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ERIC Identifier: ED404588
Publication Date: 1995-00-00
Author: Borgen, William A.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Counseling and Student Services Greensboro NC., Canadian Guidance and Counselling Foundation Ottawa (Ontario).

A Model for Group Employment Counseling. ERIC Digest.

The model of group counseling presented in this paper is based on several studies by Borgen and Amundson regarding people's psychological reaction to unemployment (Amundson & Borgen, 1987; Borgen & Amundson, 1987).


Within the current economic context of rapidly changing labor market opportunities and structural unemployment (Herr, 1993), many people are faced with the prospect of not simply losing a job, but a way of life. The loss affects the core of being and can result in a series of emotional reactions that approximate loss reactions (Kubler-Ross, 1969), namely denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Coupled with loss is confusion of setting a new career direction and stress associated with job search. The end result can be an emotional roller coaster which is difficult for the person, the family, and for professionals trying to offer assistance.


Amundson & Borgen (1987) identified several factors that helped or hindered during unemployment. Facilitating factors included support from family and friends, positive thinking, career changes and retraining, part-time or temporary work, job search support groups, vocational counseling, initial job search activities, making job contacts, and physical activity. Hindering factors were job rejections, financial pressures, contacts with government agencies, unknown or negative future, ineffective job search activities, negative thinking, and spouse or family problems. The hindering factors reflect the stress of job search, the re-definition of self associated with unemployment, and strained relationships. The facilitating factors focus on relationships and meaningful activities.


Taken together, these factors pointed to the potential of group employment counseling. In a group context there are opportunities for support and meaningful exchange with others. In order to examine this further, (Amundson & Borgen, 1988) investigated the experiences of people who had been involved in a variety of group employment counseling programs. Participants were contacted 3-5 months after the groups had finished. Group employment counseling resulted in a dramatic upswing that in some cases led to a job (48 %) and in other cases to sustained, independent job search activity (52 %). Timing of the group experience seemed particularly important. Some people tended to emotionally drift slowly downward after 2 months of being unemployed, while others maintained a positive outlook for up to 6 months, but then experienced rapid emotional decline. Participation in the group around 8-9 months after job loss seemed to produce an "emotional rebound" where people were able to maintain a more positive outlook whether or not a job was found.

When participants described their group involvement, they emphasized what they had learned, the support that they had received, and the ways in which their self-esteem had been enhanced. They appreciated the structured learning activity which was meaningful and enabled them to meet others facing similar experiences. For most people, their main regret was that they had not joined a group earlier.


Based on the information that task (i.e., structured learning activities) and social support aspects of groups were about equally helpful, a group employment counseling model was developed. The model has two emphases: acquisition of relevant skills and information (the "educative" element), and the development and maintenance of a constructive attitude (often impeded by emotions which must be recognized: anxiety, fear and depression).

The group counseling model (Borgen, Pollard, Amundson, & Westwood, 1989) focuses on the development of knowledge, skills, and personal awareness. These three elements are important regardless of the purpose of the group: career exploration, career decision-making, job search, or coping with unemployment. Within the approach, participants have the opportunity to acquire relevant information, practice skills needed to be successful, and address any barriers that they may be facing.

The model, depicted in Figure 1 [not available here], has five core elements:

1. The "group goals and activities" define the purpose of the group.

2. "Member needs and roles" develop from two sources: (a) needs related to the career challenges of members, and (b) needs related to being a group member: inclusion, control, and trust (Schutz, 1958).

3. The "group processes" influence the functioning of the group and include: communication, norm setting, decision making, confrontation of the problem, problem solving, and conflict management.

4. "Leader approaches and skills" include personal qualities necessary for group leadership, approaches (directing, influencing, assisting, and delegating) that promote effective group leadership, and particular skills (reaction, interaction, and action) necessary to respond to the needs of group members at various stages of group development.

5. "Group design" focuses on sequencing group activities to be congruent with group purpose and stage of group development.

The stages of group development provide a second dimension to the model and are consistent with Tuckman's (1963) overview of group development.

1. The "planning stage" provides a foundation for the group. Initial referral and screening are important to ensure member needs match group goals.

2. When group members first come together ("initial stage"), there is a need for members to feel part of the group (inclusion). In this stage it is important to focus on the integration of individual and group goals and the establishment of group norms.

3. As members become more aware of the needs of each other and the leader, the issue of control can become more central. This leads to a "transition stage" in which there is greater potential for reluctance and conflict.

4. Following this period of potential unrest, group members move into the "working stage," characterized by greater trust and an emphasis on commitment and productivity. The group functions with greater autonomy, and there is less reliance on the leader for support and direction.

5. As the group approaches the "termination stage" there is an opportunity to integrate what has been learned and plan for reaching goals. Emotionally, there may be feelings of loss which need to be acknowledged by the leader.

6. The "post-group" stage involves meeting after the group has finished to provide continued support and encouragement.

The model is fluid and dynamic. The five components of group development influence and are influenced by each other. They require the group leaders to be aware of group member needs and to modify activities and leadership approaches accordingly. In addition, the stages of group development do not proceed in a linear fashion. Members often return to earlier stages in their general progression through the group and leaders need to be aware of which stages group members may be in at any particular time and tailor their approach and skills accordingly.


Within the current context of structural change in the labor market, groups that are offered to assist people in developing or changing career directions are particularly important. The goal of these groups is to help people: (a) develop communication and other skills needed to gain personally relevant information related to their fields of interest, (b) gain information about the current economic climate and labor market opportunities, and (c) development of self-confidence sufficient to be more self-sustaining in maneuvering towards their goals.


Amundson, N. E., & Borgen, W. A. (1987). "Coping with unemployment: What helps and hinders." Journal of Employment Counseling, 24, 97-106.

Amundson, N. E., & Borgen, W. A. (1988). "Factors that help and hinder in group employment counseling." Journal of Employment Counseling. 25, 104-114.

Borgen, W. A., & Amundson, N. E. (1987). "The dynamics of unemployment." Journal of Counseling & Development, 66, 180-184.

Borgen, W. A., Pollard, D. E., Amundson, N. E., & Westwood, M. J. (1989). "Employment groups: The counselling connection." Toronto, ON: Lugus.

Herr, E. (1993). "Contacts and influences on the need for personal flexibility for the 21st century, part II." Canadian Journal of Counselling, 27, 219-235.

Kubler-Ross, E. (1969). "On Death and Dying." New York: Macmillan.

Schutz, W. C. (1958). "Firo: A three dimensional theory of interpersonal behavior." New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.

Tuckman, B. (1963). "Developmental sequence in small groups." Psychological Bulletin, 23, 384-399.


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