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In a 3 page paper, describe a treatment group that would help Helen Petrakis in one of the following areas: (a) caregiving, (b) sandwich generation, (c) serving as a family member of an individual with addiction.

Review and briefly summarize the literature about the social issue that is the focus of your group (caregiving, sandwich generation, or addictions).

Write a plan that includes the following elements:

Type of treatment group

Purpose of the group


Method to recruit





Assignment 1: Planning a Group
When a client is dealing with several problems at one time, it can be difficult to determine
which type of treatment group would be most beneficial. Some types of treatment groups
may overlap in addressing certain problems or issues. The literature is helpful in assisting
the clinical social worker in determining the type, purpose, and goals of the treatment
For this Assignment, review the “Petrakis Family” case history. (attached)
In a 3 page paper, describe a treatment group that would help Helen Petrakis in one
of the following areas: (a) caregiving, (b) sandwich generation, (c) serving as a family
member of an individual with addiction.
Review and briefly summarize the literature about the social issue that is the focus
of your group (caregiving, sandwich generation, or addictions).
Write a plan that includes the following elements:
o Type of treatment group
o Purpose of the group
o Membership
o Method to recruit
o Composition
o Size
o Open/closed
o Monitoring
• Identify the important planning
elements that lead to successful
group outcomes.
• Develop guidelines for recruiting
members and composing the group.
• Determine plans for orienting and
contracting with members.
• Illustrate how various aspects of
the environment affect the planning
Planning Focus
Planning Model For Group
Work 178
Planning the Group
planning fOcus
Planning marks the beginning of the worker’s involvement in the
group endeavor. The planning process has two distinct parts. The
first is directed at forming the group, the aspect with which this
chapter is primarily concerned. The second part of planning includes the ongoing adjustments and forward-looking arrangements
that are made by the leader and the members as the group progresses through its beginning, middle, and ending stages.
In forming the group, the worker focuses on the individual
member, the group as a whole, and the environment. In focusing
on individual members, the worker considers each person’s motivations, expectations, and goals for entering the group. The worker
focuses on the group as a whole by considering the purpose for the
group and the dynamics that may develop because of the members’
interaction. The worker also focuses on the environment of the
group by considering the likely inf luence on the group of the sponsoring organization, the community, and the larger society.
The second aspect of planning is carried out throughout the
life of the group. During the beginning stage, the worker and the
members plan in more detail how to accomplish the overall group
purpose. The worker carries out detailed assessments of individual
members of the group. These assessments lead to additional planning activities in the middle and ending stages of the group. For example, in treatment groups, the worker and the members engage in
an ongoing assessment of the extent to which the group is helping
members accomplish their goals. This assessment, in turn, leads to
the refinement, adjustment, and reformulation of treatment plans,
as well as contracting with individual members for modified treatment goals.
In task groups, the worker uses data collected during assessments to formulate procedures for accomplishing the group’s work.
This includes selecting members with the right expertise for the
group, developing session agendas, dividing labor and responsibility, and determining methods to be used in making decisions and
solving problems. For example, when helping to select members for
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Planning the Group
boards, a worker might consider inviting a lawyer, fund-raiser, accountant, and member
who have expertise in the services offered by the organization.
Although this chapter emphasizes the need for pregroup planning, there are many
times when the worker’s ability to plan a group is constrained. It is common, for example, for the recruitment process to yield a pool of potential group members that is large
enough to form only a single group. In this case, a worker faces the choice of accepting all applicants, delaying the group for additional recruitment, or screening out some
­applicants and beginning a group with few members. It is also common for workers to
inherit leadership of existing groups or to form a single group from all clients of a particular program or residential setting. In this case, the worker has little choice about the
The planning of task groups may be constrained for a variety of reasons. For example, recruitment may be constrained by organizational bylaws or dictated by administrative structure. Likewise, the members of a delegate council are often selected by
the organizations that are represented by the council, thereby constraining pregroup
planning about the composition of the group. Despite constraints, workers still have
the responsibility to think carefully about how they will guide the group’s development
to ensure that it is productive and that it provides a satisfying experience for members.
Workers should plan for the group as carefully as possible within any existing constraints.
Such planning helps foster the achievement of positive group and member outcomes
and avoids unanticipated difficulties later in the life of the group.
Case Example
Planning for an Advisory Group
Mike is a school social worker who works with students aged 7 to 12 with behavioural and
concentration difficulties. He wanted to try therapies besides the ones he was already using
to maximize the students’ learning. In his consultation with the head master and his doctoral
supervisor, it became clear that Mike needed to find an alternative intervention ­approach
to empower the students through self-awareness and self-regulation; implement it; and
­measure the outcomes. In order to do so, Mike needed an advisory group to help him.
Mike spent time with his head master and his doctoral supervisor discussing who
should be invited to join the advisory group. They decided that the advisory group would
need ­members with a range of expertise. First, his doctoral supervisor would advise him
on research into the alternative intervention approach. Second, he would need
an ­expert in the field who knows how to implement the intervention they idenAssess your undertified. Third, the head master would advise on the implementation of the interstanding of the focus
of important planning
vention in the school. Fourth, the school teachers would advise on the outcome
evaluation of the alternative intervention. Fifth, students and their parents would ­elements that lead to
­successful group outcomes by
provide feedback on what they thought of the alternative intervention after a
taking a brief quiz at www
taster event. Mike, the head master, and his doctoral supervisor also discussed
how to implement the plan and a list of resources the group would need to contoseland.
duct its work.
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Chapter 6
Planning Model For Group Work
We have developed a model of planning that can be used for both treatment and task
groups. This model includes the following:
• Establishing the group’s purpose
• Assessing the potential sponsorship and membership of the group
• Recruiting members
• Composing the group
• Orienting members to the group
• Contracting
• Preparing the group’s environment
• Reviewing the literature
• Selecting monitoring and evaluation tools
• Preparing a written group proposal
• Planning distance groups
This planning model describes an orderly set of procedures to guide workers. In actual
practice, however, workers may not plan for the group in a systematic fashion. Instead,
the worker may find that it is necessary to engage in several aspects of planning simultaneously. For example, recruiting, contracting, and preparing the environment can occur
at the same time. Similarly, determining purpose and assessing potential membership
can sometimes be done together. Carrying out one step may also inf luence how another
step is handled. For example, in assessing the potential membership of a committee,
the worker may realize that a budget item for travel is required for certain members of
the group. Thus, the information gained in carrying out one procedure (assessing
membership) inf luences action taken in another (securing financial arrangements).
Establishing the Group’s Purpose
The first and most important question that can be asked about a proposed group is
“What is the group’s purpose?” A statement of the purpose should be broad enough to
encompass different individual goals, yet specific enough to define the common nature
of the group’s purpose. A clear statement of purpose helps members answer the question, “What are we doing here together?” It can help prevent a lack of direction that can
be frustrating for group members and can lead to an unproductive group experience.
A brief statement of the group’s purpose generally includes information on the problems or issues the group is designed to address, the range of individual and group goals to be
accomplished, and how individual members and the group as a whole might work together.
Some examples of statements of purpose follow.
• The group will provide a forum for discussing parenting skills; each member is
encouraged to bring up specific issues about being a parent and to provide feedback about the issues that are brought up.
• The group will study the problem of domestic violence in our community, and each
member will contribute to a final task force report on how to address the issue.
• The group will review and assess all proposals for improving services to youth
from minority communities and decide what projects to fund.
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Planning the Group
These statements are broad, but they provide information that will help members
understand the nature of the group endeavor. As discussed in Chapter 7, the members
of the group usually discuss and clarify the group’s purpose in early group sessions and
produce more specific aims and goals through their interactions with each other and
with the worker. It is nonetheless helpful for the worker to prepare for the first meeting
by anticipating questions that members might raise, identifying potential agenda items,
clarifying the roles that the members and the worker will play in the group, and identifying potential obstacles to effective group functioning.
The purpose of a group can frequently be clarified by considering how the idea for
establishing it was generated. The idea may have come from several sources, such as the
group worker, agency staff members, potential clients, or the larger community. The
following examples illustrate how ideas for groups are generated.
Group Worker-Generated
• The worker proposes an educational group for children based on the worker’s
perception of the need for adolescent sex education.
• The worker proposes an advising delegate council in a hospital based on a survey
of employees’ job satisfaction, which indicates the need for better communication among professional departments.
Agency Staff-Generated
• Several agency caseworkers, concerned with rising rates of family violence, suggest that clients from their caseloads participate in a remedial group for child
• The chairperson of the agency board of directors requests that a committee be
established to study and suggest alternative sources of funding for the agency.
• The parents of children in a day-care center request a series of educational group
meetings to discuss concerns about their children’s behavior at home.
• Several clients receiving subsidized housing suggest to the director of the agency
that a social action group be formed to combat poor housing conditions in a
• A group of ministers representing community churches approaches a community
center about developing an after-school program for children of the working
• A coalition of community groups requests a meeting with the administrator of a
community center to explore ways to reach out to young people before they are
recruited by gangs.
Assessing Potential Sponsorship and Membership
Although assessment of potential sponsorship and membership for the group might be
seen as separate, in reality, the agency and its clients are intrinsically linked. The worker
must assess both the sponsoring agency and the potential membership base to plan for
the group. Agency sponsorship determines the level of support and resources available
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Chapter 6
to the group. The assessment of potential membership helps the worker make an early
estimate of the group’s potential viability.
Assessing Potential Sponsorship
The nature of the sponsoring organization has a significant effect on the formation of
the group. The following aspects of the potential sponsor should be considered when
planning a group.
Elements in Assessing the Potential Sponsorship of a Group
• The mission, goals, objectives, and resources of the organization
• The fit between the policies of the organization and the goals of the proposed
• The level of potential support for the group within the organization
• The nature of the unmet and ongoing needs of the group
• The costs and benefits of the group in relation to the sponsoring organization
• The level of community need for the group and the level of community interest
and support
• The role that federal, state, and local funding mandates and regulatory bodies
play in the focus of the group
In treatment groups, the sponsoring organization may be affected by federal, state,
and local funding mandates, licensing bodies, or other entities. It is important for workers to understand that funding and legal mandates, medical necessity, and other factors
may come into play, especially when potential members are severely impaired. For example, treatment groups rely on agency administrators and staff for financial support,
member referrals, and physical facilities. Funding mandates often play a part in both who
can be served and the shaping of the purpose of the group.
Task groups are intrinsically linked to their sponsoring organizations and must continually refer to the organization’s mission, bylaws, and policies for clarification of their
task, charge, and mandate. In assessing an organization as sponsor for the group, the
worker should pay careful attention to the fit between the organization’s policies and
goals and the purpose of the proposed group. The proposed group should fit within
the overall operating goals of the organization. If the group represents a new form of service or suggests a problem area or a
population that has not been the focus of the potential sponsor,
the worker will have to be prepared to justify the request to begin a group.
Behavior: Apply knowledge of human
The worker’s assessment of the sponsoring organization is
behavior and the social environment,
out to determine the overall level of support for the properson-in-environment, and other multiposed
service and to garner any additional support that
disciplinary theoretical frameworks in the
to begin the group. It is essential to identify key
analysis of assessment data from clients and
areas of mutual interest and perceived need within the organizaconstituencies
tion and the community where the group will be held. This inCritical Thinking Question: The sponsoring
cludes funding and regulatory agencies that may have subtle but
organization can greatly influence a group’s
strong inf luences on how a new group service should operate.
purpose and goals. What organizational facAn early step that is often helpful is to meet with line staff
tors should be considered in planning?
and program administrators to obtain their ideas about the need
Planning the Group
for a particular group service. In interdisciplinary settings, it is important to test the idea
for a new group service beyond the social work staff. The idea for a new group service
should be presented through appropriate channels to staff from other disciplines. Highlighting common perceptions of unmet needs and pointing out how the new group
service could support and enhance the work of other disciplines can be useful ways of
garnering support. This process has the added benefit of reducing interdisciplinary competition, fostering a sense of mutual mission, and developing a bond with staff on which
the new group program may depend for referrals or other assistance. For example, a new
group service in an outpatient health clinic for those with post-traumatic stress disorder
should seek the support of psychologists who may be asked to do testing, physicians who
may be asked to prescribe medications, and other allied health professions who may be
asked to be guest speakers or referral resources.
The worker may wish to carry out a needs assessment or gather data to document
unmet needs. Workers can identify public and private funding sources for the effort by
searching the Internet, speaking with representatives of private foundations, and local,
state, and national nonprofit and public agencies. Administrators and boards of directors may be particularly interested in the costs and potential benefits of the proposed
group service. A brief review of similar group work efforts can help clarify the possible
costs and benefits associated with a new group program. An organization may decide to
offer the group service on a trial basis while conducting a cost analysis, such as the one
­described in Chapter 14.
It is also helpful to gather support for the idea for a new group service f rom the
larger community. This can be done by encouraging consumers within a geographical
region to express their interest in a new group service or by urging community leaders
and others who have inf luence within community social service organizations to express
their interest in and support for the new service. The relevance of the proposed group
program to the sponsoring organization’s mission and the visibility it could bring to the
organization should also be highlighted.
In some instances, the potential sponsoring organization may decide that the proposed group is not central enough to its core mission. In a county-funded rape crisis center, for example, a worker proposed a group service for battered women who had been
victims of family violence but who have not been raped. Such an expansion of services,
although appropriate and related to the agency’s purpose, may be viewed as beyond the
scope of the agency’s mission, beyond staff resources, or not reimbursable within the
agency’s current funding sources.
When workers encounter a lack of support they should determine whether the
proposal can be modified to increase support and alleviate the concerns that have been
expressed or whether a different sponsor should be sought. For example, with the previously mentioned domestic violence group, the worker joined with her supervisor and
met with other agency administrators to highlight the need for the group and to seek
additional funding for it. Together the group decided to explore the idea for the group
service with a family service agency that had expressed interest in providing service for
domestic violence victims.
Garnering support for the idea of a new group service both within and outside the
organization helps ensure the success of the group when it is implemented. A summary
of how to gather support follows.
Chapter 6
Gathering Support for a New Group
• Identify the extent to which the problem or issue that the group intends to work
on fits the mission and goals of the sponsoring organization.
• Identify the extent to which a resolution of the problem or issue to be addressed
by the group is valued by the sponsoring organization and the larger community.
• Obtain the support of the administration of the organization to explore the possibility of a new group service.
• Find out if the need is being met, or should be met, by any other organization in
the community and contact that organization to avoid any possible duplication
of service and to check the possibility of joining forces for co-sponsoring a group
• Identify and resolve any differences in perspectives among staff that may lead to
hidden agendas and thereby jeopardize the group service being planned.
• Obtain staff consensus about the goals of the program and the group work methods that will be used to achieve them.
• Assess the willingness of the sponsor to provide external support, such as transportation, childcare, or supplies needed to conduct the group.
• Identify sources of funding and regulatory requirements for the new group
Assessing Potential Membership
Along with assessing agency sponsorship and garnering support for a new group work
endeavor, the worker should begin to assess the potential membership of the group.
Such a beginning assessment does not involve extensive procedures, such as arriving at
goals for members or agreeing on individual contracts. Rather, in this early assessment,
the worker thinks about who should be recruited by considering the following elements
for developing harmonious, hardworking groups.
Elements in Assessing the Potential Membership of a Group
• The extent of the problem or need addressed by the group
• Members’ recognition and shared perceptions about the purpose of the group
• Cultural and other differences that could inf luence perceptions about the
­purpose of the group
• Members’ perceptions of the sponsoring organization
• Potential effects of ambivalence, resistance, or the involuntary nature of the
group on members’ participation
• Specialized knowledge needed for understanding and working with members
• Demographic differences and commonalities of potential members
• Potential benefits to members of participating in the group
• Barriers, obstacles, and drawbacks to member participation
• Resources needed from the organization and community to ensure members’
interest and participation
• Guidelines and mandates from funding sources about who is eligible to
When planning treatment groups, workers should start by collecting data about the
extent of the problem and the need for a new group service. If possible, the worker can
Planning the Group
also collect data about potential clients by observing or interviewing them directly, by
phone, or by talking with collateral contacts, such as family members or agency staff.
The permission of the potential member has to be obtained for this to occur. Making
collateral contacts is sometimes neglected in practice but can be a rich source of data
about how to tailor the group to meet members’ needs.
When planning task groups, the worker considers potential members according to
their interest in the task, their expertise, and their power and position to help the group
accomplish its purposes (Tropman, 2014). Members might also be sought because of
their importance to the sponsoring agency, their status in the community, or their political inf luence.
An important aspect of assessing potential membership is determining whether
potential members share the worker’s perception of the tasks facing the group. Shared
perceptions lead to group cohesion and increase members’ satisfaction with group functioning. In addition, the worker spends less time overcoming obstacles and resistance to
accomplishing the group’s goals when members share similar perceptions of the concerns facing the group.
Information should be gathered about the extent to which potential members recognize the need for the group, its purpose, tasks, and goals. This process helps workers
anticipate the degree of member commitment to the group. It also helps to coalesce
divergent views of the purpose of the group and the methods used to accomplish the
work of the group. Shulman (2016) refers to this as “tuning in” to the members of the
It is also important to assess potential members’ views of the sponsor. Is there any
stigma attached to receiving service from a particular organization? Is the organization
known to the potential client group? What is the organization’s reputation with the
group to be served? The worker should carefully consider what qualities of the potential
sponsor are likely to attract clients and what obstacles may interfere with the successful
initiation of a group program. For example, a family service agency may have the resources to sponsor a group for African American single mothers but may have difficulty
recruiting members because potential members perceive the staff of the agency to be
culturally insensitive. If the agency sponsoring the group is perceived to be unable to
relate to particular segments of the community, it will encounter considerable resistance
when trying to initiate a group service.
Case Example
A Parenting Group for Single Mothers
The previously mentioned family service agency contacted local community leaders, a community center, and a health clinic serving primarily African Americans. The family service
agency also reached out to a coalition of ministers from Baptist churches in the area serving
the African American community. After meeting with individuals from these organizations
separately, a series of three planning meetings was held. It was decided to host the group for
single mothers in the health clinic and that each of the organizations at the meeting would
publicize the group and encourage single mothers to attend. A worker from the family service agency led the group, but speakers on educational topics related to health and nutrition
came from the health care clinic, and a worker from the community center provided childcare
while the members attended the group.
Chapter 6
Often, the worker must plan for leading a group of ­reluctant
participants. The extent of reluctance can range from ­ambivalence
about seek ing assistance to active resistance. The term
involuntary is often applied to individuals who are ordered by the
Behavior: Use empathy, reflection, and
courts to receive treatment. Working with involuntary clients
interpersonal skills to effectively engage
requires special expertise. During the planning stage, the worker
diverse clients and constituencies
should become thoroughly familiar with the legal statutes and
Critical Thinking Question: Workers often
ethical issues that apply. The dignity and rights of individuals who
work with involuntary members. What techfind themselves in these situations must be protected while the
niques can the group worker use to involve
individual is in the care of the worker (Rooney, 2009).
them in the group?
Workers may also be called on to plan groups for reluctant
members who are given the choice between treatment and a negative alternative, such as
incarceration, probation, or the suspension of driving privileges. In these situations, the
worker should become thoroughly familiar with the specialized methods developed to motivate clients to make productive use of the group experience (Rooney, 2009). For example, in
a residential program for substance abusers, information and techniques to confront denial
may be used in combination with powerful incentives, such as the return of driving privileges. Within the residential setting, information about the damaging effects of alcohol, peer
interaction focused on sobriety, and access to certain privileges may be combined to help
members make productive use of a group program. More information about working with
reluctant and resistant clients is presented later in this text.
Workers planning a group for a new population are unlikely to have information readily available about what strategies are most effective for working with individuals who have
specialized problems. Gathering information by reviewing the literature and from practitioners experienced with the population can be invaluable in preparing for a group. Obtaining information about specialized groups is particularly important when planning groups
for people from diverse cultural backgrounds and when the worker’s background differs
significantly from that of group members. Such information helps workers recognize their
own biases, develop tolerance for their own and others’ perceptions, and enhance their abilities to perceive clients’ needs accurately. It is also good ­evidence-based practice.
In assessing potential membership, the worker should consider the demographic differences and commonalities of potential members and how these affect other steps in the
planning process. For example, when planning a support group for Latino caregivers of
elderly parents, the worker might print announcements in Spanish, post announcements
in newspapers for speakers of Spanish, contact civic and social service organizations
serving Latino communities, and reach out to Latino community and religious leaders.
To prepare for recruiting and orienting members in both voluntary and mandatory
groups, the worker may list the potential benefits of participating and share them with
potential members. Some workers are reluctant to describe the potential benefits of participating in a group because they fear they will be perceived as boasting about their own
skills or because they fear raising the expectation for service among members of vulnerable groups. However, individuals who are considering whether to participate in a group
welcome a clear description of the potential benefits of participation. A worker’s enthusiasm and optimism can be contagious, increasing members’ motivation to participate
and their enthusiasm for what might be accomplished. Yalom (2005) refers to this process
as the “instillation of hope.”
Planning the Group
Workers should also identify barriers, obstacles, and drawbacks to group participation. In their zest to recruit members, workers sometimes minimize the difficulties individuals can encounter when joining a group. Experience suggests that it is better to
acknowledge barriers to participation and try whenever possible to resolve them so they
do not prevent individuals from participating. Often, discussing disadvantages with potential members during an orientation interview and planning ways to resolve them can
be helpful. For example, practical barriers are overcome if the sponsoring agency can
provide transportation, childcare, or a sliding fee scale.
Case Example Planning for Resistant and Reluctant Members
Although she was enthusiastic about starting a new group for college students who had violated the college dormitory’s alcohol policy, Beth was worried about how members would feel
about being mandated to attend this short-term group. During preparations for the group, she
became familiar with the college policies that prohibited alcohol use in the dorms. She hoped
that knowledge of the policies would prepare her to answer members’ questions about why
they needed to attend the group. She prepared a clear statement about her role in the group
and the expectations for attendance and participation. In addition, Beth prepared a list of group
goals for members’ consideration during the first meeting. Beth also consulted the literature
about how to deal with involuntary group members. Based on what she learned, she prepared
what she would say during the opening of the first meeting. The statement acknowledged
the mandatory nature of the group and members’ ambivalence about participating. She noted
that it was ultimately up to members to decide how they would participate in the group and
whether the group would be a positive and productive experience for each of them. She hoped
that these beginning preparations, along with her enthusiasm and genuine desire to help,
would overcome some of the resistance she anticipated from the members during the beginning stage of the group. Beth also asked a willing former member to be available to answer any
questions that potential members might have about the benefits of participating in the group.
Recruiting Members
Recruitment procedures should ensure an adequate number of potential members
for the group. In recruiting members, the worker considers sources f rom which
potential members can be identified and referred to the group. Members can be recruited within the worker’s agency, other organizations, or the
Within a social service agency, potential members can be
identified f rom the caseloads of colleagues, f rom records, or Behavior: Apply knowledge of human
from mailing lists. In some groups, current members may be able behavior and the social environment,
to identify potential members. Potential members might also in- person-in-environment, and other multidistroduce themselves to the worker, individually or in a group, to ciplinary theoretical frameworks to engage
suggest that the agency initiate a particular group service. Finally, with clients and constituencies
the worker might consider reviewing the agency’s waiting list to
determine whether any persons waiting for service would benefit Critical Thinking Question: Recruiting members requires creative community action.
from group treatment.
What methods can workers use to recruit
For certain treatment groups, such as for men who batter, members for a group?
the worker’s own agency may not have a large enough potential
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Chapter 6
membership base. In planning for these groups, the worker can contact other social service and health agencies to obtain referrals. The worker should also become familiar
with the community to locate concentrations of potential members. Talking to community and religious leaders, politicians, police officials, and schoolteachers may be helpful
to identify ways to contact potential members.
For task groups, the type of group and its purpose often determine the best sources
for recruiting members. For example, members of a committee to study an agency’s
employee benefit package can be recruited f rom employees of the agency and f rom
the agency’s board of directors. A task force to study the problem of refugee resettlement can recruit members from all agencies serving that population in the community.
Similarly, team members can be selected for their specific expertise and professional
background. Boards recruit members from community constituents because the board
“stands in” for the community and is accountable to the community for the services the
agency provides.
Methods of Recruiting Members
When the worker has identified recruitment sources, decisions must be made about how
to reach them. A variety of recruitment techniques will help potential members understand the purpose of the group and help them decide whether to join.
Methods of Recruiting Members
• Contacting potential members directly through interviews and phone contacts
• Contacting key people in the networks of potential members
• Sending announcements through direct mail
• Posting announcements in community organizations
• Using websites to advertise the group
• Speaking at public meetings and appearing on radio and television shows
• Issuing press releases, publishing announcements in organizational and association newsletters, and working with reporters to prepare feature newspaper
Direct personal contact with potential members is often the most effective recruitment method. When potential group members can be identified f rom agency records
or from caseloads of colleagues, the worker may wish to set up initial appointments by
letter, email, or phone. The worker can then interview prospective members in the office or at home. However, person-to-person contact, particularly in-home contact, can be
quite expensive in terms of the worker’s time and therefore may not be feasible.
Workers can also recruit members by contacting key people in the informal networks of a particular population. For example, in recruiting for a group composed of
Native Americans, the worker may first discuss the idea with important Native A
­ merican
community elders to gain their acceptance for the group. When recruiting Chinese
Americans, the worker might identify cultural associations that provide support for this
population, which could provide the worker with a means for assessing the viability of
the group and the potential for recruiting members. Since trust is a key issue when recruiting members of culturally diverse groups, workers also should spend time getting
to know the community and to become known to its members before attempting to
organize and lead a group.
Planning the Group
Brief, written announcements can be an effective recruitment tool. However, care
must be taken to ensure that announcements are sent to the correct audience. To be effective, mailed and posted announcements must be seen by potential members or potential referral sources. Therefore, careful targeting of the pool of potential group members
is essential. Too often, workers rely on existing mailing lists developed for other purposes
or post announcements where they will not be noticed by the target group. Computerized record systems and Internet list serves are becoming more widely available and can
be useful in identifying and targeting individuals who may need a particular service.
If the worker has a list of potential members, announcements can be mailed directly to them. The worker may also mail announcements to workers in other social
service agencies who are likely to have contact with potential group members. Experience suggests that a follow-up phone call to those who have received announcements
increases the probability that referrals will be made. Announcements can also be posted
on community bulletin boards, in housing projects, public gathering places, and local
businesses. In rural locations, announcements can be posted at firehouses, church halls,
schools, general stores, and post offices. Such locations are usually the best places to post
announcements because people gather in those places to discuss information about their
community. The worker also can ask that announcements be read at meetings of community service groups, church groups, business associations, and fraternal organizations.
The increase in computer literacy, the availability of local area networks, and the
Internet have improved accessibility for potential members. Group announcements can
be posted on local area networks or community computer bulletin boards or be sent to
targeted users of particular computing services. It is also possible for local organizations
as well as nationally federated groups to create their own web pages that are accessible
to millions of persons who may be interested in learning more about particular services.
Appendix B contains two examples of announcements for groups. An announcement should include a clear statement of the group’s purpose. The proposed meeting
place, dates, times, length and f requency of meetings, and any service fees should also
be clearly specified. The sponsoring agency and the group leader’s name should be listed
along with phone numbers for potential members to call for more information. It is
sometimes helpful to list any special arrangements that are planned, such as childcare
services, transportation, or refreshments.
The worker might also want to make information about the group available through
public speaking and through local television or radio stations. Many civic and religious organizations welcome guest speakers. A presentation on the need for the group, its purpose,
and how it would operate can be an effective recruitment tool. Commercial television and
radio stations broadcast public service announcements deemed to be in the public interest,
and the proposed group program might be eligible for inclusion in such broadcasts.
Commercial television and radio stations frequently produce their own local public
interest programs, such as talk shows, public discussions, special news reports, and community news announcements. Although public access cable television channels generally
have smaller audiences, they can also be used by the worker to describe a group service
and to invite members to join.
Press releases and newsletter articles are another way to recruit members. Many
local newspapers publish a calendar of events for a specified week or month; brief announcements can be placed in the calendar. An article in the features section of a local
Chapter 6
newspaper can reach many potential members. Online and print-based newspapers frequently publish stories about new group services or particular social problems. The
worker should consider whether the group is newsworthy and, if so, contact a local
editor and request an interview with a reporter. We have found that feature newspaper
stories are the single most important source for recruiting new members to groups in
community settings.
Composing the Group
Rolling admissions, sponsor organizations’ missions, funding sources, and other factors
may make it difficult or impossible for workers to select members. When workers are
able to select members, they should consider member and group needs and goals, as
well as their own capacity to work with those who may be in the group. Sometimes, the
Group Selection Questionnaire or other measures can be helpful when deciding whom
to include (Burlingame, Cox, Davies, Layne, & Gleave, 2011). For example, in therapy
groups, the Group Therapy Questionnaire may be helpful for selecting appropriate
members (MacNaire-Semands, 2002). In general, however, three broad principles should
guide workers’ selections.
Principles of Group Composition
• Homogeneity of members’ purposes and certain personal characteristics
• Heterogeneity of member coping skills, life experiences, and expertise
• Complementary overall structure that includes a range of the members’ qualities,
skills, and expertise to achieve the right balance of members who can work well
together and help each other achieve individual and group objectives
In addition to these principles, the worker should consider demographic and sociocultural factors, group size, and whether the membership will be open or closed.
The principle of homogeneity suggests that members should have a similar purpose for
being in the group and have some personal characteristics in common. Homogeneity
facilitates communication and bonding and helps members to identify and relate to each
other’s concerns.
Members should accept and identify with the major purpose for the group so they
can use the meetings to their full advantage. The worker should assess the extent to
which members’ purposes coincide with one another and with the purpose of the group.
Without some common purposes for being in the group, members will have little basis
for interacting.
Members should share some personal characteristics, such as age, level of education,
cultural background, and expertise relative to the group task, communication ability, or
type of problem. The worker should determine that all members have enough characteristics in common to facilitate the work of the group. The extent to which members
should possess common characteristics varies with the type of group. In an educational
group for new parents, it might be important that all members be able to read English at
a sixth-grade level to understand program materials recommended for reading at home.
In a program-oriented group for youngsters in a treatment center, the most important
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Planning the Group
common characteristic may be their living situation. Groups of alcoholics, drug abusers,
and delinquents all have a problem in common.
In a study of selection criteria for new members of treatment groups, Riva, L
­ ippert,
and Tackett (2000) found that a national sample of leaders mentioned compatibility
with the group theme as the most important variable, followed by the client’s motivation for personal change, enthusiasm about being in the group, and expectations that the
group would help. Other important selection criteria included clients’ (1) reality testing,
(2) self-awareness, (3) ability to express feelings, (4) ability to tolerate anxiety, (5) ability
to self-disclose, and (6) sensitivity to others’ needs. In studies that compared those who
dropped out of group treatment to those who completed, it was found that the ability
to express oneself and the ability to trust and relate to others were the important predictive factors (Blouin et al., 1995; Oei & Kazmierczak, 1997). Thus, personality factors are
important in screening and selecting members. Forsyth (2014) provides evidence that extroversion, agreeableness, and openness are three particularly desirable personality traits.
For most groups, there should be some diversity of members’ coping skills, life experiences,
and levels of expertise. This helps members to learn about new options, different alternatives, and varying perspectives, which they may choose to adapt to their own circumstances.
In support groups, for example, it is helpful for members to learn what coping skills other
members have found to be effective and what strategies they have used to solve problems.
In some groups, the worker chooses members with differing life experiences or
diverse characteristics to foster learning among members. A growth group, for e­ xample,
might be composed of members f rom different cultures, social classes, occupations,
or geographic areas to expose individuals to the benefits of differing viewpoints and
­lifestyles. Differences among members can provide multiple opportunities for support,
validation, mutual aid, and learning.
Workers should also consider building heterogeneity into the membership of task
groups to ensure an adequate range of resources and provide an efficient division of
labor when dealing with complex tasks. For example, agency boards of directors are
usually composed of members who represent a variety of professions, agencies, and occupations. These members bring legal, financial, marketing, and other kinds of expertise to the board. Other task groups, such as delegate councils, are also often composed
of members who represent differing constituencies with diverse interests and needs.
For example, a coalition formed to study the problem of juvenile delinquency might
be composed of members from diverse parts of a city, that is, members from the business district, the inner city, and suburban neighborhoods. Such heterogeneity can be an
­important asset to the group in accomplishing its tasks.
Complementary Group Structure
Workers should also consider selecting members who have complementary attributes
that can lead to group synergies when working on accomplishing goals (Forsyth, 2014).
Guidelines include selecting members who:
• Have the ability and desire to communicate with others in the group
• Can accept each other’s behavior
Chapter 6
• Can get along with each other despite differences of opinions, viewpoints, or
• Have some capacity to understand one’s own behavior
• Are open to sharing their experiences and listening to others
In treatment groups, members who are ineffective in communicating with peers can
engender more antagonism than support from fellow members. These individuals fare
better if they are seen individually to begin with or are placed in groups with others who
have similar communication difficulties. Similarly, people who cannot accept or use feedback and those who are highly opinionated and unwilling to consider other viewpoints
are poor candidates and may be better served in individual treatment until they gain
greater awareness of how their behavior affects others. In task groups, the same principles apply, but there is greater emphasis on recruiting members who have the e­ xpertise
and dedication to accomplish specific goals (Tropman, 2014).
It is desirable to recruit members who are able to put the needs of the group or the
requirements of the task before their own personal needs. The worker also should seek
members who demonstrate the ability to cooperate with one another. No matter what
the level of expertise or ability of members, task groups can be hampered by a lack of
cooperative effort. Although it is not always possible to predict how people will work
together, it is helpful to consider personality characteristics, such as agreeableness, cooperative spirit, and openness, when workers have the ability to compose task groups.
Demographic and Sociocultural Factors
When selecting members, the worker should pay particularly close attention to three
major characteristics: age, gender, and sociocultural factors.
It is not sufficient to consider only age when composing a group. The worker should
seek members who are similar in their stage of development and their life tasks. The
level of maturity, self-insight, and social skills can vary considerably within age groups.
Neither children nor adults acquire these characteristics solely because of age, but rather
through multiple experiences with their environment, family, peer group, and culture.
For example, in composing a children’s group, it is helpful to consider the level of members’ social and emotional development as well as the children’s ages.
Research suggests that the behavior of members varies with the gender composition
of the group (Forsyth, 2014). In a men’s or women’s support group, for example, an atmosphere of support and openness can often be enhanced through homogeneity of gender composition. In a remedial group for children, a mixed-gender group may interfere
with interaction because of the tendency of children at certain ages either to impress or
ignore members of the opposite sex.
In other situations, mixed groups are more effective. For example, in a task group,
such as a teen-club planning meeting, a mixed group is most appropriate to help members
of one sex learn to relate to those of the opposite sex. Similarly, an assertiveness group
might include both men and women so that members can realistically role-play exercises.
The importance of the sociocultural background of potential members has already
been described in Chapter 5. When planning a group, the worker should assess differences and commonalities among members in sociocultural factors and should be sensitive to the needs of each member as well as to the overall needs of the group. The
Planning the Group
level of support and interaction is often increased when members have a common sociocultural background. The worker may decide that similar backgrounds will help members deal with certain problems or issues better when they share them with members
from similar backgrounds. For example, a worker may restrict membership in a cultural
awareness group to members of a single ethnic group. Similarly, in a support group for
parents of terminally ill children, the worker may restrict membership to people f rom
the same cultural background to ensure that members will have similar belief systems
and values about death, loss, and grieving.
In other situations, the worker may deliberately plan a group composed of members with diverse sociocultural backgrounds. Diversity can foster mutual understanding
and learning among members. For example, socialization groups in neighborhood centers and youth organizations might be composed by the worker so they encourage members from different ethnic, cultural, and racial groups to interact. Sometimes, differences
among members can be a real source of strength. For example, in planning for a social
action group concerned with increasing neighborhood police protection, membership
drawn from people of different cultural backgrounds can demonstrate a broad base of
support for the group’s cause. Some writers, however, suggest not having only a single minority member in a group to avoid token representation (Burnes & Ross, 2010).
­Common mistakes in composing a group are presented in the following case example.
Case Example
Composing a Group
David, a new school social worker, was asked by the assistant principal to compose a group for
seventh-grade students who were having trouble at school because their parents were in the
process of separation or divorce. Students were identified by teachers, the school nurse, and
the school guidance counselor as potentially benefiting from a group experience. After the first
meeting, David did not understand why the group was such a disaster. The members did not
want to follow his directions and would not work on the tasks and activities he had prepared
for them. Members teased each other and failed to follow the group rules. In addition, the
group divided into subgroups that interfered with meaningful discussion. David had followed
all of the rules of composition, as far as he could tell. Nevertheless, the group just was not cohesive. He assumed that members would have a common bond based on their home situation.
He also felt that since they were in the same grade that they would have sufficient homogeneity to work well together. Their ages were all within one year of each other, and they all lived in
the same affluent suburban community. After thinking more about it, he realized his mistakes.
He had composed a co-ed group, without considering the differences that might be influential
between girls and boys at that grade, age, and stage of life. Same sex groups are often preferable for middle school students. He failed to ask students if they wanted to be in the group.
He also failed to screen out two verbally and physically aggressive students who had really
acted out in the group and who were much better behaved when they were seen individually
by David. By way of a solution, David planned shorter program activities that would engage
and interest members more effectively than the activities used in the first session.
The worker determines the size of the group according to several criteria. The worker
should consider how many members are needed to accomplish purposes and tasks
efficiently and effectively. When determining the size of treatment groups, the worker
Chapter 6
should consider how the members might be affected. Will members feel satisfied with
the attention given to their concerns or problems? This is an issue for workers leading
treatment groups because members may need time to get to know one another and
share personal information. In general, the literature indicates that about seven members
are ideal, but absents should be considered so that group meetings do not become too
small (Yalom, 2005).
In large treatment groups, members have greater potential for learning because of
the presence of additional role models. Members have more opportunity for support,
feedback, and friendship, yet there is also less pressure to speak or to perform. Members
can occasionally withdraw and ref lect on their participation. In addition, in larger groups,
fewer difficulties arise when one or more members are absent. There is also less danger
that the group will fall below the size needed for meaningful interactions (Yalom, 2005).
Larger groups, however, also have disadvantages. The larger the group, the less individualized attention each member can receive. Close, face-to-face interaction is more
difficult. There is more danger of harmful subgroups forming. Large groups also encourage withdrawal and anonymity by silent members. They create less pressure to
attend because members’ absence is less conspicuous than in smaller groups. Larger
groups are also more difficult for the worker to manage. They frequently require more
formalized procedures to accomplish their meeting agendas. Large groups have more
difficulty achieving cohesiveness and more difficulty reaching consensus (Forsyth, 2014).
In task groups, workers should consider the advantages and disadvantages inherent
in different group sizes. Larger groups offer more ideas, skills, and resources to members
than do smaller groups, and they can handle complex tasks (Forsyth, 2014). Overall, decisions about the number of members to include in a treatment or task group should be
based on the purpose of the group, the needs of the members, their ability to contribute
to the work of the group, practical considerations, such as whether a potential member
will be able to attend meetings, and any constraints imposed by the sponsor. Following is
a summary of some of the major planning considerations related to deciding on the size
of the group.
Group Size: Large Versus Small
Large Groups
• Offer more ideas, skills, and resources to members
• Can handle tasks that are more complex
• Offer members greater potential for learning through role models
• Provide members with more potential for support, feedback, and friendship
• Allow members to occasionally withdraw and ref lect on their participation
• Help to ensure that there will be enough members for meaningful interaction
even if some members fail to attend
Small Groups
• Provide members with a greater level of individualized attention
• Enable closer face-to-face interaction
• Present less opportunity for the formation of harmful subgroups
• Present fewer opportunities for members to withdraw from participation
• Allow for easier management by the worker
• Tend to have more informal operating procedures
Planning the Group
• Provide more opportunities for achieving cohesiveness
• Can achieve consensus more easily
Open and Closed Membership
Often, the choice between open or closed membership is affected by the purpose of the
group or by practical considerations. Some groups have rolling admissions where the
worker does not have the opportunity to decide if the group should be open or closed
to members. A treatment group based in a residential treatment facility, for example,
adds members as they are admitted. In many situations, open membership is the only
practical alternative. Because of rapid patient turnover in hospitals, for example, workers
would find it impractical to form a group and expect the same patients to attend a fixed
number of meetings and then be discharged all together.
In some open membership groups, it is possible to add members periodically on a
planned basis. For example, a committee formed to study the deinstitutionalization of
psychiatric patients might discover it needs to add representatives from local community
group homes to make recommendations that are more comprehensive, but it can do
so at a time that is not disruptive to the ongoing business of the groups. In treatment
groups, it may be possible to add members once each month. This gives members a
chance to bond before new members are added.
When workers have the opportunity to determine whether the group will be open
or closed to new members they have to carefully consider the benefits of each type
of group. Open groups maintain a constant size by replacing members as they leave
(Yalom, 2005). Members enter and terminate throughout the life of the group, ensuring
the group’s continuance.
Often, closed groups are preferable to open groups because they can attain greater
cohesion and move through the group development stages to the middle stage of work
more quickly. For this reason they can often get more accomplished. In treatment
groups, there is more privacy, trust can be developed, and members are often able to
disclose emotionally charged and potentially stigmatizing experiences within a supportive environment (Yalom, 2005). An anger management group, for example, might find
it helpful to begin and end with the same membership so that new members will not
impede the progress of the original members. A closed group might also be helpful for
teenage mothers learning parenting skills so that a prescribed curriculum that covers the
content in a competency-based, systematic manner can be followed.
A disadvantage of closed groups is that when members drop out or are absent, the
number of members in the group may become too small for meaningful group interaction. Without the benefit of new ideas, viewpoints, and skills f rom new members, a
closed group runs the risk of engaging in what Janis (1982) refers to as “group think,” or
what Kiesler (1978) calls “the avoidance of minority or outside opinions” (p. 322). Such
avoidance can create an extreme form of conformity within the group that can reduce its
effectiveness (Forsyth, 2014).
Therefore, in some situations open group membership is preferable. Open membership allows new ideas and new resources to be brought to the group through new members. New members can change the entire character of the group. The difficulties involved
in adding new members to an already functioning group are surmountable. Y
­ alom (2005),
for example, notes that members can join a group, learn the group norms, and participate
Chapter 6
in meaningful ways without requiring the group to regress to an earlier stage of its development. Members of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), for example, are comforted by the
knowledge that they can attend, without notice, any open AA meeting in the community.
Open-membership groups provide people who are experiencing crises in their lives with a
timely alternative to treatment. They do not have to wait for a new group to form.
There are, however, potential disadvantages to open group membership. Members of open groups may experience less cohesion because the stability of roles, norms,
and other social integration mechanisms have not been firmly established. There may
be less trust and willingness to disclose and less commitment to regular attendance or
work during meetings (Forsyth, 2014). The instability of membership also makes it more
­difficult for the worker to plan effective group meetings.
What modifications should the worker consider when planning for an open-­
membership group? If the worker can control when members begin and leave a group,
the worker should consider during the planning process when it is optimal to add new
members. For example, the worker may decide it is best to add new members during the
first few sessions and then close group membership. Alternatively, the worker might plan
to add no more than one or two new members in any given meeting.
In Chapter 3, it was mentioned that when membership change is f requent and extensive, group development is adversely affected. To cope with the effects of a changing
membership, planners of open groups should consider ensuring that there is a well-­
publicized, fixed structure for every group meeting (Galinsky & Schopler, 1989; Keats
& Sabharwal, 2008; Schopler & Galinsky, 1984, 1990; Turner, 2011). Each meeting, for
example, might feature a guest speaker followed by small-group discussion. It is helpful to publicize the topic for each meeting and to stress that meetings are open to new
members. In groups with high turnover, each meeting should be independent; that is, an
individual should not need to have attended a previous meeting to understand or participate in a current meeting. In addition, consideration should be given to rotating a cycle
of topics in a fixed period so that all clients or patients who have an average length of
stay in inpatient or outpatient programs can attend a full cycle of meetings before their
discharge. Overall, workers should plan structured activities for open groups while at the
same time enabling members to adapt and modify them to their preferences and needs
(Turner, 2011; Keats & Sabharwal, 2008).
There is only a little evidence about the effectiveness of open as compared to closed
membership treatment groups. Clinical experience suggests that workers p­ refer closed
groups, but what evidence exists suggests that open groups are as effective as
closed groups (Tourigny & Hebert, 2007; Turner, 2011). Therefore, more
Assess your understanding
evidence is needed because many groups in practice settings are open
of guidelines for recruiting
­m embership when members come and go as their treatment plans are
members and composing
the group by ­taking a brief quiz at ­completed and new members are added on a rolling basis. Renewing the
group in this manner can also be cost efficient since it is easier than starting
an entirely new group (Tasca et al., 2010).
Orienting Members
After potential members have been recruited, the worker should screen them for appropriateness and orient them to the group. The primary orientation method for treatment
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Planning the Group
groups is the intake interview. Generally, intake interviews are conducted individually.
Intake interviews are important because they offer workers and members their first
­impressions of each other.
Alternatively, members of treatment groups can be oriented by listening to streaming
or DVD recordings of a previous group, through didactic instruction or by rehearsal of
membership skills, such as how to communicate effectively one’s thoughts and opinions.
Role-induction strategies can take a single half-hour session or several sessions lasting several hours. They can enhance group outcomes, reduce dropout rates, and increase members’ satisfaction with the subsequent group experience (Barlow, 2013; Conyne, 2010).
Orientation for new members of task groups is sometimes done in small groups. For
example, new board members may be asked to participate in a board training program
that consists of several small group sessions on governance and the bylaws of the organization, fiduciary responsibilities, fund-raising, and public relations.
Orientations may be designed for many purposes, but three primary ones are
(1) ­explaining the purpose of the group, (2) familiarizing members with group procedures, and (3) screening members for appropriateness.
Explaining the Purpose of the Group
The worker should begin orienting members by stating the group’s purpose. The statement should be specific enough to allow members to ask questions about the group
and clarify what will be expected of them. However, the statement should also be broad
enough and tentative enough to encourage input and feedback. This can help potential
members discuss and work through any ambivalence they might have about participating in the group.
Familiarizing Members with Group Procedures
Group members f requently have questions about how the group will work. Through
these questions, members try to understand some of the general rules of group functioning. During the orientation interview, it is helpful for the worker to explain procedures for member participation and for how the group will conduct its business.
Leaders of both treatment and task groups often establish routine procedures for
meetings during either the planning stage or the beginning stage of the group. Some
treatment group meetings, for example, use a short review period for the first few minutes to discuss the major points of the last session. Time is then allotted for identifying
particular member concerns to be discussed during the current session. Some groups use
the final few minutes to summarize, to discuss between-meeting assignments, or to talk
about the group’s progress.
Task groups f requently follow routine procedures, such as reading the minutes of
the previous meeting; having reports f rom officers, like the treasurer; discussing old
business; and bringing up new business. Many of these procedures are decided on by
the group in its early meetings, but discussion of group procedures during the planning
stage helps members see how they can participate in and contribute to the group.
Screening Members for Appropriateness
During the orientation, the worker screens members to ensure that their needs are
matched with the purposes of the group. The worker observes members and collects
Chapter 6
Diversity and Difference
in Practice
Behavior: Apply and communicate understanding of the importance of diversity
and difference in shaping life experiences
in practice at the micro, mezzo, and macro
Critical Thinking Question: The worker
should consider how diversity in demographic characteristics can affect the group.
What does diversity contribute to groups?
impressions and information about them. Workers also apply any
criteria developed for inclusion or exclusion of potential members. Members with impaired functioning can often be identified
during the orientation interview, which gives the worker a chance
to decide whether their membership in the group is appropriate.
Factors that may render people inappropriate for group membership include (1) problems with scheduling transportation or
other practical considerations, (2) personal qualities, such as level
of social skills, that are extremely dissimilar to those of other
group members, and (3) needs, expectations, or goals that are not
congruent with those of the other group members. Such factors
have been linked to members’ dropping out of treatment prematurely (Barlow, 2013; Brabender & Fallon, 2009; Conyne, 2010;
­Yalom, 2005).
During the planning stage, the worker begins the contracting process. Contracts usually
result from the dynamic interaction of the worker and the members during the beginning stage of the group, but certain contracting procedures are initiated before the group
A contract is a verbal or written agreement between two or more members of a
group. In a legal contract, each party agrees to provide something, although what is provided by each does not have to be equal, and penalties are specified if either party does
not fulfill the contract.
Two forms of contracting take place during the planning stage: contracting for
group procedures and contracting for individual member goals. The worker should
make some preliminary decisions about group procedures before beginning. These decisions include the duration and frequency of group meetings, attendance requirements,
procedures to ensure confidentiality, and other considerations, such as time, place, and
any fees for meetings. The worker should also begin the process of contracting for individual member goals, although most of this type of contracting takes place during the
beginning stage of group work.
In most task and treatment groups, contracts are verbal agreements. For example,
the leader of an educational treatment group for foster parents may agree to meet with
the group for five two-hour sessions to explain the process of becoming a foster parent and parents’ ongoing responsibilities. The leader may also agree to explain the help
that the agency can offer and how the legal rights of foster children can be safeguarded.
Members may agree to attend each session and use the information that is provided to
become effective foster parents. Similarly, the leader of a treatment conference may verbally agree with group members about the procedures for reviewing cases, the responsibility of each staff member in the review process, and the ways in which the information
presented during the meeting will be used in case planning.
At times, a written contract may be used. A written contract helps to clarify the
group’s purpose. It also helps members clarify expectations about the worker and the
agency and allows the worker to specify what is expected of group members (Figure 6.1).
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Planning the Group
As a group member I agree to:
1.  Attend all group sessions.
2.  Arrive on time for each group session.
3.  Refrain from repeating anything that is said during group sessions to anyone outside of
the group meeting.
4.  Complete any readings, exercises, treatment plans, or other obligations that I agree to
in the group before the next group session.
5.  Participate in exercises, role plays, demonstrations, and other simulations conducted
during group meetings.
As the group leader I agree to:
1.  Be prepared for each group session.
2.  Begin and end all group sessions on time.
3.  Provide refreshments and program material needed for each session.
4.  Discuss the group only with my colleagues at work and not outside of the work
5.  Evaluate each group session to ensure that the group is helping all members resolve
their problems and is personally satisfying to all group members.
6.  Provide members with appropriate agency and community resources to help them
­resolve their problems.
Group member
Group leader
Figure 6.1
Example of a Treatment Group Contract
A written contract can be referred to in group meetings if either the members or the
worker needs to be reminded of the purpose, expectations, or obligations to which they
agreed. Generally, written contracts specify ground rules for participation that do not
change during the life of the group. However, contracts can be renegotiated by mutual
agreement at any time during the group’s life.
Written contracts are rarely used in task groups. The meeting agenda and the bylaws
or other governance structures under which the task group operates is usually the only
written agreements binding group members. Ordinarily, task groups rely on verbal contracts about the tasks to be accomplished, the roles of group members, and the division
of labor in the group.
Contracting for Group Procedures
The worker begins to determine group procedures by deciding on the duration and frequency of meetings. These decisions are closely related to the group’s purpose and the
needs of its members. In treatment groups, the optimal length of time for each meeting
varies. Meetings of groups of individuals with dementia in a nursing home may last only
30 to 45 minutes, but meetings of outpatient support groups may last for one hour or
Chapter 6
longer. Some groups, such as encounter or sensitivity training groups, meet for even
longer periods and within a short time frame to achieve high communication levels and
reduce member defensiveness.
The f requency of group meetings should also be considered when contracting for
group procedures. In general, weekly sessions are recommended for treatment groups,
although this does not preclude meeting more often when needed. The f requency of
task group meetings depends on the requirements of the task and any time limits or
deadlines that need to be considered. The worker must also consider how much time
each member can devote to the group.
Specification of other group procedures should also be considered. The worker can
specify attendance requirements, confidentiality of discussions, or other rules governing
behavior in the group, such as how discussions will take place and how decisions will be
made. Additional details include the time and place for meetings, any attendance fees
involved, and the monitoring and evaluation procedures to be used by the worker.
Contracting for Member Goals
During the planning stage, workers also begin contractual arrangements with individual members. During orientation meetings, workers should help members describe
what they would like to accomplish through group participation. Workers should describe the broad goals they have for the group and invite members to do the
same. Questions such as “What do you hope to accomplish through your
Assess your understanding
participation in the group?” can stimulate members to think about their
of guidelines for orientroles in a group, what goals they want to accomplish, and how the goals
ing and contracting with
fit with the broad purposes described by the worker. Methods that can be
members by taking a brief quiz
at www.pearsonglobaleditions
used when contracting with members of both treatment and task groups
are ­explained in more ­detail in Chapter 7.
Preparing the Environment
Three factors that should be considered when preparing a group’s environment are the
physical setting, arrangements to accommodate members who have special needs, and
financial support. The extent of worker control over these factors is sometimes l­imited,
but incorporating them into the planning process whenever possible enhances the
chances for successful group development. Environmental factors to consider are presented in the following checklist.
Checklist for Preparing the Environment
• Room size: adequate for size of group and activities associated with meetings
• Furnishings: seating requirements, work and activity spaces, population-specific
• Technology: audiovisual, computer, and telecommunications needs
• Atmosphere: lighting, heating and air conditioning, overall effect created by the
meeting space
• Special needs: physical accessibility of meeting space, assistive technology,
­childcare, transportation, interpreter
• Financial support: cost of group activities and materials, technology, duplicating,
advertising, mailing, hospitality (food, beverages), other special arrangements
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Planning the Group
Preparing the Physical Setting
The setting for the group can have a profound effect on the behavior of group members and the conduct of group meetings. Room size, space, seating arrangements, furnishings, and atmosphere should all be considered. Difficulties encountered in early
meetings, inappropriate behavior by members, and unanticipated problems in the development of the group can sometimes result from inadequate attention to the group’s
physical environment.
Room size can inf luence how active or involved members become with the business
of the group. Generally, a small room engenders positive feelings of closeness among
members and limits potential distractions. A large room can put too much distance
among members and thus may encourage some members to tune out. A small group of
people meeting in a large room may be distracted by the open space around them and
have difficulty concentrating on the group process.
On the other hand, a room may be too small and doesn’t allow enough space between members, which can lead to discomfort, irritability, anxiety, or acting out. Certain
populations are particularly reactive to the size of the meeting room. Young children, for
example, often benefit from a large, open area in which to engage in activities. Similarly,
disabled older adults benefit f rom a room with wheelchair access; comfortable, highback chairs that are not difficult to get in and out of; bright, glare-free lighting; and good
acoustics (Toseland & Rizzo, 2004).
Comfortable seating should be available. Sometimes, group members prefer to sit on
the f loor to create an informal atmosphere. Carpets, lamps, worktables, and other furnishings can also help create a comfortable atmosphere. A comfortable physical environment conveys a message to group members about the agency’s regard for them as clients.
Overall, the worker should consider the total effect of the physical setting on a
group’s ability to accomplish its tasks. If a group is to engage in informal discussion, the
worker can create an informal atmosphere with comfortable couches or pillows for sitting on the f loor. If a group is to work on formal tasks, such as reviewing priorities for a
five-year plan, the worker should create a more formal atmosphere. For example, a room
in which the group can sit around a well-lighted table may be most appropriate.
Making Special Arrangements
The worker should be particularly sensitive to any special needs of group members
and should be sure that special needs will not prevent members f rom being able to attend meetings. For example, when working with the physically challenged, the worker
should plan a barrier-free location for meetings or should consider phone or computer
groups as an alternative to face-to-face meetings. When planning a group for parents,
the worker should consider childcare arrangements. For a children’s group, the worker
should discuss transportation arrangements and obtain parental consent for the children’s involvement in the group. When working with individuals for whom English is
a second language, the worker may wish to arrange for the services of an interpreter or
may wish to co-facilitate the group with a bilingual worker.
The worker should pay particular attention to the resources needed by members
who experience specific forms of disability. For example, the worker might want to ensure that persons who have hearing impairments have access to interpreters. In an educational group, it might be necessary for a person with severe physical disabilities to
Chapter 6
include his or her personal care attendant in meetings to ensure the member’s full participation in discussions and activities. Members who have visual impairments may need
reading materials converted to Braille.
The worker may not know that a potential member experiences a particular disability. For example, certain hidden disabilities, such as asthma, might preclude a member
from participation in certain group activities or in certain environments. Insofar as possible, the worker should assess all potential members of a group during the intake process
to determine their special needs.
Securing Financial Support
The worker should be concerned about how the expenses associated with the group will
be met. For this reason, the worker should explore the financing arrangements with the
group’s sponsoring agency, beginning with an assessment of the agency’s total financial
statement. The costs associated with treatment and task groups vary, but major items
include the salary of the worker, the use of the meeting room, and the expense of supervision for the worker. Other expenses may include duplicating, phone, mailings, refreshments, and transportation.
Using information about costs and income, the worker can determine what financial
support must be obtained for the proposed group. Expenses, such as the worker’s salary
and the meeting room, are often routinely paid by the agency. For expenses requiring
an outlay of cash, the worker should submit a budget request to the sponsoring agency.
A petty-cash fund can provide a f lexible means to cover expenses incurred by the group.
For some treatment groups, income may be generated by fees collected from members, or it may be produced f rom contracts or grants. Although most task groups do
not usually generate income, some are formed specifically to generate money for new
programs or to raise funds for the agency. Others generate financial savings for their
sponsoring organization through creative problem solving or decision-making.
Reviewing the Literature
When planning a treatment group, it is important to review the literature. An essential
part of evidence-based group work is to search the literature about the group that is
being planned. There are at least four bodies of literature that should be searched by
anyone planning a group. The first type is articles and book chapters that present case
examples or qualitative studies of similar groups. These can be helpful in providing experiential information about what it might be like to lead a similar group and what issues
and themes should be considered during the planning process.
A second type of literature is the empirically based article or book chapter that presents findings about a similar group. These articles not only present evidence for certain
approaches to the problem or issue to be addressed by the planned treatment group but
also can point out measures that might be used to evaluate the group being planned.
There may also be literature reviews or meta-analytic studies that summarize the literature on empirically based approaches to similar groups. These summary articles present accumulated evidence for different approaches to the planned group and can let the
worker know if similar groups have already been conducted and evaluated. If there is
strong evidence for a particular approach, the worker planning the group should give the
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findings of this literature strong consideration in formulating the way they will conduct
their own planned group.
Third, the worker can go to the World Cat and other database sources to see if
books have been written about similar group work efforts focused on the planned topic
of the group. Even if the worker does not find books on group work with the population
planned for the group, there may be books addressing individual, family, or other treatment approaches that may be helpful. There may also be psychological and sociological
books that may be helpful in conceptualizing the problem and formulating a treatment
strategy for the planned group.
Fourth, the worker can search for field-tested and evidence-based manuals and
curricula that may exist about how to conduct a similar group. Sometimes, these
evidence-based manuals and curricula even include workbooks for participants.
­Frequently, field-tested curricula are found in catalogues and other printed material f rom for-profit publishing companies that specialize in work with certain populations, for example, children or adolescents. Searching the web or asking colleagues if
they know about these catalogues are ways to find curricula so that the worker does
not have to start planning a treatment group without any background information. The
­curricula that are found can be modified to fit the needs of the particular situations and
­agency-based needs conf ronting the worker. Another approach is to email or call lead
authors of articles who have conducted a similar group to see if they have an agenda
and curricula for the group they led. There are also compendiums of group treatment
­manuals for children and teens (LeCroy, 2008), and government agencies, such as the
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency, that offer f ree treatment
­improvement protocols for many different substance abuse and mental health problems.
Selecting Monitoring and Evaluation Tools
It is never too early to consider how to monitor and evaluate the progress of a group.
Therefore, during the planning stage, the worker should consider how the progress of
the group will be monitored and evaluated. Monitoring the group can be as simple as
the worker using a recording form to take notes on the main features of what occurred
during sessions. A group recording form is shown in Figure 14.1. Members can also
self-monitor their progress toward treatment or task goals, and they can give their feedback on individual sessions. Methods for doing this are described in Chapter 14.
Monitoring the group’s change process and progress can help it stay on track and
make sure agreed-upon goals are explicit and being accomplished. It is our experience,
f rom listening to hundreds of group tapes and CDs in clinical research studies, that
goals can often be lost or forgotten by well-meaning workers who do not make explicit
attempts to refocus the group when it is getting off track. This causes the whole group
to drift from its stated purpose or to completely lose its focus. We were surprised, when
listening to tapes and CDs of groups, how often this occurred. There is a socio-emotional
aspect to groups that should not be neglected. We are not trying to insinuate that groups
always have to remain on task and simply focus on goals. Balancing socio-­emotional and
task needs is essential to the proper functioning of a group. At the same time, getting
off track because the group is drifting aimlessly should be avoided and monitoring the
group’s progress is an important way to keep this from happening.
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The worker should also decide during the planning phase in what way goal accomplishment will be ascertained. In treatment groups, the worker may simply want to
check in with members at the beginning or end of each session to find out how they
are progressing toward their goals. At the end of a group, members can be asked to
rate their goal attainment and what aspects of their goals remain to be accomplished.
In task groups, this might mean reviewing at each group meeting what the group has
accomplished and what tasks remain. Workers may want to do a more formal evaluation
by giving a measure at the beginning of the group and then again at intervals or at the
end of the group to see if goals are being accomplished. These more ambitious plans for
evaluating the effectiveness and efficiency of treatment and task groups are discussed in
detail in Chapter 14. The primary point that we are trying to make here during the planning phase is not to leave monitoring and evaluation tasks until the last group meetings.
Monitoring and evaluation are ongoing processes that should happen throughout the life
of a group. They are often more useful and effective when planned early than when left
to later group meetings.
Preparing a Written Group Proposal
In planning for a group, the worker might find it useful to prepare a written proposal. Such a proposal is sometimes required for obtaining agency sponsorship or for
obtaining funding f rom various sources. A written proposal can also inform potential
members about the group. Spending time to organize and write a group proposal can
also aid the worker in preparing for meetings. For most groups, a brief summary of
one or two pages, following the outline presented in Appendix C, is sufficient. Two
sample proposals, one for a treatment group and one for a task group, are presented in
Appendices D and E.
Planning Distance Groups
Distance groups are those where members do not meet face-to-face. Instead, they meet
over the phone or through the Internet. Phone groups and Internet groups are becoming more and more popular as we move further into the twenty-first century.
Distance groups are an important alternative to face-to-face groups for many reasons. In some situations, it is just not possible for people who could benefit from social
group work to meet face-to-face. For example, people who suffer f rom debilitating illnesses, such as the frail elderly and persons with terminal illnesses, often are not able to
attend group meetings. In addition, it is often very difficult for those with rare diseases to
find face-to-face support groups composed of people with the same illnesses.
Transportation and distance can also be barriers to attending face-to-face meetings.
In many rural and suburban areas, public transportation is poor, and people who lack
private transportation find that it is difficult or impossible to attend face-to-face group
meetings. Others find it difficult to avail themselves of a group service because they live
such a long distance f rom the organization offering the service. For example, in rural
communities, health and social service agencies often serve large geographic areas. Even
in urban and suburban communities, some health and social service agencies, such as
regional hospitals, serve the needs of special populations dispersed over a large area. The
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inconvenience of the meeting location along with time pressures and transportation
costs can make attending face-to-face meetings difficult.
There are also many situations when it is possible for individuals to attend face-toface groups, but they prefer not to attend. For example, some issues are socially stigmatizing, and members may not want to take the risk of disclosing their concerns in a
face-to-face group. Hectic schedules and time constraints can make attending face-toface groups unattractive for potential members (McKenna & Green, 2002). For others,
social anxiety and high levels of introversion can make attending face-to-face groups excruciatingly difficult. Some also see distance groups as safer, because such groups offer
greater control over the timing and pace of written and verbal interactions and direct
physical contact (McKenna & Bargh, 1999, 2000).
Contrary to what is commonly expected, some research suggests that distance
groups may actually be more cohesive than face-to-face groups, and they exert greater
inf luence on members’ behavior (McKenna, Green, & Gleason, 2002; Postmes, Spears, &
Lea, 1999; Postmes, Spears, Sakhel, & de Groot, 2001; Smith & Toseland, 2006). Because
members are not present, there are no visual cues to distract them from the core issues
that motivated them to participate in the group (McKenna & Green, 2002). Members no
longer focus on personal features, such as skin color, or social status cues, such as the
way members are dressed (McKenna & Bargh, 2000). They focus more on the shared
issues that bring them into contact. For example, a research project studied the impact
of psycho-educational phone support groups on caregivers to f rail and disabled older
adults. It was found that adult children caregivers f rom very different socioeconomic
backgrounds were able to interact easily with each other. Bonds were formed because
of similar caregiving issues and concerns, rather than because of personal appearance or
socioeconomic status (Smith & Toseland, 2006).
Although there are many advantages to distance groups, there are also disadvantages
that should be carefully considered. Some research suggests that there may be greater
hostility and aggression in distance groups (Siegel, Dubrovsky, Kiesler, & McGuire, 1986;
Weinberg, 2001). For example, the term f laming is often used by Internet users to describe the activity of sending emotionally charged, hostile messages without clear provocation or advance warning (Oravec, 2000). It may be that the anonymity of these groups
encourages this type of behavior. Text-only messages without nonverbal cues in Internet
groups and tonal inf lections and verbal messages without visual cues in phone groups
enable group members to project negative meanings onto messages that were intended
to have more positive connotations (Smokowski, Galinsky, & Harlow, 2001).
Privacy can also be an issue, particularly in online interactions that are open to the
public (Oravec, 2000; Smokowski et al., 2001). Even in groups that use passwords, “lurkers” may sign up, but not interact. Active members may leave computer messages on
screens that are open to public viewing. It is also easier for members of distance groups
to conceal or mask their identities in order to form relationships with vulnerable group
members who are seeking interaction with those who have similar life experiences.
Another concern is the quality of the information and services offered during distance group interaction (Glueckauf & Noel, 2011). Information shared on the Internet
is not subject to the same standards as information printed in scientific journals. Online
and phone counseling and support can be given by individuals without professional degrees who have not agreed to abide by the professional standards of accrediting bodies.
Chapter 6
Distance group leaders may respond too quickly to text messages with little context or
background. Exacerbating this problem, some members of distance groups may expect
quick fixes. Because of the open nature of the medium, it is not always feasible to prevent harmful interactions or to provide valid information that tempers or contradicts
bad advice.
Another potential disadvantage of distance groups is the problem of making sure
the site for phone and online groups is secure. Members will need to be careful about
viruses and other security issues that are the result of previous use of their computers as
well as ongoing security threats from hackers from outside the site. Spyware and other
viruses must be cleaned from members’ computers. Passwords should be hard to hack
and kept secure. There also should be a packet of information provided to members
with clear instructions about how to use the online site. This includes screen captures of
computer settings to ensure privacy (Page, 2010).
Another issue is how to provide emergency care. Page (2010) presents several steps
that should be taken to ensure enough information is available in an emergency. First, it
is recommended that potential members send a photos to the leader with signed forms
with emails, physical addresses, and phone numbers. Second, have each member send
two emergency contacts who can be easily reached. Third, a form should be developed
that contains the names and contact information of members’ physicians, medicines
taken, and any chronic or acute illnesses that may affect participation. Fourth, a written
safety plan should be prepared by members, and an emergency care document should
be prepared by workers with specific local resources tailored to each member’s situation
and community and national resources, such as hotlines, that all members can benefit
from possessing. Fifth, workers should make sure that appropriate releases of information are in place so that the worker can share information with emergency service providers, if necessary (Page, 2010).
Despite the disadvantages and the changes in practice needed to conduct distance
groups, phone and Internet services providing help for group members have e­ xperienced
a surge in popularity in recent years. For many members and leaders of treatment
and task groups, the advantages of distance groups outweigh their disadvantages. The
following sections describe specific issues when working with phone and computermediated distance groups.
Special Considerations: Phone-Mediated Groups
Technological advances have made it possible to have phone conversations among a
number of individuals. This has been referred to as teleconferencing or making a conference
call (Kelleher & Cross, 1990). Until recently, the use of this technology was largely limited to task group meetings in large organizations with members who were geographically dispersed, but it is being used more widely now in social service agencies who are
trying to reach out to individuals who either cannot get to in-person groups or prefer
phone groups to other forms of service.
Some of the special considerations in setting up a phone group are (1) teleconferencing capacity of the organization’s phone system or sufficient funds to purchase the
service, (2) a speaker phone if there will be more than one leader, (3) teleconferencing
equipment, and (4) a willingness of participants to stay on the phone for a long duration. One of the authors has explored the use of hands-f ree headsets and ear buds for
Planning the Group
participants, but we have found that these are not necessary, and some participants find
purchasing and using them difficult. Many phones have speakers, but there are issues
of sound quality for other members, and the privacy of members who are using them
when other family members are at home.
A review of the literature reveals that there are phone support groups for people
with many types of disabilit…
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