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In this lesson, you will learn about the different stages of a typical counseling group, from obtaining a leader and screening members, to termination of the group and followup by the leader.

Each stage has different experiences for group members.

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The Group Counseling Experience

This lesson looks at the stages of the group, from how to start a group to how to end it. Keep in mind that different theories are going to use different techniques and methods, but basically, these are the stages that a group will go through.

Forming Stage

The first stage of the typical counseling group is forming. During this stage, initial reserve will be displayed as group members get to know each other and try to not be rejected by the group or the leader. Within the forming stage are the following steps: developing rationale, deciding on a theoretical format, practical considerations, publicizing the group and pre-training and selection of members and leaders.

Developing a rationale for the group is important. If the leader has not formed a clear-cut purpose for the group, the group may flounder and be nonproductive. Deciding on a theoretical format will determine how the group will function from that point on. Practical considerations should then be taken care of.

What time will the group meet? How often will it meet? Where will it meet? The location of the group can have an impact on its success and should be planned and organized well.Publicizing the group will determine how it will be seen by others and who will join. Some of the best methods to advertise the group are through professional colleagues, personal contacts and written announcements. Written announcements, although effective, may draw people who are not suitable for the group and will require further screening.Selection of members and leaders should always be conducted, and members should be screened, or interviewed, prior to the group in regard to their suitability for the group. Pre-training is providing an orientation to introduce potential members to group rules, expectations and projected outcomes and should always be done after selection of leaders and members.

Group rules, or the guidelines of the group, are established before and during the group. Most of the rules will be established before the group begins and gone over in the initial meeting. Limits, or the outer boundaries of the group regarding behaviors accepted within the group, and violation of the limits may be confronted by the group.

Transition Stage

The next stage is the transition stage. This stage usually begins after the forming stage, in the second or third session. The main steps of this stage are storming and norming.

This stage begins with a storming period, in which group members struggle and compete with each other to find their place in the group. The struggles may be overt or covert, and the members may experience anxiety, resistance, defensiveness, confrontation and transference. Storming is a time of conflict and anxiety, when the group moves from being awkward toward having group conflict. The group works toward a balance of tensions. Anxiety at this point is related to fear of losing control, being misunderstood, looking foolish and being rejected.

The struggle for power is the capacity to bring about certain intended consequences in the behavior of others.Task processing, or ways of accomplishing specific goals, seems to reverse itself, which is healthy for the group. It most cases it is a pause, and then the group moves on. If the group gets stuck here, the group may choose a scapegoat.The norms are expectations about group members’ behaviors that should or should not take place. They function to regulate the performance of a group as an organized unit. At the beginning of the group, norms may not be as clear or well-defined as later in the group.

As the group progresses, group norming is the feeling of ‘we-ness’ that comes when individuals feel they belong to something larger than themselves. As the group progresses, the group members begin to see themselves as similar to each other. An objective of the group is for them to reach an agreement on the establishment of norms.

If the process of norming goes well, the group will be ready for the next stage.

Working Stage

The next stage is the working stage. This stage focuses on the achievement of individual and group goals and the movement of the group into a more useful and productive system. This is usually the longest and most productive stage. The emphasis of this stage is productivity, whether the results are visible or not.Genuine concern from group members for each other is present, as well as a greater need to self-disclose, or reveal information about oneself.

Role playing could be a part of this stage, in which the group member assumes an identity very different from their own. It can be a powerful way to see and feel how actions will be before they occur outside the group.During this stage, the group may give members homework to do between meetings that may have consisted of practicing things they learned in the group. Incorporation is knowledge and appreciation of what the person has learned in the group.

It prepares the group members to move on to the termination of the group.

Termination Stage

Termination is the final stage of the group. It can be a difficult stage. In the final stage, the group members are to reflect on their past experiences, process memories, evaluate what has been learned and acknowledge ambivalent feelings. With termination, one concern is emotional ambivalence.

Often, there are feelings of sadness, loss and separation anxiety at the ending of the group.Termination happens at the end of each session and the end of the group. It is a 4-step process.

During orientation, the subject of termination is raised. The events of the session or of the group are summarized. The group will discuss goals for once the group is terminated. During follow up, group members inform others of how they have progressed.Premature termination happens when someone withdraws from the group, fails to return, or the group terminates without preparing group members for the end of the group.

Lesson Summary

The stages of a group are basically the same no matter what the theoretical orientation behind it.

  1. The first stage of the group is known as the forming stage. During this stage, the group leader plans the group, acquires group members, screens the group members, establishes the rules and pre-trains and begins the group.
  2. During the transition stage, the group will experience the storming and norming. Storming is when the members of the group are trying to figure out how the group will work and what their role will be within the group.

    Once the group transitions through this step, then norming begins, in which the group begins to work as a unit.

  3. The working stage, the longest stage, is the period of greatest productivity. Group members feel safe enough to disclose about themselves, to role play, to perform homework outside the group and incorporate what they have learned.
  4. In the termination stage, the group prepares to terminate and separates. Group members have become close, and this is not an easy separation, but the good leader will have prepared them for it. If the leader terminates at the end of each session, it better prepares the group for final termination.

    The leader should follow up at a later date to see how the members are doing.

Learning Outcomes

After completing this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Identify the stages of a group for counseling
  • Describe how groups may be formed
  • Recall the natural transition stage
  • Determine when the group is in the working stage
  • Remember groups end with the termination stage

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