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  • Writer's pictureJacqueline Jouannet

Person Centred Encounter Groups

I have recently become involved with the Person Centred Association (PCA) and attended a number of encounter groups organised by fellow members.

When I try to describe what happens in these groups to colleagues or friends, I find I struggle to put into words what *exactly* occurs! Of course, every encounter group will be different and have its own character and 'feel'. This has certainly been my experience. Sometimes explosive and confrontational, often deeply supportive and validating, there are a few similarities between the groups that I will list below.

  1. They are self-facilitated. There is no leader nor any one person taking responsibility for the group. The group members organise and facilitate the group between themselves. This includes negotiating the times the group will gather to meet. Encounters often take place over a weekend and are considered to have 'started' when two or more people sit together in the meeting space. Folk are encouraged to take a break from the group should they wish, moving in and out of the space as they need. Breaks are negotiated and members are encouraged to take responsibility for what they want the group to look like and to ask for this.

  2. Encounter groups are not the same as therapy groups. Therapy groups are usually facilitated by a qualified and experienced therapist. The focus is usually on the issues brought to the group by each individual member, with a view to improving psychological wellbeing, A therapy group usually meets regularly with the same members and remains fairly stable, or closed to new members, for a time. Each encounter group meeting stands alone and there can be little continuity between groups.

  3. Encounter groups do not have a particular agenda or theme. Many folks feel very passionate about this! The establishment of a theme may close down the possibility of genuine 'encounter' with another person as it arises in the moment. Attention is paid to the immediate experiencing of oneself and the others; tuning in to one's internal reactions and responses.

The encounter groups I have attended have taken place in person over a weekend and online over a couple of hours. All are welcome to attend, they are not specifically for therapists and do not require any previous experience of the person centred approach to therapy. (If you would like to learn more about the person centred perspective on distress and how this way of being translates into the therapy room, please browse the PCA site linked above).

If you are interested in greater self awareness, challenging and the exciting possibility of an open, unstructured opportunity to learn about yourself in an intense way, I would highly recommend seeking one out. The Person Centred Association would be an excellent place to look.

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