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A Deeper Dive into the Rationale for RfG Training

Daniel J. Wiener, PhD, RDT-BCT
December 20, 2021



Much traditional teaching is delivered via a sequential model in which concepts and techniques are learned in a (largely) linear order; ‘c’ is only introduced after ‘b’ has been presented and mastered, which in turn depends on ‘a’ having been learnt first. Despite paying lip-service to Piaget, conventional pedagogy overestimates the correspondence between learning-as-discovery of novel elements and learning-as-integration of already-familiar concepts and procedures. In other words, the ways we first learn differ importantly from the ways we later organize, memorize and utilize already-learnt elements. There are a few subject areas (mathematics comes to mind) where the uniform sequencing of presented concepts and operations works to promote student learning fairly well, but in most other areas student learning is far more idiosyncratic. Learning the art of psychotherapy appears quite unlike learning in the orderly and relative complete subject matter area of applied math!

In their preparations for teaching, conventional instructors typically fashion lesson plans that are intelligible (and defensible) to peers who share their own level of understanding. What is overlooked when teaching from such lesson plans, though, is that most meaningful student learning occurs as a result of discontinuous, experiential,
and/or frequently intuitive leaps. Also underestimated in conventional instruction is the structure by which students are required to demonstrate understanding rather than to understand in their own way. All too often, to satisfy their teachers, students learn to fashion answers that are supposed to indicate comprehension but that often merely parrot vocabulary and align with syntax devoid of deeper understanding. Such students have then not made the learning their own and often are unable to apply such learning independently and effectively outside the classroom, despite passing their exams. Later, when operating in real-world conditions, students typically find themselves learning from the struggle to apply their academic knowledge in an applied, real-world context (this is sometimes termed “situate learning”). “Fake it ‘til you make it,” indeed!


The distinctive training model used in RfG since 2014 can be partially described as recursive, meaning that  techniques and concepts that were presented as part of earlier instruction recur throughout training. In such recursive training there is no expectation that students already be familiar with these and need only review them in order to build more advanced work upon them. Many years of teaching psychotherapy, and of teaching RfG in particular, have led me to conclude that following a sequential order of presentation on RfG concepts, or enacting a fixed sequence of games, will not be particularly useful. One consequence of a recursive learning model is that students are invited to begin and/or continue their learning in almost any subject matter order; they are  encouraged to make personal discoveries without being shamed out of asking questions from a place of unconcealed ignorance. In other words, teachers have no legitimate place in responding, “you should already know that.”

Despite Psychology’s accumulation of a great deal of knowledge about learning, the selectivity of what is learnt in the moment is largely a mystery, known only in retrospect. At any given moment, the conscious mind is aware of only a tiny fraction of what there might be to contemplate. When presented with an external stimulus (as in a
teaching situation) the mind may ignore it or attend to it. It is not possible to know in advance with what degree of interest the mind will attend to such a stimulus at the time of its encounter, nor with what associations and accompanying emotional states. Recursive learning entails repetition of exposure to concepts and techniques previously encountered, (though as noted above, not as mere “review”). Instead, a constructive mind-set for students (and, really, this is equally true for teachers) can be, “I’ve experienced this before, and now I am able to combine these familiar elements with richer connections/associations/ applications than I was previously aware of.” For you RfG practitioners and trainers-in-training, I recommend introspection of your own understanding of, say, Status, how it continues to shift and broaden as you learn.


One benefit of adopting a recursive learning model is that training classes or workshops are not hampered by significant heterogeneity in students’ prior training or clinical experience. I’ve described the current RfG training format previously as Multilevel Training (on the RfG website at: https://www.rehearsalsforgrowth.com/certificate-program/ and in The RfG Practitioner Manual, pp. 91-92) or the “One-room Schoolhouse model” that has replaced the older “single-level” workshop format in use from 1999 to 2013. In current RfG trainings a more collaborative community of learners emerges in which students actively assist and learn from one another as well as from the instructor.

When a basic exercise such as “Mirrors” is offered, many (perhaps all attending) may have previously enacted it. Some may react to their familiarity with “Mirrors” by tuning out (“I already know this”). At such times the instructor can supportively challenge students to seek further significance in both the participation in and observation of its enactment, for once you “know” the exercise your attention can more readily be directed to nuances of performance and to the deeper significance of clinical assessment via its use. Student questions and comments  arising from the “Mirrors” enactment become opportunities for the instructor to highlight how all present may observe or comprehend differently and how more refined and/or novel clinical applications may arise from others’ shared contributions. I can truthfully report that new possibilities still emerge for me despite my having clinically used and taught “Mirrors” hundreds of times!

As always, I welcome your input and feedback regarding any thoughts and experiences you’ve had with learning RfG – please write me!