Posts Tagged ‘Wright Graduate Institute’

Growth Groups

March 10th, 2010 by Collin Canright | No Comments | Filed in Psychology

During the late 1960s and through the early 1970s, intensive group experiences captured the attention of journalists from major media, articles in national magazines like, Look, Newsweek, Playboy, and The New Yorker; best-selling books; and appearances on major television shows by authors and practitioners. Accounts in smaller newspapers followed, with articles by the Associated Press wire service spawning local reporting by local papers like the Milwaukee Sentinel.

Books, both popular and academic, as well as academic articles from the era, opened with wide-eyed wonder and almost surprised prediction at the prevalence and importance of growth group training, viz: The book Carl Rogers on Encounter Groups, opens with a chapter called “The Origin and Scope of the Trend Toward “Groups.”” Psychologist Dr. Carl Rogers wrote that “the planned, intensive group experience” was “the most rapidly spreading social invention of the century, and probably the most potent” (Rogers, 1970, p. 1).

In a textbook Group Procedures: Purposes, Processes and Outcomes, published a couple of years later, the authors wrote, “The use of groups to increase self-understanding and to improve the quality of interpersonal relationships is a sweeping social movement affecting psychology, medicine, education, social work, even business and industrial leadership,” (Diedrich and Dye, 1972, p. v).

Those books and the articles in the popular media followed the publication, in 1967, of the book Joy: Expanding Human Awareness, by William C. Schutz. The cover line of the paper back copy gives the reason: Joy was the book that “made encounter groups famous.” The goal of encounter groups (groups of six to 12 participants who meet for the purpose of personal growth) was to help participants experience joy through self awareness, created as the members disclosed themselves to one another through honest and open self expression.

Groups went under various names like encounter groups (perhaps the most famous), T-Groups (for training groups, the earliest historically), sensitivity training (one of the corporate terms for group training, and process groups (a more generic and descriptive term). Those groups share a key characteristic that the are leaderless—the leader generally facilitates a process rather than sets and guides an agenda. This description of sensitivity training, from the journal article “Training Groups, Encounter Groups, Sensitivity Groups and Group Psychotherapy,” provides a good description of growth groups and their workings:

Sensitivity training is any of a set of experiences, including but not restricted to the training group, attempting to help each participant to recognize and to face in himself and in others many levels of functioning (including emotions, attitudes, and values), to evaluate his behavior in light of the responses it elicits from himself and others at these various levels, and to integrate these levels into a more effective and perceptive self. . . . The trainer is the experienced leader or facilitator within a sensitivity training group who serves as a resource to the group. . . . He does this by calling the attention of the group from time to time to the behavior which is being exhibited and the relationships which are emerging in the group, and by helping the group to clarify its own goals and procedures (Gottschalk, L.A. MD, et. al, 1972, pp. 88-89).

This post on group dynamics is the second in a series of posts on social intelligence and group dynamics, written as part of my studies at the Wright Graduate Institute for the Realization of Human Potential. The first is “Social Intelligence.” Future posts will expand on those ideas and provide the broader historical context in psychology.


Social Intelligence

March 7th, 2010 by Collin Canright | No Comments | Filed in Philosophy

The term “social intelligence” refers to an emerging science, rooted in current research in neuroscience, on the social underpinnings of the human brain. Beginning in the late 20th and with a dramatic increase in speed and precision resulting from technological improvements in the 21st century, neuroscience researchers have been validating the intuitive insights and theories of earlier writers and researchers.

In particular, neuroscience has started to describe how the brain is wired for emotion and connection between people. This post is the first in a series of posts on social intelligence and group dynamics, written as part of my studies at the Wright Graduate Institute for the Realization of Human Potential.

Daniel Goleman published the groundbreaking book Emotional Intelligence in 1995. Since then, neuroscience research has progressed to show that not only does the human brain have an innate capacity to manage emotions in order to realize the potential of relationships, but it also has an innate capacity—required for survival—to connect.

His latest book, Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships (Goleman, 2006), describes “social neuroscience,” the field originated in the early 1990s with initial studies one person influences the neurochemistry of another. Aided by the tools of 21st century neuroscience, scientists can now reliably study how “the brain drives social behavior and in turn how our social world influences our brain and biology” (Goleman, 2006, p. 10). Goleman calls it “the sociable brain.” The very design of the human brain makes it sociable, “inexorably drawn into an intimate brain-to-brain linkup whever we engage with another person.” In short, he wrote, “we are wired to connect” (Goleman 2006, p. 4).

Social intelligence and its basis in social neuroscience has wide ranging influences on group dynamics, given it shows how people are essentially designed to connect with one another. One of the initial influences that Goleman explores is “emotional contagion.” It’s really common sense that strong emotions in one person influence the emotions of the people around them. If someone is in a “bad mood” in an office, that “mood” will affect everyone else, especially if the person in a “bad mood” happens to be the boss or other influential person in the group.

Key to the neurodynamics of groups is what Goleman terms the “low road” and the “high road.” The “low road” refers to the part of the brain that responds quickly and largely unconsciously. This part of the brain is scanning the environment—including the emotional environment—for threats to the person.

Driven by the more primitive brain structure called the “amygdala,” the brain’s radar, the low road is “contagion central,” as Goleman puts it. Low road circuitry operates quickly, automatically, and below awareness. An emotion from one person in a group can quickly spread—or infect, depending on the point of view—throughout an entire group.

It takes “high road” awareness to counteract an initial “low road” response. The “high road” is the brain’s rational, executive center, the “prefrontal cortex,” the part of the brain that “contains our capacity for intentionality” and the give us the ability to “thin about what’s happening to us” (Goleman, 2006, p. 17). The high road works more methodically and step by step and “gives us at least some control over our inner life” (Goleman, 2006, p. 16).

This ability of people to influence one another affects how people in a group work together and the decisions they make. It can lead to greater closeness and cooperation, on the one hand, or the “madness of crowds,” on the other.  As Goleman writes:

Crowd contagion goes on even in the most minimal of groups, three people sitting face to face with each other in silence for a few minutes. In the absence of a power hierarchy, the person with the most emotionally expressive face will set the shared tone (Goleman, 2006, p. 48).

More to come. . .


Learning and Development

February 6th, 2010 by Collin Canright | No Comments | Filed in Psychology

Humans learn and develop. How fast, how much, how far, and to what end is open to individual chance and choice, but learning and development themselves are not. Humans are learning beings that develop throughout their lives. How humans as individuals and as a species understand learning and development and harness that understanding to positive ends determines the course of our evolution and the legacy we in this time leave to those in future time.

That is my basic belief on learning and education and why I have placed so much importance on learning throughout life. It’s why I continue to participate in training groups and why I decided to get a doctorate in human potential at a relatively late stage in life.

The philosophies, education and technologies, and research on human learning and development are described in the overview paper linked to this post. The paper suggests that an individual’s immediate awareness of emotional experience is a principal determinant of that individual’s ability to learn and develop, connect with other people, and feel satisfaction and meaning in life. It is also apparent to me that biological and medical research over the last 15 years is providing an empirical, scientific basis of what philosophers and psychologists have theorized about learning and development for well over the past century.

Read why in “Foundations of Learning and Development: An Overview,” one of the papers I have written for my master’s degree at the Wright Graduate Institute for the Realization of Human Potential.

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Existential Power

January 9th, 2010 by Collin Canright | No Comments | Filed in Philosophy, Psychology

In physics, power is the rate at which work is performed or energy is converted: power equals work divided by time. Personal power is similar, in that it is a conversion of personal energy over time.

Personal power is the ability of an individual to affect and influence his or her environment, to make something happen within himself, in another individual, in a group, or in society at large. This implies that every individual has power, just by the nature of being human. All people are power.

I have been completing an overview paper on personal power for my masters’ work at the Wright Graduate Institute for the Realization of Human Potential. One of the first things that’s apparent in the personal power area of competence is that power is mostly written about directly in terms of political and economic power, where power concerns the degree of control on person exercises over another, not personal power, where power is inherent in an individual for that individual to use, or not, for personal growth and development.

Yet the concept of a person having, even being, power is inherent in philosophy. Here’s the portion of my paper that covers personal power from an existentialist point of view:

Existential psychologists focus on experience in contrast to behavior. In philosophical terms, existentialists believe that existence precedes essence. Humans experience life (existence) and make their own meaning (essence) through the choices they make. They do not come into the world with a predefined essence and a predetermined course of life but with the free will and ability to choose.

Choice itself is the essence of existence, and a person’s life is the sum total of the choices that he made. The past is the sum of choices, and the future does not exist until a choice is made, at which point it’s the past. Given that people can exercise choice, they are, by nature, powerful, for choice entails the ability to act, to channel energy in a way that has an effect on the world, either internal or external.

Personal power from an existentialist point of view, then, lies in the individual’s free will and ability to choose. Individuals chose their lives and the experiences that make up their lives. As a result, individuals have the power to make their lives as they will, which means that they can change the course of their lives by making different choices.

In psychotherapy, existential influences include the emphasis on individuals’ freedom and responsibility for their own existence, the process of becoming an individual, the challenge to authenticity in existence, and the positive role of anxiety as a medium for change and growth. In terms of methodology, existential psychotherapy requires, Donald Moss wrote in
Existential-Phenomenological Alternatives for Psychology‎, an “authentic encounter in the present moment between two existing individuals.”

German existentialist and phenomenological philosopher Martin Heidegger wrote that one of the essential characteristics of human existence is that they are “thrown” into the world. They exist in a network of circumstances, relationships, and history that they have not chosen. “(Existential) psychotherapy challenges the individual to take this “thrownness” and make it in some way “my own,” to take the facts and particularities and create of them a new life that is uniquely an expression of oneself,” Moss wrote.

Personal power, again, lies in individuals choosing to take responsibility for their life situation and the choices they make. Existential psychologists working in clinical practice challenge the individual to “own” their choices and take responsibility for them, to see how they have used their personal power of choice to make their own meaning or life and to further use their power to make life anew.

As a result of that personal power, people make a project of their lives, either consciously or unconsciously, in the view of existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sarte. Sartre conceived of the individual’s life project as a “fundamental project of being.” Key elements of the project of being are a spirit of playfulness, as opposed to seriousness, and a quality of full engagement in living. As Dr. Robert Wright wrote in an unpublished paper:

This includes responsibility for his life in all the aforementioned positions; a quality of commitment to principle and a sense of purpose as with Kierkegaard and Heidegger; a willingness to tell the truth fully as Nietzsche defined; and a quality of playful engagement in living as seen in Nietzsche and Sartre. There appears to be a consensus among the existentialists regarding these essentials of the individual’s life project.

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