Depending on the approach, different stages may be identified within a group process. Corey (2015) distinguishes a transition stage, which is similar to the storming one as defined by Pessagno (2013). To be more specific, Corey’s (2015) transition is characterized by conflict, which stems from members’ anxiety, worry, and reluctance to engage in group activities. This stage occurs before trust is established, and members might still be testing their leader, checking the boundaries of the group, or attempting to find their place in it (Corey, 2015; Yocum, 2017). The transition precedes the working stage, and its challenges need to be overcome to move forward and make some progress (Yocum, 2017).
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Consequently, this stage should take a couple of sessions or less in a short intervention. The challenges will be discussed here in connection to a proposed group that will focus on providing psychoeducation to people with mild to moderate depression. The strategies for recognizing and addressing conflict and reluctance, as well as an example plan for managing challenging behaviors, will be provided. The paper will demonstrate that open conversation, honesty, and self-reflection are crucial for overcoming the issues of this phase.
Recognizing and Addressing Conflict
According to Corey (2015), group members experience anxiety that is associated with uncertainty throughout the transition stage. As a result, they may employ various defense mechanisms, which, in turn, can result in or be associated with conflicts. Well-handled conflicts can be expected to result in improved respect and trust, as well as the general effectiveness of therapy, but the process of their management is challenging (Coco, Gullo, Fratello, Giordano, & Kivlighan, 2016; McKibben, 2017). A primary strategy for addressing conflict is approaching it directly; Corey (2015) states that avoiding conflicts is not productive, and this idea is supported by other conflict-related literature (McKibben, 2017). However, to enable this technique, conflicts need to be detected first.
Certain behaviors can be considered conflict-prone; alternatively, they might be an indicator of a conflict that is already present. According to Corey (2015), they include passive or active aggression, attempts to disrupt the group process and activities, as well as aloofness. These behaviors are not productive in any case, which is why attracting the attention of the group to the potential drawbacks of such patterns is logical. In turn, such conversations can help to determine the presence of a conflict or prevent it. The knowledge of these unproductive behaviors would be beneficial for all the members to learn, and the leader should consider teaching the group to notice conflicts, as well as voice their underlying causes, including anxieties, disagreements, and reluctance.
In the process of explaining conflict-related information, the group leader is supposed to provide lessons on how to manage such issues and teach participants crucial communication skills. The conflict management tools that are provided by the leader are what the group is likely to use to resolve its conflicts, even though some members might be aware of conflict management techniques (Corey, 2015). They should be encouraged to share their expertise and employ it, but the leader is the primary actor in resolving conflicts.
Furthermore, it is important to enforce the ground rules that are associated with mutual respect and prevent judgmental statements or excessive criticisms. According to Corey (2015) and other authors (Mills & McBride, 2016), participants need to be encouraged to respect the other’s perspective, as well as one’s own, which should assist them in becoming more constructive in their confrontations. The significance of a supportive environment cannot be overstated either. In summary, to manage conflict in the proposed group, the leader needs to provide the participants with the tools for conflict management, as well as self-expression, and ensure nonjudgmental and respectful communication.
A major protective mechanism that can be employed by group members, especially when trust is not fully established yet, is a reluctance to engage in activities that require openness and honesty. Reluctance and resistance are not uncommon and are usually associated with defensiveness, which, in turn, can disrupt the therapeutic process and might cause conflict-prone behaviors (Corey, 2015; Yocum, 2017). As Corey (2015) notes, a level of reluctance and defensiveness is normal, but it can be reduced in an environment of openness and honesty. Therefore, open conversation appears to be the appropriate strategy for dealing with the problem.
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Indeed, as a more specific intervention, a leader should bring members’ attention to defensiveness and reluctance, as well as their potential outcomes, including the prevention of effective participation. Furthermore, the leader should encourage the exploration of the causes of such behaviors, which should help to provide tailored solutions. It is important to employ these interventions without exerting too much pressure, however. In addition, Corey (2015) recommends reviewing cultural factors; depending on one’s cultural background, different behaviors might or might not indicate reluctance. To summarize, the primary strategy for resolving reluctance is discussion, as well as the careful and sensitive consideration of its causes with suggestions on tailored solutions.
Dealing with Challenging Clients
The labeling of group members as challenges can be considered problematic. Corey (2015) highlights the importance of the non-judgmental consideration of any behaviors that make the group process more difficult. To pick a pattern that has not been mentioned above, a good example is the monopolization of the group’s and leader’s attention. Corey (2015) remarks that this behavior is a possible complication. The author’s recommendations on such challenging patterns can be applied to this particular example.
Indeed, Corey (2015) recommends directly addressing a problem while also ensuring the appropriateness of the intervention. One of the guidelines, which are meant for the leader, is to remain respectful, supportive, and encouraging while expressing dissatisfaction or annoyance. In the case of monopolizing behavior, it makes sense to bring attention to it and point out its positive and negative aspects.
The openness of a monopolizing member is a positive element of their behavior; their example can be used to encourage more reticent members to become less withdrawn. However, the problem is that a monopolizing individual prevents other people from participating in group activities. Thus, the first step toward resolving the problem behavior can be made by admitting it, as well as the effect that it has on others, including the leader.
Throughout the discussion, the leader needs to focus on ensuring a positive and encouraging conversation despite voicing annoyance. From this perspective, it is also important for a leader to demonstrate a level of self-reflection. Indeed, if a behavior causes the leader to experience negative emotions, they need to be recognized and addressed. This way, by practicing the activities that the leader is teaching (honesty, self-reflection, and good conflict management), the leader can successfully apply Corey’s (2015) guidelines and manage challenging behaviors, for example, monopolization.
To ensure the progress of the proposed group, the challenges of the transition stage should be addressed by the leader. Conflicts, reluctance, and challenging behaviors should all be handled using the strategy of direct and open conversation. The issues need to be discussed to bring the participants’ attention to them and uncover their causes. The leader should teach and practice effective conflict management and other interpersonal skills. With sufficient sensitivity and a non-judgmental attitude, the mentioned problems can be resolved, and the members’ trust and ability to work together can be advanced.
Coco, G., Gullo, S., Fratello, C., Giordano, C., & Kivlighan, D. (2016). Group relationships in early and late sessions and improvement in interpersonal problems. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 63(4), 419-428. Web.
Corey, G. (2015). Theory and practice of group counseling (9th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson Brooks/Cole.
McKibben, L. (2017). Conflict management: Importance and implications. British Journal of Nursing, 26(2), 100-103. Web.
Mills, B., & McBride, D. L. (2016). What is group process? Integrating process work into psychoeducational groups. Georgia School Counselors Association Journal, 23, 16-24. Web.
Pessagno, R. (2013). Group therapy. In K. Wheeler (Ed.), Psychotherapy for the Advanced Practice Psychiatric Nurse (pp. 407-420). New York, NY: Springer.
Yocum, A. (2017). Developmental aspects of group counseling: Process, leadership and supervision. International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 67(3), 467-474. Web.