The Place and Value of Community in

Person-Centered Groups

May, 1993

Ruth Sanford


When I first tried to define this term community I was aware of the diversity of feelings, the attitudes and definitions of the term which we would undoubtedly find in any gathering, even a person-centered gathering. The story came to my mind of the old itinerant minister who was asked by one of his parishioners, "What is divine unction?" and his response was, "I don't know exactly what it'tis, but I sure as hell know when it tain't."

At our meeting a year ago, I sensed a lack of what we called community meetings but I was unable to identify what was missing. It became a source of concern to me, a feeling that apparently the causes of my concern lay below my awareness. Since that experience I have continued to inquire into the meaning to me of the word "community" and the meaning as I have found it described by Carl Rogers and others who have spoken and written on the subject including others of widely disparate points of views, e.g., anthropological, sociological, political, linguistic.

The concept that seems to be present in most of the definitions involves the coming together of two or more organisms with a common bond.

Martin Buber comes the closest to the person-centered meaning of meeting in his statement, "Any real meeting is healing."

The following are some dictionary definitions of community based on Webster’s Third International and The Oxford English Dictionary.

1) any group sharing interests or pursuits

2) showing any of these features:

shared activity

social intercourse



3) a group of people marked by a common characteristic but living within a larger community that does not share that characteristic.

These dictionary definitions are a starting place but they are of limited help. What is important is the experience of those who have been working to bring about community.

I was surprised to receive from Professor Murayama and Assistant Nakata their paper on community during the time I was preparing my paper. I had not had contact with Professor Murayama since our meeting at the 2nd International Forum in Norwich, England in 1984. 1 would like to share with you some of the highlights of that paper which, in my opinion, bear directly on the issue which we are considering. They offer fresh definitions of community and pose questions which are relevant to the problems which we are addressing in this conference.

"This paper introduces Fukuoka Human Relation Community (FHRC), which is a gathering of people that started over 20 years ago in the city of Fukuoka in Japan, that has developed into a satellite-network community (Murayama, 1991)."

"They, the students of one of the authors (Murayama), were eagerly trying to find another way of being at the time of students' riots in 1960's."

At the inception of what has become community, students were asking these questions which formed a bond, a bond of commitment, interest, and concern at a time of crisis.

"FHRC has now come to form a satellite network community spontaneously."

... Why don't you try to change the system of the whole Society?...

... What is the meaningful way to be in the society as human beings?', rather than criticizing the

social system."

"As the seminar gradually changed the quality from just a college seminar to an intensive, experiential and existential meeting, the students began to hold the meeting outside of the university, and then, to explore what kind of society they should make in order for any person to be respected as one individual."

"They felt a strong need for a community where each individual's potential could be respected, explored, and opened up."

"He named the group Fukuoka Human Relation Community (FHRC) in 1970, because he needed to introduce this group to researchers of group therapy and community approach, and also, to make an announcement of encounter group workshop organized by FHRC members in order to attract participants from other areas of Japan."

After a period of 20 years Professor Murayama '91 now reports:

"Recently there have been too many applicants increasingly, probably because people are beginning to realize some or less that they need to get back some warm and empathic human interaction in this highly technologically developed country."

"In order to keep the high quality of the workshop, we are very careful in selecting facilitators. We ask somebody to come as facilitator from outside of FHRC, as well as select experienced

"And also, the facilitators hold a two-day closed conference after each workshop where they present their group process and discuss facilitation like psychotherapy case conference."

"The authors call the whole society of these group 'satellite network community'. It develops like a cell multiplication ."

"it is very important to note that FHRC has developed not hierarchically but horizontally."

"it could further imply that a FHRC kind of community could be one of the potential ways for each country in the world to coexist for world peace and that Humanistic Psychology could make some contribution on this."

"The authors believe that basic encounter groups facilitate individualization of the Japanese who are traditionally likely and pressured to follow the norms of their society."

What can we learn from the experience of Professor Murayama and his students who are members of a society whose expectations, societal norms, and even rigid rules of conduct both old and new seem antithetical to the person centered approach?

Out of Murayama and Nakata these characteristics seem to have emerged as they went through the process of building community.

1) It was born in a period of a crisis in which students felt that their intellectual and personal freedom had been violated. By way of this crisis, they became aware of their deprivation and their need for a more satisfying way of life.

2) It grew out of a common recognized need of students against the hierarchy during the student riots of the late 60's.

3) It became effective in meeting these needs and grew horizontally, taking in non-university individuals.

4) They recognized the importance of facilitation.

5) This development took place in the face of traditional Japanese rules and modern

technological developments.

6) Professor Murayama raises the question "If this way of being has succeeded over a period of more than 20 years, can the principles on which it is based be applied in the interest of world peace?"

7) It is evident that the commitment of Professor Murayama and his associates have been an important part of the creation of this remarkable network.

8) The originator, Professor Murayama, who had introduced the concept respected the autonomy of community members, encouraging the spread of satellite groups. He was successful in avoiding the role of "The Leader."

At approximately the same time another constellation was being formed in Europe. It was created with the intention of training facilitators who could return to their homes and their workplaces with skills and experience in communicating across lines of cultural differences. It was initiated by Dr. Charles Devonshire and became known as Cross-Cultural Communications, Incorporated.

As students completed their work in these programs, they were invited to join the staffs of cross-cultural workshops as a kind of apprenticeship. In this way, horizontal growth was also stimulated, reaching out to many European countries, achieving continuity and at the same time extending to new and temporary communities.

During the past year members of the convening staff and facilitators have joined in making an assessment of the more than 20 years in the life of this program with recommendations for the future. The report by Colin Lago and Mhairi MacMillan "Large Groups: Critical Reflections and Some Concerns" will be presented as a background for discussion in the workshop in Tata, Hungary, July 1993.

Some highlights of that report also seem relevant to our present search for community in ADPCA. The authors make use of Jerome Bruner’s definition of a large group as a forum for the negotiation of meaning - another definition of clear communication in a group moving toward the formation of community.

Bruner says, "The most general implication is that a culture is constantly in the process of being recreated as it is interpreted and renegotiated by its members."

Communication across lines of cultural difference is not limited to international or even intercultural groups or organizations. Any group which has come together with some common purpose or intent represents cultural and societal diversity along with different value systems. It is true of the group of which we are a part.

Lago and MacMillan:

"The large group is a structure which provides such a forum."

"However those processes can happen only when individuals feel secure and confident enough that their feelings and personal meaning will be heard and understood."

"The large group is a very powerful medium for human experiencing and it needs to be recognized that, if problematic feelings are unable to be dealt with in the group, people may have a very negative learning experience."

"Frustration in large groups is inevitable and cannot be ducked if the group is to move forward."

"When the facilitator is as willing for the group to fail as he is hopeful that it will not, then a unique experience for all is most likely." (Devonshire, 1974)

"it is from the working through of these frustrations that the sense of meeting each other as persons, of understanding and being understood, of confidence as an individual and of connection in the group community are gained." (Devonshire, 1974)

"Even someone who acts a facilitator role perfectly cannot be as facilitative as someone who is present, totally and genuinely themselves in the group."

"There is a 'truth' that communication characterized by acceptance of persons, genuineness and empathic understanding is likely to lead to constructive change." [This truth must be experienced rather than taught].

"As it becomes clearer to those participating that there is indeed nowhere to hide the challenge to a facilitator is to meet this willingly, neither willfully by over-responding nor witlessly, fearful of speaking at 'the wrong time' or of saying 'the wrong thing."'

Out of Lago and MacMillan these characteristics seem to have emerged as they went through the process of building a community.

According to Bruner, a group in the process of becoming a community is in a very real sense creating its own culture. Every member of the group has an opportunity to become a part of shaping that culture.

Frustration is inevitable and must be worked through if a group of individuals is to become a community.

When the three conditions of the person-centered approach are experienced, a group is more likely to move toward community.

At these European workshops experienced facilitators are present at sessions and assume a facilitative role, a practice which raises questions of power and control.

I should remark that unresolved conflicts within the staff, facilitators, or convening committee seen inevitably to be reflected by the participants in the workshop.

Dr. M. Scott Peck has approached the concept of community by a different route. Over a period of about 25 years, he has organized a program called the Foundation for Community Encouragement for the purpose of educating people in general and management and employees in a wide range of business organizations. He and the colleagues who have worked with him have established rules and procedures which when followed during and after the workshops have led to improved relationships, communication and a sense of community. He emphasizes the importance of civility and believes the development of community is the best route towards a return to civility in human affairs. He also emphasizes the mystic or spiritual quality present in the 'formation of community.

It is interesting that large areas of agreement exist between Peck and Rogers and wide differences in the mode of application.

He has provided a third day to follow his two-day workshops giving exercises designed to reinforce the skills learned in the process of becoming a community before the members return to their homes and workplaces. A part of this re-entry is a set of exercises "Obstacles to Community" where they recall the obstacles to community which they brought with them on Day 1: "A need to look witty or wise, difficulty being in a receiving as opposed to a giving role, terror of being out of control, a compulsive tendency to organize, always being busy as a way of maintaining distance, and so forth."

From The Different Drum:

(p. 347) "In and through community lies the salvation of the world." "If we are going to use the word [community] meaningfully we must restrict it to a group of individuals who have learned how to communicate honestly with each other, whose relationships go deeper than their masks of composure, and who have developed some significant commitment to'rejoice together, mourn together and to 'delight in each other, make others' conditions our own."'

From A World Waiting to be Born; Civility Rediscovered.-

(Page 277) "Principles of community are a set of rules, a system of rules fed into hardware to teach it how to operate effectively." (contrast with Rogers).

(Page 278) "FCE's approach encourages tolerance of ambiguity, the experience of discovery and the tension between holding on and letting go. As we empower others, so are we empowered by a spirit within and beyond ourselves."

"Obstacles to Community" - see exercises following workshop.

(Page 286) "Community building first, decision making second."

My intent has been to review the years of experience of many persons committed to the creation of community. We have listened to that of Murayama and Nakata in Japan, to Lago, MacMillan and Devonshire representing some of the work in Europe, the psychologist Jerome Bruner, and to Peck and his work with business and intercultural groups but such a review would not be complete without listening also to Carl Rogers whose professional life and much of his personal life were dedicated to the finding of 'a truth' freeing flawed individuals, freeing them to realize more of their own potential as self-actualizing beings who reached fulfillment by becoming a part of the society around them. As his work evolved it became evident that the self-actualizing person became more effective as a responsible member of society. The last 10 years of his life were spent in bringing together groups of wide diversity, often in conflict.

In this process of discovering ways of real communication he and his colleagues found that communities could be formed in a period of two days or 15 days.

I prefer to hear Carl's words as if he were speaking in these quotations from On Personal Power, A Way of Being and On Encounter Groups.

From Carl Rogers, On Personal Power

"As I participate in the struggling, difficult, trying, painful process of our beginning to become a community, I have two reactions. One is that at times I am so frustrated that I wonder if it's worth it. But the other reaction is much stronger. I watch with awe the birth pangs of something new in the world. And my earlier conviction returns. If we can find even one partial truth about the process by which 136 people can live together without destroying one another, can live together with a caring concern for the full development of each person, can live together in the richness of diversity instead of the sterility of conformity, then we may have found a truth with many, many implications.

I don't know how to solve the problems of the exploitation of the poor by the rich, nor the horror of the nuclear shadow, nor the incredible social injustices of the world. I devoutly wish I did. But if we can discover one truth about the process of building community, I'm not going to despair. The discovery of anything that is approximately true has an earthshaking revolutionary power. And I believe we are making some such discovery, though I can't define it, and can only describe some of its characteristics. So I hope that some of the overwhelming world issues may be touched in ways I can't even dream of now, by what we are doing."

(p. 270) "The help so freely given by emerging persons is a gentle, subtle, non-moralistic caring."

"They fly in the face of the modes of 'helping' most popular in our culture - the diagnostic, evaluative, interpretive, prescriptive, and punitive approaches."

He expressed a special need in our current way of life in the United States for skill in finding a sense of community in a transient society.

(p. 270-271) "These persons are seeking new forms of community, of closeness, of intimacy, of shared purpose. He and she are seeking new forms of communication in such a community verbal and nonverbal, feelingful as well as intellectual. There is a recognition that personal life will be transient, mostly in temporary relationships and that they must be able to establish closeness quickly. In this mobile world persons do not live long in one. These individuals are not surrounded by family and relatives. They are a part of the temporary society. There is a realization that if they are to live in a human context, there must be an ability to establish intimate, communicative, personal bonds with others in a very short space of time. They must be able to leave these close relationships behind, without excessive conflict or mourning.

Reference to an example of facilitation in a workshop in Brazil speaks eloquently of creation of a climate for the growth of community.


(p. 324) "Although the staff was not exercising authoritarian control over the process, we were nonetheless contributing to it in consistent and precise ways. During periods of questioning, antagonism, even chaos, it was clear that staff members were listening intently, focusing on each

person as he or she spoke, and making a point of responding to a person if someone else had not.


For example, in one initial session, a woman voiced a torrent of criticism of the staff, speaking very bitterly. Other criticized her. But in a moment John got hold of a microphone and said, 'Sonia, I have no excuses or answers to offer, but I am not ignoring you. I hear your disappointment, and it matters to me. And I hear your anger and it reached me.' Sonia's belligerence visibly softened. She felt heard and respected as a person.

What the staff does by such behavior is to help focus the attention of the whole community on what is actually happening, as it happens. Simple observations have a powerful organizing effect. In the middle of chaos, a statement such as 'In the last few minutes I've noticed that several people have spoken, yet none have been responded to, or 'Right now I feel irritated; I sense it in others too, but I don't know what to do about it,' all help to bring attention to the present. We pay attention to details, the obvious."

The next quotation is in sharp contrast to the design developed by Peck.

(p. 326) "Not the order of rules and rigidity, but an order more like the dynamic organization in a living system."


(P. 153) "One cannot hope for instant intimacy but must build trust once more."

We have listened to men and women of wide experience and have attempted to glean some

understanding of their work in and commitment to finding ways of living more joyfully and productively in our world.


I shall try here to set forth some of my own thoughts and observations which come out of my years of experience in working with groups.

A real meeting is one in which both persons are fully present and open to one another. Being

fully present means being present with their needs, with their cognitive resources and their feelings and open even to those thoughts and feelings which are below the surface and not currently in awareness which is sometimes called intuition. ,

A person-centered group, regardless of what we name it, is by definition an open system. The person-centered group from Ruth's paper on "The Theory of the Person-Centered Approach and the Theory of Chaos":

"If a group is functioning as an open system, individual organisms within the group become aware of communication within themselves, and of communication with others within the group, both of which are essential to the coming together of that group as community."

In the paper on chaos, there is a more detailed description of the way a collection of diverse individuals functions as an open system and moves through periods of chaos toward becoming a community.

I cite the experience of the anthropologist Robert Redfield.

Robert Redfield's work on the Little Community in Chan Kom, Mexico, raises the questions is there some way of recognizing qualities that give rise to a sense of belonging in a group (even though they have wide differences).

The kind of community we're trying to form does include a widely diverse gathering of people. The important thing is learning how to create an environment in which all members can feel a degree of safety and therefore a willingness to be openly who they are and a willingness to listen to opposing points of view.

When the small community of Chan Kom was functioning as an open system, it was effective. When outsiders, representatives of the central government in Mexico, appeared, imposing authority from above, the functioning small community disrupted. Can this well- documented experience serve as a model for us?

Can we recognize as Redfield did a community that was functioning well without outside leadership or encouragement?

Does this also mean the misuse of power and the imposition of authority from above can destroy community, including one which is already formed?

The history of the work that has been done in Japan as well as in Europe raises the question of the nature and importance of facilitation in person-centered groups, particularly those without a specifically designated staff or facilitators.

Closely related to this issue is the issue of freedom and responsibility of participants in groups that are open systems having no authoritarian leader or prescribed agenda.

I wonder if in ADPCA, which is a non-organization organization, we've been sufficiently concerned about the need, value and source of facilitation in the emergent community. We have already explored the need for facilitation and implied its value in this creative process. We now raise the question "Where does the responsibility for facilitation rest?"

In our PC groups which have no designated facilitators, have we assumed that everyone is free to be present as him or herself with needs and feelings to be expressed but have not felt responsibility for facilitating the growth of the group?

In response to these questions I suggest an answer which has been in the process of formulation during my research and work of the past few months. We may be discovering a way of helping community to form if from the beginning we can think of each participant not only as a participant who is as fully present as possible but also as a self-acknowledged facilitator aware of the presence and needs of the others as well. Being present in this way is not easy and to quote Carl is "not for the fainthearted," but those who have made a commitment have become better and better at it. I submit this approach to the creation of community as worthy of careful consideration.

In my work with Carl in South Africa and what was formerly the Soviet Union, we felt sufficiently encouraged by the effectiveness of applying the human conditions for creation of a climate for growth in the individual and the group that we planned to return primarily to meet with political leaders in order to apply the same principles. It was our hope that such intensive meetings of persons on high management levels could have an impact beyond that of our previous work. In South Africa it was to include representatives from the "in government," apartheid, and members of organizations representing the interests of the oppressed, the ANC and others.

In the Soviet Union it was our hope to reach across the differences between the government of the Soviet Union and the government of the U.S. I believe the people of U.S., Soviet Union and South Africa suffered a real loss in the failure of these plans to materialize as a result of Carl's death in 1987. Shortly before his death, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, but the notification arrived too late for him to know.

"Temporary community in PCA groups is a learning process bringing the PCA concept of community into the larger community which could be the neighborhood, the country, the state, the nation and/or international groups.

"Our experience in PCA groups is an opportunity for learning to facilitate a sense of community in these larger groups."

Carl Rogers was very clear that person-centered groups taking place as they do in many parts of the world can prepare individuals and groups for participation in a global movement toward communication across lines of difference and the creation of community of nations.

The two following quotations from Charles Devonshire and Carl Rogers are taken from the brochure for the '93 PCA Approach to Cross Cultural Communication in Tata, Hungary. They speak eloquently of their belief that we have found a way which can be effective on an

intercultural and an international scale. Like any discipline it requires commitment and practice.

"Cross-cultural communication workshops throughout Europe have convinced me that we can look to the future with renewed optimism for better communication and understanding across many boundaries that are surmountable within a climate of mutual commitment, empathic understanding and genuineness. The evidence is overwhelmingly positive among persons who have committed themselves to the process of discovering and creating solutions to the communication problems of our times."

"I have not thought of these workshops in casual, superficial, or even professional terms. I think of them as having the potential for profound international significance. If we find in these intercultural groups that it is impossible to understand each other - truly to meet each other as persons - to grasp the meaning and beliefs of each other - then I would suppose there is not much hope for our world. But if it does prove possible genuinely to meet and discover each other as persons, actually to empathize with and understand both the cultural beliefs and political views of each other - then I think that our obscured future may be penetrated with some clear rays of light and that we may realistically hope for a better world."

Again, I ask the question if we and the Association for the Development of the Person-Centered Approach can't learn how to do it, who can?


Please Note: This is a draft, not a finished paper.




Bruner, J., Actual Minds, Possible Worlds, 1986, Harvard University Press, Cambridge.

Devonshire, C.M., "Applications of Person-Centered Philosophy to Cross-Cultural

Communication," paper presented to the First International Conference on Client-Centered Therapy, Wurzburg, Germany, 1974. Lago, C. and MacMillan, M., "Large Groups: Critical Reflections and Some Concerns," manuscript to be presented at 22nd workshop of Center for Cross-Cultural Communication, Tata, Hungary, 1993.

Murayama, S. and Nakata, Y., "Satellite Network Community Approach to Human

Potential for Growth: Fukuoka Human Relation Community (FHRC)", unpublished manuscript, March, 1993.

Peck, M. Scott, The Different Drum, 1987, Simon and Schuster, New York.

Peck, M. Scott, A World Waiting to be Born, 1993, Bantam, New York.

Redfield, R., The Little Community & Peasant Society and Culture, 1960, University of

Chicago Press, Chicago.

Rogers, Carl, On Personal Power, 1977, Delacorte Press, New York.

Rogers, Carl, A Way of Being, 1980, Houghton Mifflin, Boston.

Rogers, Carl, Carl Rogers on Encounter Groups, 1970, Harper and Row, New York.

Sanford, R., "Beginning of a Dialogue in South Africa," The Counseling Psychologist,

12:3, 1984.