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date: 23 January 2022

Introduction: Solidifying and Advancing Group Counseling

Abstract and Keywords

This introductory chapter provides a general orientation to the handbook. After a description of how each chapter is formatted to promote consistency of approach, each of the ensuing 31 chapters is highlighted, arranged within the handbook’s parts of Context, Key Change Processes, Research, Leadership, Applications, and Conclusion. The remainder of this introductory chapter presents a brief context for understanding group counseling, material that is excerpted from the editor’s chapter in the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Counseling Psychology, edited by Altmaier and Hansen.

Keywords: introduction, group counseling

General Orientation of the Handbook

This handbook is intended to assist in solidifying and advancing practice, training, and research in the broad intervention of group counseling. An outgrowth of the Handbook of Counseling Psychology, the current edited work falls under the board umbrella of the Library of Psychology of Oxford University Press, an ambitious and exciting project meant to capture the entire discipline of psychology.

In a sense, group counseling is like the “magical mystery tour” of the Beatles. After all the decades of wonderful music, group counseling—whose practice continually increases and expands—retains an elusiveness with regard to what makes it work (i.e., its “magic”) and somewhat of a “mystery” in terms of what it is, what its effects are, and how it fits into the present and future kaleidoscope of helping methods. This edited volume explores and examines its journey, seeking to clarify where group counseling has been and is and where it is headed in relation to magic, mystery, and related issues.

Format for the Book Chapters

Edited works frequently have been criticized due to excessive variability across chapters. We have intentionally sought to avoid this problem by asking authors to follow a generally consistent approach. Chapter contents have been structured to (1) reflect a thorough and comprehensive review of the broad and deep group counseling literature base, spanning disciplines (e.g., counseling psychology, counselor education, clinical psychology, social work), journals and other publications of professional associations (e.g., the American Psychological Association’s Society of Group Psychology and Group Psycho-therapy, the American Counseling Association’s Association for Specialists in Group Work, and the American Group Psychotherapy Association), books from differing scholarly perspectives, etc. (i.e., not to be drawn primarily from one disciplinary source); (2) follow the chapter outline, format, and guidelines developed by Oxford University Press; (3) be based on a substantial literature review; and (4) be grounded in, but not limited to, the topics sampler that the editor has developed for each chapter.

This introductory chapter provides synopses of what is to come. Each of the next 30 chapters is briefly highlighted. In the final chapter I identify 50 basic premises of group counseling that are culled from the preceding chapters and conclude by (p. 4) suggesting that group counseling needs to be “mainstreamed” to a broader range of scholars and practitioners and to the public at large.

Contents Addressed across the Chapters

As the table of contents suggests, the contents of this edited work examine group counseling from multiple directions. Chapters are organized within parts titled

  • Introduction (this chapter)

  • Context

  • Key Change Processes

  • Research

  • Leadership

  • Applications

  • Conclusion

Chapters are written by an all-star compilation of group-counseling experts, who have organized their discussions using the most current information available. Chapter highlights follow.

Part Two: Context

Chapter 2. the nature and significance of groups by donelson r. forsyth

What are groups, and how does group counseling fit in? What are the dominant and significant features?

Forsyth’s chapter frames group counseling within the broad panorama of “groups.” He points out that to understand group counseling it is necessary to grasp what groups themselves are all about, what defines their basic nature and processes. He indicates that the essential elements of a group are found in the relationships connecting members, boundaries, interdependence, structure, cohesion, and entitativity. The contents of this chapter organize the general working context within which group counseling can be understood, practiced, and researched.

Chapter 3. definition of group counseling by donald e. ward

What is group counseling?

This chapter defines it, paying attention to, describing, and elaborating relevant perspectives drawn from the whole literature related to this topic. In doing so, Ward points out that because professional group work has such varied origins, agreement upon a single, concise definition of group counseling has been difficult to achieve. He provides an abbreviated review of the literature that focuses on the origins of modern group work. Systems defining and describing group work are presented, emphasizing the Association for Specialists in Group Work’s model of four types: work and task groups, psychoeducation groups, counseling groups, and psychotherapy groups (Association for Specialists in Group Work, 2000). A consensus definition is extracted from these sources, and future directions are identified.

Chapter 4. the history of group counseling by george r. leddick

How has group counseling evolved historically? What are the chief markers and highlights over the decades? Who have been dominating contributors?

Leddick illustrates how the history of group counseling is rooted in antiquity, with modern practice evolving from the 1940s. The history weaves a tapestry of influences including social justice groups, community organizations, quality-management groups, and numerous therapeutic orientations. Pioneer group-counseling practitioners included Joseph Pratt, Jane Addams, and Jesse Davis, with substantial contributions provided by Moreno, Lewin, Rees, Deming, Alinsky, Rogers, Perls, Yalom, Gazda, and others. The roles of several professional organizations in the development of group counseling are addressed, especially attending to their professional journals, standards, and guidelines. Leddick concludes that group counseling has emerged from its infancy and continues to mature as a professional specialty. As a bonus, photos of several shapers of group counseling are included in this chapter.

Chapter 5. ethics, best practices, and law in group counseling by lynn s. rapin

What ethical, legal, and best-practice guidelines are relevant for group counseling?

Practitioners may not be aware of significant similarities and differences among philosophical foundations, professional association documents, and legal terms that guide practice. Rapin identifies similarities and differences among them, highlights essential issues specific to group practice, and suggests future directions. She makes it clear that ethical practice in group therapy is not a linear process. Rather, she suggests, ethical conduct is a matrix relationship involving numerous variables. According to her, the following equation highlights the essential components: ethical behavior in group counseling = (moral and ethical development) + (professional ethics) + (core knowledge and skills) + (specialty/best-practice guidelines) + (legal parameters) x decision making model(s).

(p. 5) Chapter 6. diversity in groups by janice delucia-waack

How does a full range of diversity and multiculturalism relate to group counseling?

Recognition and appreciation of diversity in groups are essential to helping group members understand themselves and work together. DeLucia-Waack gives particular attention in this chapter to the relationship between diversity in group counseling and group-counselor training and practice. Different types of multicultural group work are described, as are key concepts in multicultural counseling, cultural values, and assumptions inherent in group work, as well as the importance of training for group leaders.

Chapter 7. a social justice approach to group counseling by sally m. hage, mark mason, and jungeun kim

How does group counseling connect with a social justice perspective?

Hage, Mason, and Kim describe in this chapter how a social justice approach is emerging as a central aspect of the work of the mental health professional. In addition, they show how group work holds significant potential to further a social justice agenda. This chapter then provides an overview of a social justice approach to group counseling. The meaning of social justice is clarified, and the historical origins of a social justice approach to group work are presented. Existing theory and research related to group work and social justice are reviewed, and current trends in research with social justice groups are summarized. Finally, the authors discuss barriers to a social justice approach to group counseling and the implications of this approach, for counseling training, practice, and research.

Part Three: Key Change Processes

Chapter 8. therapeutic factors in group counseling: asking new questions by dennis m. kivlighan, jr., joseph r. miles, and jill d. paquin

What are therapeutic factors, and how do they influence group counseling?

Kivlighan, Miles, and Paquin review therapeutic factors, describe methods of assessment, document research findings related to therapeutic factors, and discuss future research needs. They explore why therapeutic factors are considered to be key change processes. They ask how counselors can apply the research in this area to their practice and emphatically suggest that research on therapeutic factors in groups will not advance until theorists and researchers begin to develop and test theories and models that have a group perspective.

Chapter 9. cohesion in counseling and psychotherapy groups by cheri l. marmarosh and stacy m. van horn

What are the connections between group cohesiveness and group counseling?

Group cohesion is one of the most studied and theorized factors in group counseling. The relatively large amount of research that has been conducted on group cohesiveness is integrated in this chapter. Marmarosh and Van Horn review the history of group-therapy cohesion and the many challenges to both measuring and studying this frequently elusive group factor. The chapter concludes with recommendations for future research and the implications for clinicians who do group work.

Chapter 10. group climate: construct in search of clarity by debra theobald mcclendon and gary m. burlingame

How is group counseling dependent on group climate?

McClendon and Burlingame review the research related to group climate in group counseling and examine critical questions. Definitions and key measures associated with group climate are examined that underscore definitional confusion and overlap with other group-process constructs, such as cohesion. Research associated with the Group Climate Questionnaire is reviewed and summarized. Finally, findings from an international collaborative research project conducted over the past decade are summarized to provide an alternative definition of group climate that encompasses the relationship variables of cohesion, therapeutic alliance, and empathy. A set of questions that this model directly addresses, as well as questions to be addressed by future research, concludes the chapter.

Chapter 11. group development by virginia brabender

What is group development? Why is attending to it by group counselors a key change process?

Brabender provides a historical description of the major models that show how counseling groups change over time. Particular attention is given to the predominant framework, the progressive stage model. In addition, other models reviewed are the life-cycle model, cyclic model, punctuated (p. 6) equilibrium model, and approaches derived from chaos/complexity theory. This chapter considers the question of whether a group’s development affects members’ abilities to accomplish their goals. Finally, the chapter addresses the application of developmental thinking in unstructured and structured groups and develops the implications of group developmental theory for leadership activities.

Part Four: Research

Chapter 12. evidence bases for group practice by sally h. barlow

What are process and outcome in group counseling? How do they interrelate?

In this chapter Barlow documents how group treatments represent an efficacious and efficient mental health intervention that rival and at times exceed individual therapy outcomes. It reveals how group psychotherapy capitalizes upon group processes that replicate at the micro level the macro struggle for equal access to life-affirming mental health and how change processes occur as skilled group therapists invoke therapeutic factors within the group climate to promote client change. This chapter demonstrates the importance of mental health professionals keeping current with research process and outcome evidence. Barlow suggests how researchers, practicing clinicians, and future clinicians can benefit from exchanges with each other as evidence bases inform expert intervention for participating group members who seek positive change.

Chapter 13. general research models by rex stockton and d. keith morran

What models exist for group research, and how can they be employed?

The authors focus on how general research models promote academic and practitioner collaboration in group-counseling research, how student/trainee research skills can be developed through well-functioning collaborative research teams, how outcomes add to the storehouse of group knowledge and contribute to real-world application, and how to cross disciplinary lines. Stockton and Morran highlight specific issues related to group-counseling research, including research skills training for graduate students, practical skill-application experiences, use of a research team approach to inquiry, practitioner–researcher collaboration, interdisciplinary research, and programmatic research. Major quantitative and qualitative designs for group research are reviewed. Suggestions and recommendations for future research in the group field are offered.

Chapter 14. assessing groups by jonathan p. schwartz, michael waldo, and margaret schwartz moravec

How is group counseling assessed? Assessment is critical to understanding the outcomes and processes inherent in group counseling. However, assessment in groups is often ignored or attempted utilizing measures with poor psychometrics.

In this chapter, Schwartz,Waldo, and Schwartz Moravec explore the various purposes of assessment in group counseling, followed by a summary of different types of assessment that may be used. Strengths and weaknesses of various assessments and research designs also are discussed, along with implications for best practice.

Chapter 15. qualitative research approaches and group counseling by deborah j. rubel and jane e. atieno okech

What is qualitative research? How does it apply to group counseling? Why does qualitative research struggle for acceptance and credibility in counseling and related fields? What are its advantages and disadvantages?

Rubel and Okech describe several qualitative research studies in group counseling, probe how a qualitative approach can be activated by group-counseling researchers, and identify how group-counselor practice can benefit from qualitative research applications. The authors explore the fundamental characteristics of qualitative approaches, their strengths and limitations, and various types of qualitative research. They discuss the challenges and needs of group-counseling research and how qualitative approaches may address these needs. An atheoretical research design process aimed at promoting congruent, effective qualitative designs is presented. Finally, Rubel and Okech provide summaries and evaluations of several qualitative group-counseling studies, present key themes from the chapter discussions, and propose future directions for qualitative research applied to group counseling.

Part Five: Leadership

Chapter 16. personhood of the leader by james p. trotzer

What is meant by the term personhood? Why is the personhood of the group counselor important?

(p. 7) The author summarizes research in this area. Questions include, How can a leader’s personhood be enhanced, and why is personhood alone not enough for effective group counseling? Trotzer distinguishes between the group leader (who the leader is) and leadership (what the leader does). He explores the role of personhood in relation to a group-work paradigm including the three elements of person, process, and product. Theory and research are examined using a “prism of personhood” developed by the author to identify and validate the central nature and role of personhood in the practice of group counseling.

Chapter 17. group techniques by mark d. newmeyer

What are group techniques, and how might they best be used?

The term group technique is not well defined. A variety of other terms (e.g., structured experiences, exercises) are often used interchangeably. Given this current state, Newmeyer suggests it is of little surprise that few conceptual models have developed to assist group leaders in properly considering and selecting group techniques. One model attempting to fill this gap, the purposeful group techniques model, is described. The model consolidates various established elements of how groups work and function, with six core ecological concepts (i.e., context, interconnection, collaboration, social system maintenance, meaning making, and sustainability). Research to examine the model, as well as developing other such models, is needed.

Chapter 18. group leader style and functions by sheri bauman

What group-leader styles and functions have been identified, and how do they work?

Bauman defines both leader style and function in group counseling and discusses and summarizes the research on leader style and function. She explores what research is needed to advance understanding and test hypotheses and indicates how knowledge of leader style and function connects with group-counseling practice and training.

Chapter 19. group-leadership teaching and training: methods and issues by nina w. brown

What group-counseling teaching and training methods exist? What is the status of teaching group counseling across disciplines?

In her review of the literature, Brown discovered that few evidence-based studies have been reported on group-leadership teaching methods. The consensus from professional experts is that group-leadership training encompasses three dimensions: knowledge, leader personal development, and techniques and skills. She observes that much of the attention is given to the use of experiential groups as a teaching/learning strategy and the procedural and ethical concerns that surround its use. Brown presents in this chapter historical and current research on teaching models, methods, and issues and concludes with a set of recommendations.

Chapter 20. supervision of group counseling by maria t. riva

Why is supervision of group counseling necessary and desirable? What is meant by supervision? What models exist to perform it? How are they executed? What works?

Riva points out that supervision of group counseling is a topic that has received little attention, yet it is crucial to the professional development of group counselors and overseeing group clients’ care. In this chapter she highlights the role of supervision in group counseling, the responsibilities of the supervisor, and the tasks involved in the supervisory relationship. A section also addresses research that has been conducted and the need for and directions of future research.

Chapter 21. creativity and spontaneity in groups by samuel t. gladding

What is meant by creativity and spontaneity in group counseling? What is the research about these factors? What is the value of these two factors in group counseling? How can these qualities be developed in group counselors? How can group counselors use creativity and spontaneity?

Gladding considers these questions in this chapter, examining creativity and spontaneity and how they can be used in groups of all types including group counseling. These concepts are first defined, and steps in the creative process are discussed. Then, the importance and benefits of creativity and spontaneity in groups are examined. Research related to their use and value in group settings is explored. Ways of promoting creativity and spontaneity in groups are discussed next, along with barriers to being creative in a group. Finally, questions regarding the future of using creativity and spontaneity in groups are raised, and Web sites related (p. 8) to creativity and spontaneity in groups follow the conclusion.

Part Six: Applications

Chapter 22. groups across settings by cynthia r. kalodner and alexa e. hanus

What settings are especially suited for group counseling?

Kalodner and Hanus observe in this chapter that group interventions exist in a large diversity of settings. Their goal is to provide readers with a sense of the ubiquitous nature of groups. The variety of settings includes a focus on different kinds of groups for clients of different ages with a diversity of clinical issues. Each section provides examples of groups and research to support these groups in particular settings. Selected for depth of coverage in this chapter are Veterans Administration programs, behavioral health and medical settings, college/university counseling centers, and schools. The chapter concludes with suggestions for the future of groups in these settings and an extensive reference list.

Chapter 23. group counseling across the life span: a psychological perspective by jeanmarie keim and david l. olguin

Can group counseling be applied throughout the life span?

Keim and Olguin discuss group work for individuals across the life span, examining it through a psychosocial development lens. They posit that Erikson’s contribution of psychosocial stages to the helping professions remains a valuable tool in conceptualizing development, prevention, and treatment and that group work is an appropriate and effective method to promote positive psychosocial growth and assist members to overcome cognitive, behavioral, and emotional difficulties. The authors suggest that due to the broad range of groups that exists it is important for group counselors to conceptualize prospective members within a developmental context, including which psychosocial tasks each person is facing. This chapter opens with a brief overview of Erikson’s psychosocial stages, followed by overviews of group literature for 10 specific age groups, related group leader considerations, and future directions.

Chapter 24. group counseling with sexual minorities by kathleen ritter

What is known about how best to work with sexual minority group members? What do group leaders need to appreciate, know, and be able to do?

Ritter demonstrates that when counselors can appreciate the unique life circumstances that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender clients bring to the group experience and possess the skills to lead the group through its many transitions, it becomes possible for growth to occur for every individual involved. She suggests that understanding the concepts of oppression, minority stress, and cohort and developmental differences provides a context for effective and ethical group facilitation. Ritter briefly reviews the existing literature related to sexual minority group members and examines the relevant guidelines, principles, competencies, and ethical codes of several professional associations. Other concepts discussed include group composition, leader sexual orientation, group management, and sexual minority members and group dynamics.

Chapter 25. prevention groups by michael waldo, jonathan p. schwartz, arthur horne, and laura côté

How can group counseling be used preventively?

The authors focus on the connections between “prevention” and “group.” Different perspectives on prevention are described, including methods of classifying preventive interventions, followed by a description of current classifications of prevention group work. Next, the advantages of using group counseling for prevention are outlined. Theory and research explaining how prevention group counseling works are reviewed. Therapeutic factors that frequently occur in group counseling are described, with a focus on how these therapeutic factors can contribute to different forms of prevention. Dynamics that develop in groups are then detailed, including how group leaders may employ group dynamics to foster therapeutic factors. Current examples of primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention groups are provided, including evaluative research on their effectiveness. Waldo, Schwartz, Horne, and Côté conclude the chapter with a summary and examination of future directions for prevention group counseling.

Chapter 26. international group counseling by j. jeffries mcwhirter, paula t. mcwhirter, benedict t. mcwhirter, and ellen hawley mcwhirter

What is the status of group counseling globally?

In this chapter J. Jeffries McWhirter and his colleagues consider the field of group counseling from an international perspective. They suggest that the (p. 9) inclusive definition of group counseling provided by Conyne (in this chapter) is compatible with the broad range of interventions being developed and facilitated internationally. Following a summary of facilitation and training issues, they provide an extensive review of research from a global perspective on a continent-by-continent basis. Next, they describe five group-counseling applications, focusing on international indigenous groups based in diverse regions internationally. Finally, the authors address questions and highlight suggestions for further exploration and consider the growth and impact potentials for group work that cross national and cultural perspectives.

Chapter 27. brief group treatment by jerrold lee shapiro

What are brief groups, and how do they work?

In this chapter, Shapiro describes brief groups as being time-limited with a preset termination and a process orientation and being led by a professional. Membership is closed, and members are screened for fit, consistent goals and similar ego strength. A short history of the precursors of brief group treatments is presented. The process stages, or group trajectory, are described and related to the nature and timing of interventions. Extant studies in the area of brief group process and outcome research are explored and recommendations made for more carefully designed studies. Finally, Shapiro offers a combination of prediction and wish list for future research, practice, and training in brief group approaches.

Chapter 28. mutual help groups: what are they and what makes them work? by phyllis r. silverman

Why do people find it so helpful to meet others who have similar problems or life-changing experiences? Why does finding others like ourselves give us a sense of hope or of being understood and often a direction to a solution to our problem? Are there other aspects of the experience and the setting in which this kind of encounter takes place that matter?

In this chapter Silverman offers some understanding of how mutual help groups emerge, what they do for those who participate, and the kind of settings in which they occur. Silverman concludes that what seems to matter a good deal in mutual help groups is who controls the program and its resources.

Chapter 29. online groups by betsy j. page

What are online groups, and how can counselors and other mental health workers use them appropriately?

Page indicates that online support groups encourage and offer acceptance, support, and virtual companionship to participants. In a sense, she says, they can serve to offset social isolation. Page addresses the full-range of online groups including social networking, describing how they work and giving some key examples. Research is summarized and benefits and deficits of online approaches are highlighted. How group counselors can become involved appropriately is outlined, and future projections are offered.

Chapter 30. groups for trauma/disaster by david w. foy, kent d. drescher, and patricia j. watson

How is group counseling being used in trauma and disaster situations?

Foy, Drescher, and Watson describe in this chapter the evolution of trauma and disaster groups. They discuss how group interventions for survivors of trauma were first used following World War II with combat veterans who were struggling with the psychological consequences of their war experiences. Early groups were conducted months or years after combat, while the ensuing evolution of groups for trauma has diversified so that single-session groups are now often used to provide support for disaster survivors within the first few days or weeks after the event. The authors highlight two emerging forms of trauma and disaster groups, psychological first-aid groups and spiritual and trauma groups, and they provide recommendations for group leaders.

Part Seven: Conclusion

Chapter 31: group counseling: 50 basic premises and the need for mainstreaming by robert k. conyne

This summative chapter includes two parts. The first results from identifying and briefly describing “basic premises” about group counseling that emerged from a review of the preceding handbook chapters. The second part contains an argument for more assertively ushering group counseling and all its benefits into the “mainstream” of professional and public awareness.

A Brief Context for Understanding Group Counseling

The remainder of this introductory chapter consists of adapted excerpts drawn from my overview chapter on group counseling to be found in the forthcoming Handbook of Counseling Psychology (p. 10) (Altmaier & Hansen, in press). Refer to that chapter for expanded coverage and to the following chapters in this volume, all of which are aimed at solidifying and advancing group counseling. The material below is intended to summarize major components of group counseling and to introduce the informative discussion to come contained in the next chapters.

A Definition of Group Counseling

Group counseling is an important therapeutic and educational method that psychologists, counselors, and other helpers can use to facilitate interpersonal problem-solving processes among members as they learn how to resolve difficult but manageable problems of living and how to apply gains in the future. While being a unique service-delivery method, group counseling also shares much in common with related group-work approaches, including psychoeducation groups and psychotherapy groups. In general, group counseling occupies a broad middle section of the helping goals continuum where prevention, development, and remediation all play important roles, depending on member needs and situational supports and constraints (Conyne, in press).


Group counseling has emerged over more than 100 years. This protracted period of time can be arranged into four time periods, as follows:

  1. 1. Period 1, the “years of development,” 1900–1939: marked by early forays into working with people collectively, group work aimed at changing social conditions and laying a foundation for the progress to come

  2. 2. Period 2, the “years of early explosion,” 1940–1969: a remarkable two decades beginning with accelerating the spread of group approaches following World War II and noted for innovation and experimentation; for production and organization of theory, techniques, and research; for the formation of group organizations; and for the spread of groups throughout society occurring during the “human potential movement” of the 1960s

  3. 3. Period 3, the “years of settling in,” 1970–1989: two decades noted for sifting through earlier advancements and documenting what worked through substantial and influential publications, the emergence of group training in universities and elsewhere, and the formation of key group-work organizations

  4. 4. Period 4, the “years of standardization and further expansion to the age of ubiquity,” 1990–present: a time noted for efforts to define group work and the place of group counseling in relation to it, for products intended to clarify guidelines and standards for group training and practice, for the publication of more sophisticated research into process and outcomes, for the emergence of group handbooks, for the wide expansion of group work to fit differing populations and settings, and for experimentation of group methods using online and other electronic vehicles.

Key Change Processes of Group Counseling

Therapeutic Factors, Group Climate, and Group Development

Therapeutic factors

After considering the large body of literature addressing the importance of therapeutic factors, Kivlighan and Holmes (2004) were led to conclude that little progress has been made in answering an initial basic question raised by Yalom: “How does group therapy help patients?” Complexities of client, therapist, and group variables—and their interaction—continue to vex efforts. Future research into these and other areas raised in this section will help to further clarify how therapeutic factors operate and how group leaders can harness their power. Developing answers to these questions is important to group counseling.

Group climate

Kivlighan and Tarrant (2001) suggest the following:

Group members will increase their active involvement with the group when group leaders refrain from doing individual therapy in the group and actively set goals and norms while maintaining a warm and supportive environment …the group leader’s major task is to create a therapeutic group climate …unlike individual treatment, where the relationship between the client and therapist is tantamount, in group treatment leaders should probably de-emphasize their relationships with individual group members and focus on creating a therapeutic group climate. (p. 231)

Group development

Patterns are observable when examining many groups from a distance, although chance and serendipity associated with the unique composition of a group and the often unpredictable interactions occurring among members contribute strongly (p. 11) to any one group’s development. Still, group developmental models can be used by group leaders to assist in managing events under way in a group, to help in predicting general future events, and to guide creation of a plan for a new group (Conyne, 1997; Conyne, Crowell, & Newmeyer, 2008; MacKenzie, 1997; Wheelan, 1997, 2005). A number of studies (e.g., Kivlighan, McGovern, & Corazzini, 1984) have shown that a successful group outcome is strongly dependent on the group being able to move positively through developmental levels (Donigian & Malnati, 1997).


Group leadership is the ability to draw from best practices and good professional judgment to

Create a group and, in collaboration with members, build and maintain a positive group climate that serves to nurture here-and-now interaction and its processing by leader and members, aimed at producing lasting growth and change (Conyne, in press).

Functions, tasks, and roles of group leaders

Yalom (1995) maintains that the group leader’s initial goals are to create a therapeutic culture drawing largely from task-oriented behaviors; this is known as the “technical expert role.” As the group proceeds, the leader may shift to providing increased relationship behaviors and modeling of positive attitudes and behaviors, consistent with a model-setting participant role as the group evolves. Both of these roles are important in shaping the group climate and its norms.

Pregroup preparation and planning in creating the group

Pregroup preparation has been shown to be essential to promoting group cohesion, member satisfaction, and comfort with the group (e.g., Bednar & Kaul, 1994; Bowman & DeLucia, 1993; Burlingame, Fuhriman, & Johnson, 2001, 2004; Conyne, Wilson, & Ward, 1997; Riva, Wachtel, & Lasky, 2004). Pregroup preparation enjoys the strongest empirical support of all structuring approaches.

Positive valence of the group leader

As stated by Yalom, “The basic posture of the [group] therapist to a client must be one of concern, acceptance, genuineness, empathy. Nothing, no technical consideration, takes precedence over this attitude” (italics retained; Yalom, 2005, p. 117).

Stimulating and focusing here-and-now interaction

As Yalom (2005) stressed, “[this is] perhaps the single most important point I make in this entire book: the here-and-now focus, to be effective, consists of two symbiotic tiers, neither of which has therapeutic power without the other (p. 141, italics retained). These tiers are (1) stimulating here-and-now interaction and (2) illuminating and focusing process.

Using meaning attribution

The experience of group counseling can be bewildering due to its ongoing dynamic activity. It also can be emotionally overpowering at times, or conversely, it can sap the patience of everyone involved. In any and all cases, the experience of group participation can become more understandable and meaningful, as was mentioned earlier, when group leaders assist members in converting experience to cognition (Conyne, 1999; Lieberman, Yalom, & Miles, 1973).

Leader choice of interventions

Interventions need to be chosen with intentionality to more purposefully stimulate here-and-now experience and its evolving meaning (e.g., Cohen & Smith, 1976; Corey & Corey, 2006; Ivey, Pedersen, & Ivey, 2001, 2008; Jacobs, Masson, & Harvill, 2006; Stockton, Morran, & Clark, 2004; Trotzer, 2004). Building on Cohen and Smith’s classic critical incident model (1976), Conyne et al. (2008) integrate several additional elements thought to be important in group leadership to create the purposeful group technique model. This five-step model is used intentionally to guide the consideration and selection of group techniques. It is based on viewing a group as an ecological system.

Drawing from standards, guidelines, and principles to guide group leadership

The increased intentionality in group leadership has been marked by the creation and adoption of various standards, guidelines, principles, and codes that are particular to group work. It is important for group leaders to be aware of and guided by existing ethics, best-practice guidelines, legal statutes, and other professional codes that are relevant to their practice (Wilson, Rapin, & Haley-Banez, 2004).

Ethical practice

Sound ethical practice is accomplished through giving appropriate attention to planning, performing, and (p. 12) processing groups (Rapin, 2004). Thorough planning, for example, can help control for committing errors in confidentiality, informed consent, and recruitment and selection of members as well as help to design a group that more closely reflects the needs and culture of the participants. Careful attention to performing, that is, attending to what leaders do within sessions, can enhance the effectiveness and appropriateness of leader interventions. Thoughtful processing can protect against ignoring how ethical and legal principles apply to situations being confronted and can promote regular scrutiny and evaluation of the group being led.

Diversity and multicultural practice

Group leaders need to become comfortable and competent in providing multicultural group counseling. Specific recommendations have been provided to assist in meeting this charge (DeLucia-Waack & Donigian, 2003): (1) develop awareness of the worldviews of different cultures and how these might impact group-work interventions, (2) develop self-awareness of racial identity and one’s own cultural and personal worldviews, and (3) develop a repertoire of group-leader interventions that are culturally appropriate. The Association for Specialists in Group Work (ASGW, 1998) principles for diversity-competent group workers offer specific guidance; three areas of multicultural competence for group leaders and group members alike are emphasized in the principles: group leader attitudes and beliefs, knowledge, and skills.


Nearly always there are apparent discordances and conflicting melodies running through group interaction. At times group interaction may “sound” cacophonous. Different members “play” idiosyncratic tunes on their own separate instruments, just as in a jazz ensemble, seemingly at times at odds with each other. Yet, underneath there often is a “matter of consistency” (Kaul, 1990)—a unison refrain, a groove, if you will— and it is the group leader’s role to find it, if no one else can, to bring it home to every member’s awareness. And then leaders need to show members how their interactive participation can become harmonious even as they continue to express their individuality. Theory, research, and supervised practice contribute substantively to inform and guide group leadership, indeed; but personal factors, along with spontaneity and intuition, may be just as important.

Expansion of Groups in Contemporary Society: The “Age of Ubiquity”?

There are, of course, professionally led groups, commonly referred to as “counseling and therapy groups.” These have garnered the attention of this review chapter. As well, many specifications and adaptations exist of ASGW’s four types of groups (task, psychoeducational, counseling, and psychotherapy), including a myriad of support groups and self-help/mutual help groups. Groups are multisplendored, therefore. They are tailored to a wide range of specific populations, addressing a myriad of health and mental health–care issues. Groups are offered across the life span and provided in brief therapy formats supported by managed care (but, alas, much more needs to be done in this arena). There are quality circle groups, community action groups, prevention groups, social justice groups, trauma groups, and the list goes on …and on.

Brief Group Therapy

Brief group therapy (BGT) is of considerable interest for a variety of reasons. Research attests to its efficacy and wide applicability (e.g., Spitz, 1996). In addition, BGT may be a treatment of choice for specific client problems, such as complicated grief, adjustment problems, trauma reactions, existential concerns, and more recently medically ill patients and in combinations for those with personality disorders (Piper & Ogrodniczuk, 2004).

Mutual Help Groups

Drawing from a national survey, Kessler, Michelson, and Zhao (1997) reported that approximately 7% (about 11 million) of adults in the United States participated in a mutual (self) help group in the year studied and that 18% of Americans had done so at some time during their lives. Klaw and Humphreys (2004) point out that these kinds of groups are low-cost, participation in them can produce positive health outcomes while often lowering health-care expenditures, and professionally led groups can be improved by integrating with self-help approaches.

Social Justice Groups

After decades where group work targeted person-change areas while minimizing attention to social change, the end of the last century was marked by renewed vigor in addressing change approaches aimed at social justice and community development (e.g., Lee, 2007; Toporek, Gerstein, Fouad, (p. 13) Roysircar-Sodowsky, & Israel, 2005), including attention to using groups for these purposes. Examples of groups being used for social justice and system change can be found in the area of community-based participatory research and action (Finn & Jacobson, 2003; Jacobson & Rugeley, 2007), expanding learning from the group social microcosm to external system application (Orr et al., 2008), and using empowerment groups in schools (Bemak, 2005). Using groups and group processes for social justice is emerging as an important approach.

Online Groups

Groups always have been conducted face-to-face, and nearly all of the existing research and practice knowledge is premised on that direct format. With the explosion in the creation and availability of computers and online technologies, however, a whole new arena has been opened. Although there remains concern about losing the value of personal, face-to-face groups online formats have flourished in what was termed an “electronic frontier” (Bowman & Bowman, 1998)—an eon ago when counting in technological years.

An increasing range of possibilities exist for online group application. These include, but are not limited to, interactive E-journaling (Haberstroh, Parr, Gee, & Trepal, 2006), Internet support groups (Lieberman, Wizlenberg, Golant, & Minno, 2005), online discussions that are synchronous and asynchronous (Romano & Cikanek, 2003), and videos and computer simulations for training (Smokowski, 2003).


Face-to-face group counseling is effective and efficient at promoting change and growth in members. Its more than 100-year history is marked by expansion, solidification, and continued innovation. Standards, principles, and guidelines have emerged as reference points.

Group counseling and other group forms are conducted across the spectrum of remediation, development, and prevention to address a range of target populations. Groups are located in an array of settings, from private practice to schools, communities, and organizations. They are professionally led, self-help, offered face-to-face and online, and brief or longer-term; and they address trauma and wellness. Mechanisms for positive change have been identified generally, with further refinements emerging in robust research programs being disseminated through respected scholarly vehicles. We have entered an “age of ubiquity,” with a future full of opportunities and challenges.

Future Directions

The future of group counseling is bright. To intensify and expand its glow, the following 10 points are offered, which evolve from the preceding narrative. They are arranged generally into research and practice categories.


  1. 1. The group-research agenda needs to deepen, widen, and integrate. The promising lines of research focused on the process engines that drive groups, including cohesion, culture, and therapeutic factors, are revealing important practice applications that invite deepening (e.g., Kivlighan et al., 2000; Riva et al., 2004). A widening of group research will explore multicultural, online, prevention, trauma, and other expansions of group application (Chen, Kakkad, & Balzano, 2008; DeLucia-Waack, Gerrity, Kalodner, & Riva, 2004; Gazda, Ginter, & Horn, 2001).

  2. 2. Continued investigation of the evidence basis for group counseling needs to continue and be extended (Burlingame & Beecher, 2008). This focal area is beginning to coalesce around the designation of research-supported group treatment (RSGT) (Johnson, 2008). As well, RSGT efforts need to include cultural and setting differences (Chen et al., 2008) and the whole span of group dynamics (Kivlighan, 2008).

  3. 3. Adopting common conceptions of group counseling and other group formats (e.g., the ASGW delineation of group-work types [task, psychoeducation, counseling, and psychotherapy], the multifaceted model of group psychotherapy described by Burlingame, Kapetanovic, & Ross [2005], the group work grid of Conyne [1985]) would assist group research, for example, of therapeutic factors across different types of groups and settings (Kivlighan, 2008; Kivlighan & Holmes, 2004). Such definitions could emerge through coordinated attention by major professional associations in the area of groups, such as the Group Practice and Research Network, which presently includes the American Group Psychotherapy Association, the ASGW, the (p. 14) Division of Group Psychology and Group Psychotherapy of the American Psychological Association (APA), the Division of Addictions of the APA, and the Group Section of the Division of Psychoanalysis of the APA.

  4. 4. The connection among group research, group training, and group practice needs to be bridged more fully (Anderson & Wheelan, 2005). This is a continuing challenge in virtually all areas of counseling psychology, and it certainly exists in the domain of groups. For instance, relevant research findings in social psychology need to find their way more quickly and strategically into group practice.

  5. 5. Group research, practice, and training knowledge that is reported through the organs of different professional associations, and sometimes in different disciplines, needs to be interconnected by scholars, with emerging best practices made available to trainers and practitioners (Berdahl & Henry, 2005).

  6. 6. Group researchers need to study the various forms of online group systems (Williams, 2002) for efficacy and to determine what modes work best for what situations and which people. As well, tending toward practice, more group counselors need to explore the appropriate use of electronic and online vehicles in their work (McGlothlin, 2003). Ethical guidelines that are specific to these online group systems also await development (Page, 2004). Online offerings would match the daily life practice of millions of teens and adults in contemporary society.


  1. 7. The “age of ubiquity” in group counseling means, in part, that training in counseling psychology must rearrange itself to make obvious room for group work in the curriculum (Conyne et al., 1997; Conyne & Bemak, 2004). Group counseling should not be a postdoctoral specialty only. In addition, it should permeate and support other counseling and psychological interventions and stand on its own as an important method, capable of delivery by a wide range of trained practitioners.

  2. 8. Groups are effective (e.g., Payne & Marcus, 2008) and, of course, efficient. Group-counseling advocates must build on these realities to develop concerted strategies to influence the future of health care, particularly managed care, to fully incorporate group-delivery formats as reimbursable services (Spitz, 1996). Group services must become an integral part of any future renovation of the nation’s health-care system.

  3. 9. Professionally led group methods—developed largely from group psychotherapy research with a majority of adults in closed groups—need to be intentionally adapted, where needed, to support work with open groups and with groups for children, minorities, and the aged for prevention and social justice (Conyne, 2004).

  4. 10. Barriers against group counseling (e.g., ineffective referral processes, cumbersome processes for organizing groups within agencies, or inaccurate myths about group counseling) need to be reduced to allow groups to become more attractive and available to more people (Trotzer, 2006).


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