offers tools for enhancing communication and practicing deeper relating. These include awareness exercises, expressive uses of art, role playing, dispensing useful information, among others. When used appropriately, these tools can increase interaction, move a blocked group off dead center, and give access to hidden feelings.

8. The leader helps individuals who need further support or involvement. Occasionally, in small groups, someone's circuits are overloaded by anxiety or too much confrontation (in relation to the degree of trust present). Rigidity, withdrawal, or consistent defensiveness may indicate this. In well-functioning groups, members usually sense what is happening and respond supportively. In new groups, however, or with persons who are easily rejected or emotionally raw from crisis, temporary leader-support may be necessary. An empathetic "You've been through a rough experience!" or an affirming "it takes guts to survive in that kind of situation" will usually suffice. (I am assuming that the leader will say only what he means sincerely.) Information-level (as contrasted with feeling-level) responses or questions can help by providing breathing-space and some distance from powerful feelings. A supportive leader-response can often be followed productively by a question aimed at activating the person's strong side -- e.g., Leader: "How would you describe the way you were feeling a few minutes ago?" In Berne's terms, support usually quiets the frightened Child side so that the inner Adult side can gain control and begin coping constructively.

If a person seems disturbed at the end of a session, the leader should give support by talking with him briefly. If this doesn't suffice, the leader may suggest an individual session. Persons seen individually should be encouraged to describe to the next group meeting what transpired.

Growth-enabling leadership is best described as "maieutic" leadership, from the Greek maienomu (to serve as midwife). Its function is to assist the natural process by which human beings experience the birth of self-other awareness and grow in their ability to cope constructively with their life situation.

The Group Member as Leader

During the early meetings of a group, the designated leader fulfills most of the leadership functions. But, as has been indicated, he starts sharing the leadership almost from the beginning by drawing the group into decision-making about goals and by encouraging them to respond to each other in growth-facilitative ways. When groups reach the growth-work stage, members participate in all major leader-facilitator functions. One can recognize a mature growth group by its lack of leader dependence, its high level of trust and mutual confrontation, the ways in which growth facilitation occur throughout the group, and the ways in which the designated leader draws on group resources. As Rogers observes (in the quote opening this chapter), functions aimed at facilitating one's own growth and those aimed at facilitating growth in others are shared by members and designated leaders.

Are growth groups without a designated leader feasible? In any group a competent leader increases the likelihood of growth and reduces the risk of the group's withering from frustration or causing emotional wounds. However, many groups which have reached a "growth work" level with a leader can then function productively without him because members have mastered leadership skills. Some beginning groups without a designated leader become productive because one or more members possess facilitative skills acquired in previous growth experiences. In leaderless groups without such persons, four factors can contribute to a growth-productive outcome: relatively "healthy" members, modest growth goals, considerable structure, and avoidance of major focusing on intragroup relationships. The less structure and the more ambitious goals a group has, the more essential a skilled leader becomes. Leaderlessncss tends to produce "jockeying for position" among natural leaders; this can be reduced by a group decision regarding a convener or rotating chairman. Leaderlessness often releases latent resources within a group and there is some highly suggestive evidence concerning the values of leader less groups.3 Until more substantial research findings are available, it would seem safer and better to opt for trained leaders whenever they are available.

Co-Leaders in Growth Groups

Here are some of the advantages in co-leadership:

Co-leaders can give each other continuing, evaluative feedback and compare their perceptions of group interaction.

Members have an opportunity to do growth-work vis-á-vis two different styles of leadership and authority.

If one leader is unavailable on a given day, the continuity of the group is not interrupted.

Male and female co-leaders provide opportunities for growth in relation to authority -- figures of both sexes.

It is essential that co-facilitators keep communication open between them, particularly regarding disagreements, feeling of rivalry, etc. Regular post-sessions for evaluating are helpful. Ideally, co-leaders should be able to discuss their feelings, relationship, and disagreements openly in the group. This in itself constitutes a learning experience for most group members.

Coping Constructively with Group Problems

The only way to avoid all risks and interpersonal problems is to avoid people. The aim in growth groups is to prevent problems when possible and cope with them constructively when they do occur. Some problems which may be encountered are:

Superficial, unproductive sessions. Most groups have arid periods. If a group seems stale, an honest evaluation by the whole membership may help. Do members feel their needs are being ignored, that you as leader are dominating? Are the guidelines being followed? If a frank evaluation doesn't help, discuss the whole situation with a more experienced group facilitator. He may help you diagnose and treat the malady.

Silent members and monopolizers. The leader may try to draw the silent one in or quiet the monopolizer. A better approach is to ask the group how they react to the individual involved. The question surfaces underlying feelings -- e.g., anger toward the person, who can then be helped to learn from the confrontation. Silence can mean many things -- fear of opening up, passive control, productive reflection. The consistently silent person should realize that others probably feel that, by his silence, he is withholding himself. The chronic monopolizer is often a manipulator who is frightened by the threat of closeness or by situations which he cannot control. He uses a verbal barrage to maintain distance and control. A combination of support and affirmation, to allay his anxieties, and firm confrontation concerning the effects of his behavior on his relationships may help. If nothing silences the verbal steamroller, it may indicate that he cannot tolerate enough closeness to benefit from a growth group.

Going deeper than is constructive. Some individuals respond in every small group as though it were depth-therapy. A leader's responses can head off self-disclosure that may be overthreatening to individuals or the group generally. Here is a rough index of threat levels of interaction:

Least threatening Level 1 -- Discussing ideas, information, theories, generalizations.

Level 2 -- Sharing personal experiences from the past.

Level 3 -- Sharing current problems and feelings from outside the group.

Level 4 -- Encountering here-and-now relationship and feelings in the group.

Most threatening Level 5 -- Sharing very personal problems not ordinarily discussed outside the family.

Most people can benefit significantly from sharing on levels 1, 2, and 3. Leaderless groups generally should stay on these levels; the feelings aroused by levels 4 and 5 usually require a leader's skills if they are to be used for growth. Most short-term groups with competent leaders should not go beyond level 3, mainly because there isn't enough time to work through deep feelings. Relatively inexperienced group leaders should increase their skills and confidence in levels 1 to 3 before attempting to move to 4 and 5.

If a leader senses that someone is revealing very personal problems prematurely (before group identity and trust have developed) or in an inappropriate setting (a study group, for example), he should avoid responding in ways that focus on what has been said. He should help the group share (on levels 1, 2, and 3) and not overload the feeling circuits.

The disturbed member. As suggested earlier, giving individual attention to those who seem upset is usually adequate. If it isn't, and the disturbance continues, referral to a competent psychotherapist is in order. The chances of this problem occurring are reduced drastically if the threat-level issue and proper selection of participants are taken seriously. In addition, three procedures on the leader's part reduce the risk of serious problems -- working with a co-leader, having regular supervisory conferences with a more experienced growth facilitator, and continuing in one's own growth group.

There is good evidence that sensitive, supportive leadership could prevent many of the disturbances that occur in group sessions. In one study of college students suffering "an enduring, significant negative outcome" from encounter groups, it was found that groups with most of the severe problems had had aggressive, confronting, authoritarian leaders.4

Threatening the establishment. Opposition from persons in authority takes various forms. Some extend guilt-by-association from the extremist fringe of the group movement to all groups. Some have negative biases toward small groups because of painful experiences with rebellious, partially liberated "group-ers" in their organization. Administrators who are rigid, "organization man" types find any group which nurtures free spirits an irritant if not an outright threat to their values and life-style. Anyone who is growing and open poses a threat to those who have made a virtue of their private prisons.

How one handles opposition depends on its nature and one's power position in the organization. Good intra-institutional diplomacy and public relations arc helpful in reducing opposition to a minimum -- e.g., interpreting the nature and purposes of a proposed group and obtaining official approval. Reporting on the group program to a governing board, in a way that does not violate group confidence, helps allay anxieties that could otherwise sabotage the program. If opposition is violent and not ameliorated by evidence that the group program is responsibly led and constructive, one has several alternatives. Ignore it, if your internal power position is strong; beat a strategic retreat, at least temporarily, from leading groups at all; or find a freer base of operations. It's impossible to be a liberating facilitator when you feel trapped or painfully vulnerable.

Awareness And Communication Tools

The group leader's knowledge of self-other awareness exercises can enhance interaction within the group. William Schutz reports:

Talking is usually good for intellectual understanding of personal experience, but it is often not as effective for helping a person to experience -- to feel. Combining the non-verbal with the verbal seems to create a much more powerful tool for cultivating human growth.5

Awareness exercises can help us rediscover immediate experiencing and get beyond the use of words and intellectualizing to pretend, keep distance, control, hide. The exercises can help us get in touch with forgotten feelings and sensations. Most of us were programmed in childhood to ignore many rich, powerful, sensual feelings within our bodies. These disowned feelings have a destructive effect on our bodies, our spirits, and our relationships. Owned and welcomed back into our total being, they enrich and deepen us. Arthur Foster, who has made extensive use of non-verbals, declares:

These non-verbal communication methods involve the whole self -- cognitive, volitional, emotive and somatic aspects. Powerfully they evoke and express depth meanings along the dimensions of: love and hate, hope and despair, freedom and bondage, the desire to know and the dread of knowing, winning and losing, strength and weakness, inclusion and exclusion, joy and flatness, individualization and communion, independence and dependence, masculinity and femininity.6

Awareness methods can help develop a bond of community in a remarkably short time. Some of them are excellent ways of celebrating that experience of depth communication (called communion) from which shared worlds and meanings evolve.

These methods can be misused as emotional "trips" or superficial parlor games, with no sustained value. Growth-producing use follows these ground rules: (1) Use them only as one segment of an ongoing group experience so that the learning opportunities they provide can be utilized fully. (2) Always debrief the experience by ample discussion after each exercise. In larger groups, debrief in circles of five to seven. Use only as many exercises as can be debriefed thoroughly. (3) Make it clear that each person's response is O.K. for him. There are no right and wrong ways to respond -- doors to understanding and communication can be opened by positive, negative, or indifferent responses. (4) Suggest that those with physical problems (e.g., weak backs or heart conditions) not participate in vigorous exercises such as falling and catching, lifting and rocking, etc. (5) As leader, participate in the exercises, both to share the experience with the group and to avoid the impression that you are manipulating others to do things you're not willing to do yourself.

Here are some of the exercises which I have found most useful in growth groups:7

Exercises for Individual Awareness

These will be more meaningful if you do them rather than read about them. (The three dots indicate that the leader pauses.)

Reclaiming your inner space: "Find a comfortable position. Close your eyes so that you can concentrate on your experience. How does it feel to be inside your body? . . . What is the most tense part -- put your hand on that and let go of the tension . . . Be aware of all your feelings in the present moment . . . Breathe deeply a few times . . . Now picture the space of your consciousness as a room. If you've been 'beside yourself,' move inside your inner space. Now make an effort to push back the walls and enlarge your inner room . . . How does it feel now? . . . Experience yourself in the here-and-now . . . Open your eyes and share what this experience was like."

Getting in touch with your feelings: "Close your eyes and use your ability to fantasize. Imagine a movie screen in your mind . . . On it I'd like to have you project the happiest memory of your life; put yourself in the action; relive the feelings that you had then; resavor that experience to the full . . . (Debrief) On the screen now project the most unhappy experience of your life, etc. (Debrief) Picture yourself in your earliest memory . . . How do you feel? Relive the experience." (Debrief)

"Close your eyes and picture yourself all alone on an island -- isolated from all other human beings. You are the only survivor of a shipwreck. You have hoped for many months to be rescued. You now realize that it is unlikely that you will ever see another human being again. Experience your feelings . . . Now picture a tiny dot on the horizon . . . Gradually you can make out the shape of a small boat . . . The boat is approaching the shore; as it reaches the beach you see in the boat the person who is most important to you. You run to the boat. You embrace! Be aware of all your feelings . . ." ( Debrief )

The leader or group members can vary this exercise to deal with other feelings. One of these exercises can provide enough experiencing to work on for a whole session or more.

Trappedness and freedom: "Close your eyes and using your ability to fantasize, imagine yourself in a tightly closed box. It's very small -- you barely fit; it presses you on all sides. How does it feel? . . . Now, try to get out of the box . . . If you succeed, how does it feel to be free?" (Debrief)

Communicating with Others

The following exercises are designed to provide experiences and practice in relating and communicating.

Non-verbal communication: "Get acquainted by exploring each other's hands, with eyes closed, without speaking; then open your eyes and affirm each other visually."

"With your shoes off and your eyes closed, wander around in the group, greeting each other non-verbally."

"Look into each other's eyes for one minute, without talking . . . What feeling do you sense in the other's eyes? . . . Tell each other about your experience."

"Be your feelings in the here-and-now."

"Stand quietly and feel the rhythms of your body. As you wish, begin to move to those rhythms . . . Find a partner and try to express your two rhythms together."

Assertiveness, anger, competitiveness: "Pick someone about your size. Indian arm wrestle. Be aware of your feelings about winning or losing." "Pick someone about your size. Close your eyes, grasp hands, and imagine that he's someone who annoys you. Try to push the other to the edge of the circle. Discuss your feelings."

"Beat a pillow (or a cardboard box) as hard as you can, letting out whatever sounds or words come to your lips."

"Jump up and down and shout as loudly as you can. Let it all out! . . . Let's hear it! . . . Louder!"

For persons bound up in anger -- hot or cold -- such exercises can give access to negative feelings and to positive ones trapped behind the dam of anger.

Trusting one another: "Stand close together in a small circle. Each person takes a turn standing in the center, eyes closed, and falling backwards, without moving his feet, to be passed around .the circle by the group. Be aware of how it feels to trust the group."

Trust jogging: "Pick a partner you'd like to know better. Take turns, one with his eyes closed being led and the other doing the leading (5-15 minutes). Be sure to try to jog with your eyes closed, trusting the other . . . Discuss your feelings.

Dependence on others: "Fantasize yourself going around and standing in front of each person in your small group, saying, 'I need you.' Be aware of how it feels in each case."

"Each person take a turn lying on the floor and being lifted and rocked by the others in the group." (The group lifts each person first to waist level, rocks him gently; then lifts him over their heads, then back to waist level for brief rocking, and then gently to the floor. )

I recall one man in whom this exercise reawakened unresolved grief from the death of a loved one some fifteen years before.

Giving and receiving: "Go around the small group standing in front of each person and give him a gift -- a verbal or non-verbal affirmation of him as a person."

Group unity and cohesion: "Let's join hands in the circle and feel the oneness of our group."

"Put your hands in a stack in the center. Experience your oneness. Now move your hands around in the pile and get acquainted (or reacquainted)."

"With your eyes closed, put your hand on the shoulder of the person to your right. Has your consciousness changed? Transmit caring to that person through your hand

"Stand as close together as you feel comfortable doing. Imagine an event (or a trip, a story from the Bible, etc.) that you would like to share with our group. Plan what you and the other members of your group will do . . . Let it happen now in your fantasy; be aware of each person's part in the event . . . Now, tell one another what you experienced."

The above exercises are helpful in starting an individual session. They usually help a group begin productive communicating rapidly.

Sharing pain: "One reason we're so lonely is that we try to hide our hurt from others and pretend we are always adequate. Let me invite you to share something that really gets to you -- something in your life that makes you mourn -- with your small group. After each person shares, if you feel like expressing something to him, do it non-verbally, for example, by a touch or a look."

Affirming each other: The person who feels in need of group affirmation sits in the center of the circle. The group surrounds him and communicates their caring through a group embrace or the placing of hands on him.

Verbal affirmation (also known as the "strength bombardment" -- psychologist Herbert Otto). Each person names what he considers to be his strengths and resources; then group members share what they consider his strengths and resources, and discuss how he might use his assets more fully.

Parting and celebration rituals: "Stand in a circle and express (verbally or non-verbally) what catches the spirit of this session or group for you." Or "I sense that this has been a high moment for Bill and for all of us. How can we express what we feel about what has happened?"

Other Tools for Moving to the Feeling Level

Here are some other methods which help a growth group move to a level "where people live":

Going around: "Let's go around the circle and give each person a chance to say briefly how he is feeling right now" (or how he's feeling about a person or issue). This helps less aggressive members become involved.

Projecting devices: "Let me suggest that each person draw a sketch showing where he is 'feeling-wise' right now . . . (Later) On the other side of the paper draw the way you'd like to be a month from now . . . Tell the group about both."

Clay, finger paints, crayons, etc. can be used in similar ways.

"Here's a stack of magazines. On one side of this paper paste some pictures which depict your feelings about yourself and your relationships."

"Here's a sheet of paper; draw yourself as you now feel . . . Let me suggest that you give yourself a voice -- write what you are saying in the picture."

Impromptu role-playing: "Would you show us what happens when you try to communicate with each other?" ( in a marital growth group ) . "Act out a recent episode when the messages got snafued."

"Could you role-play the way you'd like to relate to your boss? This might help you get the feel of it."

A Tool for Understanding Relationships

Eric Berne's TA (Transactional Analysis) model of the three parts of personality -- Parent/Adult/Child -- provides a valuable tool for individuals, couples and groups to use in understanding and changing their relationships. Our inner Parent speaks, feels, and acts as we perceived our parents doing. This side can be constructively nurturing and limit-setting, or punishing and judgmental. Our Child side -- a continuation of the way we felt as children -- can be spontaneous and fun-loving, or frightened and demanding. The Adult side of our personality makes realistic decisions aimed at achieving our objectives. Growth groups seek to help people interrupt their self-damaging Child/Parent interaction and learn through practice to keep the Adult side in charge and the nurturing, limit-setting Parent and the fun-enjoying, creative Child in healthy balance with each other. This operational description of growth has proved a valuable tool for breaking the control of the past (Parent/Child) and learning to live in the present (Adult).

Training for Growth-Group Leadership

Adequate training for facilitating growth groups has three essential dimensions: growth group experience (as a member), conceptual understanding, and supervised skill practice. How much of each you'll need depends on your starting point. The first step is to participate in a well-led growth group. In addition, take advantage of all the intensive growth workshops, marathons, and retreats (sponsored by growth centers, by churches, schools, management groups) that you can find. This phase of training has two purposes -- continuing your personal growth and learning various styles of group facilitation through experience. How long you'll need as a group member depends on how much growing you have to do. Persons like myself, who are not natural growth facilitators, usually require extensive growth experiences, beginning with some form of depth therapy, to reduce inner blocks to growth.8

Step two is the acquiring of a basic understanding of key concepts in interpersonal and group dynamics, group counseling and therapy, and the human potentials movement. Insights from reading, lectures, and training courses can illuminate and make more functional your growth group experiences.

The third step is practice in co-leading a group with an experienced facilitator, or solo-leading a group under supervision. Tape record sessions (with the group's permission, of course) and play segments of these in supervisory meetings. Supervision in a small group of leaders-in-training is especially valuable, providing as it does both a continuing support/growth group and a place to learn from others' experiences in leading groups.

If you're a clergyman, teacher, youth leader, or other professional, with some competence in counseling, you may decide simply to dive in by leading a group immediately. Many of us have done this with mixed-to-good results. However, the more training and supervision you receive, the better the odds of avoiding major problems and of functioning effectively.

If you are a nonprofessional the three steps are basically the same though they probably will require more time. To maximize your effectiveness as well as minimize the risk of doing harm, continue to use the backup principle -- i.e., maintain an ongoing consultive relationship with a skilled professional to backup your work with groups. Also, continue in your own growth/support group while you are leading groups. These two suggestions are essential for lay facilitators;9 they are also sound advice for professional counselors.

Selection of Persons to Train as Facilitators

These criteria can be used in selecting potential facilitators for training:

Is he a loving, non-manipulative person in his relationships?

Is he in touch with his own feelings, including negative ones?

Is he open to new ideas, relationships? (Is he teachable and growing?)

Does he ring true most of the time? (Is he congruent?)

Is his self-esteem firm?

Can he listen to other people? (Is he present?)

One person responded to this list: "That really eliminates me with my can of worms!" Actually, he proved to be an excellent facilitator. What's needed is not a paragon of mental health, without inner conflicts or problems. (If such a person existed, he'd frighten us ordinary mortals ). The important thing is that a person possess an appreciable degree of the above characteristics. The greater the degree, the easier it is to train him as a growth facilitator.

If one recruits a growth group, using these criteria, the group experience itself will identify several people who have both the inclination and the aptitudes to lead groups themselves. The natural facilitators who emerge, after some additional training, can become co-leaders of groups while continuing in an ongoing leaders' growth group. This is a practical way of developing a cadre of growth facilitators in an organization or agency.

Evaluating your Groups

To improve your group leadership, approach your groups with an evaluation perspective. Devise ways of measuring the relative effectiveness of various selection methods, group formats, and leadership approaches. To supplement verbal evaluations, I often use a simple post-meeting and end-of-group sentence completion form such as this:

In this group, the most helpful things were:

The least helpful things were:

My strongest feelings were:

In future groups I hope that:

A useful group-life checklist allowing participants to rate a group on communication, acceptance of persons, leadership, climate of relationships, and other aspects can be found in Philip Anderson's Church Meetings that Matter.10 Evaluation is not a frill; rather it is essential to discovering what you are accomplishing in groups and how you can do better. If you are interested in objective research on groups, consult the literature.11

Keeping the Enlivener Alive

It's not an easy world in which to stay a person -- loving, authentic, alive. As a growth-group leader or potential leader, your most difficult and essential resource is yourself. Finding relationships to nurture and re-energize your inner being is crucially important. A growth group is not a place where a leader does something to the group. It's a shared adventure in relating, one in which the leader is something with the group in their joint search. To be something enlivening is much more difficult than to do something technically appropriate. So, whatever else you do, find at least one nurturing relationship. It's the only way to keep the enlivener alive.

Additional Reading

Small Group Leadership:

Gordon, Thomas, Group-Centered Leadership. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1955.

Kemp, C. Gratton, "The Leader," Small Groups and Self-Renewal, New York: Seabury Press, 1971, Chap. 5.

Leslie, Robert C., "Leadership in Sharing Groups," in Sharing Groups in the Church. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1971, Chap. VIII.

Reid, Clyde, "The Leader of the Small Group," in Groups Alive -- Church Alive. New York: Harper & Row, 1969, Chap. V.

Rogers, Carl R., "Can I Be a Facilitative Person in a Group?", in Carl Rogers on Encounter Groups, Harper & Row, 1970, Chapter 3.

Awareness Tools:

Gunther, Bernard, Sense Relaxation. New York: Collier Books, 1968.

Gunther, Bernard, What to Do Til1 the Messiah Comes. New York: Collier Books, 1971.

Lewis, Howard R. and Streitfeld, Harold S. Growth Games, How to Tune In Yourself, Your Family, Your Friends. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1970.

Pfeiffer, J. W., and Jones, J. E., A Handbook of Structured Experiences for Human Relations Training. Iowa City: University Associates Press, Vols. I, II, and III, 1969, 1970, 1971.

Schutz, William C., Joy, Expanding Human Awareness. New York: Grove Press, 1967.

Stevens, John O., Awareness: exploring, experimenting, experiencing. Lafayette, Calif.: Real People Press, 1971.

"Encountertapes for Personal Growth Groups." Human Development Institute, Bell and Howell, Atlanta, Ga., 1968.




1. Carl Rogers, Carl Rogers on Encounter Groups, p. 4S.

2. Eric Berne, Games People Play (New York: Grove Press, 1904).

3. Experiments with so-called "leaderless" encounter groups at the Western Behavioral Sciences Institute employed a series of tape-recorded instructions which groups followed. In a sense, a leader was actually present in the structure and instructions thus provided. The findings of this research showed that in these groups significant changes in persons occurred. Selfhelp groups (A.A. and others), without trained leaders, achieve rates of social recoveries (restoration to constructive living) which probably surpass those of professionally staffed therapies. A.A. utilizes the extensive structure of "the program," the Big Book, the Twelve Traditions, etc., and natural leadership ability to fulfill leader functions.

4. This study was made by Irvin D. Yalom and Morton A. Lieberman. Subjects (170 Stanford students) who had completed ten-week encounter session showed a 10 percent "casualty" rate, the key to which is the behavior of the leader. "A Study of Encounter Group Casualties," Archives of General Psychiatry, 1971.

5. William C. Schutz, Joy, Expanding Human Awareness, p. 11.

6. For an illuminating discussion of these points see Arthur Foster, "Exploring Conflict Dynamics through Non-Verbal Communication," C.T.S. Register, May, 1969. (Quote from p. 32).

7. What follows is the way I use these exercises. Most of them are not original. They come from many sources and have been adapted and modified. The books by Schutz and Gunther are sources of many of these and others.

8. Persons who are highly constricted by anxiety and inner conflicts, which do not improve substantially with therapy, should find fulfillment in directions other than group leadership.

9. There are risks, of course, in recommending the training of persons without an academic or clinical foundation. But, in my view, the potential gains more than justify the risks (which can be minimized by careful selection and continuing coaching). Lay persons with solid self-esteem acquire facilitator skills rapidly and often make excellent growth group leaders. There is no convincing reason why the talents of these natural growth stimulators should not be used to meet the need for widespread growth opportunities.

10. Philadelphia: United Church Press, 1965, pp. 50-52. A useful "Leader Effectiveness Inventory" can be found in Discussion: A Guide to Effective Practice by David Potter and M. P. Anderson (Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth Pub. Co., 1970, Second Edition, pp. 99-100).

11. See Kemp's Small Groups and Self-Renewal, Chap. 9; Ohlsen's Group Counseling, Chap. 12; and Rogers' Carl Rogers on Encounter Groups, Chap. 7.

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