Career Paths: Group Psychology and Group Psychotherapy

Lee Gillis, PhD

Lee Gillis, Ph.D.

It is difficult to imagine you will embark on a career path after completing your undergraduate degree in psychology that will not require you to work with a group. Clinical, counseling, social, industrial-organizational, addiction, child and adolescent, military and sport psychologists, among others, all work with groups. We may take different academic paths in graduate school, but we all share a belief in the power of the group. If you have an interest in groups you may wish to consider joining us and becoming a group psychologist or group psychotherapist.

What We Do

Group psychologists specialize in social, industrial-organizational, addiction, child and adolescent, military and sport psychology. We are interested in such issues as researching group factors that help an organization function more efficiently, enable addicts to reduce destructive behaviors, keep youth from bullying one another, lessen the impact of PTSD and allow individuals to perform at peak levels — and that’s just scratching the surface.

Group psychologists are also interested in leadership. For example, we research whether there are natural born leaders. We explore leadership traits that can help transform a group into a high-performing team.

Clinical and counseling psychologists conduct individual, couples, family and group psychotherapy. Research demonstrates that group psychotherapy is as effective as individual psychotherapy (Burlingame, Strauss, & Joyce, 2013), and it costs less. When clinical and counseling psychologists practice in independent practice, community mental health clinics, university counseling centers, veterans’ hospitals, recovery centers or geriatric facilities, to name a few places of employment, they are often asked to conduct group psychotherapy. Groups are efficient; groups are effective.

Group psychotherapy offers its members therapeutic benefits that cannot be as easily obtained in individual therapy. For instance a group member can experience universality — when they realize that at least one other person in their group feels similarly to them, when before, they felt they were the only person in the world who had ever had such feelings. Group psychotherapy can instill hope as group members develop insight and learn social skills while receiving feedback from others.

Why You Should Pursue This Career

If what is projected about your work environment in the future is true, most of you reading this article will be part of a group or team in your work world. The recently revised APA Guidelines for the Undergraduate Psychology Major (PDF, 447KB) places emphasis on enhanced teamwork capacity (Goal 5.4) and specifically states that those with a baccalaureate degree in psychology should be able to, among other things, “collaborate successfully on complex group projects,” “assess basic strengths and weaknesses of team performance on complex projects” and “work effectively with diverse populations.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be an increase in the need for industrial-organizational psychologists at a rate much greater than in other fields of employment. In addition, as mental health care gains parity with physical health care under the Affordable Care Act, demand for psychological services may increase. There is no doubt that psychologists will increasingly work in collaborative teams with medical doctors, social workers and other health care professionals to help provide more interdisciplinary, effective and efficient treatment. As a psychologist who understands both group dynamics and group psychotherapy, you will be a double asset to the teams in which you belong.

How To Get Involved

After graduating with an undergraduate degree in psychology, most group psychologists and group psychotherapists pursue a graduate degree at the master’s or doctoral level. Research psychologists pursue careers in academia or industry. Clinical and counseling psychologists who specialize in group psychotherapy attend doctoral programs accredited by APA, and many pursue a license to practice psychology.

Group psychologists and group psychotherapists may both belong to Div. 49 (the Society of Group Psychology and Group Psychotherapy). The division welcomes all psychologists who believe in the power of group. You can become a student affiliate member of Div. 49 or join us on Facebook, Google+ or LinkedIn. You are also invited to attend our division’s activities at the annual APA convention. We would love to connect with you.

References 

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor (n.d.). Occupational outlook handbook, 2014-15 edition, Psychologists.

Burlingame, G. M., Strauss, B., & Joyce, A. S. (2013). Change mechanisms and effectiveness of small group treatments. In M. J. Lambert (Ed.), Bergin and Garfield’s handbook of psychotherapy and behavior change (6th ed.; pp. 640-689).

This article first appeared in the Psychology Student Network (January 2015).



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