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Group therapy is one of the most successful interventions for adolescents. This is because of the nature of this stage of development and the need to belong to a group. Hearing the stories of other teens and knowing that their experiences and feelings are similar is very therapeutic. Another characteristic of the adolescent stage is a short attention span, so the clinical social worker should tailor exercises that initiate and sustain discussion for adolescents.

For this Assignment, watch the “Bradley” video.

In a 2- to 4-page paper, identify two opening exercises that you might recommend for a group of adolescent girls who were victims of human trafficking.

  • Describe the exercises in detail so that another social worker would be able to implement them.
  • Explain ways these exercises might be effective in creating a comfortable environment for these teenage girls.
  • Support your rationale with the literature. For example, what does the literature say about teenage girls who have been arrested for prostitution/human trafficking and who openly discuss their experiences?
  • How do these exercises promote group cohesion and encourage these teens to talk openly?



Objectives in the Beginning Stage

The beginning stage is often considered, by both novice and experienced workers, to be a difficult

stage of group work because members often seek direction about how to proceed but are

ambivalent about following any suggestions. Members struggle to maintain their autonomy but, at

the same time, to fit in and get along with others in the group. The worker’s primary goals are to help

members feel comfortable in the group, to work together in a cooperative and productive manner,

and to feel that their unique contribution to the group is respected and appreciated. To accomplish

these goals it is helpful to:

Ensure a secure environment where members begin to bond with the leader and with each other

Facilitate member introductions

Clarify the purpose and function of the group, as it is perceived by the worker, the members, and the

sponsoring organization

Discuss and clarify the limits of confidentiality within the group

Help members to feel that they are an important part of the group

Guide the development of the group

Balance task and socio-emotional aspects of the group process

Set goals

Contract for work

Facilitate members’ motivation and ability to work in the group

Address ambivalence and resistance

Work with involuntary members

Anticipate obstacles to achieving individual and group goals

Monitor and evaluate the group as the change process begins

In the following pages, these tasks and the corresponding skills necessary to carry them out are

presented sequentially. In actual practice, of course, the group worker should be concerned about

these tasks simultaneously.

Ensuring a Secure Environment

No work can be accomplished in groups unless members feel secure when participating. Therefore,

a fundamental and essential role for the worker in the beginning stage is to make sure that members

are feeling comfortable, safe, and secure with their participation in the group. New workers should

recognize that members of groups might come from environments that are not comfortable, safe, or

secure. In fact, some members may be hypervigilant, expecting the worst in all or most

environments. This could be because of any number of adverse childhood events, or current bio-

psycho-social-environmental assaults on their integrity. For example, members could have

witnessed or experienced repeated trauma during childhood, such as neglect, or emotional and

physical abuse. They could have experienced severe poverty, racism, or violence. They may have

been bullied as a child or adolescent or learned that the way to survive in their neighborhood was to

become a gang member. As adults they may continue to experience violence, marginalization,

exploitation, oppression, or other factors that make them wary of participating in a group.

Workers should display patience and equanimity, gradually demonstrating to these traumatized

members that the group is a positive place for support, healing, and rejuvenation where they can

trust the worker and fellow members to work together to accomplish meaningful goals. Workers have

to spend time to build security and trust before proceeding with agendas and goals. Workers who do

not build a secure and safe environment early in the group will not be successful over the long-term.

It is a mistake to pursue mandated goals without physical and emotional safety and security assured

to members. Proceeding without safety and security also violates ethical principles.

There are too many settings where workers are expected to work on mandated goals before

members are ready. Workers should keep in mind members’ rights to self-determination and social

justice. There are limits to what can be accomplished with some members. Workers need to

recognize and be comfortable with the limits of what they are able to accomplish in some situations

and engage in self-care. The goal should be engagement and respect, using a positive, relaxed

pace where members are encouraged to gradually share their stories, and reveal what help they

would like from the group. Workers should listen intensely, learning all they can while encouraging

members to use their resilience, skills, and strengths to overcome adversity and move toward

healthier lifestyles. Group leaders may have an immediate or delayed impact on some members,

and may not be able to help others. It is often difficult for workers to know what if any impact they

have had on members. Therefore, they should remain positive and self-soothing even when they

question whether they are having a positive impact.

There are many ways to build a safe and secure environment. First, the worker should acknowledge

that members might not feel secure or be ready to self-disclose. In some families and cultures,

showing vulnerabilities, such as insecurity, may not be acceptable. Therefore, members may not

want to risk sharing feelings at first, and this should be acknowledged by the worker. Workers can

begin by asking members to present whatever information about themselves they are willing to

share. Workers can be role models sharing information about themselves first. After this occurs,

members can be encouraged to talk about their aspirations, goals, and dreams. Workers can tie

these aspirations to what the group may be able to help them accomplish.

Another step is to take every opportunity to support members’ goals, paying close attention to both

their immediate and longer term needs and wants. Workers should be role models, describing their

previous positive experiences in similar groups and how they might be able to help members have

better lives. They can ask for members help to make the group a safe, enjoyable place to heal and


In the early stages, conflict, criticism, and other forms of negative feedback should be avoided. If any

verbal or nonverbal interactions occur that are not supportive or encouraging, workers should

intervene, gently modeling supportive interactions that are uplifting and self-esteem building.

Workers should remember that time will be available later in the development of the group to focus

on problems and issues and to use confrontation or other strategies that are more appropriate in

later group meetings when respectful, trusting relationships have been established.

The beginning of groups should be reserved for pointing out and building on members’ strengths and

resiliencies, helping them to become empowered and vital contributors to the success of the group.

A positive, upbeat, and warm manner that praises and encourages members for their unique

contributions is essential in early group meetings, especially when working with members who are

reluctant, resistant, or mandated participants. As members tell their stories, and have them affirmed,

they begin to grow more trusting and open with their fellow group members. By affirming and

validating members’ experiences, workers show that they are attentive and understanding, starting

with the members and staying with them. This, in turn, can help to form therapeutic alliances with

members, where trust grows. As genuine and warm interactions continue, members begin to bond

with the worker and each other, and can begin to feel safe to tackle some of the difficult issues they

face as they move forward. Building a base of trust, and feelings that the group can be helpful, is of

utmost importance when reluctant members first begin to participate and engage in beginning group


Assess your understanding of the objectives and skills that are useful in the beginning stage of

group work by taking this brief quiz.

Introducing New Members

When the participants have arrived and the group is ready to begin, the first task of the worker is to

introduce members to one another. Introductions help members share their mutual concerns and

interests, and they develop trust. The worker should decide what information is important for

members to share with the group. Beyond each member’s name, the information revealed by each

member should depend on the purpose of the group. For example, if the group is an interagency

task force to study the problems of battered women, members might be expected to share their

position in their agency, their experiences with services for battered women, and their reasons for

becoming involved in the task force. If the group is for parents with children who have behavior

problems, in addition to information about themselves, members might briefly describe their children

and the behavior problems they are experiencing.

Introductions can give members a starting point for interaction. Therefore, the information that is

shared should attempt to bring out commonalities. The worker can facilitate this process by noting

common characteristics and shared concerns disclosed by different members. Rather than

proceeding through the introduction mechanically, the worker should encourage members to discuss

commonalities. This process helps members feel at ease with one another. It also helps develop

group cohesion and demonstrates to members that they are not alone with their problems and


Case Example A Support Group for Caregivers of Persons with Dementia

The worker asked each member in turn to talk about themselves, the person for whom they were

caring, and the problems they were experiencing. One member, Mary, mentioned how concerned

she was about her husband driving even though he refused to give it up. The worker stopped the

group introductions at this point and asked if anyone else had experienced a similar problem and

how they handled it. Several members began to talk about the problem and their concerns about it.

The worker suggested that since this seemed to be a concern for many members that they continue

with the introductions, but take up the topic of driving later during the group meeting. Later during

introductions, another member brought up the topic of her husband’s agitated behavior and how he

paced and followed her from room to room. Again, the worker asked if any other group members

had experienced that problem, and several said they had. The worker said that they would also talk

about that behavior later in the group meeting or during the next group meeting if there was not time

to get to it in today’s meeting.

The opportunity for members to share common concerns and issues with one another is one of the

unique aspects of social group work practice. Yalom (2005) has called this phenomenon universality.

People who come to treatment groups often believe that they are alone with their problems. In

reality, although they may have been experiencing their problems in isolation, other people

experience similar concerns. The first group meeting provides them with feelings of support and

comfort as they realize they are not alone.

A similar process occurs in task groups. For example, workers from different community agencies

often experience the same frustrations and problems in serving clients with particular social service

needs. Alone, workers may think they can do little to make the system more responsive to clients.

Together, in a task force, a treatment conference, or in any other task group, workers can share their

concerns, coordinate their efforts, and work to change problematic situations.

Round Robin

The most common method of introducing members to one another is to have them speak in round

robin fashion. If this method is used, it is helpful for the worker to go first. In the early stages of the

group, members take many of their cues from the worker who can serve as a model by disclosing

personal characteristics. Once members hear the worker’s introduction, they are likely to focus on

the disclosures as they introduce themselves.

Sometimes, the worker may want members to disclose information about areas of concern that the

worker does not share. For example, in a group of parents, the worker may not have children.

Workers should note the absence of this characteristic in their own lives, state how it might affect

their work in the group, and ask members to comment on this factor in their introductions. For

example, the worker might say, “I don’t have any children of my own, but I’ve worked with children in

the past at summer camp, in foster care, and for the past four years in my current position.”

When they introduce themselves, members rarely disclose more than the worker has disclosed. In

fact, they initially tend to disclose less than the worker. Therefore, if workers expect a certain level of

self-disclosure or want to foster disclosures in a certain area, their introductions should reflect what

is expected. This is not to suggest that the introductions should call on members to reveal in-depth,

personal life experiences. Pressing for such disclosures at the beginning of a group is likely to

increase rather than decrease barriers to open communication.

Communication styles and expectations about self-disclosure are influenced by our cultural heritage.

Pearson (1991) suggests, for example, that clients who identify with the cultural imperatives in

Chinese society may believe that close, personal relationships are usually reserved for family and

that high levels of self-disclosure are not as desirable as a “balance and restraint in the experience

and expression of emotions” (p. 51).

Variations on Round Robin

Several variations on the round robin may be useful in opening different types of groups. To

increase interaction, for example, members can be divided into pairs. One member of each pair

interviews the other for five minutes by asking for details specified by the worker. When time is up,

members reverse roles and continue for another five minutes. When the group reconvenes,

members introduce their partners to the group by recalling the facts learned during their

conversation. In addition to helping members develop a relationship with a partner, group workers

find that this method of introduction sometimes leads to a greater depth of self-disclosure than round

robin because new group members are likely to reveal more about themselves on a one-to-one

basis than when they face the entire group.

A variation on this opening is what Shulman (2016) has called “problem swapping” (pp. 428-429).

Members volunteer to discuss their problems or concerns openly before the group. This opening

promotes group interaction, leads to the identification of shared problems and concerns, and helps

members consider how they might proceed.

An opening that is useful in growth-oriented groups is known as top secret. Members are asked to

write down one thing about themselves that they have not or would not ordinarily reveal to new

acquaintances. The leader collects the top secrets and reads them to the group. Members attempt to

identify the person who made each revelation, giving a reason for their choice. This exercise can be

repeated in a later group session to illustrate the extent to which trust and cohesion have increased

in the group. Members often reveal more intimate or personal top secrets after they come to know

and feel comfortable with the members of their group. Variations on this opening exercise are my

most embarrassing experience and my greatest success.

Another opening exercise that can help members disclose something about themselves or their

family of origin is called my name. Members can be asked to discuss how they got their names and

what meaning the name has for them and for their family of origin. For example, a member might

state that his father felt strongly that he should be named Samuel, after an uncle who had died. The

member goes on to discuss the uncle and other facts about his family of origin. He might also

mention that he disliked being called Sam by his parents and decided at age 13 to insist that his

parents and friends call him by his middle name, Allen. This exercise can often lead to interesting

discussions of members’ feelings about themselves now and in the past. It also helps members

learn each other’s names, which is important for open and personal interaction.

Other openings, such as treasure hunt, can be useful. Members are asked to find two or three facts

about each of the other group members. This activity offers much structured but informal interaction,

helping members overcome initial anxieties and shyness about participating. The facts obtained are

shared when the group reconvenes.

Program activities can also be used in opening a group. Such activities help members share

important information about themselves while working on an assigned task or activity. In addition to

increasing members’ self-disclosure, program activities can build cohesion in the group. For

example, in children’s groups, members may be asked to pick an animal that represents them.

When introducing themselves, members can name the animals they have selected and state what

characteristics of the animal they identify with. Another program activity for children or adolescent

groups is to have members stand in a circle and hold hands with two members who are not next to

them. Members are then asked to untangle themselves and form a circle without letting go of each

other’s hands.

Variations in Group Beginnings

A number of factors can change the way a worker begins a group. Sometimes workers become

involved with groups of people who have known each other before the group was formed. This can

occur when the members are clients of a neighborhood center, a residential treatment facility, or are

friends in the community. Similarly, in task groups, members may be familiar with one another as

coworkers in the same agency or as coworkers in a network of agencies working with similar clients

or a similar social problem. When members know one another, the challenges for the worker are

different from the challenges that occur in a group of strangers.

Members who have had previous contact with one another are more likely to relate in ways that are

characteristic of their previously established patterns. Roles and relationships established earlier

may be carried into the new group, regardless of their functional or dysfunctional nature in the

current group situation. In groups in which only a few members know one another or in which

previous relationships between members vary from friendly to neutral or unfriendly, subgroups are

likely to develop more often than they would in groups composed of strangers. There is also a

natural tendency for friends or acquaintances to interact with one another and exclude strangers.

When it is possible to obtain information about potential group members, the worker should try to

find out about any relationships that may exist among them. This will give the worker some indication

of what form members’ relationships are likely to take as they begin the group. It also gives the

worker an opportunity to plan strategies to intervene in dysfunctional relationship patterns. The

worker may wish to use information about members’ previous relationships to reconsider the

composition of the group and to understand members’ interactions as the group unfolds. For

example, a worker in a group home might use knowledge about the relationships that have

developed among residents when deciding how to intervene to change communication patterns in a

group that has just been established within the facility.

Another common variation in beginning a group occurs when the worker becomes involved in a

previously formed group (see, for example, the following case example). This can happen when a

worker (1) reaches out and works with a gang of adolescents, (2) is a consultant for a self-help

group, (3) is asked to staff a previously formed committee, or (4) is asked to replace the leader of an

intact treatment group. These situations are different from one in which all members are new to the

group. Instead of members looking to the leader for direction, as in a new group, the worker in a

previously formed group is the newcomer in a group with established patterns of relating. Members

of previously formed groups are concerned with how the worker will affect the group, what they will

have to do to accommodate the worker, and what the worker will expect of them. Members may also

act on feelings resulting from termination with a previous worker. This is demonstrated in the

following case example.

Case Example Dealing with Feelings about a Worker Leaving the Group

In assuming leadership for an existing substance abuse prevention group, the new worker began the

meeting by asking members to discuss how they felt about her replacing their former worker.

Because the group had been meeting together for over a year, members freely discussed their

concerns about changing group leaders. They also asked very direct questions about the new

worker’s credentials, experiences, and leadership style. During these discussions, the new worker

listened carefully to what members were saying. She chose to be less verbal so that members had

more opportunities to talk. By encouraging members to be more verbal, the worker was able to make

a preliminary assessment of the group’s structure and was able to identify the informal leadership

structure that had previously developed in the group.

In working with previously formed groups, the worker should become familiar with the group’s

structure and its current functions and processes. It is especially important that the worker become

familiar with the formal and informal leadership of the group, with members’ relationships with one

another, and with the tasks that face the group. Information obtained from a previous leader or from

agency records may offer some indication of how to approach the group. In working with gangs or

other community groups for which little information is available, the worker may find it helpful to

gather information about the group. Any information obtained before contact with the group should

be considered tentatively, however, because it is difficult to predict how an ongoing group is likely to

react to a new worker. The worker may also want to observe the group before attempting to


The worker’s presence in a previously formed group will cause adjustments. A process of

accommodation to the new worker and assimilation of the worker into the culture of the group will

occur. In general, cohesive and autonomous groups that have functioned together for some time will

find it difficult to accommodate a new worker and will expect the worker to become assimilated into

the ongoing process of the group. For example, a worker from a neighborhood center who is

interested in working with a closely knit gang of adolescents who grew up together may have to

spend a considerable amount of time developing trust and rapport with the group before members

will seriously consider participating in a recreational activity at the neighborhood center.

Defining the Purpose of the Group

Opening Statement

After introductions, the worker should make a brief statement about the group’s purpose and the

worker’s function in the group. When members are not clear about the purpose of the group or the

motives of the worker, their anxiety increases, and they are less likely to become involved in working

toward group goals. Evidence suggests that workers often fail to define the purposes of the group

they are leading (Fuhriman & Burlingame, 1994). Even if the purpose has been explained to

members during pre-group intake interviews, the worker should be sure to restate the purpose

during the first meeting and in subsequent meetings.

Workers should take the lead and make a broad but concise statement of purpose to members.

These statements help members to become aware and focus on goals enabling them to reflect on,

and determine, whether they want to become involved in the group. When stating purposes, workers

should be clear about the role of the sponsoring organization, legal and funding mandates, and any

other factors that may affect group members’ participation. Members should be fully informed about

what their participation entails. Workers should use simple straightforward language, interpreting

complicated mandates in terms of what they mean for members’ participation in a group.

Demonstrating that workers are open and willing to inform members fully is one way to build trust

and a working alliance. Encouraging members to have input is also essential because it enables

members to feel that they are partners with the worker in deciding how to proceed. Workers should

do as much as possible to develop a climate that helps members feel that they “fit in” and are

welcome in the group (Paquin, Kivlighan, & Drogosz, 2013). This includes fostering complementary

interactions, when members are helped to identify with their fellow members’ situations rather than

contrasting or comparing their situations to those of other members. Identification with other

members’ situations helps everyone to feel that they have commonalities that build cohesion,

whereas contrasting or comparing situations can lead to alienation, competition, or the enhancement

of perceptions of difference (Maxwell, et al., 2012).

Case Example Statement of Purpose in a Domestic Violence Group

The following statement of purpose was made by a worker in a new group for female victims of

domestic violence at a shelter: “This group will provide support, empowerment, and resources to all

of you who have experienced domestic violence and homelessness as a result of having to flee from

the person who abused you. This domestic violence shelter has a long history of helping people like

you in similar situations. Here we encourage you to keep confidential all that is shared while at the

same time being supportive and empathic as we help one another heal and transition to a better life

path. Remember, this is a safe space where you can share whatever you want, to the extent that

you want. It is expected that you will help each other and that we will also do our part to support you

in your path to a better life.”

Notice how this statement of purpose encourages members to trust that the worker and fellow

members will engage in a process of healing and growth through mutual aid and support in the safe

environment of the group. The statement illustrates the worker’s attempt to foster a therapeutic

alliance among all participants. It emphasizes safety, security, freedom to participate, and mutual

aid, and explicitly acknowledges members’ rights to share only as much as they are comfortable with

disclosing. The worker can then go on to discuss confidentiality and the safety features in the

sponsoring organization that protect anonymity, which are so important to members of these kinds of


Helping the Group Define Its Purpose

Construct a brief statement of purpose and clearly articulate it to the group.

Present the purpose as a positive statement that includes what members can accomplish.

When possible, have members present and discuss their views of the group’s purpose, especially

when orienting new members to the group.

State the purpose in a manner that enhances members’ “fit” within the group.

Mention the importance of members feeling secure and safe during emotional disclosures.

Emphasize the importance of identifying with members’ situations.

Encourage mutual aid and complementary interactions that build camaraderie and dispel distrust.

Do not focus on differences and conflicting viewpoints in early group meetings

Highlight commonalities and shared visions for a better future.

Discuss the role of the group in relation to its sponsoring agency, stressing the mutual contributions

that can be made by both the group and the agency.

Involve members by asking for feedback, and use this feedback to refine or modify the purpose.

The group’s purpose should be presented in a positive and hopeful manner. In a classic book,

Frank (1961) pointed out the importance of persuasion, expectancy, and placebo effects in

psychotherapy. These factors are also present in group work practice. Presenting a positive, hopeful

image of what can be accomplished in the group makes use of the beneficial effects of these

cognitive expectancies. Rather than focusing on members’ problems or concerns, the worker can

express the group’s purpose in terms of members’ strengths and resiliency and the goals to be

accomplished. Thus, statements that focus on positive objectives and goals, such as “Through this

group experience you can learn to build on your. . .,” “With the assistance of fellow group members

you can get in touch with your strengths to overcome. . .,” or “Through all of our efforts in this task

force we can. . .,” are preferable to statements that focus on the negative aspects of problems or


If the worker has successfully led a previous group …