Book Review

Group Work Leadership: An Introduction for Helpers by Robert K. Conyne

Donald E. Ward Ph.D.
Donald E. Ward Ph.D.

Donald E. Ward’s Book Review of

Group Work Leadership: An Introduction for Helpers by Robert K. Conyne

On occasion, those of us who practice, teach about, and study groups come across a book that provides a fresh perspective by presenting a wealth of information that highlights and summarizes existing knowledge in a novel manner and also introduces newer topics that have not been included in traditional models but hold promise for future development of the field. One of a number of books in a series published by Sage entitled Counseling and Professional Identity in the 21st Century, Bob Conyne’s Group Work Leadership: An Introduction for Helpers, is clearly an example of this somewhat rare phenomenon.

Dr. Conyne’s credentials speak to his ability to assimilate group work theory from a variety of professional perspectives. Although he has never sought recognition and accolades, his record of scholarship and service is extraordinary. His active involvement in the Society for Group Psychology and Group Psychotherapy of the American Psychological Association, as well as in other APA divisions, in the Association for Specialists in Group Work and other divisions of the American Counseling Association, and the American Group Psychotherapy Association involved service to the profession through serving as president Division 49, president of ASGW, and Editor of the Journal for Specialists in Group Work. He was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the APA’s Prevention section, the Eminent Career Award by the ASGW, and he was elected fellow of three divisions in the APA (divisions of group psychology and group psychotherapy, consulting, and counseling psychology), and a fellow ASGW. These many experiences allow him to undertake the challenge of offering a book that is comprehensive in its approach to basic counseling theory and practice but practical and very reader interactive, translating complex theory and ways of understanding and applying group work into meaningful elements that beginning and experienced trainees can master and internalize. This is consistent with Dr. Conyne’s admiration for the foundational work of Kurt Lewin and the principles that good theory can be put into practice and studied and that reflective practice is central to group work learning and practice.

How is the material presented? The book contains three major sections: Section I Group Work Is a Comprehensive and Unique Approach, Section II: Critical Elements of Group Work, and Section III: Meaning, Action, and Professional Identity in Group Work. Chapter One introduces the metaphor of group work as an umbrella under which the four ASGW group types are introduced: task groups, psychoeducation groups, counseling groups, and psychotherapy groups. Beginning in this chapter and continuing throughout the book, the reader is engaged in the content with multiple case illustrations and learning exercises, an interactive learning model commonly used in modern pedagogy. The fundamental documents that have helped the group work profession to develop are presented and discussed in Chapter Two: training standards, best-practice guidelines, ethics, and multicultural principles. Dr. Conyne provides a cogent examination and discussion of the current adequacy of the CACREP Standards related to group work from drawing upon his experience as a counselor education chair and program coordinator and a CACREP board member. Chapter Three includes the core variables of helping groups to develop and to work as coordinated units to maximize outcome, group dynamics and group processes.

Leadership is introduced, defined, and discussed from a variety of perspectives in Chapter Five. Emphasizing basing leadership on best practices guidelines, Conyne stresses leadership as collaborating with members, building and maintaining a group climate, processing with members during group sessions and by leaders between sessions, and co leadership. He particularly emphasizes Yalom’s eleven therapeutic factors as the core mechanisms in the interpersonally centered approach to group psychotherapy (Yalom, 1995; Yalom & Leszcz, 2005). Unlike most introductory group work books, Conyne does not present multiple chapters covering the application of primarily individual theories of counseling and therapy to group work. The sixth chapter is pivotal in that it summarizes the traditional individual therapy approaches and also gives special attention to six transtheoretical orientations that he views as compatible with group work. A major emphasis of the author in the book is that group workers need to move toward developing actual group theoretical models to guide practice and research. He includes the potential contribution of interpersonal neurobiological theory on the frontier of future development for group workers. Chapter Seven describes functions, styles, and competencies as the building blocks of leadership. Yalom’s four leadership functions are presented, described, and represented in a number of activities to engage the reader in comprehending their meaning. Conyne then presents three approaches to leadership style: Lewin’s autocratic, democratic, laissez-faire conceptualization; the task versus interpersonal relationship (social-emotional) model; and the compendium of leadership types created by combining varying amounts of Yalom’s four leadership functions. Methods, strategies, and techniques are presented in Chapter Eight. Covering a topic at which Conyne is at his best, he summarizes and describes clinical wisdom that may be used to guide the selection of facilitative group interventions in a meaningful and understandable manner.

Reflecting on Group Work Practice is the title of Chapter Nine in which within- and between-session processing are again described and explored. Particular attention is given to Conyne’s Deep Processing Model (1999). Group worker self-care is addressed, a critical topic due to the emotional demands of the complex and intense phenomenon that is group work. Chapter Ten, Selecting Effective Interventions, provides detailed examples of the appropriate selection of interventions most applicable to sample scenarios in the four types of group work. Learning activities are again very useful to help the reader to engage with the process. Finally, a brief Epilogue is provided in which the author comments about his own perspective on the material presented in the book.

Bob Conyne brings his lifetime of teaching, studying, and practice in a variety of settings and types to this very rich and engaging description of how to understand and practice the complex and fascinating group work phenomenon. The modern formatting of cogent presentation of content with frequent and excellent case examples and learning activities help to involve the reader in the learning process. This parallels the group work process itself in which leaders work to collaborate with members to engage in the work of the group. As well as an excellent text and resource for those learning and continuing to practice, it comes alive because, as the author states, he is describing the extensive and exciting result of his having been “bit by the group work bug” nearly fifty years ago (Conyne, 2014, p.xxvii). This book is an invitation to readers to join him in the “infection” that is group work.

Conyne, R. K. (2014). Group work leadership: An introduction for helpers. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Conyne, R. (1997). A developing framework for processing experiences and events in group work. Journal for Specialists in Group Work, 22, 167-174.

Yalom, I. (1995). The theory and practice of group psychotherapy (1st ed.). New York, NY: Basic Books.

Yalom, I., & Leszcz, M. (2005). The theory and practice of group psychotherapy (5th ed.). New York, NY: Basic Books.