A T-group or training group (sometimes also referred to as sensitivity-training group, human relations training group or encounter group) is a form of group training where participants themselves (typically, between eight and 15 people) learn about themselves (and about small group processes in general) through their interaction with each other. They use feedback, problem solving, and role play to gain insights into themselves, others, and groups.
The concept of encounter as "a meeting of two, eye to eye, face to face," was articulated by J.L. Moreno in Vienna in 1914-15, in his "Einladung zu Einer Begegnung" ("Invitation to an Encounter"), maturing into his psychodrama therapy. It was pioneered in the mid-1940s by Moreno's protege Kurt Lewin and his colleagues as a method of learning about human behavior in what became The National Training Laboratories (now NTL Institute of Behavioral Science) that was created by the Office of Naval Research and the National Education Association in Bethel, Maine, in 1947. First conceived as a research technique with a goal to change the standards, attitudes and behavior of individuals, the T-group evolved into educational and treatment schemes for non-psychiatric patient people.
A T-group meeting does not have an explicit agenda, structure, or express goal. Under the guidance of a facilitator, the participants are encouraged to share emotional reactions (such as, for example, anger, fear, warmth, or envy) that arise in response to their fellow participants' actions and statements. The emphasis is on sharing emotions, as opposed to judgments or conclusions. In this way, T-group participants can learn how their words and actions trigger emotional responses in the people they communicate with. Many varieties of T-groups have existed, from the initial T-groups that focused on small group dynamics, to those that aim more explicitly to develop self-understanding and interpersonal communication. Industry also widely used T-groups, particularly in the 1960s and 1970s, and in many ways these were predecessors of current team building and corporate culture initiatives.
Carl Rogers reportedly described the T-group as "...the most significant social invention of the century." A number of experimental studies have been undertaken with the aim of determining what effects, if any, participating in a T-group has on the participants. For example, a 1975 article by Nancy E. Adler and Daniel Goleman concluded that "Students who had participated in a T-group showed significantly more change toward their selected goal than those who had not."
This type of training is controversial as the behaviors it encourages are often self-disclosure and openness, which many people believe some organizations ultimately punish. The feedback used in this type of training can be highly personal, hence it must be given by highly trained observers (trainers).. In the NTL-tradition, the T-group is always embedded in a Human Interaction Laboratory, with reflection time and theory sessions. In these sessions, the participants have the opportunity to make sense of what's happening in the T-group.
A more recent version of the T-groups is the Appreciative Inquiry Human Interaction Laboratory, which focusses on strengths-based learning processes. It's a variation of the NTL T-groups, since it shares the values and experiential learning model with the classic T-groups.
Encounter groups are also controversial because of scientific claims that they can cause serious and lasting psychological damage. One 1971 study found that 9% of normal college students participating in an encounter group developed psychological problems lasting at least six months after their experience. The most dangerous groups had authoritarian and charismatic leaders who used vicious emotional attacks and public humiliation to try to break participants. However, a peer-reviewed review of studies published in 1975 concluded that "No study yet published provides a basis for concluding that adverse effects arising from sensitivity training are any more frequent than adverse effects arising in equivalent populations not in groups".
A commercialized strand of the encounter group movement developed into large-group awareness training. Other variations have included the nude encounter group, where participants are naked, and the marathon encounter group, where participants carry on for 24 hours or longer without sleep. A new innovation and evolution of this concept was brought in India by Dr Pulin Garg who postulated the theory of identity groups.
- Carl Rogers, Encounter Groups, 1970
- William Schutz, Elements of Encounter, 1973
- Gerald Corey, Theory and Practice of Group Counseling, second edition, 1985
- Lieberman, Morton A.; Miles, Matthew B.; Yalom, Irvin D. (1973). Encounter Groups: First Facts. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-01968-4.
- Yalom ID Lieberman MA, A Study of Encounter Group Casualties, Archives of General Psychiatry, 1971;25(1):16-30. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1971.01750130018002 http://archpsyc.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=490477
- Smith PB, Are there adverse effects of sensitivity training?, Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 1975;15(2):29-47.
- Rubin, Zick; McNeil, Elton B. (1983). The psychology of being human. Harper & Row. pp. 419 (3rd Edition). ISBN 9780060443788.
- Aronson, Elliot, 1984. The Social Animal, Fourth Edition. New York: W.H.Freeman and Company. ISBN 0-7167-1606-2