Table of Contents
2. DIFFERENT KINDS OF GROUPS IN COUNSELLING PRACTICE
2.1. Definition of the term ‘group’
2.2. Groups in counselling practice
3. GROUP THERAPY VERSUS GROUP COUNSELLING
4. QUALITIES OF A SUCCESSFUL GROUP LEADER
4.1. Personal traits
4.2. Professional traits
5. A PRACTICAL EXAMPLE OF GROUP COUNSELLING AT SECONDARY SCHOOL
5.1. In general: Problems and special needs of adolescents
5.2. Formal and organisational work in setting up a group
5.3. ‘Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACAs)’: Group counselling for adolescents at school
5.3.1. Problems of adolescents with (an) alcoholic parent(s)
5.3.2. Description of the group experience
6. LIMITATIONS OF GROUP COUNSELLING
7. FUTURE PROSPECTS
This work deals with group counselling, its benefits and limitations, its types of groups, its requirements for leaders, and its realisations - especially the realisation in a school context with a focus on psychoeducational groups.
The main source in literature will be Gerald Corey, and Gerald Corey & Marianne Schneider Corey respectively, as the two psychologists have published many books about counselling in the USA and give a broad overview on this field in America. The focus does have to be on the situation in the US since this kind of group counselling at schools is not used in Germany yet, as current research pointed out.1 Therefore, it always has to be kept in mind that the essay reflects an American point of view.
Additionally, the types of groups presented in this work only include participants who take place in group counselling voluntarily. For further readings on how to deal with members who are e.g. court-referred, please see Corey and Schneider Corey 1997, 331ff.
The generic masculine is used throughout the work in order to provide an easy legibility. Thus, when using male pronouns, female persons are always included as well, unless the opposite is explicitly mentioned.
The so-called ‘Beratungslehrer’ is not part of this work due to the relative briefness of it and because his field of work does not focus on group counselling. He is rather concerned with individual counselling in the areas of educational and social problems and usually does not offer short-term counselling in the way it is described in this essay. (cf. Landesbildungsserver Baden-Württemberg (n.d.))
2. Different kinds of groups in counselling practice
2.1. Definition of the term ‘group’
Firstly, in order to talk about group counselling appropriately, one has to focus on what the term ‘group’ actually means. Aronson et al. offer the following explanation:
Eine Gruppe besteht aus zwei oder mehr Menschen, die miteinander interagieren und interdependent in dem Sinne sind, dass ihre Bedürfnisse sowie ihre Ziele eine gegenseitige Beeinflussung bewirken.2
The underlined phrases refer to the benefit of group counselling: the interaction of the members that should enrich each other’s problem-solving process (see chapter 3). Another definition points out more clearly that the members of a group would like to achieve a common goal and it adds that members feel a sense of belonging together - which defines, for example, a football team as a group in opposite to several people waiting at a bus stop.3
However, as Tobias Brocher points out, in general and in counselling practice, it is to be kept in mind that the group is not eine Entität per se, sondern man muss unterscheiden zwischen den selbständigen Einheiten, die ihre Mitglieder darstellen, und der gemeinsamen Phantasie über die Gruppe, die ihre einzelnen Mitglieder entwickeln. In der Vorstellung des einzelnen Mitgliedes hat diese Phantasie ihre jeweils eigene Qualität, die jedoch eng an die Vorstruktur der Primärgruppe (Familie) und deren emotionalen Stil sowie ihre soziale Qualität gebunden ist.4
This shows how important it is to identify clear goals and the purpose of the counselling group in the beginning, as well as the personal goals and hopes the individual member has (see chapter 3).
2.2. Groups in counselling practice
The 5Association for Specialists in Group Work (ASGW) defines group work/group counselling as follows: “a broad professional practice that refers to the giving of help or the accomplish- ment of tasks in a group setting.” A “capable professional practitioner” is needed in order to help the group members “reach their mutual goals, which may be personal, interpersonal, or task-related in nature.”6
The group leader has to be specialized in the particular area he works in. Having mastered the core competencies in group worker training does not mean that he can lead every type of group - there has to be a special additional training. In the following, four kinds of groups will be identified, differentiated by their goals, techniques, the role of the leader and his special training, and the members.7
1. Task/Work Groups:
In this kind of group, the leader functions as a kind of assistant who helps the members reach a work goal by applying the principles and processes of group dynamics8. He helps the group to work together more effectively and efficiently by correcting and enhancing their performance. He could also “develop skill in organizational assessment, training, program development, consultation, and program evaluation.” Groups for which this kind of counselling can be meaningful are e.g. task forces, planning groups, community organizations, study circles or learning groups. The leader training “involves course work in […] organizational development, consultation, and management”9 and should take at least 30, better 45, hours of leading or co-leading such a group under the supervision of an expert.
2. Guidance/Psychoeducational Groups10:
Members of these groups are “relatively well-functioning individuals”, as Corey & Corey Schneider express it, but have “an information deficit” in an area of their life that causes them problems and that needs to be dealt with with the help of a professional and other affected persons:
The specialist uses the group medium to educate group participants who are ‘at risk’ but are presently unaffected by a potential threat (such as AIDS), a developmental life event (such as a transition point), or how to cope with an immediate life crisis (such as suicide of a loved one). The goal is to prevent an array of educational and psychological disturbances.11
Other topics suitable for psychoeducational group work are “Managing Stress”, “Over- coming eating disorders (bulimia and anorexia)”, “Dealing with an alcoholic parent”, “Learning anger management skills”, “Overcoming perfectionism”, “Managing relationships and ending relationships” and “Supporting survivors of physical and sexual abuse”12. The purpose of this group work, which includes discussions and the integration of factual information, is to make members more aware of their problem and to provide them with strategies to cope with it in everyday life. Corey and Schneider Corey emphasize that this kind of group work is especially effective when working with children and adolescents, “for this group approach is congruent with the educational experience within a school setting”13: The members develop
behavioral and affective skills necessary to express their emotions appropriately. The emphasis on learning […] provides members with opportunities to acquire and refine social skills through behavioral rehearsal, skills training, and cognitive exploration.14
This focus on learning is probably the reason why groups of that sort are increasingly found in schools and college counselling centres.
As in Task/Work groups, the leader should be trained 30 or 45 hours; in this case in the fields of “community psychology, health promotion, marketing, consultation, group training methods, and curriculum design.”15 Additionally, the leader has to have content knowledge about the field he is working in, e.g. living with AIDS, stress management or substance abuse prevention. According to Corey and Schneider Corey, the group should meet for 4-15 weeks, taking 2 hours per session (or, when working with children, 30-45 minutes).
Members develop the skills mentioned above through “a structured set of proced- ures”16. A questionnaire, completed at the initial meeting, points out how the members cope with their problem. Throughout the course, there are structured exercises, readings, homework assignments and contracts in order to work intensively in the area con- cerned and to develop (and practice) tools that the members can apply in their daily life. When all the sessions are over, another questionnaire is filled in in order to show and evaluate the progress members have made through taking part in the group. 3. Counselling/Interpersonal Problem-Solving Groups:
In this kind of group, the focus is on problems that are quite ‘normal’, i.e. occurring in many people’s lives, but, nevertheless, are difficult to deal with. The individuals are ‘rel- atively well-functioning’, as Corey and Schneider Corey called it before, but have issues that hinder them in daily life, e.g. “[n]onsevere career, education, personal, social, and developmental concerns”17. The group leader helps the members to activate and develop their inherent problem-solving skills so that they can better cope with similar situations in their future life.
The group leader should have experienced as much course work as possible, but has to do at least one course beyond the general training. Moreover, the counsellor should be educated “in the broad areas of human development, problem identification, and treatment of normal personal and interpersonal problems of living.”18 At least 45, better 60, hours of leading or co-leading such a group under the supervision of an expert are required.
4. Psychotherapy/Personality Reconstruction Groups:
This kind of group differs from the other ones in terms of seriousness of problems: Group members have more severe emotional and psychological problems that need to be treated professionally, i.e. acute or chronic mental or emotional disorders that evidence marked distress, impairment in functioning, or both. Because the depth and extent of the psychological disturbance is significant, the goal is to aid each individual in reconstructing major personality dimensions.
45, better 60, hours of leading or co-leading a therapy group under the supervision of an expert are required. It is crucial that the leader has knowledge about “abnormal psychology, psychopathology, and diagnostic assessment” 19 in order to be able to treat troubled members adequately.
3. Group therapy versus group counselling
Despite the 20presentation of different types of groups above, it shall be made clearer in this chapter that and why group counselling is not to be confused with group therapy. Group therapy started ‘coincidentally’ - during the Second World War, there was a shortage of professionals who could provide individual therapy, so individuals were treated in groups. Over time, it was found out that the group setting did not only have practical ad- vantages, but, above all, provides a unique way of therapy: Interaction and communication among the group members are the crucial features for change - members provide and, in turn, experience “support, caring, confrontation, and other qualities not found in individual therapy.” The tools and strategies the group members learn can be tried out in the group context which gives them security and feedback without being confronted with a real life situation.
The problems dealt with in group therapy are of a severe nature. Thus, the goal is remedy rather than development or prevention, namely the cure of “a specific emotional or behavioral disorder that impedes people’s functioning”, e.g. in cases of depression, anxiety, psychosomatic symptoms, or sexual problems.
An important difference between therapy and counselling is the aspect of consciousness and unconsciousness: In group therapy, unconscious factors that have to do with and/or lead to the contemporary problem are made aware so that it can be worked on them. The past of the member plays a major role; the aim is to “[reconstruct] major aspects of the personality”. That is why therapy groups normally exist longer than other groups.
Different methods are applied in group therapy:
[…] techniques designed to induce regression to earlier experiences, methods to work with unconscious dynamics, and procedures aimed at helping members reexperience traumatic situations so that catharsis can occur. […] The process of working through psychological blocks rooted in past experi- ences often involves exploring dreams, interpreting resistance, dealing with transference that emerges, and helping members develop a new perspective on ‘unfinished business’ with significant others.21
Group counselling, in contrast, deals with conscious problems, is not aimed at major personality changes, is generally oriented toward the resolution of specific and short-term issues, and is not concerned with treatment of the more severe psychological and behavioral disorders.22
Counselling groups are often found at schools, counselling centres, and communal institutions. The types of problems dealt with are of a social, personal, vocational, or educational nature; the focus is on prevention and education as well as on remedy. The counselling group “involves an interpersonal process and problem-solving strategies that stress conscious thoughts, feelings, and behavior.”23
Its members are ‘well-functioning individuals’, as the authors call it, who do not need therapeutic treatment, but face problems at certain developmental stages of their lives that are usual, but difficult to deal with. The focus is on the members’ personal growth through discovery and activation of their inherent personal strength as well as on the development of interpersonal skills that enable them to cope with similar problems on their own in the fu- ture. The new behaviour can be trained in the supportive and challenging setting of the group. This surrounding helps members to self-explore, self-assess and determine their goals:
[…] the support and challenge they (= these groups, E.R.) provide help participants make an honest self-assessment and determine specific ways in which to change their patterns of thinking, feeling, and acting.24
The member does receive valuable feedback, but has to decide individually about the inten- ded changes and what he makes of the perception others have of him. In terms of structure, the group can either be open (i.e. the members lead into their in-tended direction) or focused on a particular theme from the start. In either way, there are common goals:
- helping people develop more positive attitudes and better interpersonal skills,
- using the group process as a way of facilitating behavior change, and
- helping members transfer newly acquired skills and behavior learned in the group to everyday life.25
The counsellor has to structure the group’s activities, has to act as a facilitator in members’ interactions, has to provide information about alternative ways of behaviour, has to encourage the members to transfer their insights into concrete plans and has to create personal goals that will shape the group’s direction.
As the problems of members of these groups are often interpersonal ones, the group setting is ideal to support understanding and solving:
Members are able to see a reenactment of their everyday problems unfold before them in the coun- seling group. The group becomes a microcosm of society, with a membership that is diverse but that shares common problems. The group process provides a sample of reality, with the struggles that people experience in the group resembling their conflicts in daily life. Through feedback, members are encouraged to see themselves as others do.26
In that way, they can see themselves as they did in their families and relive conflicts they had. They can also practice newly learnt kinds of behaviour with the support and empathy of the other members and subsequently find out what they would like to alter and how they can do it. During the process, they can learn to overcome stereotypes and accept cultural and other differences amongst the members and feel a sense of belonging in the way that members might be different, but also alike regarding their struggles, problems and emotions.
1 Research on the internet was carried out by me and XXXXXXXXXX in June and July 2009 as we were searching for examples of group counselling at German schools and found none.
2 Aronson et al. 2004, 355; underlined by E.R.
3 cf. BR-online, n.d.
4 Brocher 1999, 95.
5 Due to the relative briefness of the essay and its focus on counselling I will not fully explain the various types of groups existing in social psychology (such as ‘Primärgruppe’, ‘Sekundärgruppe’, formal and informal groups) but only present those ones relevant for counselling practice in further detail. A very short overview is given on BR-online (n.d.): „Man kann die Primärgruppe, wie etwa die Familie, von Sekundärgruppen wie Arbeitsgruppen oder Schulklassen ab- grenzen. Entsprechend der Gruppenzugehörigkeit ist die Eigengruppe (‚ingroup’) von der Fremdgruppe (‚outgroup’) zu trennen.“ Crisand & Kiepe (1996) present an overview on informal groups, i.e. people who share the same interests and are connected emotionally, such as a clique, and formal groups, i.e. groups who are not connected emotionally but are composed because of outside decisions, such as a class at school (cf. Crisand & Kiepe 1996, 67ff.).
6 All quotes: ASGW in Corey & Schneider Corey 1997, 9.
7 Cf. Corey & Schneider Corey 1997, 9ff, and Corey & Schneider Corey 2006, 11f.
8 Due to the relative briefness of this work I will not deal with the principles of group dynamics in detail, but give a short description here: „Die G. (= Gruppendynamik, E.R.) untersucht die wechselseitigen Einflüsse und Beziehungen zw. Mitgliedern von Gruppen (z.B. Familien, Wohngemeinschaften, Schulklassen, Arbeitsteams).“ (Böhm 2000, 222)
9 All quotes: Corey and Schneider Corey 1997, 9.
10 In the ’97 edition, these groups are also referred to as ‚Structured Groups’ (see Corey & Schneider Corey 1997, 14.)
11 All quotes: Corey and Schneider Corey 1997, 9.
12 All quotes: Corey & Schneider Corey 2006, 11.
14 Ibid, 11f.
15 Corey & Schneider Corey 1997, 9.
16 Corey & Schneider Corey 2006, 11.
17 Corey & Schneider Corey 1997, 10.
19 Both: Ibid.
20 Cf. Corey and Schneider Corey 1997, 11ff.
21 All quotes: Ibid, 11.
22 Ibid, 12; italics by E.R.
25 Ibid, 13.