CYNTHIA BRIGGS: The theory I like to apply to group work is really reflective of the counseling theories that I’ve embraced on an individual level as well. So I tend to be humanistic and existential. So whenever I run groups, I’m focusing on the relationship between me and my group members and also the relationships of the group members with each other. I’m also always looking for meaning and purpose. So I ask a lot of questions about meaning, purpose, values, what my group members want for the future, and that sort of thing.
I also use a theory called focal conflict theory, which is the theory that Deborah Rubel, my mentor, taught me. And it’s all about understanding how the group is operating at almost a subconscious level, the way that when we form groups as people, we make decisions sort of the way a flock of birds will sort of turn on a dime and you don’t know how they’re communicating with each other. Groups of people do that too. We’re always deciding sort of in a silent and unspoken way what’s OK and what’s not. And so once you start paying attention to how people are interacting with each other and what’s not being said, you really start to understand what’s happening under the surface of the group as a whole.
TIFFANY RUSH-WILSON: I use a lot of feminist and empowerment therapies in individual work and also in group work. I do the same type of thing, largely because the people in the populations with which I work tend to need that kind of structure and that boost of confidence to try and get out there and flesh out some of those skills and operationalize some of the things they’re learning in the group work.
So I work with eating disorders a lot. Of people who have eating disorders often have a difficult time being social, being assertive, taking social risks, or taking any kinds of risks. I use that feminist therapy and that cognitive behavioral feminist therapy to help people be more motivated, to help people be more confident about taking risks.
MATT BUCKLEY: I borrow from a couple of theoretical perspectives. The primary theoretical perspective is existential theory. And that’s really based upon just the awareness of what it means to be a human being and how we’re faced with choices about how to behave and what sort of meaning we develop about our own experience.
And I think that I believe that existentialism really relates itself very closely to group, because in a group, you are enacting in that here and now of the group what it is that you enact outside of group with others outside. And you may not always be aware of what you’re doing, but with a group that is working and
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committed to helping each other and giving and receiving feedback, people can’t really hide from that. And they have choices to make about what they do with the feedback that they receive, both from the group leader and from the group members.
And also Yalom, Irvin Yalom talked about therapeutic factors. And so there’s some amazing therapeutic factors out there that are stimulated by group work– universality, the idea that I’m not the only one that struggles with this. There are others that struggle with that too. I think sometimes people feel really unique and they feel weird. And then they isolate themselves because they feel like they’re the only ones that are struggling with a particular problem.
And so meeting other people who share similar struggles I think can really encourage somebody to step forward and to be able to learn from others in a social atmosphere, to be able to have a corrective experience, where instead of being condemned by others, you’re actually supported by others.
There are some members who get it toward the end of a group, and they’ll say, this is like my family or they’ll say, this is a life changing experience for me, or I feel closer to these people than I’ve ever felt to anyone before, because they feel encouraged. They feel like they can be with someone and trust beyond what they limited themselves around. And it’s a very powerful thing to witness.
And I think that’s part of the juice that I have when I lead groups is to be able to see people take risks and to benefit from those risks. Not always, but for most of the time, again, with strong group leadership that can really happen.
CHRISTIE JENKINS: The theory I apply most to my group work would be Rogerian. And what that is really the core condition conditions of counseling. So the empathy unconditional positive regard, the genuineness. So you need to have that foundation for the group members to actually trust you and think that what you’re saying is important and think that it would be important for their life.
ELIZABETH VENTURA: In individual counseling I use a lot of dialectical behavior therapy. And one component of that is validation. So as a group leader, I find that I have to infuse validation with group members that I’m working with.
So I will find a way to link members together, so that I can show them how to validate. I will use validation as a model for group members to follow with each other and also for them to then take out of the group and apply into the real world setting.
So I would say that a component of a theoretical orientation is absolutely validation. Another component that I would say is gentle confrontation. So I think that in order for people to experience change, they have to understand that sometimes their actions are not congruent with their words. And so as a group
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leader, I’m very active in the process and I’ll find a way to help clients see that their actions may not necessarily be congruent with their words.
EVA REED: I would say that for me personally I like to tune in to individuals in the group process. That’s really what a group counselor is doing. And so I can’t say that I would really ascribe to one particular approach. But if there were anything, I would probably say humanistic. Humanistic counseling is something that comes out for me in group.
And the main reason I would say that is because, from a humanistic perspective, what you’re really doing is welcoming people as they are. And that’s one of the most important components of group is allowing people to be genuine, welcoming them into the process, to be as they are genuinely in the world.
When you have people who are being honest, genuine, and exchanging ideas and feedback and support for one another, the cornerstone of that really is acceptance. Welcoming people as they are. And what I find as a counselor is that the more that I can embrace people as they are, the more it models an acceptance in themselves. So it gives them permission to accept themselves first. And from my perspective change starts to come from that point forward.
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