A qualitative and linguistic analysis of an authority issues training group

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Odom, Susan Dean

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Psychologists, psychotherapists, and others in the field of mental health research and practice often engage in ongoing training in order to increase both their professional skills and their self-awareness. One context for this training is an experiential training group. These groups often select a specific psychological process to study, and then use the here-and-now interactions in the group to gain awareness of the related emotions, thoughts, social processes, and behavior patterns. Members increase their knowledge through a unique combination of experience, observation, and analysis. The data for this study come from an experiential training group focused upon the authority issue, a complex psychological construct that refers to the ways in which members avoid (defend against) feelings of vulnerability in interpersonal relationships in which differences in power are perceived to exist. This study is exploratory and descriptive. I use both qualitative research methods and computerized linguistic analysis to interpret a selection of transcripts from one training group across a two and a half year period. Through multiple readings of the transcripts, triangulation through three different theories, consultation with experts, and the use of peer debriefers, four areas of interest emerge from selected transcripts. First, there is substantial evidence that this advanced group replicated the phases of development long theorized to exist in less advanced groups. Second, members demonstrated an ability to observe and articulate increasingly complex group interactions, thereby increasing their capacity to benefit from the experiential group process. Third, members explored the consequences of intra-group competition, perhaps using it as a defense against feelings of vulnerability. Finally, the linguistic analysis showed changes in language style over time.