six dimensions of facilitator style: an introduction

© 1977 John Heron

comprehensive application

The purpose of this paper is to provide a model for the analysis of the facilitation of groups.  The model claims to be reasonably comprehensive with respect to the main types of option open to the facilitator, whether the facilitator be formally appointed as such, or someone who happens at any given moment to have a facilitating function in a leaderless group.  The model is developed to apply to experiential learning groups of all kinds: the more traditional kinds of group therapy, T-groups, encounter groups, personal growth groups with a particular technical focus (such as bio-energetics, Gestalt, psychodrama, co-counselling, primal, birth trauma, transpersonal, etc.), interactive and social skills training groups, management training groups, organisational development groups, and indeed any group in which learning takes place through an active and aware involvement of the whole person - volitional, affective and cognitive - in the group process and its particular focus.

my experience

The model is based on an examination of the experience of facilitating groups of different kinds and of being a participant in groups of different kinds; and on a reflection on the issues involved in facilitating groups.  The different kinds of groups which I have facilitated include the following: basic co-counselling training, advanced co-counselling, co-counselling teacher training, T-groups, encounter, sexuality, meditation and transpersonal psychology, interactive skills and six category intervention analysis, peer learning communities, training trainers, experiential techniques in higher and continuing education, birth trauma, body work, and so on.

phenomenological research

The model is offered as an example of the kind of research that in a later section of this paper I call phenomenological mapping.  This qualitative research necessarily precedes any kind of quantitative research since the latter can only be conducted in areas and aspects of experience designated by the former.  Furthermore a systematic grasp of and openness to the qualities of the human world, their interconnections and implications can shed a great deal of light on what kind of quantitative research it is appropriate to do among persons, and on what kind it is inappropriate to do.

polar pairs

The model is value neutral: each dimension of facilitator style is presented as a polar pair, but neither pole, nor any dimension, is regarded as more or less valuable than any other.  Such value is relative to context, timing, manner, type of group.  There can be both valuable and disvaluable use of all the poles and dimensions in their different aspects.

explicit and tacit

The polar pair of each dimension is designated in terms of “X” and “Non-X”.  The “Non-X” dimension is not meant to imply anything at all malfunctional, pejorative, disvaluable.  It implies, rather, a tacit intervention in the “X” dimension, in the sense of delegating that type of intervention to the group: to be non-directive is tacitly to direct the group to be self-directive.

comprehensive range of interventions

Under each pole of each dimension I list a range of different facilitator interventions.  So far as possible I have tried to order them, for each dimension, from the most explicit to the less explicit, from the less tacit to the most tacit.  However, this is not to be taken too seriously; and such ordering is either arguable or irrelevant and inapplicable in some instances.  I certainly do not claim that this model is exhaustive of all specific types of facilitator intervention, but I believe it is comprehensive.

relationship with the six category model

The model is isomorphic with and is indeed a direct development of the six category intervention analysis model (Heron, 1975).  That model was developed primarily in terms of one-to-one interventions.  Here it is developed in terms of one-to-group interventions.  Both models can be regarded as informing and enlarging each other.  I shall assume familiarity with the six category intervention analysis paper, but lack of such familiarity should not significantly restrict understanding of the present paper.

© 1977 John Heron

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