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Stage 2. Power and Control: A Time of Transition

Stage 2. Power and Control: A Time of Transition

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Direct Social Work Practice: Theory and Skills

Amber: And he’s probably always had girlfriends, I’ve

never had a boyfriend.

Amelia: Do you have a girlfriend now?

Dave: I’d rather not answer that question.

Maggie: Why? We talk about our boyfriends and

friends, I mean we’re telling you stuff.

Dave: Actually, I think, you’re also telling each other

stuff, and the group is about you…

Amelia: And you.

Dave: My role here is to help the group along, and if I

take up time with my relationships…

Amelia: So you have one.

Dave: As I said, I’d rather not address it Amelia, but if I

take up time with my business then it robs the


June [to Amelia]: I mean he can’t be your boyfriend if

he’s your worker. [taunting]

Dave: No, I can’t date anyone in the group.

Amelia: I don’t want to date you, oh my god!

Maggie: Sure…

Amelia: Don’t even, you’re so full of yourself! I like girls


Dave: The other thing I want to say is that I can learn

from you and follow your concerns, solutions, and

your strategies for dealing with some of the things

that you’re up against right now. I hope that in my

role as facilitator I can help all of you to help yourselves

and even though I’m neither overweight nor a girl.

acknowledge one another’s uniqueness, spontaneously

disclose feelings and problems, and seek the opinion

of the group. To achieve this desired intimacy, however,

group participants may suppress negative feelings that

could produce conflict between themselves and others.

In contrast to earlier sessions, they express genuine concern for absent members and may reach out to invite

them to return to the group.

During this stage of development, a group “character” emerges as the group evolves its own culture, style,

and values. Clear norms are established, based on personal interests, affection, and other positive forces.

Roles also take shape as members find ways to contribute to the group and leadership patterns become firmly

settled. The frame of reference for members is a familial

one, as members liken their group experience to their

experience with their own nuclear families, occasionally

referring to other members as siblings or to the leader as

the “mother” or “father” of the group.

How groups experience this stage depends on factors

such as how regularly members attend group sessions,

whether the group is open or closed, and how much

member turnover occurs (Berman-Rossi & Kelly,

2000; Galinsky & Schopler, 1989). In groups that endure frequent transitions, it is important to develop

rituals to help the members achieve a sense of cohesion

so that they can move successfully to later stages.

Intimacy in the HEART Group

Amber: I was kind of down the other day. I went to the

Fairmont Mall with my friends, and we were going

to all the good stores like Abercrombie & Fitch, and

Hollister, and American Eagle, that’s one of my


June: And Bebe.

Stage 3. Intimacy: Developing a Familial

Frame of Reference

Having clarified and resolved many of the issues related

to personal autonomy, initiative, and power, the group

moves from the “pre-intimate” power and control stage

to that of intimacy. As the group enters this norming

(Tuckman, 1963) stage, conflicts fade, personal involvement between members intensifies, and members display a growing recognition of the significance of the

group experience. Members also experience an increase

in morale and “we-ness,” a deepening commitment to

the group’s purpose, and heightened motivation to

carry out plans and tasks that support the group’s

objectives. Mutual trust increases as members begin to

Amber: Yeah, and uh, all my friends were trying on the

clothes, and I can’t fit into any of the clothes there, but

I really want to because they’re really cute clothes. It

makes me feel kind of out of the loop with my friends;

do you guys have that problem too?

Amelia: Totally.

Amber: I can’t shop at the same stores my friends

shop at.

June: Yeah, I just mostly end up wearing sweats and Tshirts, you know, because…but you can’t wear that


Amber: Uh-huh.

Intervening in Social Work Groups

Liz: Sometime I feel like I lost my friends because they

all wear those cute outfits and they all share clothes

and I couldn’t relate anymore so we quit hanging out.

June: The peasant ones make you look pregnant if they

come right under your boobs…

Dave: Amber, one of the things I want to ask you is

what kind of feedback or what kind of support would

you like right now?

Amber: I guess I just want to see if there are people in

this group that felt that way sometimes, like if they

didn’t fit in with their friends sometimes that way.

Dave: Does anybody else have a similar experience as

Amber does?

Amelia: I do. Yeah, like, I feel like when I go shopping

with my mom I can try on the clothes that really fit

me, but if I’m with my friends I have to stay on the

rack that they’re on. I’m taller than most of them,

and I’m fat, and they’re like super skinny. So when

they try on clothes, I feel like I need to choose clothes

from that rack too. So then, I don’t know, I can’t

believe I’m saying this, but like, I’ll buy the clothes

and, you know, pretend that they fit, and then make

my mom take them back. So, I hear ya.

June: Like last summer when I lost five pounds I

thought, “I can get into those jeans,” and then my

friends said I was muffin-top ’cuz like my fat was

hanging over.

Maggie: Your friends said that to you?

June: Well, you know, other kids in the band and stuff.

And, well, I don’t think they’re trying to be mean

they just, you know, maybe the jeans didn’t look as

good as I thought…

Dave: This is a difficulty and a concern for many of you.

When you’re at school or with your friends, you want

to look your best, and you want to fit in.

Amber: I feel left out, um, before softball practice and

games when we have to change in the locker rooms,

sometimes I take my uniform into the bathroom stall;

all the other girls change out in the locker room

openly and I just don’t feel that comfortable doing


June: Do they pick on you, like give you a flab grab or


Amber: No, they’re pretty nice, um, I just always feel

like they’re looking at me.


Amelia: Like you know you’re different.

Amber: Yeah.

June: Are you the biggest person on the team?

Amber: Yeah.

Amelia: But you’re pretty muscular.

Amber: Thanks.

Amelia: You’re welcome.

Stage 4. Differentiation: Developing

Group Identity and an Internal Frame

of Reference

The fourth stage of group development is marked by

cohesion and harmony as members come to terms

with intimacy and make choices to draw closer to others

in the group. In this performing stage (Tuckman, 1963),

group-centered operations are achieved and a dynamic

balance between individual and group needs evolves.

Members, who participate in different and complementary ways, experience greater freedom of personal expression and come to feel genuinely accepted and

valued as their feelings and ideas are validated by other

members of the group. Gradually, the group becomes a

mutual-aid system in which members spontaneously

give emotional support in proportion to the needs of

each individual.

In experiencing this newfound freedom and intimacy, members begin to perceive the group experience

as unique. Indeed, as the group creates its own

mores and structure, in a sense it becomes its own

frame of reference. Customs and traditional ways of

operating emerge, and the group may adopt a “club”

name or insignia that reflects its purpose. The group’s

energy is channeled into working toward purposes and

carrying out tasks that are clearly understood and

accepted. New roles—more flexible and functional

than those originally envisioned—are developed to support the group’s activity, and organizational structures

(e.g., officers, dues, attendance expectations, rules) may

evolve. Status hierarchies also tend to be less rigid,

and members may assume leadership roles spontaneously as the need for particular expertise or abilities


By the time the group reaches the differentiation

stage, members have accumulated experience in “working through problems” and have gained skill in analyzing their own feelings and the feelings of others, in

communicating their needs and positions effectively,


Direct Social Work Practice: Theory and Skills

in offering support to others, and in grasping the complex interrelationships that have developed in the

group. Having become conscious about the group’s

operations, members bring conflict out into the open

and identify obstacles that impede their progress. All

decisions are ultimately the unanimous response of

the group and are strictly respected. Disagreements

are not suppressed or overridden by premature group

action; instead, the group carefully considers the positions of any dissenters and attempts to resolve differences and to achieve consensus among members. New

entrants serve as catalysts and may express their amazement at the insight shared by veteran members, who

in turn become increasingly convinced of the group

experience’s value.

Members may now publicize their group meetings

among peers, whereas previously membership in the

group may have been linked with secret feelings

of shame. Secure in their roles and relationships

within the group, members may become interested in

meeting with other groups or in bringing in outside


Differentiation in the HEART Group

Amber: So you gonna ask him?

Maggie: Ask him what?

June: Like is he just being a user. Using you.

Maggie: You know sometimes, I think he was just

curious about stuff and that’s sometimes why we

maybe hooked up, you know? So maybe he was

using me.

Jen: Well, what are you going to do the next time he

tries to hook up with you?

Maggie: Smack him. I mean, not really! But I would say

no. I’m not gonna…I don’t know, maybe I will, ’cuz

it’s not all that bad. Awkward! Sorry, Dave. It’s not

all that bad when it happens.

June: I wouldn’t know.

Liz: Nah, me neither.

Maggie: Maybe that’s all I’m going to get, I don’t know.

Dave: All you’re going to get as far as the relationship

with him, or…

Maggie: With him, or others; if all guys think like that, I

should maybe just take what’s there.

Amber: That’s all I’ve gotten.

June: Like guys who only want to be with you in private

and not in public?

Maggie: That’s the guy, that’s him!

June: Well, that sucks!

Maggie: It does.

Dave: So, does that sound like something that you want

to have in your lives?

June: I don’t think so. I mean I’m not in the situation,

but if a guy’s only going to want to be with me when

no one else is around, then he doesn’t really value me

and he’s just using me.

Stage 5. Separation: Breaking Away

During the last, adjourning, phase of group development, members begin to separate, loosening the intense

bonds often established with other members and with

the leader, and searching for new resources and ties to

satisfy their needs. Group members are likely to experience a broad range of feelings about leaving the group.

Indeed, the approach of group termination may set off a

number of reactions, the diversity of which is reminiscent of the approach/avoidance maneuvers displayed in

stage 1. Members may again feel anxiety, this time in

relation to moving apart and breaking bonds that have

been formed. There may be outbursts of anger against

the leader and other members at the thought of the

group ending, the reappearance of quarrels that were

previously settled, and increased dependence on the

leader. Denial of the positive meaning of the group experience is not uncommon. These separation reactions

may appear in flashes or clusters as members attempt to

reconcile their positive feelings about the group with

feelings of abandonment, rejection, or apprehension

over the group’s ending.

As we will discuss further in Chapter 19, termination

is also a time of evaluation, of contemplation of the

work achieved, and of consolidation of learning. It is a

time of finishing unfinished business, of getting and

giving focused feedback, and of savoring the good times

and the close relationships gained in the group.2 Members, who have often begun to pull back their group

investments and to put more energy into outside interests, speak of their fears, hopes, and concerns about the

future and about one another. There is often discussion

of how to apply what has been learned in the group to

other situations and talk of reunions or follow-up meetings (Toseland & Rivas, 2009).

Intervening in Social Work Groups

The Leader’s Role in the Stages

of Group Development

As suggested earlier, the role of the leader shifts and

changes with the evolution of the group. Referring to

earlier work by Lang (1972), Henry (1992) conceptualizes the leader as enacting certain roles and occupying

different locations throughout the group’s lifespan. The

shifting role of leader exists along a continuum that

ranges from primary to variable to facilitative, depending on the needs, capacities, and characteristics of the

group’s membership and its stage of development. Likewise, the leader occupies a location in the group that

may be cast along a continuum ranging from central

to pivotal to peripheral, depending again on the same

variables. Research on damaging experiences in therapeutic groups indicates that group leaders’ behaviors

(e.g., confrontation, monopolizing, criticizing) or inaction (e.g., lack of support, lack of structure) play a primary role in group casualties or dropouts (Smokowski,

Rose, & Bacallao, 2001).

The leader’s role—a primary one at the outset of the

group—is to select candidates for the group. Likewise,

the leader is in a central location at this phase of group

development, in that he or she recruits members and

determines the group’s purpose, structure, location,

and duration. The leader retains this primacy and centrality before the group convenes, as he or she brings

structure to the group, plans its content and function,

conducts pre-group interviews, and negotiates reciprocal contracts with each prospective member. This set of

role and location conditions prevails throughout the beginning phase of the group. During this stage, the leader

initiates and directs group discussion, encourages participation, and begins blending the individual contracts

with members into a mutual group contract.

As the group evolves to a new level of connectedness,

the leader intentionally takes a variable role and occupies a pivotal location with respect to the group. According to Henry (1992):

As the worker steps back from the central location and

primary role, the members begin to supplant some of

what the worker has been doing. In the vernacular of

cinematography, the worker fades out as the group

system comes up. However, because the group’s (internal and external) systems are not yet stabilized at full

functioning capacity, the worker needs to let the process run at its own speed and sometimes needs to

move back in to help keep the system afloat. This is


why the worker’s role is referred to as variable, and

the worker’s location as pivotal. This role and location

will be part of the mutual contract that is being negotiated at this time. (p. 34)

Henry notes that the leader’s variable role and pivotal location continue in the group during the conflict/

disequilibrium stage (stage 2, “power and control,” in

Garland, Jones, and Kolodny’s terminology). When

the group enters its maintenance or working phase

(stages 3 and 4, “intimacy” and “differentiation”), the

leader assumes a facilitative role and occupies a peripheral location. Inasmuch as the group has achieved full

capacity to govern itself, the leader fulfills a resource

role rather than assuming a primary role.

As the group moves into its separation or termination

phase (stage 5), the leader once again returns to a primary role and central location to support the divesting of

members, who are launching their own independent

courses. In this role the leader aids the group in working

through any regression to earlier stages of development

and assures the successful ending of the group.

Table 16-1 illustrates the evolution of the leader’s

focus as a group advances through the various stages

of development. Information contained in the table

comes from a variety of sources, including Garland,

Jones, and Kolodny (1965), Rose (1989), Henry

(1992), and Corey and Corey (1992).

Intervention into Structural

Elements of a Group

The primacy of the leader’s role and the centrality of the

leader’s location are related at one level to the ability of

members to assume responsibility for the group’s treatment functions. At another level, these leader positions

are related to the relative need to intervene to shape the

group’s therapeutic character, thereby creating a vehicle

for members’ change. In that respect, across the various

stages of group development, the leader pays particular

attention to shaping the following group elements:


Normative structure

Role structure

Subgroup structure

Leadership structure

In fact, the evolution of these structures over time encompasses the phenomenon of group development


Direct Social Work Practice: Theory and Skills

TA B LE - 1 6 - 1 S T A G E S , DY N A M I C S , A N D L E A D E R F O C U S





Arm’s-length exploration


Issues of trust, preliminary commitment

Intellectualization of problems

Interaction based on superficial attributes or


Protection of self; low-risk behavior

Milling around

Sizing up of leader and other members

Formulation of individual and group goals

Leader viewed as responsible for group

Member evaluation as to whether group is safe and

meets needs

Fear of self-disclosure, rejection

Uncertainty regarding group purpose

Little commitment to goals or group

Observes and assesses

Clarifies group objectives

Establishes group guidelines

Encourages development of personal goals

Clarifies aspirations and expectations of


Encourages discussion of fears, ambivalence

Gently invites trust

Gives support; allows distance

Facilitates exploration

Provides group structure

Contracts for help-seeking, help-giving roles

Facilitates linkages among members

Models careful listening

Focuses on resistance

Assures opportunities for participation

Power and control

Rebellion; power struggles

Political alignments forged to increase power

Issues of status, ranking, and influence

Complaints regarding group structure, process

Challenges to leader's roles

Emergence of informal leadership, factional leaders

Individual autonomy; everybody for himself/herself

Dysfunctional group roles

Normative and membership crisis; drop-out danger


Testing of leader; other group members

Dependence on leader

Group experimentation in managing own affairs

Program breakdown at times; low planning

Feedback highly critical

Protects safety of individuals and property

Clarifies power struggle

Turns issues back to group

Encourages expression and acceptance of


Facilitates clear, direct, nonabrasive


Examines nonproductive group processes

Examines cognitive distortions

Facilitates member evaluation of dissident


Holds group accountable for decision by


Clarifies that conflict, power struggles are normal

Encourages norms consistent with therapeutic


Consistently acknowledges strengths,


Nondefensively deals with challenges to leadership

Focuses on the “here and now”


Intensified personal involvement

Sharing of self, materials

Striving to meet others’ needs

Awareness of significance of the group


Personality growth and change

Mutual revelation, risk taking

Beginning commitment to decision by consensus

Beginning work on cognitive restructuring

Importance of goals verbalized

Encourages leadership

Assumes flexible role as group vacillates

Aids sharper focus on individual goals

Encourages deeper-level exploration, feedback

Encourages acknowledgment, support of differences

Guides work of group

Encourages experimentation with different roles

Encourages use of new skills inside and outside


Assists members to assume responsibility for change

Intervening in Social Work Groups


TABLE-16-1 (Continued)

Growing ability to govern group independently

Dissipation of emotional turmoil

Member initiation of topics

Constructive feedback

Gives consistent feedback regarding successes

Reduces own activity


Here-and-now focus

High level of trust, cohesion

Free expression of feelings

Mutual aid

Full acceptance of differences

Group viewed as unique

Clarity of group purpose

Feelings of security; belonging; “we” spirit

Differentiated roles

Group self-directed

Intensive work on cognitions

Goal-oriented behaviour

Work outside of group to achieve personal goals

Members feel empowered

Communication open, spontaneous


Emphasizes achievement of goals, exchange of skills

Supports group’s self-governance

Promotes behaviors that increase cohesion

Provides balance between support, confrontation

Encourages conversion of insight into action

Interprets; explores common themes

Universalizes themes

Encourages deeper-level exploration of problems

Assures review of goals, task completion

Stimulates individual and group growth

Supports application of new behaviors outside



Review and evaluation

Development of outlets outside group

Stabilizing and generalizing

Projecting toward future

Recognition of personal, interpersonal growth

Sadness and anxiety over reality of separation

Expression of fears, hopes, and others' anxiety

for self

Some denial, regression

Moving apart, distancing

Less intense interaction

Plans as to how to continue progress outside group

Talk of reunions, follow-up

Prepares for letting go

Facilitates evaluation and feelings about


Reviews individual and group progress

Redirects energy of individuals away from group

and toward self process

Enables individuals to disconnect

Encourages resolution of unfinished business

Reinforces changes made by individuals

Administers evaluation instruments

(Rose, 1989; Yalom, 1995). Because of their importance,

these elements are considered successively in the sections that follow.

Fostering Cohesion

Cohesion plays a central role in group success, and leaders play a key role in developing this positive force. The

leader forges connections among group members and

tries to expand the interpersonal networks of subgroup

members, so that they relate to other people outside their

subgroup. Further, the leader encourages cohesive behaviors by “pointing out who is present and who is absent,

by making reference to ‘we’ and ‘us’ and ‘our,’ and by

including the groups as a whole in his or her remarks

in group sessions” (Henry, 1992, p. 167).

Leaders also encourage the development of cohesion

by commenting on and reinforcing positive groupbuilding behaviors as they occur. Henry (1992) identifies signs of cohesiveness that leaders might highlight.

For example, attraction to the group is indicated when

participants inquire about missing members, return to


Direct Social Work Practice: Theory and Skills

the group after absences or conflicts, take others’ opinions into account in decision making, and seek increased responsibility for the group’s operations.

Although these indicators of cohesion are earmarks of

advanced stages of group development, they may also

make fleeting appearances early in a group, and should

be explicitly acknowledged when they do.

Leaders also increase the attractiveness and cohesion

in groups by facilitating high levels of interaction; by

aiding members to successfully achieve goals, fulfill expectations, and meet needs; and by providing opportunities for prestige and access to rewards and resources

that individual members alone could not obtain

(Toseland & Rivas, 2009).

Ironically, these efforts at developing cohesion may

be reversed during the termination phase:

Members must be helped to become less attracted to the

group and, when appropriate, more attracted to alternative relationships. The worker, therefore, also reverses the application of principles for attaining group

cohesion. For example, instead of increasing the frequency with which members have contact with one

another, this may be reduced by having meetings less

often and/or for a shorter time. … The worker may

place less emphasis on resolving conflicts within the

group and may not call attention to commonalities of

experiences or attitudes except as those relate to ways

of coping with termination. This may not be true in

group psychotherapy, when this type of process is maintained until the very end. (Garvin, 1987, p. 222)

Addressing Group Norms

Chapter 11 introduced strategies to facilitate the development of constructive group norms. However, counterproductive norms may also emerge. For example, the

group may split into several self-serving factions or subgroups that compete for control. Members may develop

a habit of socializing rather than focusing on legitimate

group tasks. Some participants may repeatedly cast

others as scapegoats, harassing those members and

blaming them for various group ills. In these and countless other ways, groups may develop negative behaviors

that undermine their ability to coalesce and aid each

other in reaching their goals.

As described in Chapter 11, leaders must observe evolving group behavior and determine whether these emerging

patterns undermine or support the group’s purposes. Once

leaders have determined the impact of emerging patterns,

they may then intervene to nurture functional group

behaviors and to assist participants to modify behaviors

that are destructive to individuals or to the group.

The facilitator sets the stage for a therapeutic atmosphere and a “working group” by establishing an explicit contract with members in initial sessions that

includes normative guideposts for the group. Along

the way, the leader helps the group identify and articulate norms they wish the group to follow. Once decided,

the guidelines should be recorded and revisited regularly, and the leader should take an active role in helping members consistently adhere to them. Some groups

will even list them on a board that is posted in the

meeting room, or on a laminated page for members’

workbooks. Sample guidelines follow:

Make group decisions by consensus.

Personalize communications by using “I statements”

(e.g., “I (think) (feel) (want)…”).

Keep the group’s focus on its task and mission.

Keep discussions focused primarily on the present or

future rather than the past.

Avoid “gossiping.”

Share the “airtime” so all members can participate.

Take responsibility for concerns about how the

group is going by bringing them to others’ attention.

Norm Setting in the HEART Group

Dave: June, to come back to a point that you mentioned

before, there is a guideline that I like, which is to encourage people to participate. Because a good group is

one where everyone contributes and so I wonder the

best way to say that—do the best you can, or…

June: Don’t talk twice till everybody’s talked once?

Dave: Well, I…

Liz: I disagree.

June: I’m just putting it out there. I don’t know.

Dave: Liz, let’s hear why you disagree.

Liz: Sometimes I’m just not in … I just don’t want to

contribute, I don’t feel like talking.

Dave: And it might be too structured, then June, to say

to Liz “we’ve all talked once and now you have to

go.” It might make the group unsafe for Liz, for the

rule to be so measured out like that.

June: So I don’t know what the rule should be.

Amelia: How about we all, like, try our best to actively


Intervening in Social Work Groups

Maggie: But don’t call me out.

Jen: And actively participate doesn’t necessarily mean

talking, just paying attention.

Dave: That’s a good point, Jen.

June: No sleeping in the group.


The leader often intervenes to remind people of

these individual-level norms or to point out when they

are being violated. In established groups, members will

also speak up to hold one another accountable. Ultimately, eventually, the locus of control for enforcing

individual and group norms should reside with the

members rather than with the leader (Carrell, 2000).

Maggie: Yeah, stay awake.

Amelia: If I’m talking about, like, pouring out my soul,

and you’re over there, like clearly thinking about

something else or doodling or, you know, thinking

about whatever, like, it shows on your face. You

know what I mean guys?

Dave: And that’s probably covered by one of the rules we

already mentioned, which is “Be respectful.” So “no

sleeping” June, I think, comes under be respectful.

June: Okay.

Dave: And, Amelia, I like the idea of encouraging participation—what did you say? “Try as hard as we

can … Do our best”?

Amelia: Do our best to participate actively.

Dave: How does everybody feel about that? [Agreement].

In addition to generating structural guidelines that

pave the way for the adoption of therapeutic norms,

leaders may aid members in adopting the following personal guidelines, adapted from Corey and Corey (2002):

Help establish trust. Initiate discussions of personal

issues rather than waiting for someone else to make

the first move.

Express persistent feelings. Rather than bury feelings

of boredom, anger, or disappointment, share your

feelings about the group process.

Decide how much to disclose. You are in charge of

what, how much, and when you share personal issues.

Be an active participant, not an observer. Share reactions to what others are saying in the group rather

than remaining an unknown entity and thus a

possible object of others’ flawed observations.

Listen closely and discriminately. Do not accept others’

feedback wholesale or reject it outright, but decide for

yourself what does and does not apply to you.

Pay attention to consistent feedback. If a message

has been received from a variety of sources, it may

be valid.

Focus on self. Talk about your role in problems;

avoid blaming and focusing on extraneous situations or people outside of the group.

Intervening with Members’ Roles

Roles are closely related to norms, as Toseland and

Rivas (2009) explain:

Whereas norms are shared expectations held, to some

extent, by everyone in the group, roles are shared expectations about the functions of individuals in the

group. Unlike norms, which define behavior in a

wide range of situations, roles define behavior in relation to a specific function or task that the group member is expected to perform. (p. 68)

Within the group, roles include formal positions (e.g.,

chairperson or secretary) and informal positions created

through group interactions (e.g., mediator, clown, rebel,

initiator, or scapegoat). Like norms, roles may help fulfill group functions or meet individual treatment aims.

Leaders must be attuned to the development of countertherapeutic roles and address them as they arise. For

example, a member who avoids conflict or intimacy might

make jokes to keep discussion at a superficial level, or a

member who struggles to be taken seriously may make

distracting or ridiculous comments, thereby reinforcing

this destructive role. Yalom discusses the effect of “the

monopolist” (1995, p. 369), who, perhaps due to anxiety,

talks excessively, taking up airtime and turning the group

mood into one of frustration.

The key when facing counterproductive roles is

to encourage members to be self-observant, assure that

they do not become locked into dysfunctional roles, and

empower other participants to confront the member

about the role and its impact. As Garvin notes:

The “clown” may wish to behave more seriously, the

“mediator” to take sides, and passive people to function assertively. The worker, being cognizant of roles

that are created out of group interactions, will attend

to those that impede either the attainment of individual goals or the creation of an effective group. (1986,

p. 112)

Dysfunctional role performance is a critical choice point

for intervention. One means of intervening is to use a technique developed by Garvin (1986) to identify informal


Direct Social Work Practice: Theory and Skills

roles occupied by group participants. Leaders administer

a questionnaire asking members to “vote” on who (if

anyone) fulfills group roles such as referee, expert, humorist, nurturer, spokesperson, and “devil’s advocate.”

The discussion that results from this exercise can powerfully influence both members’ awareness and the group

process. Another technique is to simply describe a specific role that a member seems to have assumed and to

ask that member for observations regarding the accuracy

of that assessment. Preface this observation by asking the

member if he or she would like group feedback. Doing so

reduces defensiveness and gives the member appropriate

control over the situation.

Another aspect of role performance involves aiding

members in role attainment—that is, enabling them to

fulfill the requirements of roles that they aspire to or

are already in, such as student, parent, leader, spouse,

employee, friend, or retired person. In doing so, the

leader helps members assess their own interactions,

practice the skills needed for their roles, and apply new

ways of approaching and enacting those roles. Groups

can assist members in these tasks through role-playing,

through giving feedback, and through sharing personal

examples. Some groups may be designed to specifically

address the development of social skills (LeCroy, 2002).

Chapter 13 offers further examples of change through

behavioral rehearsal and skill development.

Addressing Subgroups

Subgroups inevitably emerge and exist in groups, affecting them in numerous ways. Subgroups may both hinder and enhance group process. Negative subgroups,

like cliques, can raise issues of loyalty and exclusion in

the group, challenge the leader’s authority, and fragment communication as members of a subgroup talk

among themselves and divert their energies from the

whole group to the subset. The leader can modify the

impact of such subgroups by taking these steps:

1. Initiating discussion of the reasons for the forma-

tion of the dissident subgroups and their impact on

the group as a whole. This discussion may reveal the

difficulties that they create for goal setting, communication, interaction, and decision making.

2. Neutralizing the effects of negative subgroups

through programming or structuring. The leader,

for example, might challenge dissident subgroups

to work toward a common goal, change seating arrangements, use a “round robin” approach to get

feedback from all members, assign members from

different subgroups to work on common group






tasks, or use programming materials or exercises

to separate subgroup members (Carrell, 2000).

Creating safe positions or roles for marginal members of the group that require minimal activity but

at the same time involves them in a group activity

(Balgopal & Vassil, 1983).

Helping powerful subgroups or individuals to relinquish power or to use it sparingly in the interest of

other members. This may be accomplished by encouraging concern for others in the group and by

enabling members to grasp the possibility that

domination of others might be destructive to themselves (Garvin, 1987).

Appointing powerless members to roles that carry

power, such as arranging for group activities, securing resources for the group, or fulfilling significant

roles (e.g., observer, chairperson, or secretary).

Finding means to “connect” with dissident subgroups and to demonstrate a concern for their

wants (Garvin, 1987).

Providing ways for subgroups to attain legitimate

power by creating useful roles and tasks in the group.

Purposeful Use of the Leadership Role

The leader’s role in a group can be described as a set of

behaviors that facilitate the attainment of group and

individual goals and ensure the maintenance of the

group. Ultimately, the leader “puts him/herself out of

business” by gradually distributing leadership functions

to members as the group matures, while continuing to

attend to the work of the group (Rose, 1989, p. 260).

Helping members to assume leadership behaviors is

important for three reasons. First, members develop vital

skills that they can transfer to other social groups, where

leadership is usually highly valued. Second, the more that

members exercise leadership, the more likely they are to

become invested in the group. Third, performance of leadership activities enhances the perceived power or selfefficacy of members, who often experience powerlessness

in a wide array of social situations (Rose, 1989).

Leaders may expedite the distribution of power by

taking four steps (Shulman, 1984):

1. Encouraging

member-to-member rather than

member-to-leader communications

2. Asking for members’ input into the agenda for the

meeting and the direction the group should take in

future meetings

3. Supporting indigenous leadership when members

make their first tentative attempts at exerting their

own influence on the group

Intervening in Social Work Groups

4. Encouraging attempts at mutual sharing and mu-

with defensive behavior. When you share what you

are feeling and thinking about what is going on in

the group—in such a way as not to blame and criticize the members for deficiencies—you are letting the

members experience an honest and constructive interaction with you. (p. 155)

tual aid among group members during the first


Group leadership problems occur when individuals or

vying subgroups attempt to usurp the reins of power.

Challenges to leadership (or lack of it) are, in fact, an

inherent part of the group’s struggle over control, division of responsibility, and decision making (Corey &

Corey, 2002). It is important not to interpret these efforts

as negative, because they may actually help the group

succeed by calling attention to issues or roles that are

important to individual members (Hurley, 1984). Examples of messages that illustrate control issues follow:

I don’t want to talk just because you want me to

talk. I learn just as much by listening and observing.

There are several people in here who always get the

attention. No matter what I do, I just don’t seem to

get recognized, especially by the leaders.

You should pay more attention to Paul. He’s been

crying several times, and you haven’t been taking

care of him.

The facilitator might respond to such a challenge by

empathically exploring the statement, thanking the

member for speaking up, eliciting feedback from other

members regarding leadership style, and asking nondefensively for input (e.g., “Thanks for speaking up

about that. What would you have me do differently?”).

Corey and Corey (1992) also recommend responding

authentically. They note that leaders must be self-aware

when challenged and avoid focusing on “problem members” or difficult situations, rather than on how they are

affected personally when group processes go awry:

Typically, leaders have a range of feelings: being

threatened by what they perceive as a challenge to

their leadership role; anger over the members’ lack

of cooperation and enthusiasm; feelings of inadequacy

to the point of wondering if they are qualified to lead

groups; resentment toward several of the members,

whom they label as some type of problem; and anxiety

over the slow pace of the group, with a desire to stir

things up so that there is some action. (Corey &

Corey, 1992, p. 155)


By consistently responding authentically, even when

challenged or under attack, the leader encourages the

group to adopt this mode of representing self—one

that is vital to members dealing effectively with the inevitable differences they encounter among themselves.

Interventions Across Stages

of Group Development

As previously mentioned, a leader’s role must always be

pursued within the framework of the group’s stages of

development. Thomas and Caplan (1999) suggest a

wheel metaphor for leadership. That is, the leader takes

a particularly active role in getting the “wheel spinning,”

then gradually provides a “lighter touch,” and finally

reduces that role as the group gathers its own momentum, while still standing by to assure that events or digressions don’t throw the wheel off track. These authors

identify three key intervention techniques that leaders

must employ over the life of the group:

Process, attending to both individuals’ processes in

addressing problems and the process for the group as

a whole

Linking, or helping members see the common

themes in the issues raised, thereby building the reciprocity and mutuality essential to self-worth and

group cohesion

Inclusion, or tactics to engage reluctant members

with the group.

Social workers must also take care not to make errors

that inhibit group development and process. Thomas

and Caplan (1999) identify some of the most common

mistakes. These mistakes include:

By ignoring their reactions, leaders leave themselves

out of the interactions that occur in the group. Instead,

Corey and Corey (1992) urge leaders to model:

a “direct” style of dealing with conflict and resistance.

… Your own thoughts, feelings and observations can

be the most powerful resource you have in dealing

Doing one-on-one work in the context of the group.

This practice inhibits the mutual aid that is the

hallmark of group work

Having such a rigid agenda that members cannot

pursue emerging themes or otherwise own the group


Scapegoating or attacking individual members. This

behavior inhibits others’ involvement by sending a

message that the group is not a safe place


Direct Social Work Practice: Theory and Skills

Overemphasizing content and failing to universalize

themes so that all members can benefit from and

relate to the experience of other members

Ridiculing members or discounting some members’

need to be heard

Lecturing the group. This practice disempowers

members and inhibits group investment and


Failing to address offensive comments or colluding

with members around inappropriate, antiauthoritarian, racist, or sexist statements.

It may be helpful to think of the preceding list as

behaviors that stop the evolution of the group or send

it veering off course. The following sections detail key

aspects of effective group work, examining the leader’s

role across the group phases identified in Garland,

Jones, and Kolodny’s (1965) model.

Common Mistakes: Overemphasizing

Content and Lecturing in the HEART


Dave: I want us to think about the word “fat” and to

think about if that’s an appropriate word to use to

describe ourselves.

Liz: Not you, you’re skinny.

Dave: When I speak to people who have been called fat,

or who refer to themselves that way, I use the term,

“person with overweight.” And that’s the way I talk

about it. None of us are guaranteed to keep the bodies we have. Whether we like them or not, our bodies

can always change. So I say people have overweight,

because it’s descriptive of a moment in time, rather

than an enduring quality that someone possesses.

Amelia: My psychiatrist calls, um, says that I have a

disordered relationship with food. [the group laughs]

Dave: What does that mean?

Amelia: Means I’m fat, I don’t know! [more laughter]

Dave: Well, let’s look at the words together then. What

is disordered?

Amelia: Fat. I don’t know, like not right, dysfunctional,

not cool.

June: Out of order.

Amelia: Out of order. Yes, I’m out of order with food.

Dave: What do you think about that? Do you agree or


Amelia: I don’t know; whatever, it makes sense to me.

Dave: What about it makes sense?

Amelia: Well, it’s kind of a nice way of saying, I’m fat.

Dave: When I hear that phrase, it sounds to me as

though your psychiatrist is telling you that you’re

using food for reasons other than nutrition.

Amelia: Yeah, maybe.

Interventions in the Preaffiliation Stage

As discussed in Chapter 11, pre-group individual interviews will serve as orientation for potential members of

the group. In initial sessions the leader can prepare

members for the experiences to come by explaining

the basics of group process—for example, the stages of

development through which the group will pass, ways

to create a therapeutic working environment, behaviors

and attitudes characteristic of an effective group, the

importance of establishing and adhering to guidelines

that lend structure and purpose to the group, and the

importance of committing to “win-win” decisions regarding group matters. Research, in fact, suggests that

direct instruction or teaching regarding group processes

tends to facilitate a group’s development during its early

stages (Corey & Corey, 2002; Dies, 1983).

Leaders must also intervene to address the initial concerns of members. In early sessions, members will probably be tentative about expressing what they hope to get

from the group. Most also experience fear and apprehension regarding the group experience. They worry about

many things: how they will be perceived by other members, whether they will be pressured to talk, whether they

will be misunderstood or look foolish, whether they will be

at risk of verbal attack, and whether they want to go

through a change process at all. The leader may address

and allay these anxieties by acknowledging the presence of

mixed feelings or by asking all members to share their

feelings about coming to the initial group session. For example, the leader might ask members to rate their feelings

about being present in the group at that moment on a

scale of 1 to 10, where 1 represents “I don’t want to be

here” and 10 represents “I’m completely at ease with being

in the group.” The leader could then invite discussion

about reasons behind the various scores.

In focusing on members’ fears, leaders need to draw

out all members’ feelings and reactions, validate the importance of their fully disclosing feelings, and emphasize the need for the group to be a safe place in which

such issues can be expressed openly. Finally, leaders

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