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Stage 2. Power and Control: A Time of Transition
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!
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?
Amber: I can’t shop at the same stores my friends
June: Yeah, I just mostly end up wearing sweats and Tshirts, you know, because…but you can’t wear that
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
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
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.
June: Are you the biggest person on the team?
Amelia: But you’re pretty muscular.
Amelia: You’re welcome.
Stage 4. Differentiation: Developing
Group Identity and an Internal Frame
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
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
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
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:
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
Issues of trust, preliminary commitment
Intellectualization of problems
Interaction based on superficial attributes or
Protection of self; low-risk behavior
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
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
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
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
Growing ability to govern group independently
Dissipation of emotional turmoil
Member initiation of topics
Gives consistent feedback regarding successes
Reduces own activity
High level of trust, cohesion
Free expression of feelings
Full acceptance of differences
Group viewed as unique
Clarity of group purpose
Feelings of security; belonging; “we” spirit
Intensive work on cognitions
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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,
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.
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):
member-to-member rather than
2. Asking for members’ input into the agenda for the
meeting and the direction the group should take in
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
Linking, or helping members see the common
themes in the issues raised, thereby building the reciprocity and mutuality essential to self-worth and
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
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
Amelia: Fat. I don’t know, like not right, dysfunctional,
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