How Group Therapy Works
There are four main stages of group therapy. Once the group is formed there is generally a pre-group meeting. Each group member is screened to make sure they will be an asset to the group rather than a setback.
The four stages of a group, once established, are; the initial stage, the transition stage, the working stage and the final stage.
Each stage has a purpose and there are different expectations that must be addressed as the group progresses through each stage. The counselors and group members have roles that they fall into that also change as the group transforms.
Group Therapy – Initial Stage
The first stage of a group is the initial stage. The purpose of the initial stage of a group is to establish expectations of what the group is going to be like. These expectations include trust, roles, and goals. Confidentiality and conflict need to be addressed immediately. Also, any culture concerns must be dealt with. The counselors are there to explain the process and to support each member when dealing with confrontation. The group members must be participatory and involved. This can be tricky with court appointed group members but if the expectations of involvement are explained thoroughly they will learn that it is either participate in the group or face legal consequences.
Group Therapy – Transition Stage
The transition stage is a very difficult stage to get through. This stage comes after the initial stage and is when most of the group members feel anxious about sharing their feelings with strangers. Some members become defensive and resistant while others may be shy and fearful. It is the role of the counselor to keep the transition period on track and as pleasant as possible. This stage can be extremely uncomfortable for the counselor as they may be confronted, belittled, or attacked. If the counselor is good at leading groups the group will learn to trust and respect the counselor during this stage by leaving the negativity out. For the members to get the most out of the group they must participate cordially and this includes listening and giving advice.
Group Therapy – Working Stage
Once the transitional stage has settled, group members will start to feel comfortable enough to really get into the deeper issues that the group was designed for. This is called the working stage. This stage comes after all the kinks get worked out during the transition stage and is when each member is able to explore their thoughts and emotions which may be triggered by someone else’s words. The counselor in this stage will guide the group through this process using techniques and challenges that bring out emotions.
A good counselor will know how to guide by using minimal words themselves. Counselors should be able to read each group members verbal and non-verbal language. Group members in this stage need to be honest about their feelings and not be afraid to speak their mind. They should not feel as though they are being judged or criticized and if they are, it is the counselor’s job to address these issues.
Group Therapy – Final / Understanding Stage
Lastly, the final stage is when the group understands that they are no longer going to be together. This stage allows the group members to reflect on their experience and decide how they will use the knowledge that they acquired in their future occurrences. This stage often comes with feelings of sadness and separation. During this stage, feedback is very important. It is the role of the counselor to educate on what each member should expect from the experience which includes reminders of confidentiality and change that may not be noticeable immediately. Group members will be encouraged to give feedback to other group members as well and in the end it is up to each member to decide what to do with the experience that they received.
All groups are progressive and very unique. Some groups get a lot from their experience while others leave empty handed. The success of a group is a combination of how each group member performed and how well the group leader was able to lead and keep everyone on track. Either way, group work as proven to be quite successful. The stages of the groups vary in length and duration and also depend on the goals and purpose of each group. If a group leader leads a successful group they will know because the group members will be able to change successfully with the help of the group experience.
Is Your Group Therapy Leader Effective?
In a chemical dependency or addiction setting, being a group leader can be very difficult. All group leaders have it difficult but in chemical dependency, members of the group can still be adjusting to sobriety so their judgment may be a little clouded. One of the most important things a group facilitator can do is to properly screen members before the group starts. It can be detrimental to the entire group if a member is not ready or prepared for the experience. For example, in a chemical dependency setting if all of the group members have two weeks of sobriety under their belt and somehow someone who is not sober is allowed to participate then a catastrophe could possibly surface.
There is so much more to being an effective group leader once the process starts. For instance, knowing how to handle conflict, resistance, and how to guide the group in the right direction is very important for the leader to understand. Diversity seems to always have some sort of role in a group setting so an effective group leader will be able to understand different cultures and how to establish trust between all cultures.
Corey, Marianne Schneider, Gerald Corey, and Cindy Corey. Groups: Process and Practice. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole, 2010. Print.
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