Group Work / Counseling


Personal growth and development as a group participant

McDermott (2002) suggests that groups are defined by consisting of at least two persons, that share space and share a purpose. The interactions taking place amongst members may be important in the development of common goals, norms and roles, and some sense of belonging. Within the context of a group, participants find the possibility of making comparisons between themselves and others, which can become an influential source of control and reward for members.

Therefore the group work undertaken may play a part in defining the individual’s sense of reality. McDermott further concludes that, while groups are extremely powerful phenomena, they also hold the possibility and potential of learning how to share that power.

The individual and other group participants interact and create a social experience both in the ‘here and now’ as well as in their own minds with their interpretations of what is happening. The group in the group work module consisted of 4 members, including me and the educator.

When I first I had some doubt if it would be possible to see group dynamics developing in such a small group, in reality the group was very dynamic, especially at the last weekend when we had two days followed by each other. The educator worked with us as a class but also modelled at the same time our group work. The group task was the learning outcome as stated in the Module outline and the goal is to cover the content areas.

The process focused on how the group developed; when the process is going well then the group is dynamic, which our group was even though we where dealing with a member that for the first half of the module was not as involved in the process than the other three members due to tiredness. As a group participant I learned a lot about myself and how I react being in a group. When meeting new people I am at first shy and introvert until I know the other group members better and have developed some trust and find the other group members non threatening.

I started to open up and reveal my true self from the third session, still on guard and very aware of what I chose to disclose and what I would rather not disclose. In the later stages of the group I was quiet outgoing and even took the lead in a group activity, which surprised me. Near the end I felt comfortable to show a vulnerable side of mine and even displayed emotions and tears which is very unusual for me. I realised that I am a very controlled person that can handle and comfort other peoples emotional outbursts better than letting other group members see my vulnerability.

I realised that there is always more inner work to do and that it is the right time and the right environment to do it. I have been looking into the work of John Bradshaw and his inner child work and find his work very interesting that I would like to explore in the context of group work in the future .

Involvement in group structured exercises and role-plays

Middleman in Papell (1997) and Sullivan (1995) outlined that group work is most effective if the leader sets up the group with a purpose in mind that is best achieved by the combined forces of a number of individuals. It also emphasises the difference between practice with groups and practice with individuals. Practice with groups is not the same as working with several individuals in a group.

Rather, group work is, by definition, working with a group. the necessity for the group worker to keep in mind that, while groups are comprised of individuals, at the same time their coming together may enable the expression of powerful forces reinforcing a sense of community and solidarity. These are the building blocks for the development of trust. Trust, and its counterpart—reciprocity amongst members, may establish the bonds which serve to enable members to achieve their individual and common goals. The task of the group worker is to nurture such developments. Role play is a very important part of group work.

Role play according to Benson (2002) explores the role behaviour of an individual in a domestic, leisure, or work situation. It enables the group members to Practise new skills, explore and resolve a current problem. It is also used to replay childhood scenes or fantasy situations that can be worked through in a group setting. Role-play increases involvement and spontaneity. It enhances awareness and understanding, Role-play facilitates problem solving and deepens group cohesion and mutuality.

Benson (2002) states further that it is a very flexible technique which can be adapted for work in any group setting. In its simplest form, role-play involves setting up a scene which represents for an individual or the group, some conflict, anxiety, or need to practise new roles, behaviours, or skills. The most significant group structured exercise in the group module for me was the giving of feedback and the use of “I” statements.

The importance of owning my statements with the use of “I” statements and especially how the blaming and generalising is taken away, was a very powerful experience for me. It was enlightening watching the other group participants connecting with their feelings and needs and looking at issues from a different perspective. This giving of feedback that could entail that the other person might be upset was something that I would have avoided in the past.

But by talking about feelings, needs and using “I” statements the process went very well and in the activity where we spoke to one participant and gave feedback about how we felt that she was falling asleep in class, I managed to connect with her a very deep level and it was possible for her to connect with her inner self and internalise behaviour and life circumstances. I also learned that I would have to pace myself and that the person that receives the feedback would have to reach her own conclusions and realisations because only then would they empower her and she would be able to own them.

This will requiere much patients for me in the future because I intuitively can connect with people and the see connections and needs before them. I would have thought it helpful to help them see this in making suggestions of possibilities. Now my approach would be to lead them with my questions to the point of self realisation.

Group leadership activities

Benson ( 2001) states there are four broad styles of leadership: the directive Leader, who takes major responsibilities for organizing, convening, guiding, identifying tasks, maintaining flow of ideas and emotions; the permissive Leader who is non-directive and assumes that if a purpose is clear and acceptable, group members can accomplish their goals. The permissive leader does not give his authority away but tries to allow the group to determine its own behaviour incentives and strategy. The facilitating Leader sees himself as a member of the group but with expertise, role, and function which is different from other members.

He places major responsibilities for group process and task accomplishment on the group and its members and tries to be supportive, encouraging, and involved. The flexible Leader adapts his position and behaviour in response to his assessment of group functioning, needs of members, and the task and will take up any of the other three leadership styles if it appears appropriate to do so. Benson (2001) states that there are different techniques to boost the appeal of a subject or task and increase the motivational attraction for group members. It always depends on the type of group the leader is working with.

It will be more likely to generate interest and enthusiasm for group activities if they are presented in a way which offers fun, activity, and opportunities for demonstration and exploration, as well as making the point. Members will be more involved and the experience will be more complete if the leader can create opportunities for the members for example to tell a story, draw, or enact a role play which will bring out the essential principles.

When considering a session or a theme in your programme, the outcome needs to be clear. The group leadership activities lead by my fellow students where a mixture of creativity, improvisation and well planned activities. There where three activities each reflecting the leaders personality. The chosen facilitating leadership styles worked for all three presentations. There was a art bases presentation that created very harmonious cohesive group athmosphere which was a wonderful experience.

And creating a group poster was a very enriching experience for everybody. The next presentation was more structured as it involved us all pretending working for an organisation, which was life line in this case and trying to come up with ideas for our clients to create a healthy meal on a budget. The wealth of ideas and suggestions was amazing and we all got very involved and inspired by this exercise. We all felt that this actitivity could have been a project that would have value and could actually helped people in this situation.

The third leadership activity was very inspiring aswell as it worked with the help of animals and how they would symobolise ourself in a self development situation that we are currently working on in our own lifes. After initial confusion because the group leader was trying to run the exercise parallel as a group she was going to run in the future; and the actual group as appearing in our classroom, we decided that this approach was to complicated and so we continued to run the activity just as group module members. The use of the animals as metaphers was very powerful and touched everybody on a deep level.

The facilitation of an actual group in role-play formatAs my facilitaton excerise as an actual group I chose a meditation group, not purely with the intent to teach how to relax and reach inner calm but also with the aim of self development.

The group participants had not had previous experience with mediation, therefore I chose a relaxation technique that worked with colours and breathing to establish a relaxed state of mind. I was at first nervous but then realised that I am competent in this area and relaxed from then on. The participants where very keen on the exercise and the outcome was very constructive. I was concerned for one member as she fell asleep and I was wondering during the meditation if this would disturb the relaxation phases of the other participants. I realised that I could not do anything about the situation in the here and now and therefore relaxed and surrendered to the situation.

The meditation included finding an animal guide and in the following discussion we spoke about what this animal could mean for everybody and how they could integrate it’s strength into their lives. The participant that had fallen asleep did not come to the point of finding the guide animal but met her resistance and darkness.

At this point it was not possible, taking the timing of the group in consideration, to get any deeper into this matter instead I was guiding her through breathing exercises into a more relaxed state and gave her the mental picture that this darkness could be dispersed of by only one candle and that she could be this candle and has this light inside her.

This approach settled her down and we finished the meditation with a wonderful chanting session that again triggered emotional responses in everybody as it was time for the group module to finish and to go to the separation process that every group has to go through at the end. This separation process was beautifully symbolised and performed by standing in a circle, first facing each other, then turning around and taking some big steps away from each in the direction to wherever life will take us next.


Working More Creatively with Groups. Contributors: Jarlath F. Benson – author. Publisher: Routledge. Place of Publication: London. Publication Year: 2001.

Douglas, T. 1993 A Theory ofGroupiuork Practice, Macmillan, London Douglas, T. 2000 Basic Groupiuork, 2nd edn, Routiedge, London

Mcdermott F. Inside Group Work: A Guide to Reflective Practice. Contributors: Fiona – author. Publisher: Allen & Unwin. Place of Publication: Crows Nest, N.S.W.. Publication Year: 2002

Papell, C.L. 1997 ‘Thinking about thinking about group work: Thirty years later’, Social Work with Groups

Middleman, R.R. and Goldberg, G. 1985 ‘Maybe it’s a priest or a lady with a hat with a tree on it. Or is it a bumblebee?! Teaching groupworkers to see’, in Social Work with Groups

Sullivan, N. 1995 ‘Who owns the group? The role of worker control in the development of a group: a qualitative research study in practice’, Social Work -with Groups .