If you have recently taken on the supervision of one or more group therapists you may be wondering how best to help them with the skills needed to make group leading a rewarding experience.
Leader Skills to be Developed
Most new group therapists, even those with solid clinical skills that serve them well in their work with individual clients, are baffled about which of these skills may be useful in groups. They may also be unclear about additional skills that may be needed to make a working group out of a configuration of strangers.
Common Concerns of the Neophyte Group Leader
As a supervisor, it will be helpful to be able to respond to a number of common concerns often raised early on by those new to group leadership, as well as those who have had some group experiences but with little training or supervision. At times I have found it helpful to begin by giving new leaders a checklist of such concerns. This may serve not only to normalize the initial anxieties that supervisees are likely to bring to this new endeavor, but also provides a way of talking about specific skills for which they will want more help.
Checklist of Common Leader Concerns
Circle each item that applies to you and then rank order from most to least important.
- Sense of inadequacy/incompetence
- Feeling exposed when working with another leader
- Not knowing what to do or what to say as a leader
- Not really understanding what the ingredients are of a successful group
- Not understanding how a psycho-end group is different from a class or lecture
- Feeling de-skilled when interventions that work in individual therapy don’t work in a group
- Not knowing how to get patients on board with the idea of group treatment
- Concerns about specific skills that are lacking to:
- Keep members engaged in the group.
- Maximize connection between members
- Begin a group so members will know what to expect
- End the group
- Set up the room for maximum interaction
- Keep the group on topic (and knowing when that is not so important)
- Avoid behaviors that interfere with people being able to connect with one another
- Get members to come back
- Increase affect in the group
- Handle silence in the group
- Deal with problem group behaviors including the member who:
- Won’t talk
- Talks too much
- Comes late
- Interrupts others
- Objects to what the leader is doing
- Is an all-knowing advice-giver
- Keeps pulling the focus back to himself
Discussion of the supervisees responses to the questionnaire can help focus the beginning phases of supervision.
Additional Training Materials the Supervisor May Find Useful
In addition to responding to these issues as they arise in the new group leader’s work, some advance teaching/training may also be helpful. I have written two sets of materials often found useful by both group trainees and group supervisors: Supervising the Beginning Group Leader in Inpatient and Partial Hospital Settings and Removing the Roadblocks: Group Psychotherapy with Substance Abusers and Family Members.
Though the titles of these materials sound somewhat specialized, the techniques and skills discussed are quite generic. They provide detailed guidance for providing a constructive group structure, helping group members interact, and applying straightforward moves that further group process. These materials detail clinical interventions that make groups therapeutic, regardless of whether they are interpersonal process groups, psycho-educational groups, discussion groups, community meetings, or skills-based groups, including DBT and CBT. Basic essentials are outlined that are equally applicable to groups of any duration, from one-shot discussion groups to long-term therapy groups, and to both fixed membership and revolving membership groups.
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© 2021 Marsha Vannicelli