Brief Articles

Group-Centered After-School Community-Based Prevention Program

Anna Thompson, MA
Anna Thompson, MA

Anna Louise Thompson, MA
University of South Carolina Aiken

Over the past few years, South Carolina has started to implement The Common Core State Standards (CCSS). CCSS is “a set of clear college- and career-ready standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts/literacy and mathematics” (Common Core State Standards Initiative, 2014). This study focuses on the English language arts portion starting in 2011. CCSS began its transition period in South Carolina in the year 2011. This school year, 2013-2014 CCSS is being used for instructional purposes and by next year, 2014-2015, it will be fully executed (South Carolina State Department of Education, 2014). Reading scores have shown a slight improvement during the past 3 years since CCSS has been implemented. In 2011, the growth rating of Aiken in the SC Annual School Report was below the average mean but in 2012 and 2013 the scores improved to above the average mean. Unfortunately, the overall percent scores of South Carolina and Aiken County have been below the national average for the past three years. The majority of students, 39%, tested in public schools in Aiken County were below basic, which is below the average score, in reading. Thirty-four percent of students tested at basic, 25 percent were proficient, which is above the average score, and only 7% tested at advanced, which is the highest level possible, in reading (South Carolina State Department of Education, 2014).

Even though the growth of Aiken County School District showed improvement, there is still much needed work. The growth average of student’ scores reflect improvement from one testing period to the next (South Carolina State Department of Education, 2014). Reading scores in Aiken County increased from 2011 to 2013 from 74.1% to 74.6%, only a .5 difference (South Carolina State Department of Education, 2014). The reading score percent is the reading scores of children, amount correct divided by the total, converted into a percent out of 100 (South Carolina State Department of Education, 2014). The national scores have also increased, but at a higher rate going from 74.3% to 76.9%, a greater difference of 2.6 (South Carolina State Department of Education, 2014). This may imply the CCSS is making an improvement, but not a great enough improvement to really make a difference. By implementing the CCSS, the goal is to have all children learn the same material to give everyone a chance to thrive in the community. It also allows for teachers to understand what all of the children need to learn.

This idea of common standards may not work for all children. Children work and learn at different speeds and ways, which entail not all children learning in the same program. Some children may fall behind in school because they cannot keep up the fast pace of staying with the other classmates. Teachers have certain standards they must implement during the school year in order to follow along with CCSS. The Reading Orienteering Club (ROC) program allows for children who are failing in reading, to learn the basics they need to thrive in this fast paced society. ROC helps children learn how to read and understand what is being read, along with working together as a group to help with behavior problems that may happen in the classroom setting (Clanton & Harpine, 2013).

Family Structure and Literacy
Teachers in the public and private schools interact with the children on an almost daily basis to teach them the needed information to thrive in today’s society. Teachers and parents need to work together in order to help educate children. The family can help influence good learning outcomes. Some children are given more educational experiences through living with more than one parent. Other children have a harder time learning due to ever changing environments such as changing out-of-home placements. One factor in a child’s reading ability may be the type of family structure and environment the children are being raised in.

There are many different aspects to a family structure, many of which involve the specific family members. These include single parent families, families with both biological parents, and even parents whom are not the biological parents. These different family structures, given the right tools, could continue to raise children who show great strides in learning material in school. Family structure in this study is defined by who is in charge of the household. In family settings that have two biological parents, one or both parents have a job and one or both parents help around the house. In family settings where there is only one biological parent, the mother is in charge of the household. When there is no biological parent, the participants were in out-of care homes such as foster homes or organizations that give residency to children up to the age of 21 years old. These children have been court ordered by the South Carolina Department of Social Services or the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice to stay in custodial care.

Literacy includes reading, spelling, and comprehension. Literacy is important especially as a child due to the influence it has on later life experiences including jobs, secondary education, and day to day activities. Literacy affect’s not only a child’s schooling, but also their adult life which may result in poor adult outcomes. Spelling is the skill of putting letters together correctly to form a word and reading is the skill of putting these letter sounds together to read written or printed material aloud (Clanton Harpine, 2013). Comprehension is the ability to understand what is being read and use what is read to: elaborate on material, continue with stories, apply it to today’s world, and complete activities based off reading material (Clanton Harpine, 2013). During Petrill, Deater-Deckard, Schatschneider, and Davis’s adoption study, they realized that the family environment was related to reading results instead of genetics (2005). The current study includes children from several family structures to expand on the thoughts of family environment. Literature has also shown the influence of foster care on children’s literacy knowledge. Zima and associates (2000) acknowledged the fact of other studies showing behavior and academic issues arising from the different types of foster care including “non-kinship family, therapeutic, and group” (p. 89). A few of these foster cares are represented in this present study.

This study describes the outcomes of the ROC, “a year-long group-centered after-school community-based prevention program that emphasizes phonological awareness, reading and writing, spelling, and intensive hands-on instruction” (Clanton Harpine, 2013, p. ix). Group intervention involves children working as a team to complete tasks set before them. Each child is responsible for their own work, but work in groups using the same tools, instructions and helping each other when needed. The ROC uses vowel clustering, the 4-step method, and group-centered prevention interventions to improve the literacy scores and behavior of the children, primarily 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders, of Aiken County in South Carolina. The step method involves having the children: (a) capture tricky words, words they do not know, (b) write the word correctly, (c) look up the words in the dictionary to find the definition, (d) and write sentences using these words (Clanton Harpine, 2013). This lets the children correct themselves, learn a new word, and get a better comprehension of the word. The main goals for this program is for the children to practice “reading, writing, spelling, focusing their attention, comprehension, following step-by-step instruction, learning new words, and practicing a specific vowel cluster for the day” (Clanton Harpine, 2013, xi).

At the ROC, a goal is to bring a child from reading below the appropriate reading level to reading at or above their age level (grade). One study conducted used children from 14 elementary schools (Hatcher et al., 2006). The children were split into two groups. One group received small group intervention for 20 weeks and the other received the intervention for only the second 10 weeks. During the first 10 weeks of the full 20 week program, students improved more than the other children who did not receive the first half of the program (Hatcher et al., 2006). On the other hand the second group who only received the small group intervention during the second set of 10 weeks, caught up to the first group. This may mean the amount of small group intervention does not matter, only that it is utilized. The current study also looks at how long each of the 32 participants stayed in the ROC program and their final scores.


The participants of this study included 32 children who received no compensation or coercion in participating. The children were in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade. There were 15 male participants and 17 female participants. All the participants were enrolled in the Aiken County school system. Twenty-six of these participants were enrolled in public school. One participant was enrolled in a charter school and five were home schooled. Ages ranged from 5 years old to 12 years old. Nine participants were Caucasian, 21 participants were African American and two were of mixed decent. Of the 32 participants, 14 lived with two biological parents, 12 lived with one biological parent, and six lived with no biological parents. Twenty-one students were able to stay in the correct grade level occupied by their age group, while seven were one grade level behind, five were two grade levels behind, and one participant was five grade levels behind.

Materials and Procedure
In order to correctly test the level of each child, the children all completed the same test. The skills were assessed using the Howard Street Tutoring Manual, 2nd ed (2005) by Darrell Morris. The test data on internal reliability, which was 0.85, and validity of test, which was 0.70, was also completed by Morris (Morris, Tyner, & Perney, 2007, Morris & Carter, 1997). The children are first tested before the program begins in the fall to get a starting level. Then the children are tested using the same test in the winter as a mid-point test to see any improvement made and any areas that may need more help. Lastly, the children are tested in the spring at the completion of the program for that year to see how far they improved. Thirteen of the children who completed the ROC program continued for an additional 4 months and were tested before the start of the school new year and again for mid-point testing. In cases of repeated testing, testing effects are those in which children score better on later tests, because they have already complected the test previously. There was no testing effect discovered.

Each child was given the same test during the beginning, middle, and end of the ROC program. The test consisted of reading, spelling, comprehension, and sight word sections. Each section was then split into three more sections, which corresponded to 1st grade, 2nd grade, and 3rd grade levels. Scores were organized by reading level and the amount missed, spelling level and the amount missed, sight word level and the amount missed, and the comprehension scores which consisted of the amount missed by the participants. The data was placed into a SPSS file and then compared.

This study is a quasi-experimental study. The dependent variable is completing the ROC program. The two independent variables are the type of family structure and the time of measurement. This study has a mixed design with the independent variable of, time of measurement, and the type of family structure as the between-subject variable. Three different family structures include: two biological parents, one biological parent, and no biological parents. The groups of children who have no biological parents live in a group home setting or foster care. The 32 children who completed the Reading Orienteering Club (ROC) fall under one of these categories of family structure. Fourteen of these children live with two biological parents and 12 children live with only one biological parent. One child lives in a group setting, and five children live in foster homes. Potential confounding variables include the highest level of the guardian’s education, the amount of encouragement received from the school and home environment, the amount of opportunities given to each child, sex of the children, and the race of the child. The types of schooling include: public school, including charter school and home school.


This study tested the hypothesis that children who participated in the ROC and lived with two biological parents would show greater improvement in reading, spelling, and comprehension than children who lived with only one or no biological parent. The second part of this study involved children completing the ROC program for an additional 4 months. These four months corresponded to one semester in a school year. The second null hypothesis of this study was there would be no relationship between ROC literacy scores and the additional participation. The second alternative hypothesis was, children who participated in the ROC for an additional semester would show greater improvement than the children who only participated for a year. Three groups were compared: children with two biological parents, children with one biological parent, and children with no biological parents.

This hypothesis was tested using a repeated measures ANOVA. It was 3 (FSgroup) x 3 (pre, mid, post) using mixed design. Overall, the three groups of children; children with two biological parents, children with one biological parent, and children with no biological parents had similar improvements in all areas. The only exception would be in the test for spelling. The results showed the group of children with two biological parents had the most spelling words correct before, during, and after the ROC program, only slightly better than the rest. Overall, all groups made little progress throughout the program. The children with one biological parent missed the most spelling words during and after the ROC program. The main effect of family structure was significant. None of the interaction effects between time and family structures were significant.

On the other hand, children with no biological parents had the highest reading levels out of the three groups before and during the program. During the final testing session, the children with 2 biological parents surpassed the other three groups with the reading levels, but did not miss the least number of sight words. In the final testing the children with only one biological parent missed the least amount of sight words. Unfortunately, these children missed the most comprehension questions, but the children with two biological parents missed the least number of comprehension questions. These children also had the highest sight word levels throughout the program and missed the least number of sight words, until the very end when the children with no biological parents, missed the least. There was a significant main effect for reading, F(1, 20) = 9.43, p = .006. There was also a significant main effect for spelling, F(2, 40) = 7.00, p = .002. The main effect for comprehension only approached significant, F(2, 38) = 3.01 , p = .061. The last significant main effect was sight words, F(2, 38) = 14.12, p = < .001.

A second aspect of this study involved 13 children who completed the ROC program for 2 years. These 13 children represent the three different types of family structures in this study. Children living with no biological parents started with the highest level for spelling words, next, were children with two biological parents, and children with no biological parents had the lowest level of spelling. After being in the program for 2 years, all of the children had improved in the level of spelling. Also, the children stayed in the same rank as in the beginning which means the children all improved about the same. Another interesting finding is children who had no biological parents missed the least amount of spelling words throughout the entire program. This trend continues through the reading level, the amount of reading comprehension missed, and level of sight words. There was a significant main effect for reading, F(4, 36) = 3.28, p = .022. There was also a significant main effect for spelling, F(4, 36) = 2.97, p = .032. A significant main effect was not found for comprehension, F(4, 36) = 0.99, p = .428. The last significant main effect was sight words, F(4, 32) = 2.70, p = .048. The participants who completed the additional participation in the ROC program showed greater improvement in literacy.

In concern with the original hypothesis of children who participated in the ROC, living with two biological parents would show greater improvement in reading, spelling, and comprehension; the amount of sight words missed showed support. The children who lived with two biological parents went from missing the most sight words, to missing the least amount after the 2 years. The amount of reading missed also supported this hypothesis due to the children living with two biological parents missed the largest number of words while reading in the beginning of the ROC program and then missed the least amount after 2 years.


There was no support for the hypothesis that children who participated in the ROC and who lived with two biological parents would show greater improvement in reading, spelling, and comprehension. All three groups had similar scores for the pretests, midtests, and posttests. There was also no interaction with time and all groups showed similar changes over the course of the program. All the children improved despite their type of family structure; one biological parent, two biological parents, or three biological parents.

There are many reasons for the hypothesis to not be supported. The hypothesis may have been correct but the problem may lie in the study itself. There are many different confounding variables. Some of these include: the sex of the child, any extra help, the type of school, grade, age, race, and the amount of levels held back. Gender was an aspect looked at during this study, in order to help explain the results. A statistical significance was the found for the race of the children living with one biological parent; there were more females than males. Out of these children, more females read better than males.

Concerning the ages of the participants, the participants were the ages of 5 and 8 years old. Of these children, only 3 out of the 17 participants had some sort of after school care which involved which involved community-based and free after-school care for low socio-economic neighborhoods. In fact, one child who was 8 years old, participating from a community-based after-school program made the lowest scores in spelling by missing the most words. Also, one participant who was placed in an out of home placement, made the lowest scores of all the children which made the scores skewed. Concerning the schooling, only five out of the 34 participants were home schooled. These participants were about the same in dealing with overall scores within the group. For future studies, these different confounding variables should be looked into in detail in order to determine which makes the most impact on the child. The concept behind the ROC program is to help all children learn how to read in order to better their lives now and in the future. The ROC program is able to accomplish this goal by having all children start at the same beginning step (E. Clanton Harpine, personal communication, May 8, 2014).

A follow-up study is planned to commence this fall 2014 and results are planned to be reported in TGP.


Clanton Harpine, E. (2013). After-School Prevention Programs for At-Risk Students. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4614-7416-6

Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2014). Retrieved from

Gayán, J., & Olson, R. K. (2001). Genetic and environmental influences on orthographic and phonological skills in children with reading disabilities. Developmental Neuropsychology, 20, 487–511.

Hatcher, P. J., Hulme, C., Miles, J. V., Carroll, J. M., Hatcher, J., Gibbs, S., & … Snowling, M. J. (2006). Efficacy of small group reading intervention for beginning readers with reading-delay: A randomised controlled trial. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 47(8), 820-827. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2005.01559.x

Petrill, S. A., Deater-Deckard, K., Schatschneider, C., & Davis, C. (2005). Measured environmental influences on early reading: Evidence from an adoption study. Scientific Studies of Reading, 9(3), 237-259. doi:10.1207/s1532799xssr0903_4

South Carolina State Department of Education. (2014). Retrieved from

Zima, B. T., Bussing, R., Freeman, S., Yang, X., Belin, T. R., & Forness, S. R. (2000). Behavior problems, academic skill delays and school failure among school-aged children in foster care: Their relationship to placement characteristics. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 9(1), 87-103. doi:10.1023/A:1009415800475

Brief Articles

Concurrent Group Therapy with Parents: An Exploratory Study – Part I

Elisabeth Counselman Carpenter, LCSW
Elisabeth Counselman Carpenter, LCSW

Elisabeth Counselman Carpenter, LCSW

Note. This article has been broken into two parts. The first part (in this issue of TGP), provides an introduction to and literature review of concurrent group therapy. Part II, which will be included in the next issues of The Group Psychologist, describes the author’s exploratory study.


Parents of children with emotional, behavioral and learning issues, severe mental illness, or other problems that require treatment are particularly vulnerable. This population has been found to be at risk for high levels of stress (Levac, McKay, Merka, & Reddon-D’Arcy, 2008), increased social isolation (Levac et al., 2008), feelings of incompetence and guilt (Goodman, 2004), and the recipients of social stigma (Banach, Iudice, Conway & Couse, 2010; Gruber, Kajevic, Agius, & Martic-Biocina, 2006; Levac et al., 2008). In addition, parents of children with unusual needs (medical, emotional, behavioral or cognitive) are identified as having a greater risk for depression, anxiety, loneliness and feelings of hopelessness (Foreman, Willis & Goodenough, 2005; Levac. et al., 2008). While their children may be receiving treatment, this at-risk population of parents may not be receiving the services that are needed.

One form of parent groupwork that appears to be particularly under-utilized is concurrent parent group therapy. Concurrent group therapy, as identified by this author, is defined as the treatment modality in which some members of a family system participate in groupwork while other members of the family system participate in another group that is running at the same time, or participate in a group directly related to the group in which other members of the family system are participating. For concurrent parent group therapy, the parent group takes place while children are meeting in their particular form of group treatment. While concurrent refers to the timing of the groups, the types of group work do not necessarily need to coincide. For example, parents may participate in a psychoeducational or mutual aid group while children may participate in a support or psychodynamic group. Concurrent group therapy may also be known by the synonyms ‘parallel group therapy’ or ‘simultaneous group therapy’.

Recently, there has been more focus on how to stimulate the involvement of parents in their children’s treatment in a more holistic manner, which has been identified as a benefit to improving treatment outcomes (Ruffalo, Kuhn & Evans, 2006). This paper: presents current research on the types of interventions used with parents whose children are receiving treatment, with a particular focus on group therapy for parents; reviews the current literature on group work with parents whose children are receiving treatment; and presents the results of an exploratory study of the incidence of concurrent group therapy for parents whose children are receiving treatment.

Literature Review

Groupwork with parents. For parents whose children are receiving mental health services, group work can take place in many different forms, including support groups, mutual aid, problem-solving, psycho-educational, and therapeutic groups. Parent groupwork in multiple modalities has been shown to provide social support (Goodman 2004), provide psychoeducation, encourage advocacy (Levin, 1992), provide organizational opportunities (Levac et al., 2008), and can facilitate a healing experience as well as improve parenting skills (Pickett et al., 2008; Ruffalo et al., 2006). Groupwork with parents has also been found to improve a sense of parental competence, reduce family stress, and improve child-parent relationships (Levac et al., 2008; Ruffalo et al., 2006).

 Concurrent group therapy. The term ‘concurrent group therapy’ does not appear to be commonly used in the group research literature as its own identified modality. In fact, very few results were returned using the electronic search engines (e.g. Google, PsycINfo) in regards to the words ‘parallel,’ ‘simultaneous,’ or ‘concurrent’ group therapy. For example, in one cited study, the modality used was identified by the researchers as one singular group, although it met criteria for concurrent group therapy with two separate parent and child groups meeting individually, yet simultaneously. Semantics and the lack of the use of the phrase ‘concurrent group therapy’ as its own separate modality may be one reason why initial search results were so lacking in the number of studies found.

Goh et al. (2007) acknowledge an overall lack of research in parent-child group work literature, stating that there is a lot of information on parent support groups, but not therapeutic group experiences that involve both parents and their children. Many articles and studies discussed parent groups, children’s groups, or a multi-family group, but not groups that involve children and parents separately in their own groups. Some studies initially claimed to look at a concurrent group process, but in fact the groups studied did not meet the criteria for concurrent group therapy.

The few examples of concurrent group therapy literature between parents and children involve diverse populations and types of group work. Some concurrent groups involve a ‘breakout model’, where part of the group session is spent together while the second part of the group is then separated out for children to be grouped with age-appropriate peers and a separate group for parents. One such group was analyzed by Berry and McCauley (2007) who studied the efficacy of the Intensive Reunification Program (IRP) that took place at a Midwestern child welfare agency. The IRP model involves home-based services for parents who have lost custody of their children and are now in the reunification process. In addition to other concrete services provided, the IRP had twice weekly evening meetings during which concurrent parent group therapy served as the primary modality. Following a community dinner and a group activity for all participants, parents and children met in concurrent, but separate groups for approximately an hour. Parents met as one large group while children were divided into age appropriate sub-groups. Qualitative and quantitative data gathered from staff and participants demonstrated improved parenting skills, social support and a much higher percentage of reunification than families not participating in concurrent group therapy (Berry & McCauley, 2007).

A British study by Dodd (2009) evaluated a support group for women and their pre-school children who were victims of domestic violence. The Young Children and Mothers Group served 10 mothers and their children with the goals of providing therapeutic play therapy for the children, a separate support-group environment for the mothers, followed by a Theraplay experience, which is a play therapy modality for both mothers and children designed to promote secure attachment (Dodd, 2009). Qualitative interviews with the mothers and group leaders indicated that the group experience positively influenced the mother-child interactions and improved the psychological well-being of the adult participants (Dodd, 2009). The interviews also indicated that some of the mothers felt the concurrent model of separating from their children during the group process allowed them to share things with one another that they would not have had their children been present.

Another successful implementation of the concurrent group therapy model was used with children diagnosed with selective mutism and their parents (Sharkey, McNicholas, Barry, Begley & Ahearn, 2008). The groups ran for an eight-week period, and for the parents focused on psychoeducation regarding selective mutism, behavioral management strategies, and support from other parents in a similar situation. The children’s group had a cognitive-behavioral focus designed specifically to reduce anxiety, while also working on building social skills. Findings indicated that children improved their ability to speak at school and in other external settings and in social situations while self-rating scales of parents indicated a decrease in their own anxiety. Six-month follow-up data indicated that results were maintained (Sharkey et al., 2008). However, the sample size was quite small, with only five children and seven parents participating in the study. The authors did not identify this modality as concurrent group therapy, nor do they give any specific reasons for using concurrent group therapy as the chosen modality.

An additional example of concurrent group therapy took place with parents whose children were receiving group cognitive behavioral therapy for severe anxiety (Monga, Young, & Owens, 2009). The children were aged five to seven years old and their group focused on developing CBT skills to manage their symptoms of anxiety. Fourteen children worked with the CBT group therapist while parents met in a separate group. The concurrent parent group focused on psychoeducation regarding childhood-onset anxiety disorders, behavioral management strategies for parents, support, and skill-building for the parents to help their children learn relaxation and desensitization skills. The concurrent group model of using CBT to treat anxiety was found to have a positive impact with parents reporting a better understanding of their children’s anxiety and improvement in their ability to manage their children’s behavior. Children reported an improved ability to recognize anxiety symptoms and verbalize anxiety and reported an overall decrease in anxiety (Monga et al., 2009).

An exploratory study of an eight week concurrent group therapy model for children of divorced parents was found by the authors to appear to have a positive impact (Rich, Molloy, Hart, Ginsbury & Mulvey, 2007). The children’s group focused on talk, play therapy and art designed to help process the divorce related transitions taking place in the children’s lives, while the parents’ group was psychoeducational and supportive in nature. However, formal data collection did not take place in this study, so the findings remain anecdotal (Rich et al., 2007).

Bereavement groups are probably the most widely known for using the concurrent group therapy model. In 2009, The Dougy Center, the National Center for Grieving Children and Families, located in Portland, Oregon served 450 children and 350 parents by offering approximately 26 bimonthly concurrent support groups for parents whose children and teenagers are also participated in age-appropriate bereavement groups (The Dougy Center, 2010). The Dougy Center identifies their group services as a peer support model, with the identified client as the child who is dealing with the death of a family member and concurrent services provided for the parents (The Dougy Center Mission Statement, 2010). Although this is a well-known national organization and has served as a model for other bereavement programs, it is unclear in their literature as to why the concurrent group model is used as their primary modality.

Another reported successful concurrent pre-bereavement group model took place in Worchester, England through the services of St. Richard’s Hospice. Their services were identified as a pre-death support group for families with a terminally ill parent (Popplestone-Helm & Helm, 2009). Although they used a concurrent group therapy model, the authors of the study identifies the modality as a ‘sub-grouping’ of adults and ‘sub-grouping’ of children. Children and parents in separate groups often participated in similar activities and then reconvened as a large group with representatives from each subgroup sharing feedback about the group experience (Popplestone-Helm & Helm, 2009). The concurrent group therapy modality was chosen particularly for this population to allow for the healthy, care-giving parents to participate in a support group with those also struggling with the imminent death of their partner. Data gathered through anonymous questionnaires indicated that the participants found the group experience to be helpful and healing (Popplestone-Helm & Helm, 2009).

One final reported successful model of concurrent group therapy took place for a group for chronically ill children and their parents. Known as the Terrific Tuesday Group, this model met for six to eight group sessions with a theoretically eclectic orientation and highly structured format (Curle, Bradford, Thompson, & Cawthron, 2005). Independent qualitative analysis using grounded theory demonstrated that parents found that the both parents and children felt the groups reduced isolation and empowered both populations to feel that things were not as ‘badly off’ as they had originally thought prior to group participation (Curle et al., 2005). Some of the parental feedback indicated that parents did not always feel like the parent group was a necessary part of the treatment process, which may have some implications for the general utilization of concurrent group therapy model. Again, the missing aspect to this research study is why the research team chose the concurrent group model as their modality. 


Banach, M., Iudice, J., Conway, L., Couse, L. (2010). Family support and empowerment: post autism diagnosis for parents. Social Work with Groups, 33, 69-83.

Berry, M. McCauley, K. & Lansing, T. (2007). Permanency through group work: a pilot intensity unification program. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 24, 477-493.

Curle, C., Bradford, J., Thompson, J., Cawthron, P. (2005). Users view of a group therapy intervention for chronically ill or disabled children and their parents: towards a meaningful assessment of therapeutic effectiveness. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 10, 509-527.

Dodd, L.W. (2009). Therapeutic groupwork with young children and mothers who have experienced domestic abuse. Educational Psychology in Practice, 25, 21-36.

Foreman, T., Willis, F., & Goodenough, B. (2005). Hospital-based support groups for parents of seriously unwell children: an example from pediatric oncology in Australia. Social Work with Groups, 28, 3-21.

Goh, C., Lane, A., Bruckner, A., (2007). Support groups for children and their families in pediatric dermatology. Pediatric Dermatology, 24, 302-305.

Goodman, H. (2004). Elderly parents of adults with mental illness: group work interventions. Journal of Gerontological Social Work, 44, 173-188.

Gruber, E., Kajevic, M., Agius, M., Martic-Biocina, S.(2006). Group psychotherapy for parents of patients with schizophrenia. International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 52, 487-500.

Levac, A., McKay, E., Merka, P., Reddon-D’Arcy, M.L. (2008).Exploring parent participation in a parent training program for children’s aggression: understanding and illuminating mechanisms of change. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, 21, 78–88.

Levin, A. (1992). Groupwork with Parents in the Family Foster Care System: A Powerful Method of Engagement. Child Welfare, 71, 457-473.

Monga, S., Young, A., Owens, M. (2009). Evaluating a cognitive behavioral therapy group program for anxious five to seven year old children: a pilot study. Depression and Anxiety, 26, 243-250.

Pickett, S., Heller, T & Cook, J. (1998).Professional-led versus family-led support groups. The Journal of Behavioral Health Sciences and Research, 25, 437-445.

Ruffalo, M.C., Kuhn, M.T., & Evans, M.E. (2006). Developing a parent-professional team leadership model in group work: work with families with children experiencing behavioral and emotional problems. Social Work, 51, 39-47.

Sharkey, L., McNicholas, F., Barry, E., Begley, M., Ahearn, S. (2008) Group therapy for selective mutism: A parents’and children’s treatment group. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry 39, 538-545.

The Dougy Center – The National Center for Grieving Children & Families, 2010, (n.d.).Mission & History.Retreived from

Beth Counselman Carpenter, MSW, LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist currently in private practice in Norwalk, CT. Beth holds an undergraduate degree in Sociology from the University of Richmond and a Masters in Clinical Social Work from New York University. Beth is currently a PhD candidate in clinical social work at Adelphi University.

Beth specializes in treating depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, grief and bereavement, life change issues, LGBTQ issues and job concerns as well as postpartum depression, parenting and early childhood issues. She can be reached at


Brief Articles

Group Work with College Students: Integrating Models of Psychosocial Development

Jeritt R. Tucker, MS
Jeritt R. Tucker, MS

Jeritt R. Tucker, MS
Doctoral Candidate, University of Iowa

Although developmental models lie at the foundation of counseling psychology as a discipline (Evans, Forney, Guido, Patton, & Renn, 2009), there are few examinations of developmental models as they relate to group psychotherapy. Of these articles, even fewer focus on the development of college students (Winston, Warren, Miller, & Dagley, 1988), despite the fact that late late-adolescence is a crucial stage in most identity development models (Evans et al., 2009) and that specialized support and guidance is critical for individuals in this stage (Theodoratou-Bekou, 2008). One foundational approach to college student development—psychosocial identity development theory (primarily Erikson, 1968, 1980; Marcia 1980, 1994; and Chickering & Reisser, 1993)—is particularly applicable to group psychotherapy. These models examine how persons successfully resolve developmental tasks through altering their view of self (self-concept), relationships with others (interdependence), and what to do with their lives (derivation of meaning; Evans et al., 2009).

Based on my own more thorough review of this literature, I would like to posit the following five primary recommendations for group work with college student populations:

  1. A critical task in college student development is corroboration of one’s internal experiences with peer reactions and group acceptance (Erikson, 1968). Emphasizing group norms early and often through open processing of “breaches” of group guidelines (advice-giving or obstinate silence) is recommended. Nonjudgmental appeals to other members, rather than directly correcting or identifying breaches, are preferred.
  2. Problems of intimacy (e.g. over identification or inappropriate self-disclosure) are developmentally appropriate for college students and may not be indication of psychopathology (Erikson, 1968). Cohesion building, rather than diagnosis and direct intervention, is a potentially effective antidote to such behaviors.
  3. Imitative behavior and defensiveness may be struggles for foundational identity that are common at this age (Marcia, 1994). Leaders are encouraged to not interpret such resistance but empathize and subtly address it through modelling behaviors.
  4. Fostering healthy interdependence with other members is an effective antidote for clients who exhibit continual needs for reassurance and support (Chickering & Reisser, 1993). Group leaders aware of these patterns may thus look at improving interpersonal communication as a primary means of intervention; perhaps through having other members identify and state specific interpersonal reactions.
  5. College students’ capacity for intimacy; ability to be flexible in tolerating differences in relationships; ability to develop a sense of self in relation to social, historical, and cultural contexts; and ultimately develop personal stability depends on an exploration of multiculturalism (Chickering & Reisser, 1993).  Didactic instruction or intervening at choice-points related to multiculturalism should occur early in group to establish their importance and normalize related struggles.

These recommendations come from consideration of the specific developmental needs of college student groups based on theories of psychosocial development. They generally emphasize greater empathy with college student clients through understanding their unique struggles with identity development and key differences from adult and adolescent populations. A more thorough examination of this rich body of literature may thus offer group therapists even greater awareness of when developmental needs may manifest as choice points and how to effectively intervene.


Chickering, A., & Reisser, L. (1993). Education and identity. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Erikson, E. (1980). Identity and the life cycle. New York: Norton. Erikson, E. (1968) Identity:Youth and crisis. New York: Norton.

Evans, N., Forney, D., Guido, F., Patton, L., & Renn, K. (2009). Student development in college: Theory, research, and practice. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Marcia, J. (1994). The empirical study of ego-identity. In H. A. Bosma, T.L.G. Graafsma, H. D. Grotevant, & D. J. de Levita (Eds.), Identity and development: An interdisciplinary approach (pp. 67-80). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Marcia, J. (1980). Identity in adolescence. In J. Adelson (Ed.), Handbook of adolescent psychology(pp. 159-187). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Theodoratou-Bekou, M. (2008). Psychological maturing and coping strategies: Study based on group process. Groupwork, 18(1), 76-98.

Winston, R., Warren, B., Miller, T., Dagley, J. (1988). Promoting student development through intentionally structured groups. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Jeritt is a 4th year doctoral student in counseling psychology at Iowa State University.  His research objectives include 1) better understanding how stigma interferes with seeking psychological help; and 2) leader characteristics and interventions that best attend to multicultural concerns (particularly religious and spiritual content) and facilitate cohesion to improve client outcomes.