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Beyond Words

Beyond Words: Story of Sensitivity Training and the Encounter Movement

Kurt W. Back
Copyright Date: 1972
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 278
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  • Book Info
    Beyond Words
    Book Description:

    Sensitivity training, T-Groups, and encounter groups have become a way of life.Beyond Wordstraces the history of this movement, the background of its successes, its varieties, and its failures. Dr. Back's approach is neither one of wide-eyed admiration nor hostility. Instead, he has written a book that provides the first long, hard look at sensitivity training as a social phenomenon.

    From its fortuitous beginnings the movement is followed through its developments at Bethel, its growth across the country, its new centers in California, its spread to Europe. The novelty of this movement, an almost religious exercise based on the scientific ethos, is related to the peculiar conditions of the last quarter century. The movement has acquired its own mythos. Dr. Back examines the interplay of the conflicting aims of self-expression and change, and shows how these contradictory aims have affected the ramifications of the movement in theory, in management, in recreation, and in education. Results emerging from studies on effects of sensitivity training indicate a recurrent pattern of great immediate emphasis followed by little permanent beneficial effect.

    Finally,Beyond Wordsassesses the overall impact of the movement, its relation to science, its possible changes, and its portent as a symptom of the state of society.

    Dr. Back examines the interplay of the conflicting aims of self-expression and change, and shows how these contradictory aims have affected the ramifications of the movement in theory, in management, in recreation, and in education.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-021-9
    Subjects: Psychology, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)

    • Chapter 1 The Pilgrim Underneath
      (pp. 3-12)

      Geoffrey Chaucer in theCanterbury Talesdescribes the tradition of twelfth-century pilgrims going every spring to holy places. Partly they were driven by religious convictions; but in part they were searching for a change of routine, a transformation of themselves, and relief from distress and illness. They were also looking for companionship, and as he describes it, they had a merry time in their groups. They probably were looking, too, for something more: strong emotions which could transport the pilgrim from his mundane existence and create a unique experience he might cherish for a while or even for the rest...

    • Chapter 2 Social Science and Social Movement
      (pp. 13-28)

      How can we account for the surge in popularity of sensitivity training? Let us first locate the field of sensitivity training as we can see it at this point. Originally, sensitivity training was designed as a technique for teaching people how to work in groups and how to work more effectively with other people. Central to this technique was the discovery of the effectiveness of immediate feedback, of the here-and-now orientation, and of concentration on the group process itself. These features were not original inventions; however, the crucial discovery was that these procedures could bring about intense emotional experiences among...


    • Chapter 3 The Pursuit of Happiness
      (pp. 31-46)

      Sensitivity training is a procedure that uses group action as an end in itself. The principle of feedback is of primary concern in sensitivity group meetings. Second, taboos of ordinary society are reversed: frankness substitutes for tact, self-expression for manners, nonverbal techniques for language, and immediacy for responsibility. Norms that have evolved to ensure the smooth and continual operation of society are rejected. The newly adopted standards of behavior are conducive to a strong emotional impact. A third feature which may seem contradictory is the strong commitment of the sensitivity training movement to the justification of its procedure through scientific...

    • Chapter 4 Chronicles of the Movement
      (pp. 47-76)

      We can now understand the meaning of the Connecticut workshop within its social context. The workshop was designed precisely for that part of the population most susceptible to this new movement. The trainees included people engaged in interracial work, professionals, people involved in education and community work—all were people who were dissatisfied with themselves, their effectiveness in dealing with an important problem, and their relation to the dominant issues of society. In other times, people in a similar predicament might have sought spiritual comfort, ideological inspiration, or confirmation of their weaknesses; but here they were looking for help in...

    • Chapter 5 Internal Logic and Mythology
      (pp. 77-86)

      We are now ready to explore the central beliefs of this movement. A look at its history has shown us a variety of sources from which it derived its purposes, and a number of different practitioners and practices associated with the movement. It is practically impossible to define the sensitivity training movement either by its practices, theories, or methods. Nevertheless, there is an affinity among the different groups of practitioners, although they may be moving in different directions. This harmony in sensitivity training is conveyed primarily by a common experience and its interpretation.

      This central experience is the discovery of...


    • Chapter 6 Precursors
      (pp. 89-102)

      The sensitivity training movement is conditioned by its historical antecedents. As a social phenomenon, it depends on the stresses of society which produced it, on its leadership and membership, and on the nature of its belief system. Viewing it as an intellectual scientific enterprise, taking the internal approach, we must consider the ideas explicitly professed, their antecedents, and their current status as social psychological theory.

      This dual nature of sensitivity training becomes clear if we consider the question of why sensitivity training arose when it did. In interviews with many leaders in the movement, two answers have generally been given....

    • Chapter 7 Current Concepts and Methods
      (pp. 103-116)

      Techniques of sensitivity training evoke a strong emotional experience in the participants; the relatively simple rules of emotional feedback and concentration on the here and now lead to intense experiences that seem to give insight into new ways of life, at least for the duration of the group session and a short time afterward. Experiences of this kind have been known in other contexts. Nevertheless, sensitivity training is unique in that it cherishes the technique and the experience for their own sakes.

      We have discussed the conditions in the society and culture that have led to the rise of sensitivity...


    • Chapter 8 Landscape
      (pp. 119-130)

      In previous sections we have discussed the historical, ideological, and conceptual context in which the intensive group experience was assimilated. We can now describe the various uses to which it has been put and the different forms to which it has been adapted.

      It is important to understand the organization of the field before attempting to describe and evaluate the many ways in which sensitivity training has been used and has interpenetrated with other institutions of the society. We can locate sensitivity training by constructing a map of society in which different social institutions and activities are arranged according to...

    • Chapter 9 Psych-Resorts
      (pp. 131-142)

      Sensitivity training can be pure experience. This experience has been interpreted and rationalized for various purposes and thus made palatable to the modern mind. If we want to find its basic attraction, we must look at sensitivity training where it offers the experience most freely, where it promotes intensive group action openly as a new way of life to be enjoyed. This insight can be found in the personal growth centers now in the foreground of the popular appeal of the movement.

      The function of these centers in current society is to provide recreation, perhaps re-creation in the original sense...

    • Chapter 10 Healers, Patients, and Groups
      (pp. 143-158)

      The general aim of sensitivity training is change; at least, change is a word that has an almost sacred connotation. In its most beneficial aspects change is healing, and healing depends on the skill of the healer as well as on the belief of the patient.² The rise of psychotherapy in this century has mirrored the current scientific ethos, and “therapeutic man”³ is the product of these times. Many advocates of sensitivity training, and especially its early adherents, shared this healing outlook, and sensitivity training could easily become an adjunct to psychotherapeutic techniques.

      In our scheme diagramed in Chapter 8,...

    • Chapter 11 The New Entrepreneurs
      (pp. 159-174)

      Can sensitivity training be adapted to the needs of specific organizations? Organizational goals and the aims of sensitivity training would appear to lie at opposite ends of the spectrum. Sensitivity training is a technique which uses a kind of emotional outburst in a group, which mayor may not be directed toward change within the individual. The expected changes include more openness, spontaneity, direct encounter with other people, sensitivity to others, and similar changes. Underlying this idea of change is the notion that a group composed of people with these traits is superior to other groups in all circumstances. Organizations, however,...

    • Chapter 12 Teachers and Change Agents
      (pp. 175-188)

      The final application of sensitivity training we shall discuss corresponds to cellGin our chart in Chapter 8, namely, techniques of comparatively weak impact which aim at a change of the individual. These applications may be summarized under the heading of education.

      The use of intensive small-group techniques and intensive experiences in education have run the whole range from an auxiliary method to a central philosophy. At one extreme, sensitivity training and group methods are used simply to make people more receptive to some new kind of technique. At the other extreme is a whole new idea of revamping...

    • Chapter 13 The Elusive Search
      (pp. 189-198)

      Let us recapitulate how far we have come. We have considered sensitivity training as a social movement that, in contrast to older social movements, has taken its authority in the name of science. In earlier sections we have described it by discussing its place as a social movement in the society, the needs in society that it makes explicit and tries to meet, and the mythology in society it expresses. This way of looking at sensitivity training is the way one would look at social movements of different types. Sensitivity training can also be looked at as a scientific procedure,...


    • Chapter 14 Beyond Science
      (pp. 201-212)

      In this section we will summarize the views of sensitivity training that derive from the tension between its internal and its external aspects. Its internal aspect is a technique and belief system with a particular purpose, some theoretical background, and a proved method. Externally, it developed because it corresponded with some needs of society, a symptom of a deficiency in society, as it were. We can, therefore, look at sensitivity training as an indication of what society needs, what people need and want, and what the present situation is unable to give them.

      Within the movement, basic conflicts have arisen...

    • Chapter 15 Playing with Fire
      (pp. 213-228)

      A main tenet of sensitivity training has been the need to care for others, the use of group experiences to learn again the meaning of community, to take man out of the isolation into which technology has cast him. This humanistic concern has clashed with the fact that the essence of sensitivity training has been the manipulation of little-understood but intense emotional forces.

      The experiences of sensitivity training are not new; they have been found in many circumstances in many societies. Essentially, the argument runs that in our science- and technology-dominated society, we have forgotten those experiences important to individual...

    • Chapter 16 Escape or Movement
      (pp. 229-238)

      Sensitivity training was born out of a search for a new technique, a new way of conducting human relations training in and through groups. The fundamental principle was process, what happened in the group; it was felt that a democratic, involving, meaningful experience could not lead to objectionable ends. This principle represented the then dominant philosophy of pragmatism and instrumentalism, the retreat from ultimate aims, be they religious or ideological.

      This process orientation considers only the time period covered by the sensitivity training program. It implies that if sensitivity training is conducted according to valid rules, then one does not...

  9. Appendix I: Bibliography
    (pp. 239-246)
  10. Appendix II: Reports of Research Evaluating Sensitivity Training, 1945 to 1970
    (pp. 247-256)
  11. Index
    (pp. 257-266)