A therapist friend has been visiting and we have been talking about how we deal with people who join our groups and then struggle with the process. I wish there was an easy answer. Often when therapists teach groups, there is one member that the rest of the group struggles with. When teaching a group how can we get through our context, create a safe atmosphere and space, keep people engaged and deal with the group member that struggles with, and or disrupts the group? Is it fair to other group members if we bend over backwards to make the group work for this member? Do other members want to hear one member’s endless processing while time and energy is taken away from them and the others? Have you ever been in a group where this happened or have you felt this like you were this person? I have taught many groups: art groups, art therapy groups, educational groups, and many others. Often the process flows and everyone finds a way of being in the group. When it doesn’t, we as therapists are sometimes at a loss at how to create harmony.
Virginia Satir wrote about how individuals behave and communicate in groups by describing several family roles that can serve to stabilize expected characteristic behavior patterns in a family. For example, if one child is a troubled "rebel child," a sibling may take on the role of the "good child" to alleviate some of the stress in the family. This concept of role reciprocity is helpful to understanding family dynamics because of the complementary nature of roles makes behaviors more resistant to change.
Roles in groups:
1. Encourager- gives acceptance of the contributions of others
2. Harmonizer - reconciles differences among group members
3. Gatekeeper- facilitates the contributions of others and keeps communication open by encouraging remarks about contributions.
4. Group observer- notes what is occurring in the group and feeds it back to the group with an evaluation or interpretation of the group’s procedure
5. The follower- goes along with the ideas of other members and takes the role of a spectator.
6. Individual roles- hampers group functioning
3. Play person
4. Recognition seeker
The advantage is group therapy is that these roles, if members are aware, willing and able to see them, can be explored and changed. Group members sometimes view the behavior of the therapist as a parent and other members as being like their siblings. Corrective recapitulation of the primary family group happens when the leader and members do not respond the way the clients family members did in the past and the client gains insight into their own behavior. Feedback from the therapist and other group members can help if the member is willing to hear it.
If the group setting is safe there can be a catharsis expression of feelings followed by insight and learning. What is your experience of working with a client who has difficulty being in a group? What has worked for you and not worked? How are you in groups? Does your role change?