G . O . R . I . L . L . A .

Facilitate the power of love - confront the love of power.



Richard Mowbray

The personal growth

groups which form such a

key feature of the human

potential movement are

frequently perceived in the

light of dominant cultural

metaphors, as being

primarily task-oriented

'therapy' groups concerned

with specific remedial

goals - with the resolution

of psychological problems

and the task of 'getting

better'. The group

experience is regarded as a

means to this end, as

utilitarian, and this

attitude goes hand in hand

with such questions as

"does it work?". In this

light, cautions are often

made about becoming a

'groupie' and turning such

groups into a substitute for

real life 'out there' and

there is truth in the need to

be aware of this risk.

However, from another

perspective such groups

can also represent an

alternative cultural form,

and an experience of an

alternative way of living -

one in which a wider

range of aspects of people

are accepted and in which

living on a deeper basis is

enacted and more directly

experienced than in many

other cultural settings.

Lessons from this

experience may spill over

into other areas of one's

life and hopefully will, but

it may be misleading to

see the group experience

as primarily subservient to

the rest of one's life. It

may be more appropriate

to view it as a part of one's

life and development, and

often an important


Unless a group is of a self-

help nature, participation

in it usually involves

payment of some sort to

those leading and

organizing it This fact

sometimes gives rise to

comments about the

purchase of friendship and

about practitioners

exploiting people

financially or otherwise,

and these things can be


However numerous

cultural forms that are

unquestioningly accepted

as parts of 'real life' also

involve the payment of

money, usually without

being subject to such

aspersions. A night in the

pub, a meal out with

friends in a restaurant, a

visit to the theatre,

attending a musical

performance, going to a

club or going on a

holiday, are all 'live'

experiences that involve

monetary payment yet are

readily regarded as part of

'real life' and as enriching

in non-material terms,

though they may

sometimes fail to be


Other more vicarious

experiences such as

watching television, a film

or video, listening to a

record, reading a novel

etc., are also typically

thought of as being part of

life, and sometimes

enriching, despite the fact

that they are more 'virtual

reality' than reality. They

also usually require some

sort of monetary


Compared with such other

life experiences, the

personal growth group

experience is often more

active, more participatory,

more spontaneous, less

programmed and

sometimes more 'real'.


may be hard to find the

like elsewhere in life but

nonetheless the group

experience can give a taste

of how life might be. The

degree to which the group

experience can 'spill over'

into other areas of life,

rather than be split-off and

unintegrated, may be

limited by the

receptiveness of the wider

culture or of one's

particular niche within it.

In some cases, where

particularly arid social

conditions prevail,

continuing or periodic

attendance at such groups

may be as refreshing and

necessary as visits to an

oasis in a desert.

Categorizing such groups

as mainly remedial and

concerned with helping

those who are 'less than

normal' to attain a state of

'normality', regarding the

group experience as in

some way less significant,

less 'real', than other

cultural experiences or

emphasising the

possibilities of

dependency and

exploitation, may be ways

of neutralizing not only

the personal impact of

such groups but also the

challenge they represent to

the wider culture - in

particular to those aspects

of individuals and their

social context whose

ascendancy depends on

the suppression of inner

truths and the denial of

unconscious and



The raising of

consciousness that can

result from the personal

growth group experience

has implications for social

action. The limitations of

much ordinary social and

cultural life may need to

be actively addressed for

significant integration to

be attainable. Failure to

engage in this represents a

failure at the level of

'politics' - a failure to

embody values and to

enact one's awareness.

There is undoubtedly the

possible pitfall of

regarding the group

experience as a substitute

for life, particularly since

for some participants

group experiences may

appear so much more

meaningful than the rest of

their lives - the gap may

feel very great. However,

my main focus here has

been on the less

recognized snares of

regarding group

experiences as purely a

means to an end,

devaluing them as life

experiences in themselves

and failing to follow

through on their

implications for action in

the social and political


I have had some of my

most moving, most

meaningful and most

spontaneously funny life

experiences while

participating in or leading

personal growth


(c) Richard Mowbray

First published in
the Open Centre programme
Winter/Spring 1997.
Reprinted with permission.

Except where otherwise indicated, these screens are maintained and © 1995,1996,1997,1998,1999,2000, 2002, 2003,2004 Denis Postle. All rights reserved. Last updated 12th August 2004