BAG THE SINGLES bars. Hold the hot tub. The hot spot for singles has become Cottonwood High School on a Tuesday night.
Consistently they congregate each week, scores of formerly married men and women, although being single is not a prerequisite.After paying $2, they enter the vast auditorium. First-timers self-consciously try to appear cool, although terrified within. Others - veterans - saunter easily down the aisle to a seat beside another stranger.
What is so compelling at Cottonwood High these nights?
The guru drawing large crowds is Dr. Kenneth Hennefer, a Salt Lake psychologist who teaches part-time for the Granite School District's adult education program, sponsored by the Family Studies Community School. His class, "You're Right to Win," has become a phenomenon - a "happening" for singles seeking outlets for their emotional needs.
"This is a great people-watching opportunity," says Bob Neumann, who has attended Hennefer's class sporadically for eight years.
And, Neumann notes, "Each week Ken says something that makes sense." Although Neumann admits that sometimes he himself just "isn't tuned in to the message," he returns each week, year after year.
Hennefer recalls teaching his first adult education class in 1973, then called "Single Parenting." He was a substitute for the regular teacher.
"One woman showed up - her husband had been killed in a hang-gliding accident. But I went ahead and taught the class . . . the two of us in the teacher's lounge of the old Lincoln Junior High School."
From those humble beginnings, through word of mouth among networking singles in the valley, "You're Right to Win," with Hennefer conducting a hilarious yet realistic two hours of group therapy based upon a modified form of transactional analysis, is now attracting 350 to 400 people each week.
The members of the group see themselves as failures, Hennefer says. "They need to know that their rejection isn't permanent; that within themselves they carry the ability to activate happiness."
Dr. Sidnee D. Spencer, coordinator of the adult and community education program for the Granite School District, knows a winner when she sees one.
She prides herself upon tapping the knowledge of people in the community, finding a facility and offering a class to the public, all at a nominal fee.
Many single people experience financial strains and otherwise wouldn't be able to afford private counseling.
As one class member notes: "Ken's class is cheap therapy."
"People drive from all over to attend the class," Spencer says. "It's a safe place for them to go. Not threatening, like a singles bar."
Spencer believes one reason Hennefer's class is so unusual is because of his cheerleader antics, used to evoke audience response. The larger the crowd, the more "on" he is, she says.
Hennefer uses comical body language and contorted facial expressions to underscore a point. He might fall to his knees, Al Jolson style, pleading with the amazed audience, "I beg of you . . . ."
Such teaching techniques might be considered outlandish, Spencer says, yet she beams over such a successful program in her adult education repertoire.
Cloaking truth in hilarity makes it easier to digest, it seems.
The first night of each eight-week session, Hennefer begins by asking questions of those in his audience. He then addresses or "harvests" their concerns, which range from dating to the threat of AIDS.
"I could cut the pain in that room with a knife," he says. "Then, after three or four weeks, the pain and anguish begin to diminish. They are coming out of their shells . . . laughing!"
The social side of the class is also important in Hennefer's attempts to offer a support system for singles. Sensing a need for organized social events for the group, he encouraged a long-time class member, Gloria Bennett, to be the social chairperson.
"That was three years ago," recalls Bennett, a hair stylist/barber with a desire to help others. She now spends many hours each week organizing social events and adding to the ever-increasing mailing list of more than 1,400 names.
She says the socials are the laboratory after the lecture.
"Ken teaches them, and the socials are their opportunity to practice their newly learned skills," she says.
"Child personality" characteristics:
Loves attention and center stage
Able to manipulate, extremely smooth
Hates authority figures
Has few close friends
Demands and dominates others
Hurts others by name calling
Craves constant fun
Uses money as power
Escapes reality with alcohol/drugs
Narcissistic view of self
Impulsive and irresponsible
"Adult personality" characteristics:
Dependency and independency balanced
Faces life realistically, optimistically
Appreciates and respects parents
Socially and ethically well-adjusted
Loves and serves others by choice
Sees self as part of universe
Sensitive to others
Balances work, worship, rest and play
Sacrifices for long-range goals
Guided by reality, not by guilt or worry
Not easily hurt by criticism
Wholesome attitude toward sex
"Parent personality" characteristics:
Depressed and withdrawn
Lives in the past
Super-responsible and dependable
Feels manipulated by others
Sees self as "doormat"
Puts herself or himself down
Boring, unable to have fun
Defers own needs
Martyr, filled with guilt
Easily embarrassed, used
In search of a strong, balanced 'adult personality'
The message being expounded by Dr. Kenneth Hennefer is a simple/complex one.
"People hear it differntly," he says with a smile.
It is a varation of transactional analysis, or TA.
In TA, a person is considered to have three separate "ego states." These are elments of what is called the "parent/adult/child personality," and it's OK to have some characteristics of each.
But Hennefer believes traditional TA doesn't suggest change people. And change is necessary for emotional growth.
His modified version identifies characteristics associated with each ego state. Everyone has some of these adult, child or parent personality characteristics. The trouble comes when a person has an abundance of child or parent personality traits.
For example, "John," a balanced adult personalilty, might seem a lilttle klutzy in lilfe, but he takes it as it comes. When he falls down, he picks himself up. When he makes a mistake, he can laugh at it.
"Susan," a parent personality, makes a mistake and laments, "things weren't supposed to happen this way!" She blames herself for her stupidity and worries that she'll never be able to show her face in public again.
"Ron," a child personality, blames his mistake on "idiots" he believes were out to get him. He immediately fromulates plans for revenge. He knows he is right and they are all wrong.
As a Salt Lake psychologist, Hennefer has dealt with lives shattered because of the self-defeating behavior patterns followed by "parent personalities" and the manipulative characteristics of those with "child personalities."
He warns his classes, "Don't mess with a 'child personality'...run!"
"My goal," he says, "is to activate and strengthen the 'adult personality' and the real person inside each of us."