Early Career Group: Diversity in Group Therapy

Jennifer Alonso, PhD

Jennifer Alonso, PhD

Jennifer Alonso, PhD

On January 14 2014 the ECP group of the Membership Committee hosted a conference call on “Diversity in Group Therapy.” The purpose of these calls is to provide a space for questions, dialogue, resources and support. The topic of diversity was selected given the significant impact diversity factors have on group dynamics and process. Recognizing and addressing group members and leaders values, assumptions, bias, and here-and-now reactions is important in creating a space for safety and honesty. This included at least the following aspects of diversity: culture, race, gender, sex, class, religion or spirituality, age and disability. Callers from across the United States described various ways to introduce, discuss, and deepen discussions regarding diversity characteristics present in the group. Leaders may find that creating the norm that the group will be welcoming and affirming begins during the group screening appointment. Other norms to start include: introducing early in the group’s development the idea that diversity will be discussed early on; inquiring about aspects of members’ identity they may be uncomfortable sharing or have difficulty hearing about from other members.  Participants in the call shared that early in group it can be helpful to acknowledge that discussing diversity can be uncomfortable and difficult. Addressing the process may assist members in beginning to discuss diversity without realizing it. Encouraging members to reflect on their previous experiences with discussing diversity can help the leader gauge why they may initially feel unsafe or attacked in group. Work to establish a guideline that members can share their identities and that the group can experiment with using the language preferred by that group member. Afterward, a shift towards content and here-and-now reactions can continue fluidly. Similarly, callers shared that group members have valued when members or leaders of either a different or similar diversity background have dialogued with them.  Given the sensitive nature of diversity discussions, normalize that strong emotions can occur. Group leaders can intervene if a group member says something that is offensive. Providing psychoeducation (e.g., microaggressions) or discussing the importance of language can assist members in being more aware of the words and language used, and the reactions it may bring up in others. Similarly, members might find that processing perceived similarities and differences can end up enhancing cohesion and safety. See below for a list of resources shared during the call:

Research by Eric Chen: Intergroup dialogue regarding multiculturalism and social justice

  • Research by Joe Miles: Group Climate/Intergroup dialogue
  • Research by Nina Brown: Book: Psychoeducational Groups: Process and Practice (2011). New York: Routledge.
  • Shulman, L. The Dynamics and Skills of Group Counseling (Cengage Publishers, 2011)
  • Shulman, L. “Learning to talk about taboo subjects: A lifelong professional task.” In R. Kurland and A. Malekoff (Eds.), Stories celebrating group work: It’s not always easy to sit on your mouth. New York: Haworth Press. (Co-published simultaneously in Social Work with Groups, 25(1)).
  • Shulman, L., & Clay, C. (1994). Teaching about practice and diversity: Content and process in the classroom and the field [Videotapes]. Alexandria, VA: Council on Social Work Education.
  • Shulman, L. (2014) “Unleashing the Healing Power of the Group: The Mutual Aid Process”. In J. DeLucia-Waack, C. Kalodner & M. Riva (Ed.), The Handbook of Group Counseling and Psychotherapy (2nd edition). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

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Categories: Committee Reports

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