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Sensitivity training

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Sensitivity Training is a form of training that claims to make people more aware of their own prejudices, e.g. on homosexuality, and more sensitive to others. According to its critics, it involves the use of psychological techniques with groups that its critics[attribution needed] claim are often identical to brainwashing tactics. Critics believe these techniques are unethical.

According to his biographer, Alfred J Marrow, Kurt Lewin laid the foundations for sensitivity training in a series of workshops he organised in 1946 to carry out a 'change' experiment, in response to a request from the Director of the Connecticut State Interracial Commission. This led to the founding of the National Training Laboratories in Bethel, Maine in 1947. Kurt Lewin, who met Eric Trist in 1933, influenced the work of the London Tavistock Clinic, both in its work with soldiers during the second world war and in its later work with the Journal Human Relations jointly founded by a partnership of the Tavistock Institute and Lewin's group at MIT.

The nature of modern Sensitivity Training appears to be in some dispute. Its modern critics portray its origins and function in negative terms. Others view the approach as benignly beneficial in many of its historical and contemporary implementations.

During World War II, Psychologists like Carl Rogers in the USA and William Sargant, John Rawlings Rees, and Eric Trist in Britain were used by the military to help soldiers deal with traumatic stress disorders. This work, which required service to large numbers of patients by a small number of therapists and necessarily emphasized rapidity and effectiveness helped spur the development of group therapy as a treatment technique. Rogers and others evolved their work into new forms including encounter groups designed for persons who were not diagnosably ill but who were recognized to suffer from widespread problems associated with isolation from others common in American society. Other leaders in the development of Encounter Groups, including Will Schutz, centered their work at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California.

Meanwhile, Training Groups or T-Groups were being developed at the National Training Labs, now part of the National Education Association. Over time the techniques of T-Groups and Encounter Groups have merged and divided and splintered into specialized topics, seeking to promote sensitivity to others perceived as different and seemingly losing some of their original focus on self-exploration as a means to understanding and improving relations with others in a more general sense.

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More on Encounter Groups

More on T-Groups

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