ERIC Identifier: ED366856
Publication Date: 1994-04-00
Author: Gladding, Samuel T.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Counseling and Student Services Greensboro NC.
Effective Group Counseling. ERIC/CASS Digest.
There is a natural tendency for people to gather in groups for mutually
beneficial purposes. Through groups, individuals accomplish goals and relate to
others in innovative and productive ways (McClure, 1990). People would not
survive, let alone thrive, without involvement in groups. This reliance and
interdependence is seen in all types of groups from those that are primarily
task-oriented to those that are basically therapeutic.
In order to be effective, group leaders must be aware of the power and
potency of groups. They must plan ahead and they must be sensitive to the stage
of development of the group. Equipped with this knowledge they can utilize
appropriate skills to help their groups develop fully (Gladding, 1994). Proper
preparation and strategic intervention increase the chance of running a
counseling group smoothly and effectively.
BEGINNING COUNSELING GROUPS
A crucial element in starting
counseling groups is making decisions beforehand. Pregroup planning is the first
step in the process. Leaders design groups so that they will yield productive
and pragmatic results for participants. Among the most important considerations
are those associated with objectives, membership, rules, time, place, and
OF GROUP COUNSELING
Group counseling involves individuals who are having
difficulties they wish to resolve that are of a personal, educational, social,
or vocational nature (Corey & Corey, 1992). These groups are primarily run
in educational institutions or agencies. They deal with specific,
nonpathological problems that members are aware of prior to joining and which do
not involve major personality changes. For instance, group counseling may focus
on how members achieve such goals as relating better to their families, becoming
organized, or relaxing in the presence of supervisors at work.
Group membership is either homogeneous or heterogeneous.
Homogeneous groups are composed of individuals who are similar, such as
adolescent boys, single parents or individuals working with grief and loss
issues. Heterogeneous groups are made up of people who differ in background,
such as adults of various ages with varied careers. While homogeneous groups can
concentrate on resolving one issue, their members may be limited experientially.
In contrast, heterogeneous groups offer diverse but multifocused membership.
Effective group leaders screen potential members before accepting them.
Screening allows leaders to select members and members to select leaders and
groups. The ideal group size of eight to 12 allows members an opportunity to
express themselves without forming into subgroups. In order to help dispel and
overcome misconceptions about groups, leaders can utilize pregroup interviews to
identify fears related to upcoming groups. Through feedback and explanation,
misunderstandings can be immediately clarified and corrected (Childers &
IN COUNSELING GROUPS
Counseling groups run best when the rules governing
them are few and clear. If there are more than a dozen rules, many members will
tend to forget some of them. Likewise, if the rules are vague, some members will
inevitably violate the letter or spirit of them. In counseling groups, rules
should follow the ethical standards of professional organizations, such as the
Association for Specialists in Group Work. Members should agree to keep each
others' confidentiality, not attack each other verbally or physically, to
actively participate in the group process, and to speak one at a time.
AND PLACE OF GROUPS
Although counseling groups vary, members need a
specific, consistent time and place to meet. Most groups meet for one and one
half to two hours each week for 12 to 16 sessions. The meeting room should be
quiet and inviting and away from other activities. Groups work best when chairs
are arranged in circles where everyone feels a sense of equality with one
another and the flow of communication is enhanced (Gladding, 1994).
Group member interactions appear simple but they are not. They are
complex social processes that occur within groups and that affect actions and
outcomes (Lewin, 1948). Group dynamics occur in all groups, and involve the
interactions of group members and leaders over time, including the roles the
members and the leaders take. Individuals have an impact on groups just as
groups influence members. The number of group interactions increases
exponentially as the size of groups grows. Therefore, keeping track of
communication patterns in counseling groups is a demanding job.
The complexity of interaction is magnified by the fact that messages are sent
within counseling groups on a verbal as well as a nonverbal level. The nature of
this communication is crucial to comprehending what is happening within groups.
For example, a member who physically or emotionally distances from a group
influences how the group operates as clearly as if he or she makes a statement.
As groups develop, members frequently switch roles and patterns of interaction.
In addition to preplanning, effective group
counseling leaders recognize that groups go through five stages: dependency,
conflict, cohesion, interdependence, and termination. The stages are often
called "forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning (Tuckman & Jensen, 1977). Recognizing group stages gives counselors an opportunity to
devise or utilize appropriate leadership interventions.
The first group stage is "dependency" or forming. At this time, group members
are unsure of themselves and look to their leaders or others for direction. This
process gives members an opportunity to explore who they are in the group and to
begin establishing trust. The second stage in group counseling is "conflict," or
storming. It may be overt or covert. The type and amount of conflict that is
generated relates to how much jockeying for position goes on in the group.
Stage three focuses on "cohesion," or norming, which can be defined as a
spirit of "we-ness." In it, members become closer psychologically and are more
relaxed. Everyone feels included in the group and productive sharing begins to
occur. In the fourth stage, performing, the main work of the group is begun.
Interdependence develops. Group members are able to assume a wide variety of
constructive roles and work on personal issues. The level of comfort in the
group increases too. This is a prime time of problem solving. It occupies about
50% of a typical group's time. The final stage, adjourning deals with
termination. Issues of loss in separating from the group are raised. Celebrating
the accomplishment of goals is also a primary focus within this stage.
GROUP COUNSELING SKILLS
As with other groups, leaders of
effective counseling groups need to employ a variety of interpersonal skills
(Corey & Corey, 1992). Among the most important of these are:
active listening, where leaders are sensitive to the language, tone, and
nonverbal gestures surrounding members' messages;
linking, where leaders help members recognize their similarities;
blocking, where leaders keep unfocused members from disrupting the group by
either redirecting them or preventing them from monopolizing conversations; and
summarizing, where leaders help members become aware of what has occurred and
how the group and its members have changed.
Empathy, personal warmth, courage, flexibility, inquiry, encouragement, and
the ability to confront are vital skills too. Counseling group leaders must wear
many hats in helping their groups make progress. The more skills within the
counselors' repertoires the more effective they will ultimately become.
Conducting effective group counseling relies on
the preparation of group leaders and their abilities to plan and conduct groups.
Extra time in preparation is crucial to the life of the group. This process
includes screening of members, selecting a manageable number of group
participants, establishing a regular place and time for the conducting of the
group, and setting rules. In running groups leaders must then recognize and
utilize group stages and employ appropriate counseling skills in a timely
fashion. Successful group counseling is dependent on many factors. Ultimately,
the secrets of conducting effective counseling groups are in learning how groups
operate and then personally investing in them.
Childers, J. H., & Couch, R. D. (1989).
Myths about group counseling: Identifying and challenging misconceptions.
"Journal for Specialists in Group Work," 14, 105-111.
Corey, M. S., & Corey, G. (1992). "Groups: Process and practice" (4th
ed.). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.
Gladding, S. T. (1994). "Effective group counseling." Greensboro, NC:
Lewin, K. (1948). "Resolving social conflicts: Selective papers on group
dynamics." New York: Harper.
McClure, B. A. (1990). "The group mind: Generative and regressive groups."
Journal for Specialists in Group Work, 15, 159-170.
Tuckman, B. W., & Jensen, M. A. (1977). Stages of small group development
revisited. "Group and Organizational Studies," 2, 419-427.