BEYOND WORDS: The Story of Sensitivity Training and the Encounter Movement by Kurt W. Back

BEYOND WORDS: The Story of Sensitivity Training and the Encounter Movement

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KIRKUS REVIEW

You are hereby forewarned that at no point does Prof. Back (Duke -- soc-anthro) exploit or sensationalize the seedier or more pseudoscientific aspects of sensitivity training as so frequently occurs in the popular press. Rather, this is a very serious, thoughtfully constructed study in almost every respect -- the research and documentation, organization of material, prose style, and treatment of subject are all squarely imposing (Esalenites might simply say square) -- and if you are keen enough or student enough to put up with or even appreciate Back's academically sober approach, you will find Beyond Words an impeccable source for reliable, up-to-date information on the history, theories, applications, methods, and varying aims of the sensitivity-encounter movement both here and in Europe (including Tavistock Institute in London). Back underscores the movement's essential dilemma which is also the key to its highest promise: its reliance on scientific theories and parameters while at the same time ""its basic kernel is the generation of a strong emotional experience. . . (and) the rejection of the intellectual aspect of life."" Thus (and this provides a good example of Back's formidable analysis) not only has the social scientist ""succeeded the priest as the guide to personal change and to spiritual search"" but the whole history of the movement ""is a struggle to get beyond science."" In addition, Back thoroughly assesses the potentially harmful consequences of encounter experiences (invasion of privacy; serious emotional breakdown -- even professional group leaders, he says, have ""a laissez faire attitude toward possible breakdowns""); likewise he impartially reviews the criticisms leveled at the movement by laymen on both the left and right as well as those originating with the scientific community itself; and, finally, he examines the important research literature attempting to measure or determine the effectiveness of sensitivity training on participants (150 such studies are listed in an appendix). In fact it would not be unkind to say that Back dots every i and crosses every programmed T.

Pub Date: March 11th, 1972
Publisher: Russell Sage Foundation -- dist. by Basic Books