The T-group is a structured setting for understanding group dynamics and practicing social and emotional skills. The T-group’s origin was interethnic and interracial. Kurt Lewin invented it while working on issues of fair employment in Connecticut. It was a powerful force in the civil rights movement. The T-group was originally called "The basic skills training group." In its early years it was often called "sensitivity training," meaning "sensitivity to group processes."
Different iterations of the T-group have evolved over time. In the Northwest, John Wallen evolved the T-group to emphasize four core skills: 1) description of feelings, 2) description of behavior, 3) paraphrase, and 4) perception check (guess others’ emotion).
These are exceedingly difficult skills. Everyone can express their feelings (i.e. slam a door, shout, swear, refuse to talk, etc.), but few can name their emotion/feeling. Only a rare participant can describe behavior. Rather they tell their judgment (i.e. "He’s being sarcastic," "She’s selfish," etc.). Both paraphrasing and parroting require one to pay close attention to the other which, in the anxiety of most moments, people usually fail to do. John Wallen’s skills are a critical part of the LIOS T-group experience.
An important training element, to increase consciousness, is to take away two standard stabilizers: 1) There is no one leading the discussion. 2) There is no agenda assigned. Instead, process goals are given. Typical process goals in a LIOS T-group are usually stated:
The function of the T-group leader (and hopefully increasingly of the participants) is to call attention to what’s happening, the processes, the here and now, emotionality, the interaction, how decisions are made, who talks to whom, who talks most, who least, how is conflict being recognized and handled, etc. These process elements become the content of the T-group. The training is not about talking about there and then subjects, but rather focusing on the immediate here and now moment. Most participants move from where they say "You made me angry," to "I feel angry," thus taking responsibility for their own emotionality. This, for many, is transformational!
Most participants leave the T-group with much more awareness, acceptance of self, and sensitivity to others and group processes. It is like they experience an awakening to an aspect of life that they did not see before. Now, in each moment, they have a set of options and choices of ways of being that can positively impact the outcomes. Because the skills are practiced repeatedly, participants gain access to a new way of being. As one participant said, “I went through this almost 20 years ago and it is the only training that has ever stuck with me. I use the skills and concepts every day.”