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When leading a group, it is the responsibility of the clinical social worker to find a way to enable all members to benefit from the experience. Although some members may not benefit, it is important for the clinical social worker to identify the positive aspects that he/she is witnessing. This strategy may create a feeling of empowerment for the members.

For this Discussion, it may be helpful to review the video of the “Levy” group session again.

Post your description of at least three benefits that are evident in the “Levy” group video. Describe ways this group session has been effective in helping the members of the group.



Table 4.1 A Functional Classification of Group Leadership Skills

Facilitating Group


Data Gathering and



1. Involving group


2. Attending to


3. Expressing self

4. Responding to


5. Focusing



6. Making group



7. Clarifying


8. Cuing,

blocking, and

guiding group


1. Identifying




feelings, and


2. Requesting



and probing

3. Summarizing




4. Synthesizing


feelings, and


5. Analyzing


1. Supporting

2. Reframing and


3. Linking



4. Directing

5. Giving advice,

suggestions, or


6. Providing


7. Disclosure

8. Modeling, role


rehearsing, and


9. Confronting

10. Resolving


member’s actions or words facilitates communication, responding may also lead to additional

data gathering, assessment, or action.

Facilitating Group Processes

Table 4.1 lists several different skills in the category of facilitating group processes. All of these skills can be used by workers differentially, depending on their intentions when attempting to influence various group processes. In general, however, skills in facilitating group processes contribute to positive group outcomes when they improve understanding among group members, build open communication channels, and encourage the development of trust so that all members are willing to contribute as much as they can to the problem on which the group is working.

Involving Group Members

Ideally, all members should be involved and interested in what is being discussed in the

group. Yalom (2005) has called this universalizing a group member’s experience. Involving members who have been silent helps identify commonalities and differences in their life

experiences. As members become involved, they realize how particular problems affect them and

how a solution to one member’s problem can directly or indirectly help them. Involving others is

also essential for building group cohesiveness, developing a sense of mutual aid, and

encouraging shared decision-making.

Involving group members also means helping them take on leadership roles within the group.

The worker should be cautious about doing too much for members and thereby stifling individual

initiative. Instead of jealously guarding the leadership role, workers should encourage members

to contribute to the content of group meetings and help shape group dynamic processes. This can

be done by providing members with opportunities for leadership roles during program activities,

by praising members for their leadership efforts, and by inviting and encouraging members’

participation and initiative during group interaction. For example, the worker might say, “Mary, I

know that you are knowledgeable about that; do you have anything to add to what Tom has

said?” Similarly, the worker might say, “Tom, you did such an excellent job in the role play last

week. Would you be willing to play the part of the angry storekeeper?”

Attending Skills

Attending skills are nonverbal behaviors, such as eye contact and body position, and verbal behaviors that convey empathy, respect, warmth, trust, genuineness, and honesty. Attending

skills are useful in establishing rapport as well as a climate of acceptance and cohesiveness

among group members. Egan (2013) suggests that, in addition to body position and eye contact, skills that indicate that a worker has heard and understood a member are part of effective

attending. Research has shown that effective attending skills are an important characteristic of

successful leaders (Luke, 2014). Effective attending skills include repeating or paraphrasing what a member says and responding empathically and enthusiastically to the meaning behind

members’ communications. They also include what Middleman (1978) has referred to as “scanning” skills. When scanning the group, the worker makes eye contact with all group

members, which lets them know that the worker is concerned about them as individuals.

Scanning helps reduce the tendency of workers to focus on one or two group members.

Expressive Skills

Expressive skills are also important for facilitating group processes. Workers should be able to

help participants express thoughts and feelings about important problems, tasks, or issues facing

the group and to reiterate and summarize them when necessary. Members should also be helped

to express their thoughts and feelings as freely as possible in an appropriate and goal-oriented

manner. Members of task and treatment groups can often benefit from an open discussion of

formerly taboo areas that affect the group or its members. Self-disclosure is an expressive skill

that can be used effectively for this purpose. Although self-disclosures should be made

judiciously, according to their appropriateness for particular situations, they can often be useful

in helping the worker promote open communication about difficult subjects. For example, a

worker might say, “I just lost my mother, who also had been ill for a long time. I know what you

mean, Bea, when you say that watching a loved one slowly decline right before your eyes is so

hard. Your situation is different from mine, because it is your husband, but I can just imagine

how terribly difficult it is for you. Do you want to share with us how you have been coping?”

Responding Skills

Skillful responses help the group as a whole and individual members accomplish tasks. The

worker might, for example, amplify subtle messages or soften overpowering messages (Luke, 2014). The worker can also redirect messages that may be more appropriate for a particular member or the group as a whole.

Workers can use responding skills selectively to elicit specific reactions that will affect future

group processes. For example, if a worker’s response supports a group member’s efforts, the

member is more likely to continue to work on a task or a concern. If the worker disagrees with a

member’s statement or action, the member is likely to react either by responding to the worker’s

statement or by remaining silent. The member is not likely to continue to pursue the original

statement. Thus, by responding selectively to particular communications, the worker can exert

influence over subsequent communication patterns.

Focusing Skills

The worker can facilitate group processes by focusing them in a particular direction. This can be

done by clarifying, asking a member to elaborate, repeating a particular communication or

sequence of communications, or suggesting that group members limit their discussion to a

particular topic. Helping the group maintain its focus can promote efficient work by reducing

irrelevant communications and by encouraging a full exploration of issues and

problems. Tropman (2014), for example, describes the importance of focusing on task groups agendas.

Making Group Processes Explicit

The skill of making group processes explicit helps members to become aware of how they are

interacting. For example, a worker may point out implicit group norms, particular member roles,

or specific interaction patterns. The worker may ask members whether they observed a particular

pattern or type of interaction, whether they are comfortable with the interaction, and whether

they would like to see changes in the ways members interact. Ward (2014) points out that it is important for the worker to verbalize therapeutic group norms and to encourage the development

of traditions and rituals. For example, point out that at the beginning of each meeting members

seem to take turns “telling their story” and receiving feedback about how they handled a

particular situation. This encourages members to consider whether they want to continue this

pattern of interaction.

Case Example Pointing out Group Dynamics

In order to help members understand how their interactions affected the group-as-a-whole, the

leader of a support group for recovering alcoholics often took time out from the discussion of

members’ issues to bring up group dynamics and processes. He noted that members sometimes

ignored nonverbal reactions of other members and often asked members to observe what was

going on with the group-as-a-whole. Eventually, members became more skilled at observing this

and other communication dynamics within the group. The leader frequently asked members to

evaluate the leadership behavior of other members, using this “processing” time to discuss both

member and group strengths. As the group progressed, the leader and members structured these

discussions into the final few minutes of the session, giving them time each week to discuss

group processes.

Pointing out the here-and-now of group interaction is an underused skill (Ward, 2014). Sometimes, workers are so caught up in the content of interaction that they forget to pay

attention to group processes. Other workers are reluctant to make their observations public.

Workers who have difficulty directing the group’s attention to group processes should consider

practicing this skill by setting aside a few minutes at the beginning or end of each meeting for a

discussion of group processes or by making a conscious effort to point out group processes in

brief summary statements at intervals during meetings. Clinical and supervisory experience

suggests that the process of pointing out here-and-now group interaction becomes easier with

practice. A brief example of how to point out here-and-now interactions during group meetings

is presented in the case example.

Clarifying Content

Just as it can be beneficial to make group processes explicit, it can also be beneficial to point out

the content of members’ interactions. The worker’s purpose in clarifying content is to help

members communicate effectively. The skill of clarifying content includes checking that a

particular message was understood by members of the group and helping members express

themselves more clearly. It also includes pointing out when group interaction has become

unfocused or sidetracked by an irrelevant issue.

The skill of clarifying content can also be used to point out the possible avoidance of taboo

subjects. For example, in a support group for caregivers of the frail elderly, the worker might

point out that the subject of nursing home placement has not arisen.

Cuing, Blocking, and Guiding Group Interactions

To help a group accomplish the goals it has set for itself, the worker will often find it helpful to

guide the group’s interaction in a particular direction. To start this process it is helpful to scan the

group to look for verbal and nonverbal cues about group processes. The worker should avoid

getting too caught up in the content of the group and instead should focus on the processes that

are occurring among members. Cuing can be used to invite a member to speak so that the group

stays focused on a topic. It can also be used when the worker wants to move the group in a new

direction by focusing on or cuing a member who has brought up an important new topic for the

group to discuss. Blocking can also be used when a member is getting off topic or is saying

something that is inappropriate. By encouraging a member to speak or by limiting or blocking a

group member’s communication, the worker can guide the group’s interaction patterns. Thus,

blocking can both protect and energize members (Barlow, 2013). Blocking and drawing out members can be used to select communications patterns purposely to help groups to work with

purpose and stay on goal (Barlow, 2013; Luke, 2014).

Case Example A Bereavement Support Group

In a support group for recently widowed persons, members are talking about what to do about

the personal belongings of their loved one who has died. One member, John, starts to talk about

giving things to the Salvation Army. However, the worker scanning the group notices that two of

the other members, Mary and Helen, are having strong personal reactions to the topic of

disposing of their loved ones’ personal belongings. The worker turns to John who had started to

talk about the Salvation Army, mentions that that is a good resource, but asks if he would mind

holding on to that thought until later in the group. The worker then asks if Mary, Helen, or

anyone else would like to share what they are feeling or thinking before getting into the specifics

of how to dispose of the belongings.

The skill of guiding group interactions has many uses. For example, the worker may want to

correct a dysfunctional aspect of the group’s process, such as the development of a subgroup that

disrupts other members. A worker who can skillfully guide group interaction patterns can limit

the communication between subgroup members and increase their communication with other

group members. The worker may also want to use guiding skills to explore a particular problem

or help members sustain their efforts in solving a problem or completing a task. At other times,

the worker may want to encourage open communication. For example, by redirecting a

communication, the worker can help members speak to one another. The worker might say,

“John, your message is really intended for Jill. Why don’t you share your message directly with

her rather than through me?”

Data-Gathering and Assessment

Data-gathering and assessment skills are useful in developing a plan for influencing

communication patterns as well as in deciding on the action skills to use to accomplish the

group’s purposes. These skills provide a bridge between the process-oriented approach of

facilitating group processes and the task-oriented approach of using action skills to achieve goals

and satisfy members’ needs. Without effective data-gathering and assessment skills, workers’

interventions are not grounded in a complete understanding of the situation. This can result in the

use of premature, oversimplified, or previously attempted solutions that have not been carefully

analyzed and weighed.


Behavior: Use empathy, reflection and interpersonal skills to effectively engage diverse clients and


Critical Thinking Question: 1. Group leaders continually gather information in the group. What skills are particularly

important for gathering data about the group?

Identifying and Describing Skills

Perhaps the most basic data-gathering skill is helping members identify and describe a particular

situation. This skill allows elaboration of pertinent factors influencing a problem or task facing

the group. In using this skill, workers should attempt to elicit descriptions that specify the

problem attributes as clearly and concretely as possible. To understand the problem, it is often

useful for the worker to identify or describe historical as well as current aspects of the problem.

It may also be helpful to share alternative ways of viewing the situation to obtain diverse frames

of reference, alternative interpretations of events, and potential solutions to a problem. For

example, the worker might say, “You have given us a pretty complete description of what

happened, Amy, but I wonder, what do you think Jim would say if I asked him to give an

account of the same situation? How do you think he would view this?”

Requesting Information, Questioning, and Probing

The skills of identifying and describing a situation are essential to workers’ attempts to gather

data by requesting information, questioning, and probing. Using these skills, workers can clarify

the problem or concern and broaden the scope of the group’s work by obtaining additional

information that may be useful to all members. The worker should be careful to ask questions

that are clear and answerable. Double questions or value-laden questions may be met with

resistance, passivity, anger, or misunderstanding. For some issues and for some group members,

questioning or probing may be seen as a confrontation or a challenge to what has already been

stated, particularly in areas in which the member is reluctant to give additional information,

because the information is perceived as emotionally charged or potentially damaging to the

member’s status in the group. The worker should be particularly sensitive to these concerns

when seeking additional information from a member. Helping the member explore fears or

concerns about the potentially damaging effect of a disclosure can be a helpful intervention.

Another is asking for feedback from other members about the realistic basis of personal fears.

Summarizing and Partializing

When information about the problems or concerns facing the group has been discussed, a worker

can use summarizing or partializing skills. Summarizing skills enable a worker to present the

core of what has been said in the group. It also provides members an opportunity to reflect on the

problem. Summarizing skills give members and the worker an opportunity to consider the next

steps in solving the problem and allow members to compare with the worker’s summary their

perceptions about what has gone on in the group. Partializing skills are useful for breaking down

a complex problem or issue into manageable bits. Partializing is also helpful in determining

group members’ motivation to work on various aspects of the problem. For example, the worker

might say, “John, I heard you talk a lot about your frustration with the group’s not sticking to its

purpose here. Would you tell us briefly, what you would like to see the group do that we are not

doing right now? . . . Okay, so you are suggesting that we could take three steps to stay on track

better during future discussions. . . . Am I paraphrasing you correctly? Are these the three things

you think would keep us on track?”

Case Example A Single Parents Group

In a single parents group, the worker asks John, a member of the group with partial custody of an

11-year-old son who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, to elaborate on his feelings

about his son who has many behavior problems both at school and at home. In response, John

says spontaneously, “Sometimes I get so frustrated I just feel like bashing his head in,” but then

immediately says he would not do such a thing. Sensing that John feels awkward about what he

just said, the worker asks other members if they have had similar feelings in dealing with their

own children. Several members talk about their frustrations and how they sometimes feel like

they are about to lose control. A good interaction follows when members talk about how they

handle situations when they fear they may lose control. The worker decides to join in and self-

disclose a particular occasion on which she became so frustrated with her child that she had to

leave the room before she did or said something she would regret later. In this way, John and the

other members were able to disclose strong feelings without fear of how they would be perceived

in the group.


Another useful data-gathering and assessment skill is synthesizing verbal and nonverbal

communications. Examples of synthesizing skills include making connections among the

meanings behind a member’s actions or words, expressing hidden agendas, making implicit

feelings or thoughts explicit, and making connections between communications to point out

themes and trends in members’ actions or words.

Synthesizing skills can be useful in providing feedback to members about how they are

perceived by others. Because these skills often involve a considerable amount of judgment and

conjecture about the facts available to the worker, they should be used cautiously, and all

members should have the opportunity for input into the synthesis. Ideally, when the worker

synthesizes a number of interactions or points out similarities in group problem solving or in

group communication patterns, all members should be able to give feedback about their

perceptions of the situation. For example, during a weekly staff meeting of an adolescent unit in

a state mental hospital, a worker might mention the patterns of interactions that have developed

among team members. In describing these patterns, the worker would ask members for feedback

on how they perceived the group’s interaction.

Analyzing Skills

Once the data have been gathered and organized, the worker can use analyzing skills to

synthesize the information and assess how to proceed (Ward, 2014). Analyzing skills include pointing out patterns in the data, identifying gaps in the data, and establishing mechanisms or

plans for obtaining data to complete an assessment (Tropman, 2014). For example, in a treatment conference at a group home for adolescents, the worker can use analyzing skills to

point out patterns used by staff members in previous work with a particular youngster. The group

can then explore new methods and techniques for future efforts to work with the youngster. In an

educational treatment group for potentially abusive parents, the worker can use analyzing skills

to link parents’ behavior patterns to the onset of physical abuse of their children.

Action Skills

Supporting Group Members

Action skills are most often used by the worker to help the group accomplish its tasks. Perhaps

the most basic skill in this area is supporting group members in their efforts to help themselves

and each other. There is also evidence that providing support to others increases one’s own

meaning and self-esteem (Sarason & Sarason, 2009) and mutual aid in the whole group (Shulman, 2014). Skills to support group members will not be effective unless members perceive the group to be a safe place in which their thoughts and feelings will be accepted. Thus,

it is essential to begin by helping the group develop a culture in which all members’ experiences

and opinions are valued. The worker supports members by encouraging them to express their

thoughts and feelings on topics relevant to the group, by providing them the opportunity to

ventilate their concerns, by soliciting their opinions, and by responding to their requests and


Support also means helping members respond empathically to each other, validating and

affirming shared experiences. Skills in supporting members often involve pointing out their

strengths and indicating how their participation in the group can help to resolve their problems. It

also means providing hope for continued progress or success.

Ventilation and support are the primary goals of some groups. For example, support groups are

sometimes formed for the staff of neonatal intensive care units and burn units of regional

hospitals. Such groups give staff a chance to talk about and reflect on the emotionally draining

situations they frequently face. Medical social workers who form and facilitate these groups

encourage staff to ventilate pent-up emotions and provide peer support for one another.

Similarly, the therapeutic elements of a treatment group for recently widowed people include the

ventilation of feelings about the loss of a loved one, the affirmation of similar feelings and

experiences, and the encouragement to cope effectively with the transition despite feelings of


Reframing and Redefining

Often, one of the greatest obstacles to the work of a group or an individual is failure to view a

problem from different perspectives to find a creative solution (Forsyth, 2014; Tropman, 2014). Redefining and reframing the problem can help members examine the problem from a new perspective. Thus, a worker may want to reframe or redefine an issue or concern facing the

group. For example, in a group in which one member is being made a scapegoat, the worker

might help members redefine their relationship to that member. Redefining can be done by

having members talk about how they relate to the person who is being scapegoated and how they

might improve their relationship with that person. In this case, reframing the problem from one

that focuses on the scapegoated member to one that is shared by all members is a useful way to

change members’ interactio