The success of group therapy depends to a notable extent on the group leader. Among other things, the consideration of the different group stages and relevant leadership activities can help a new leader to plan, analyze, and improve their actions (O’Sullivan, Blatch, & Toh, 2014). The goal of this session is to provide learners with the key information about group stages, associated tasks, behaviors that leaders need to pay attention to, and related challenges. The session also contains a training exercise that is intended to help learners apply the knowledge they receive and demonstrate its understanding. Thus, the exercise will provide a mechanism for both expanding the learner’s knowledge and roughly assessing the success of the session in achieving the stated goal. The six stages defined by Corey (2016) are going to be used. While they are not very strict in their division and can overlap, this distinction should provide a helpful structure for new leaders who seek to understand the group process.
Group Stages and Leader Responsibilities
Stage 1: Formation Stage
The first stage is predominantly associated with group challenges. The first one is finding the correct approach to announcing the group. Here, the choices are mostly concerned with determining the target population and finding the method of advertising that is likely to prompt the desired response. Also, Corey (2016) highlights the significance of providing as much information as possible in one’s advertisements. Therefore, by the time of the advertising, a leader needs to have a general understanding of the group they are going to lead, including its type and possible size.
Next, a major group concern is finding the right method of screening and selecting future members. While in certain instances, screening may have to be limited (for example, in the cases of mandatory therapy), it is the responsibility of a leader to enlist the members who are going to benefit from the group while not preventing others from receiving the same benefits. This goal can be accomplished by using individual interviews or a screening session (Corey, 2016; Slone, Reese, Mathews-Duvall, & Kodet, 2015). Also, Corey (2016) highlights the importance of making the process two-way; in other words, the clients need to have the opportunity to ask questions and determine if the group is good for them on their own as well.
In addition, when forming a group, certain practicalities must be considered, including scheduling, location, and duration. These aspects of the group’s work can be discussed with the members during the group meeting, which is a very important element of the first stage. It should also be used for initial orientation that will prepare future members for participating. Finally, informed consent considerations also occur during this stage. To summarize, a leader’s activities during the first stage are numerous, which is reasonable since this stage determines the success of the rest of them.
Stage 2: Initial or Orientation Stage
During the initial stage, the leader and group members become acquainted with each other. There is not much trust or understanding during this part of the group process, which is why it typically involves cautious, careful interactions, few conflicts, and rare risk-taking behaviors (Corey, 2016). The leader is expected to ensure the future functioning of the group by setting crucial rules and guidelines and explaining them to the members (Corey, 2016; Slone et al., 2015). This stage is also supposed to include the setting of individual goals for the participants. Furthermore, they need to be provided with information about the group process and responsibilities, encouraged to share their expectations, and taught key interpersonal skills (Corey, 2016; Mahon & Leszcz, 2017). The primary challenge of this stage, especially for an inexperienced leader, is building trust, which requires the application of interpersonal skills. The leader is supposed to be open, honest, and supportive and provide structure without restricting the members. As a result, the significance of this stage is also rather notable.
Stage 3: Transition Stage
The third stage is challenging because it is defined by the concerns of the members who are not fully trusting yet, maybe anxious, and tend to engage in conflicts. The latter might also be connected to cultural and other differences, which emphasizes a leader’s cultural competence (Chang-Caffaro & Caffaro, 2018). Dealing with these challenges, especially conflicts, including covert ones, is crucial for this stage, which is why the leader’s interpersonal and problem-solving skills are put to work (Chang-Caffaro & Caffaro, 2018; Pomery, Schofield, Xhilaga, & Gough, 2016). The leader should also demonstrate a level of self-awareness and self-reflection (Hall, Harper, & Korcuska, 2018). They are required to recognize the leader’s reactions to these challenges and deal with them productively.
Instructing the members to self-reflect during this stage is also a good idea since it can help to reduce fears, anxieties, and conflicts (Corey, 2016; Mahon & Leszcz, 2017). As pointed out by Corey (2016), the distinction between different stages is not very strict, and they can overlap. However, the challenges of the transitional stage hinder progress, which is why it is necessary to address them as soon as possible to enable the group to proceed with the work.
Stage 4: Working Stage
The working stage consists of the period in group processes when it is the most productive. By the working stage, major issues of the transition stage must have been resolved, which is why the group develops a better cohesion and inclusiveness, demonstrates a level of trust, and is generally ready to make progress (Corey, 2016; Mahon & Leszcz, 2017; Yocum, 2017). During this stage, the leader proceeds to provide structure and uphold rules while encouraging desired behaviors in the members and discouraging toxic ones. Furthermore, the leader provides feedback and helps the members to interpret various patterns emerging during the work of the group. The features of this stage are determined by the specifics of the group, but in general, the leader is expected to facilitate the relevant processes and help the members in achieving their desired outcomes.
Stage 5: Consolidation Stage
The fifth stage is concerned with the application of the lessons from the group work, and this process is also facilitated by the leader. Appropriate approaches to the task consist of helping the members to summarize the outcomes of their participation and reflect on them. A major challenge of this stage is the termination of the group (Corey, 2016; Yocum, 2017). The leader needs to reflect on their feelings and encourage the participants to do the same while considering the effects of the group on everybody involved. Finally, a leader would be expected to create the aftercare plan during this stage. As a result, the consolidation is both challenging and crucial for ensuring positive group outcomes.
Stage 6: Evaluation and Follow-Up Stage
The evaluation is one of the responsibilities of the group leader, and it is required to determine the success of the activity and extract important lessons for future groups. It can be carried out using objective or subjective measures. The latter option can include patient feedback or a journal that would enable a leader to keep track of the challenges experienced throughout the experience (Corey, 2016; Slone et al., 2015). Follow-up sessions are a suitable vehicle for discussing group participation after some time; they can also help to assess the long-term outcomes. According to Corey (2016), this activity can assist members in consolidating changes and upholding their improved behavioral patterns. Therefore, the final stage determines the short- and long-term effects of group participation for the members and group leader for the leader.
To make sure that the learners have absorbed the information, a training exercise can be proposed, which requires six groups. Learners should be invited to come up with an idea for group therapy. Then, each group would be asked to prepare an action plan for the group’s leader while detailing the activities and challenges associated with a particular stage. After ten minutes of preparation, each group would present their results, and other learners would be invited to ask questions and make comments about the resulting plans.
This paper contains a training session for new group leaders, including a lecture and exercise dedicated to the six stages. The session demonstrates the importance of the activities and behaviors of a group leader for the success of a group and specifies the multiple challenges that can occur throughout the stages. The application of the information during a group activity, which promotes teamwork and communication, should facilitate the understanding of the presented information.
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