Prevention Corner

The subject of training in group prevention is a frequently discussed topic at conferences and conventions these days.

Elaine Clanton Harpine, PhD
Elaine Clanton Harpine, PhD

Elaine Clanton Harpine, PhD

The subject of training in group prevention is a frequently discussed topic at conferences and conventions these days. Through the Prevention Corner, we have also received numerous questions about how to receive training and exactly what type of training is needed in order to be effective in group prevention. We turn to two experts in prevention groups to give us some guidance. Before addressing our editorial question directly though, let us turn to a definition of prevention groups presented in the 2010 Special Issue on Group Prevention in Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice to remind readers of the depth and nature of prevention groups.

Prevention groups utilize group process to the fullest extent: interaction, cohesion, group process and change. The purpose of prevention groups is to enhance members’ strengths and competencies, while providing members with knowledge and skills to avoid harmful situations or mental health problems. Prevention groups occur as a stand-alone intervention or as a key part of a comprehensive prevention program. Prevention encompasses both wellness and risk reduction. Preventive groups may focus on the reduction in the occurrence of new cases of a problem, the duration and severity of incipient problems, or they may promote strengths and optimal human functioning. Prevention groups encompass many formats. They may function within a small group format or work with a classroom of thirty or forty. Prevention may also be community-wide with multiple group settings. Prevention groups use various group approaches. Psychoeducational groups are popular and, while some prevention psychologist work within a traditional counseling group, others use a group-centered intervention approach. Two key ingredients for all prevention groups are that they be directed toward averting problems and promoting positive mental health and well-being and that they highlight and harness group processes (Conyne & Clanton Harpine, 2010, p. 194).


Conyne, R. K., & Clanton Harpine, E. (2010). Prevention groups: The shape of things to come. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 14, 193-198. doi:10.1037/a0020446


Dear Prevention Corner:

What type of training is needed for people working in a prevention group? What should you include in a training program?



Suggestions for Training in Prevention Groups

Robert K. Conyne, PhD
Robert K. Conyne, PhD

Robert K. Conyne, PhD
William M. Allen Boeing Endowed Chair & Distinguished Professor,  Seattle University (2013-14)
Professor Emeritus, University of Cincinnati

Training in prevention group leadership needs to help learners to become informed about and develop competencies in:  (a) prevention knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values as they relate to mental health; (b) group leadership best practices grounded in evidence bases, ranging across the domains of planning, performing, and processing and emphasizing psychoeducation and active interaction; and (c) how to integrate and apply these two elements (Conyne & Horne, 2013; Conyne, 2014). Each of these elements is briefly expanded below.

Prevention principles and processes:  Particular attention should be placed on a systemic, ecological vantage point;  on collaboration, group processes and consultation;  on personal attributes sensitive to prevention (e.g., persistence, social justice, and a long-range view);  and on cultivating adoption of a primary prevention perspective emphasizing incidence reduction and a proactive, before-the-fact orientation  (Conyne, Horne, & Raczynski, 2013). Prevention applications should be informed by the American Psychological Association Guidelines for Prevention in Psychology (APA, 2013).

Group leadership best practices:  Special focus needs to be given to best practice guidelines (e.g., Association for Specialists in Group Work, 2007). These include planning and designing groups collaboratively with representatives of the designated population, respecting their unique ecological context (Conyne & Diederich, 2014, Rapin & Crowell, 2014);  performing/delivering  groups and group activities that accentuate member connection and interaction while providing clear opportunities for intentional skill development and feedback (Clanton Harpine, 2010; Marmarosh & Dunton, 2014); and assisting members to process their learning to engender meaning and to increase the likelihood of current and future application (Ward & Ward, 2014).

Integration Trainees need opportunities to conduct prevention groups under supervision.  Practica and internships afford the best places for this watchful practice to occur.  They need coursework in program development and evaluation to assist their abilities to design prevention group programs that include the components I’ve mentioned.  They need group training in basic and advanced leadership knowledge and skills.  Learners need seminars that allow them to evolve the all-important primary prevention perspective, which allows them to apply traditional and basic competencies to promote and prevent, as well as to remediate.


APA (2013).  Guidelines for prevention in psychology.

ASGW (2007). Best practice guidelines 2007 edition

Clanton Harpine, E. (2013).  Prevention groups. Thousand Oaks, CA:  Sage.

Conyne, R.  (2014).  (Ed.).  Group work practice kit.  Thousand Oaks, CA:  Sage.

Conyne, R., & Horne, A. (2013) (Eds.).  Prevention practice kit.  Thousand Oaks, CA:  Sage.

Conyne, R., Horne, A., & Raczynski, K. (2013).  Prevention in psychology:  An introduction to the Prevention Practice Kit.  Thousand Oaks, CA:  Sage.

Marmarosh, C., & Dunton, E.  (2014). Groups:  Fostering a culture of change.  Thousand Oaks, CA:  Sage.

Rapin, L., & Crowell, J. (2014).  How to form a group.  Thousand Oaks, CA:  Sage.

Ward, D., & Ward, C.  (2014).  How to help leaders and members learn from their group experience.  Thousand Oaks, CA:  Sage.


Arthur M. Horne, PhD
Arthur M. Horne, PhD

Arthur M. Horne, PhD
Dean Emeritus and Distinguished Research Professor
University of Georgia

 “What type of training is needed for people working in a prevention group?”

For persons learning to be effective leaders with prevention groups the most important training issue is awareness. Awareness has two parts:

  1. 1. Awareness of why prevention is critical. That, as Albee (1982) has said, “We must recognize the fact that no mass disorder affecting large numbers of human beings has ever been controlled or eliminated by attempts at treating each affected individual or by training enough professionals as interventionists” (p. 1045). Developing an understanding of the importance of a preventative approach is critical to being an effective prevention group facilitator.
  2. Steps necessary to migrate from a life saver to a swim coach; from a mechanic to a gardener. Letting go of addressing the crises of the moment and moving back to developing the skills to recognize, identify, evaluate, and engage problems that are systemic, and preventable, rather than first order, and thus focus energy on stopping the problem from happening rather than treating it after it has occurred.

“What should you include in a training program?”

Much of the effort to change orientation from problem focused crises to solution focused prevention efforts takes a reorientation to problems. This will include a values clarification process which challenges participants to understand: what values are driving you? If immediate engagement and problem solving is a driving force, then treatment through solving problems in the here and now should be respected, honored, and allowed. If, on the other hand, participants are interested in developing long-term solutions to problems, to preventing the conflicts from ever occurring, it will be necessary to honor the values of prevention work and let go of the guilt of not being available for the crises while time is spent on long-term prevention engagement. In family therapy terms, the leader will need to understand the importance of letting go of first order behavior change and, instead, focus on second order change.

It is critical that we address hunger in America, and taking steps to provide support for the hungry of our streets is a worthwhile and noble act. But feeding the hungry is a first order change. On the other hand, hunger in America exists because we have a gross misdistribution of resources; we have sufficient food for all in our nation, but with the jobless rate, the homeless rate, and the poor economic circumstances, hunger becomes a byproduct. A second order change would be to address the issues that allow for homelessness, joblessness, and hunger to exist in the first place. But that is a much bigger challenge and one that takes enormous effort. The first step is for the facilitator of prevention groups to begin thinking differently.


Albee, G. W. (1982). Preventing psychopathology and promoting human potential. American Psychologist, 37, 1043-1050.

What do you think is needed to effectively train group workers to use group prevention techniques effectively? We would like to continue this discussion and invite your comments and responses. Our next column will be devoted to the responses that we receive. Let us hear from you. We welcome your participation. We invite psychologists, counselors, prevention programmers, graduate students, teachers, administrators, and other mental health practitioners working with groups to network together, share ideas, problems, and become more involved. Please send comments, questions, and group prevention concerns to Elaine Clanton Harpine at



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