Group Therapy: Markers of Good Group Leaders

group-therapy-imgGroups can be an excellent way to address issues. Group therapy focuses on the relational dynamics between people. Interpersonal functioning can be improved by participating in such a group; through the sharing of struggles and common goals, group members develop a sense of cohesiveness that allows them to support each other through transactional change processes. In addition, group members often realize they are not alone, allowing for a sense of universality and a renewed connection to humanity.  

To get these benefits, a good leader is necessary and leading a group takes skill and practice.  To know if you are in capable hands, there are some markers of experience and/or talent for running groups (Zrebiek, 2003)

10 Rules Group Leaders Should Live By:

  1. Begin and end the group on time. This helps members understand the importance of arriving promptly. It also reminds members that if they have important things to say, they need to bring them up while there is plenty of time for discussion, because meetings will not be extended.

  2. Help group members feel welcome, relaxed, and comfortable. The less nervous group members feel, the more open they are likely to be to learning and talking. Spare no effort to prevent or stop group members from saying or doing something that would embarrass themselves or others in the group.

  3. Group members’ opening remarks are not random and often have some important significance for what they are expecting to happen during the group. For example, “looks like we’re in for a storm today” is more than a comment on the weather but reflects anxiety about potential group conflict. Good group leaders pay special attention to these beginning words; often they will draw out particular words that indicate themes among members.

  4. Each meeting is in a context (time, place, purpose). Good leaders pay attention to what is happening in the group at that very moment—the here-and-now focus. Ask yourself: What is happening, and why is it happening now? Is the leader bringing us back to the present when we get stuck in the past or predict the future?

  5. Each group member has a context. A good group leader will try to keep in mind each member’s reason for coming to the group and personal history if it is known. It is important to know where one is coming from to know where and how far they are going in group.

  6. Each group has a primary theme, topic, or connecting thread. Keeping the connecting thread in mind helps a leader make sense of what may seem like disconnected threads in an evolving conversation. Deciphering the connecting thread also provides a tool with which to understand the predictably bewildering moments that occur in groups.

  7. Remember that everything that happens in the group has something to do with the group. This is helpful to keep in mind during those times when what is happening in the group seems tangental. This is a common experience, and remembering this point can help you keep group events connected to the primary theme. For example, in a diabetes support group, the members were talking about the Red Sox game. At first glance, the discussion may have appeared to have nothing to do with the purpose of the group, but in fact, it was intimately related to how the members thought about their own physical condition compared to the healthy athletes out on the field. Good group leaders can dig underneath the surface and pull the group back to the thread.

  8. Good group leaders try to be careful about answering personal questions until they understand the purpose behind them. Typically, questions are not an attempt to get details about your personal life, but are related to patients’ need to feel confident in your care. For example, a member may ask if a leader is married but is more interested in whether or not they can understand what it is like to be married rather than in the details of the leader’s personal life.

  9. Good group leaders are also careful not to offer premature reassurance. For example, don’t say to a distraught renal patient, “Don’t worry, we have a top-notch renal team” without first fully exploring the patient’s concerns. They will take the time to listen and understand the situation and its meaning before leaping in with advice or direction. Group leaders usually gain more respect when they base careful comments on what they hear and see in the group rather than when they offer premature conjecture. The biggest mistake novice group leaders make is trying to do too much, too soon.

  10. Good group leaders can use their own emotional responses to the group as a barometer of what is happening in the meeting, noticing that they most likely reflect those of the group.

If your group leader does not demonstrate at least some of these qualities, or you do not feel like you are getting much from the group experience, consider looking for a different group. Sometimes it is the leadership.


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