Seminar: Big Sur; Development of the individual, part two
8 The individual receives feedback in the process of this freely expressive interaction the individual rapidly acquires a great deal of data as to how he appears to others. The hail fellow well met discovers that others resent his exaggerated friendliness. The executive who weighs his words carefully and speaks with a heavy pursuit may find that others regard him as stuffy. A woman who shows a somewhat excessive desire to be of help to others is told in no uncertain terms that some group members don't want her for a mother. All this can be decidedly upsetting but so long as these various bits of information are fed back in the context of curing which is developing in the group they seem highly constructive. One
man reports afterward several people in the group stated at different times that I apparently had a great deal of sensitivity to others but lacked warmth. I know now that I've been afraid of close proximity to people for many years and I'm sure that has been interfering. I seem now to be more open to others than I was before and more willing to let the other be what he is with me. 9 The helping relationship outside the group sessions no account of the group process would in my experience be adequate if it didn't make mention of the many ways in which group members are of assistance to each other. Not infrequently one member of a group will spend hours listening to and talking with another member who is undergoing a painful new perception of himself.
Let me give one example of the effect of this healing effort. The attitudes of group members both outside and inside the group meetings. This is taken from a letter written by a workshop member about one month after the group sessions. He speaks of the difficulties and depressing circumstances that these met during that month and adds I have come to the conclusion that my experiences with you. It is with the group I have profoundly affected me. I am truly grateful. This is different than personal therapy. None of you had to care about me. None of you had to seek me out and let me know of things you thought would help me. None of you had to let me know that I was of help to you. Yet you did and as a result it has far more meaning than anything I have so far experience. When I feel the need to hold back
and not live spontaneously for whatever reasons. I remember that the 12 persons in the group just like those before me now said to let go become grew up to be myself and of all unbelievable things. They even love me more for it. This is giving me the courage to come out of myself many times since then. Often it seems my very doing of this helps the other to experience similar freedom. The basic encounter running through some of the trans I've just been describing. Is the fact that individuals come into much closer and more direct contact with each other than is customary in ordinary life. This appears to be one of the most central intense and change producing aspects of such a group experience. To illustrate
what I mean I'd like to draw an example from a recent workshop group. A woman who describes herself as a loud prickly hyperactive individual whose marriage was on the rocks and who felt that life was just not worth living said. I had really buried under a layer of create many feelings I was afraid people were going to laugh at or stomp on. Which needless to say was working all kinds of hell on my family and me. I had been looking forward to the workshop with my last few crumbs of hope. It was really a needle of trust in a huge haystack of despair. She tells of somber experiences in the group and adds the real turning point for me was a simple gesture on your part of putting your arm around my shoulder one afternoon when I had made some crack about you not being a member of the group that no one could cry on your shoulder.
In my notes I had written the night before. There is no man in the world who loves me. You seemed so genuinely concerned the day I fell apart that I was overwhelmed. I received the gesture as one of the first feelings of acceptance of me just the dumb way I am prickles and all that I had ever experienced. I have felt needed loving competent furious frantic anything and everything but just plain love. You can imagine the flood of gratitude humility release that swept over me. I wrote with considerable joy. I actually felt love. I doubt that I shall soon forget it. Another individual tries to describe this basic
encounter more coolly by calling it that feeling of the realness of myself and another in a one to one relationship. This real miss in a direct relationship to use Buber's term is something which occurs with frequency in these group sessions and nearly always brings a moistness to the eyes of the participants. One member trying to sort out his experiences immediately after a workshop speaks of the commitment to relationship which developed on the part of two individuals not necessarily individuals who had liked each other initially. He goes on to say the incredible fact experienced over and over by members of the group was that when a negative feeling was fully expressed to another the relationship grew and the negative feeling was replaced by a deep
acceptance for the other. Thus real change seemed to occur when feelings were experienced and expressed in the context of the relationship. I can't stand the way you talk turned into a real understanding and affection for you the way you talk. This statement seems to me to capture some of them are complex meanings of the term basic encounter. 11 The expression of positive feelings and closeness as indicated in the last section an inevitable part of the group process seems to be that when feelings are expressed and can be accepted in a relationship then a great deal of closeness and positive feeling results. Here for example is a recorded statement from a group session. One man says Jim's very precise understanding of what I said in the
session last night was almost overpowering in breaking down any negative attitudes I have toward him. I mean it really made it impossible for me to be hostile toward him. Thus as the sessions proceed there is an increasing feeling of warmth and group spirit built not out of positive attitudes only but out of a real illness which includes both positive and negative feeling. One member tries to capture this in writing very shortly after the workshop by saying that if you were trying to sum it up it would have to do with what I call confirmation a kind of confirmation of myself of the uniqueness and universal qualities of man. I read that differently of the uniqueness and the universal qualities of man. A confirmation that when we can be human together something positive can emerge.
12 behavior changes in the group it would seem from my observation that many changes in behavior occur in the group itself. Gestures change the tone of voice changes becoming sometimes stronger sometimes softer usually more spontaneous more feeling pull. Individuals show an astonishing amount of thoughtfulness and helpfulness toward each other. Our major concern however is on the behavior changes which occur following the group experience. It is this which constitutes the most significant question which we need a great deal more study and research. One person gives a catalog which is echoed in many other statements of the changes which he sees in himself. He says I am more open spontaneous. I express myself more freely. I'm more sympathetic empathic and tolerant. I'm more
confident. I'm more religious in my own way. My relations with my family friends and coworkers are more honest and I express my likes and dislikes and true feelings more openly. I admit ignorance more readily. I'm more cheerful. I want to help others more. Another says since the workshop there's been found a new relationship with my parents it's been a trying and hard. However I've found a greater freedom in talking with them especially my father. Steps have been made toward being closer to my mother than I have ever been in the last five years. Another says it helped clarify my feelings about my work gave me more enthusiasm for it made me more honest and cheerful with my coworkers and also more open when I was hostile. It made my relationship with my wife more open deeper.
We felt freer to talk about anything and we felt confident that anything we talked about we could work through. Sometimes the changes which are described are very subtle. One person says the primary change is the more positive view of my ability to allow myself to hear and to become involved with someone else's Silent Scream. At the risk of making the outcome sound too good I'll add one more statement written shortly after a workshop by a mother she says. The immediate impact on my children was of interest to both me and my husband. I feel that having been so accepted and loved by a group of strangers was so supportive that when I returned home my love for the people closest to me was much more spontaneous. Also the practice I had in accepting and loving others during the workshop was evident in my
relationships with my close friend. I guess I feel that to try to summarize these different types of behavior changes would be merely to repeat the statements of the participants themselves. Now I'd like to turn to the failures disadvantages and risks. Thus far one might think that every aspect of the group process was positive as far as the evidence at hand indicates it appears that it nearly always is a positive process for a great majority of the participants. There are nevertheless failures which result. Let me try to describe with equal brevity some of the negative aspects of the group process as they sometimes occur. The most obvious deficiency of the intensive group experience is that frequently the behavior changes which occur are not lasting. This is
frequently recognized by the participants. One says I wish I had the ability to hold permanently the openness I left the conference with. Another says I experienced a lot of acceptance warmth and love at the workshop. I find it hard to curio the ability to share this in the same way with people outside the workshop. I find it much easier to slip back into my old unemotional role than to do the work necessary to open relationships to indicate the extent of this failure. Nearly 20 percent of respondents to a questionnaire felt that it had either made no perceptible change in their behavior. That number was quite small or that they'd behave differently for a short time. But now three months later the change had disappeared. Sometimes group members experience this phenomenon of relapse. You want to call it
that. Quite philosophically one person says the group experience is not a way of life but a reference point. My images of our group even though I am unsure of some of their meanings give me a comforting and useful perspective on my normal routine there like a mountain which I have climbed and enjoyed and to which I hope occasionally to return. A second potential risk involved in the intensive group experience one which is often mentioned in public discussion is the risk that the individual may become deeply involved in revealing himself and then be left with problems which are not worked through. There have been a number of reports of people who have felt following an intensive group experience that they must go to a therapist to work through the feelings which were opened up in the intensive experience of the group and which were left unresolved. It's obvious that without knowing more about each
individual situation it's difficult to say whether this was a negative outcome or a partially or entirely positive one. There are also very occasional accounts and I can testify to in my own experience where an individual has had a psychotic episode during or immediately following an intensive group experience. On the other side of the picture is the fact that individuals have also lived through what were clearly psychotic episodes and lived through them very constructively in the context of a basic encounter group. My own tentative clinical judgment would be that the more positively the group process has been proceeding the less likely it is that any individual would be psychologically damaged through membership in the group. It is obvious however that much more needs to be known. Some of the tension which exists in workshop members as a result of this potential for damage
is very well described by one member of mind he says. I feel the workshop had some very precious moments for me when I felt very close indeed to particular persons. It had some frightening moments when its potency was very evident and I realized a particular person might be deeply hurt or greatly helped but I couldn't predict which. Out of a hundred and two individuals whose attitudes I have sampled by a questionnaire within two to three months after a workshop experience none felt the experience was mostly damaging to felt that the experience was more unhelpful than helpful. One felt that it was neutral or made little difference. Seventeen felt that it was more helpful than helpful indicating some real ambivalence about the outcome. 21 felt that it was constructive in its results and 61
founded a deeply meaningful positive experience. These figures should help to set the problem in perspective. It's obviously a very serious matter if an intensive group experience is psychologically damaging to anyone. It seems clear however that such damage occurs only rarely if we are to judge by the reaction of the participants. There's another risk or deficiency in the basic encounter group. Until very recent years it's been unusual for a workshop to include both husband and wife. This can be a real problem if significant change has taken place in one spouse during or as a result of the workshop experience one individual feels this risk clearly after attending a workshop he says I think is agreed. It's
one of the aftereffects of the group experience. Which is kept under cover. It's of interest in this connection that there's been an increasing experimentation in recent years with couples workshops with workshops for industrial executives and their spouses. I'm going to be a part of such a workshop very shortly and I'm looking forward to it with eagerness I've never had that kind of an experience before. Another risk which has been sometimes a cause a real concern in mixed intensive group experiences is that very positive and warm and loving feelings can develop between members of the workshop group as has been evident from some of the illustrations that I've given. Inevitably some of these feelings have a sexual component and this can be a
matter of great concern to the participants and a profound threat to their spouses. If these are not worked through satisfactorily in the workshop also the close and loving feelings which develop may become a source of threat and marital difficulty. When a wife for example has not been present but projects many fears about the loss of her spouse whether well-founded or not to the workshop experience. Still another negative potential growing out of these groups has become evident in recent years. Some individuals who participated in a number of workshops may exert a stultifying influence on new workshops which they attain and they sometimes exhibit what I think of as the old pro phenomenon. They feel they have learned the quote rules of the game and they
subtly or openly try to impose these rules on newcomers. Thus instead of promoting true expressiveness and spontaneity they endeavor to substitute new rules for old to make members feel guilty if they are not expressing feelings or are reluctant Dubois hostility or are fearful of revealing themselves. These old pros seem to be attempting to substitute a new tyranny in interpersonal relationships in the place of older conventional restrictions. To me this is a perversion of the group process and we need to ask ourselves how this travesty of spontaneity comes about. Well now some of the implications I've tried to describe both the positive and the negative aspects of this burgeoning new cultural development. I'd like to touch on its implications for our society.
In the first place it's a highly potent experience and hence clearly deserving of scientific study as a phenomenon that has been both praised and criticized. But few people who have participated would doubt that something significant happens in these groups. People do not react in a neutral fashion toward the intensive group experience. They either regard it as strikingly worthwhile or deeply questionable or they may in some cases feel that it is hurtful. All would agree however that it is potent. This fact makes it of particular interest to the behavioral sciences since science is usually advanced by studying potent and dynamic phenomena. This is one of the reasons why I personally am devoting more and more of my time to this whole enterprise because I feel we can learn much about the ways in which constructive personality change comes about as we study this
group process more deeply. In a different dimension the intensive group experience appears to be one cultural looked him to meet the isolation of contemporary life. The person who is experienced and I have our relationship who has entered into the basic encounter is no longer an isolated individual one workshop member states this in a deeply expressive way. He says workshops seem to be at least a partial answer to the loneliness of modern man and his search for a new meaning for his life. In short workshops seem very quickly to allow the individual to become that person he wants to be. The first few steps are taken there. You know uncertainty fear and anxiety. We may or may not continue the journey. It's a gutsy way to
live. You create many many loose ends for one big knot in the middle of your stomach. It sure is hell isn't easy but it's a life. At least not a hollow Imitation of Life. It has fear as well as hope sorrow as well as joy but I daily offer it to more people in the hope that they will join me. Out from a no man's land of fog into the more violent atmosphere of extremes of thunder Hadeel rain and sunshine. It's worth the trip. Another implication which is partially expressed in that statement is that it is an avenue to fulfillment in a day when more in common a larger car a better washing machine seems scarcely to be satisfying the deepest needs of man. Individuals are turning to the psychological world groping for a greater degree of fulfillment.
One workshop member feels that it is revealed a completely new dimension to life and has opened an infinite number of possibilities for me in my relationship to myself and everyone dear to me. I feel truly alive and so grateful and joyful and hopeful and healthy and giddy and sparkly. Sort of like one of those Vesuvius fountain firecrackers that has gone astray and is fizzling and popping and spilling over indiscriminately. I feel as though my eyes and ears and heart and guts have been opened to see and hear and love and feel more deeply more widely more intensely this glorious mixed up fabulous existence of ours. My whole body and each of its systems seems freer and healthier. I want to feel hot and cold tired and rested soft and hard energetic and lazy with persons everywhere but especially in my
family. I have found a new freedom to explore and communicate. I know the change in me automatically brings a change in them a whole new exciting wonderful relationship has started for me with my husband and with each of my children. A freedom to speak and to hear them speak. This whole development seems to have special significance in a culture which appears to be bent upon dehumanizing the individual and the humanizing our human relationships. Here is an important force in the opposite direction working toward making relationships more meaningful and more personal in the family. In education in government in the ministry of agencies in industry. The intensive group experience has an even more general philosophical implication. It is one expression of the existential point of view which is making itself so
pervasively evident in art literature and modern life. The implicit goal of the group process seems to be to live life fully in the here and now of the relationship. The parallel with an existential point of view is clear cut. I believe this has been amply clear in the illustrative material. There's one final issue which is raised by this whole phenomenon. What is our view of the optimal person. What is the goal of personality development. Different ages and different cultures have given different answers to this question. It seems evident from our review of the group process that in a climate of freedom group members move toward becoming more expressive spontaneous flexible closely related to their feelings open to their experience. If we value this type of person
this type of behavior in living then clearly the group process is a valuable process. If on the other hand we place a value on the individual who is effective in suppressing his feelings who operates from a rigid set of principles who doesn't trust his own reactions and experience then we would regard the group process as I've tried to describe it as a dangerous force. Clearly there is room for difference of opinion on this value question and not everyone in our culture would give the same answer. Well I've tried much too superficially I fear to give some picture of one of the most significant modern social inventions the so-called intensive group experience or basic encounter. I've tried to indicate some of the common elements of the process which occurs in the climate of freedom which is present in such a group. I've pointed out
some of its risks and shortcomings. I've tried to indicate some of the reasons why it deserves serious consideration not only from a personal point of view but from a scientific and philosophical point of view. I also hope I've made it clear that this is an area in which an enormous amount of deeply perceptive study and research is needed. To her. This has been seminar Big Sur featuring this week highlights of a discussion on the intensity of group experience from a seminar led by Dr. Carl R. Rogers. Next week Professor Joseph Campbell of Sarah Lawrence College discusses mask myth and dream. This series is produced by Radio Station K x K x FM in San Francisco in cooperation with the Institute of Big Sur California.
- Seminar: Big Sur
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- This program, the second 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 two,” 1967-07-26, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed January 27, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-fb4wn791.
- MLA: “Seminar: Big Sur; Development of the individual, part two.” 1967-07-26. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. January 27, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-fb4wn791>.
- APA: Seminar: Big Sur; Development of the individual, part two. 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-fb4wn791