Teaching Group Counseling – by Flora Ostrow, MAed, LMHC
One of the unique ways that I have expressed my love of groups has been as a teacher. For these last many years I have taught the Group Counseling class for Psychology master degree students at Antioch University Seattle. This class is a required, one quarter class taken after students have completed communications and counseling skills class. In designing this class, I needed to take several important expectations into account. Future student group leaders, according to Professional Standards for the training of Group Leaders from the Association for Specialist in Group Work (ASGW), need to develop leader self awareness, learn leader skills, study ethical issues, and learn about group process and theory. Additionally, in order to learn core competencies, they need to be provided both a theoretical and experiential understanding of group purpose, development, dynamics, theories and skills. The didactic component was easy to incorporate. The experiential component was more difficult. How do you provide opportunities to be a group member and have some experience co-leading while being sensitive to the potential for dual relationship conflicts? Let me describe the evolution of my teaching format.
In the early days of my teaching the class would be divided into 2 groups. Those groups would meet separately in 2 different classrooms while I shuttled back and forth in order to provide group consultation. Co-leader teams would come from the membership of the group. One major complaint students had about this model was that being a group member and leader in the same group was very confusing. I was stretched thin in my role as group supervisor, and students were limited in the feedback they received from fellow classmates. There were few definitive opportunities to integrate theory and practice. In 2002, in my search for better ways to teach this class, I read an article in the Journal for Specialists in Group Work, “Teaching Group Process and Leadership: The Two-Way Fishbowl Model, “ by Laura Hensley which transformed the structure of the class in very exciting ways. What follow is a summary of my current adaptation of this model.
During the 1st class session students are divided into 2 groups of approximately equal size, and equal balance regarding group experience. By the 2nd or 3rd class members of group A function as a working group placing their chairs in an inner circle, while members of Group B (the observation team) form a larger circle around the perimeter of the room. Each week the roles are reversed. I lead the 1st meeting of each group. Then co-leader teams from the observation team lead the working group. After each group session, I lead a process commentary group focused on feedback to the group leaders, discussion of group dynamics, process issues especially group development. Just to clarify, during the weeks in which Group A worked within the fishbowl, 2 members from Group B co-led the group. As part of the students’ assignment they choose a member goal and leader goal to focus on in each role. Additional homework includes one of the following papers: a reflection paper for the working group in which they were asked to describe their reactions to the group, to reflect on what they learned from the experience, to comment on how the group leader style affected their participation and to discuss how the group experience contributed to their personal growth toward meeting their member group goal. Observation team members do a case note in which they report their subjective reactions to the group, the objective content, an analysis of what occurred and a plan for future sessions. A co-leader reflection paper focuses on an analysis of a critical moment in group with particular attention to new learning. The 1st hour of each class consists of a didactic presentation / discussion and later in the quarter a presentation by students, in teams, on a particular theoretical approach to group. I hope you are getting a sense of the richness and complexity of this model. Students, overtime, move from various states of confusion and anxiety to new learning about themselves, greater confidence in their group leader skills and sometimes they fall in love with groups. I suppose that last piece, the falling in love with group work, is the most rewarding and fun for me.
Flora Ostrow, BA, State University of New York at Buffalo; MEd, University of Washington; adjunct faculty, psychology. Flora has experience working in alcohol dependency programs ranging from therapy to aftercare to vocational rehabilitation. She was formerly a staff member at the VA Medical Center and is currently in private practice. Flora currently serves as co-chair of the PSGPN Welcoming Committee.
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