Multiple Populations

The "I" technique can be employed in all kinds of groups: process-oriented, therapy, training, workshop, communication skills, topic-focused, parenting, adolescent, parent-child, or family groups. This approach has the potential to be an incredibly powerful tool in a variety of situations, including individual, as well as couples' therapy and counseling. Although this can be implemented early in a group's existence, I have introduced it at a variety of times, particularly when I notice a prevalence of "you" statements between members. When a group or individual blames someone else in the group, I intervene with the "I's." When they begin to point a finger at a family member or friend not present, I can intervene with the "I's."


In introducing this idea to groups, I present it as much larger than semantics. Rather than just altering the words, using "I" is a different way of communicating that can change the nature of the exchange between people. It makes for clearer, more straightforward communication.

I invite group members to practice phrasing every statement in the group (or for the next fifteen minutes) to begin with "I" rather than "you." As they struggle with this, I intervene to assist and help them rephrase. As time goes on and the group gets comfortable with this, my role diminishes enormously and the group can help each other with applying this idea.

Applying the Intervention

A variety of situations profit from this intervention. When members speak with strong emotion the therapist can model appropriate response:

GROUP MEMBER (to another member): "You made me so uncomfortable with your angry shouting!" THERAPIST (modeling response): "/ become very uncomfortable when you raise your voice. / hear it as anger."

When members give feedback:

MEMBER: "I think that you enjoy being the one in charge in here!" THERAPIST: "I feel jealous when you speak with such authority."

The "I's"Have It!

When members want another member to change behavior:

MEMBER: "Can't you stop smirking? Don't look at me like that!" THERAPIST: "When you smile, I see it as a smirk and I feel diminished. I want to know more about what you are feeling toward me." (The other member might respond): "I'm smiling because I like you and I enjoy how you say things."

Later I might encourage the group members to explore their observations and feelings in response to this exchange, with the goal of members saying to themselves: "I'd like to understand more about what gets triggered inside me."

When individuals, speaking about their behavior, use "you" to describe what they themselves do:

MEMBER: "When you get angry, you want to explode, but instead you keep your mouth shut. Why can't you speak up?" THERAPIST: "Try changing the "you's" in your statement to "I's." MEMBER: "When I get angry, instead of exploding, I keep my mouth shut. I wonder if we might be alike." (Therapist may ask group): "Take a moment and hear how differently it sounds just by inserting I. What do you notice?"

Over time, groups learn to listen for differences and respond with their own "I" statements. Because using "I" often feels less threatening to the other member, it provokes less resistance and increases the likelihood of members hearing one another Instead of asking questions of one another, the group uses the "I's" and carries on its dialogue.

Sometimes, groups need to be reminded that, if "you" is in the first four to five words, the statement rarely is an "I" statement. Usually, it is what Thomas Gordon (1975) describes as a "disguised-you message" (p. 121): "I think that you I feel that you You are I wish you would " Such statements as these, need to be rephrased using "I" followed by a feeling, or closely by another "I": "I feel deeply touched by what you just said;" "I think that I just avoided your gaze by making a joke when 1 really felt uncomfortable."

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