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The Stages of the Group Experience in Counseling

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  • 0:02 Group Counseling
  • 0:18 Forming Stage
  • 2:36 Transition Stage
  • 4:48 Working Stage
  • 6:01 Termination Stage
  • 7:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Michele Chism

Michele is presently a part time adjunct instructor at Faulkner University in the Counselor Education Department where she teaches Measurement and Assessment and Diagnosis and Treatment. I formerly taught at the University of West Alabama where I taught School Counseling and College Student Development Counseling. I was also the Student Success Coordinator for the College of Education.

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.

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.

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