Encounter Groups

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ENCOUNTER GROUPS were nontraditional attempts at psychotherapy that offered short-term treatment for members without serious psychiatric problems. These groups were also known as sensitivity (or sensory) awareness groups and training groups (or T-groups). Encounter groups were an outgrowth of studies conducted in 1946 at the National Training Laboratories in Connecticut by Kurt Lewin. The use of continual feedback, participation, and observation by the group encouraged the analysis and interpretation of their problems. Other methods for the group dynamics included Gestalt therapy (working with one person at a time with a primary goal of increasing awareness of oneself in the moment, also known as holistic therapy) and meditation.

Encounter groups were popularized by people such as Dr. Fritz Perls and Dr. Will Schutz (of the Esalen Institute) and had their greatest impact on the general population in the 1960s and 1970s. These groups fell out of favor with the psychiatric community because of criticism that many of the group leaders at the time were not trained in traditional group therapy and that the groups could sometimes cause great harm to people with serious emotional problems.


Corey, Gerald. Theory and Practice of Group Counseling. Belmont, Calif.: Brooks/Cole, 2000.

Kaplan, Harold I., and Benjamin J. Saddock, eds. Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry. Volume 2. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins, 1995.

Lieberman, Morton A., and Irvin D. Yalom. Encounter Groups: First Facts. New York: Basic Books, 1973.

George R.BurkesJr.

See alsoPsychiatry ; Psychology .