Seminar: Big Sur; Development of the individual, part one
Within a single lifetime our physical environment has been changed almost beyond recognition. Yet there's been little corresponding change in how we as individuals relate to the world and experience reality. New tools and techniques of the human potentiality and presenting to us an exhilarating and dangerous frontier renewing in our minds the old questions what are the limits of human ability the boundaries of the human experience. What does it mean to be a human being. Seminar big server a series of discussions focusing attention on the front tiers of human development produced by K x K x FM in San Francisco in cooperation with the Aslan Institute of Big Sur California Center which studies those trends and religion philosophy and the behavioral sciences which emphasize the potentialities of human existence. This week you will hear a highlight discussion from a seminar led by psychiatrist Dr. Carl R. Rogers. The discussion centers on the question of the intensity of
group experience. Here now is Dr. Rogers as he met in session with his seminar at the Aslan Institute. I would like to share with you some of my thinking and its links. We're getting a potent cultural development. The intensive group experience it has in my judgment significant implications for our society. It has come very suddenly over our cultural horizon since in anything like its present form. It's less than two decades old. I should like briefly to describe the many different forms and different labels under which the intensive group experience has become a part of our modern life. It is involve different kinds of individuals. It has spawned various theories to account for its effect. As to labels the intensive group experience has at times been called the key group or lab group.
He's standing for training laboratory and group dynamics. Not incidentally but just capital T. It has been termed sensitivity training in human relationships. The experience has sometimes been called a basic encounter group or a workshop workshop in human relationships or in leadership counseling and education in psychotherapy in dealing with one particular type of person a drug addict. It has been called similar. The intensive group experiences functioned in various settings as operated in industries in universities in church groups in resort settings which provide a retreat from everyday life. It has functioned in various educational institutions and also in kind of countries. An astonishing range of individuals have been involved in these intensive group
experiences. There have been groups for presidents of large corporations. There have been groups for delinquent and pre delinquent adolescents. There have been groups composed of college students and faculty members meeting together in one group or groups of psychotherapists. A school drop out of confirmed drug addicts of criminals serving sentences of nurses preparing for hospital service. But educators principals and teachers. The geographical spread of pained by this rapidly expanding movement has reached in this country from Bethel Maine which was the starting point of the National Training laboratory movement to Idyllwild California. To my personal knowledge such groups also exist in France England Holland Japan and Australia and I'm sure in other countries as well.
In their outward pattern these group experiences also show a great deal of diversity. There are tea groups and workshops which have extended over three to four weeks. There are some that have lasted only two and a half days. A recent innovation is the marathon weekend which begins either and Thursday or Friday afternoon and then Sunday evening with only a few hours out for sleep and snacks. As to the theoretical underpinnings of this whole movement one might almost select the theoretical flavor that he prefers. The winning in client centered theories have been most prominent but Gestalt therapy group therapy various brands of psychoanalysis have all played contributing part. The experience within the group may focus on specific training in human relations skills. It may be closely similar or similar to group therapy. It may focus on creative expression through painting or expressive movement.
It may be focused primarily upon a basic encounter between individuals. Simply to describe the diversity which exists in this field raises very properly the question of why these various developments should be considered as belonging together. Are there any threads of commonality which pervaded all these widely divergent activities. To me it seems that they do belong together and can all be classed as focusing on the intensive group experience. They all have certain similar external characteristics. The group in almost every case is relatively unstructured choosing its own goals and personal directions. The group experience usually though not always includes some cognitive input. Some content material which is presented to the group. In almost all instances the leader's responsibility is primarily the
facilitation of the expression of both feelings and thoughts on the part of the group members. Both in the leader and in the group members. There is nearly always some focus on the dynamics of the immediate interpersonal relationships within the group. These are I think some of the identifying characteristics which are rather easily recognized. There are also certain practical hypotheses which tend to be held in common by all of these groups. My own summary of these would be as follows that in an intensive group experience the individual will gradually feel safe enough to drop some of his defenses and facade that he will relate more directly on a feeling basis. It is come into a really basic encounter with other members of the group that he will come to understand himself and his relationship to others more accurately.
That he will change in his personal attitudes and behavior that he will subsequently relate more effectively to others in his everyday life situation. These are the characteristics of the hypotheses which in my judgment bind together this enormous cluster of activities which I wish to talk about tonight as constituting the intensive group experience. And I think purely out of curiosity I'd like to stop for just a moment that's enough of a description to tell you this area that I am under that label. And I'd like to ask just one question I really would like to know how many of you have been involved in some groups that would come under this label. I say this is pure curiosity but I'd like to see a show of hands on that. Wow. All right.
My wife thought I might be talking to a group that would have no idea what this was all about. It's quite fascinating to think that had we asked this question 10 years ago 15 years ago I think 15 years ago I doubt if there would have been three or four people in the audience who would have had any such experience. So it it does indicate something of the. Rapidity of this cultural development. As for myself I've been gradually moving into this field for the last 20 years. In experimenting with what I call student centered teaching involving the free expression of personal feelings I came to recognize not only the cognitive learnings but some of the personal changes which occurred. In brief intensive training courses for counsellors for the Veterans Administration during the post-war period I and my staff focused more
directly on providing an intensive group experience because of its impact in producing significant learning. The first time that I engaged in an intensive full time one week workshop was a post-doctoral training seminar so called in psychotherapy for the American Psychological Association in 1950. The impact of those six days was so great that for more than a dozen years afterward I kept hearing from members of the group as to the personal meaning that it would have for them. Since that time I have been involved in nearly 40 ventures old told of what I would like to term using the label its most congenial to me. Basic encounter groups. Most of these have involved from many of the members experiences of great intensity and considerable personal change. With two individuals however in these many groups the experience contributed I believe to a psychotic break. A few
other individuals have found the experience more helpful than helpful. So I have come to have a profound respect for the constructive potency of such group experiences and also a real concern over the fact that sometimes and in some ways this experience may do damage to individuals. It's a matter of great interest to me to try to understand what appears to be the common elements in the group process as I have come dimly to sense these. I am using this opportunity tonight to think out loud in regard to this problem not because I have any final theory to give but because I would like to formulate as clearly as I am able. The elements which I am able to perceive at the present time. In doing so I am drawing on my own experience and the experience of others with whom I have worked on the written material in this field. Upon the written reactions of many
individuals who have participated in such groups and to some extent upon the recordings of such group sessions which we are only beginning to tap and analyze. And I hope in our discussion period I can draw on the experience of this group. It is I consider that terribly complex interactions which are rising 20 40 60 or more hours of intensive sessions. I believe that I see some threads which we in and out of the pattern. Some of these strands or tendencies are likely to appear early some later in the group sessions. But there's not a clear cut sequence in which one ends another begins. I think of it if I can sketch in the air. There are certain things that you see early in a group session. Then there are other things that come along a little later. Other things a little later. A good deal of overlap. Some of them may run almost all the way through and there are some things that are
rather characteristic of the closing aspects of the group process. The interaction is best thought of I believe as a varied tapestry differing from group to group with certain kinds of patterns evident in most of these intensive encounters. And with certain kinds of process patterns tending to precede and others to follow. Here are some of the process patterns which I see developing. Briefly described in simple terms and illustrated from experience and presented in roughly sequential order. First milling around. See I'm using lots of technical terms. As the leader facilitator makes clear at the outset that this is a group with unusual freedom that it is not one for which he will take directional responsibility.
It tends to develop a period of initial confusion awkward silence surface interaction frustration and great lack of continuity. The individuals come face to face with the fact that there is no structure here except what we provide. We don't know our purposes. We don't even know each other. And we're committed to remain together over a considerable period of time. In this situation confusion and frustration is natural particularly striking to the observer is the lack of continuity between personal expressions and individual will present some proposal or problem or concern. Clearly looking for a response from the group. Individual B has obviously been waiting for his turn and starts off on some completely different tangent as though he had never heard at all. A member makes a simple suggestion such as. I think it would be a good idea if we
introduced ourselves and this may lead to several hours of highly involved discussion in which the real issues are those of leadership responsibility and group purpose. To resistance to personal expression or exploration. During the milling period some individuals tend to reveal some rather personal attitudes. This tends to develop a very ambivalent reaction among other members of the group. One member reading of his experience afterward says. There is a self which I present to the world and another one which I know more intimately with others I try to appear able knowing unruffled problem free to substantiate this image I'll act in a way which at the time or later seems false or artificial or not the real me or I will keep to myself thoughts which if expressed would reveal an imperfect me. My inner self
by contrast with the image I present to the world is characterized by many doubts. The words I attach to this inner self is subject to much fluctuation and is very dependent on how others are reacting to me. At times this private self can feel worthless. Well it is the public self which members tend to reveal to each other and only gradually fearfully and ambivalently do they take steps to reveal something of the inner world. In a recent workshop when one man started to express the concern he felt about him he was experiencing with his wife another member stopped him saying essentially you shouldn't talk about things like that. The group can't be trusted. You don't know what they may do with the material you divulge to them. It isn't safe. It seemed quite clear that in his warning he was also expressing his own fear of revealing himself and his concerns.
Three expression of negative feelings. Curiously enough the first expression of genuinely significant here and. Feeling is apt to come out in negative attitudes toward other group members or toward the group leader. In one group in which members introduce themselves at some length one woman refused saying she preferred to be known for what she was in the group. Not in terms of her status outside. Very shortly after this one of the men in the group attacked her vigorously for this stand accusing her of failing to cooperate in keeping herself aloof from the group and so forth. It was the first personal feeling that had been brought out into the open in that in that group highly negative criticism of of one of the members. In other instances an individual expresses objection to the fact that a particular member is always critical or continually speaks in a complaining tone of voice or acts as if he has the answers.
Frequently the leader is attacked for his failure to give proper guidance to the group. One vivid example of this comes from a recorded account of an early session with a group of delinquents. Where one member shouts at the leader. You'll be licked if you don't control us right at the start. You have to keep order here because you're older than us. That's what a teacher is supposed to do. If he doesn't do it will cause a lot of trouble and won't get anything done. And then referring to two boys in the group who were scuffling together he continued throwing out throw him out. You've just got to make us behave. Well that's a fairly strong example of some of the negative attitudes that come out. It's interesting to speculate on the reason for this tendency of negatively toned material to come somewhat early in the sessions. And fourth the
expression an exploration of personally meaningful material. It may seem puzzling that following such negative experiences as the initial confusion in the expression of critical or angry feelings the event most likely to occur next is for some individual to reveal himself to the group in a significant way. The reason for this no doubt is that the individual member has come to realize that this is in part his group. He can help to make of it what he wishes. He's also experienced the fact that negative feelings have been expressed and have usually been accepted or assimilated without any catastrophic results. He realizes there is freedom here a risky kind of freedom in a climate of trust is beginning to develop. So he begins to take the chance and the gamble of letting the group know some deeper facet of
himself. One man tells how trapped he feels that communication is completely broken down between himself and his wife and the situation is hopeless. A priest tells of the anger which he's bottled up because of unreasonable treatment by one of his superiors. What should he have done what should he what might he do now. Or a scientist at the head of a large research department finds the courage to speak of his painful isolation to tell the group that he's never had a single friend in his whole life. By the time he finishes telling of his situation he's letting loose some of the tears of sorrow for himself which I'm sure he's held in for many many years. The psychiatrist tells of the guilt he feels because of the suicide of one of his patients. A woman of forty eight tells of her absolute inability to free herself from the grip of her
controlling mother. A process which one workshop member has called a journey to the center of self often a very painful process has begun. Then fifth at least it seems to me this begins to occur at about this point. Is the development of a healing capacity in the group one of the most fascinating aspects of any intensive group experience is to observe the manner in which a number of the group members show a natural and spontaneous capacity for dealing in a helpful look dative and therapeutic session with the pain and suffering of others. It is one weather rather extreme example of this. I think of a man who is in charge of maintenance in a large plant. He was one of the low status members in an industrial executive group. As he informed us
S. had not been contaminated by education. In the initial phases the group tended to look down on him. I remember wondering myself whether whether he really could fit in enough to make the grade with the group. As members delved more deeply into themselves and began to express their own attitudes more fully. This man came forth as Without a doubt the most sensitive member of the group. He knew intuitively how to be understanding and acceptance. He was alert to things which had not yet been expressed but which were just below the surface. When the rest of us were paying attention to a member who was speaking he would frequently spot another man who was suffering silently and in real need of help. He had a deeply perceptive and facilitating attitude. This kind of ability shows up so commonly in groups that it has led me to feel
that the ability to be healing or therapeutic is far more common in human life than we might suppose. Often it needs only the permission granted by a free flowing group experience to become evident. In six self-acceptance in the beginning of change many people feel that self-acceptance must stand in the way of change. Actually in these group experiences as in psychotherapy it is the beginning of change. I think of one rather highly placed government executive in a group in which I participated. A man with high responsibility and excellent technical training as an engineer. At the first meeting of the group he impressed me and I think others as being cold aloof somewhat bitter resentful and very cynical. When he spoke of how he ran his office it appeared that he
administered it by the book without any war or human feeling whatsoever. In one of the early sessions when he spoke of his wife a group member asked him Do you love your wife. He paused for a long time. The questioner said OK that's answer enough. The executive said no wait a minute. The reason I didn't respond was that I was wondering if I ever loved anyone. I don't think I have ever really loved anyone. It seemed quite dramatically clear to those of us in the group that he had come to accept himself as an unloving person. A few days later he listened with great intensity as one member of the group expressed profound personal feelings of isolation loneliness and pain. And revealed the extent to which he had been living behind the mask facade.
The next morning the engineer said. Last night I thought and thought about what X told us. I even wept quite a bit by myself. I can't remember how long it's been since I've cried. And I really felt something. I think perhaps what I felt was love. It isn't surprising that before the week was over he thought through new ways of handling his growing son whom he had been placing extremely rigorous demands. He had also begun genuinely to appreciate the love. Which is why he had extended due him in which he now felt he could in some measure reciprocate. Another person reporting shortly after his workshop experience says I came away from the workshop feeling much more deeply that it's all right to be me with all my strengths and all my weaknesses.
My wife has told me that I appear to be more authentic more real more genuine. This feeling of greater real illness and authenticity is a very common experience. It would appear that the individual is learning to accept and to be himself and thus is laying the foundation for change. He's closer to his own feelings and hence they're no longer so rigidly organized are more open to change. One woman tells how her father died very shortly after the workshop and she had a long and difficult trip to join her mother. And here I quote a trip that seemed interminable with its confusing connections. My only willed amount and deep sorrow lack of sleep and serious concern over mother's ill health in the future. All I knew throughout the five days I spent there was that I wanted to be just the way I felt
that I wanted. No anesthetic no conventional screen between myself and my feelings and that the only way I could achieve this was by fully accepting the experience by yielding to shock and grief. This feeling of acceptance and yielding has remained with me ever since. I quite frankly think that the workshop had a great deal to do with my willingness to accept this experience. Then seventh the cracking of facades at this stage of the group process so many things tend to occur together that it's difficult to know which to describe first. And I'd like to stress again that these different threads and stages even overlap. One of these threads is the increasing impatience with defenses as time goes on the group finds it bearable that any member should live
behind a mask or a front. The polite words. The intellectual understanding of each other and the relationships the smooth koan of tact and cover up amply satisfactory for everyday interactions outside are just not good enough. If I am indicating that the group at times is quite violent in tearing down a facade or a defense this would be quite accurate. On the other hand it can also be sensitive and gentle. The man who was accused of hiding behind a lectern was deeply hurt by this attack and over the lunch hour looked very troubled. Zoe might break into tears at any moment. I really felt quite concerned about him. When the group reconvened the members sense this and treated him very gently enabling him to tell us and tell us his own tragic personal story
which accounted for his aloofness and his intellectual and academic approach to life.
- Seminar: Big Sur
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- This program, the first of two parts, presents a discussion led by Dr. Carl Rogers, the principal founder of "client-centered therapy."
- Series Description
- Discussion and lecture series from Esalen Institute at Big Sur, Calif., headed by Michael H. Murphy devoted to exploring the psychological nature of man.
- Media type
Producer: Esalen Institute
Speaker: Rogers, Carl R. (Carl Ransom), 1902-1987
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 67-30-8 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “Seminar: Big Sur; Development of the individual, part one,” 1967-07-26, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed December 4, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-6m335t56.
- MLA: “Seminar: Big Sur; Development of the individual, part one.” 1967-07-26. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. December 4, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-6m335t56>.
- APA: Seminar: Big Sur; Development of the individual, part one. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-6m335t56