Book Review

Group-Centered Prevention in Mental Health

Group-Centered Prevention in Mental Health

Elaine Clanton Harpine, Ph.D.

Reviewed by John Dagley, Ph.D.

Elaine Clanton Harpine focuses attention throughout her new book, Group-Centered Prevention in Mental Health, on the most important aspect of prevention, namely, “group process.” Unfortunately, to date, prevention efforts have tended to focus solely on various forms of passive reception of information. While we have at least begun to think somewhat developmentally, we have not made as much progress in understanding how important it is to help individuals make a personal investment in processing information. Good intentions are simply not enough, as Harpine points out. Growth and change require more than passive reception of information. If we’re truly committed to making a positive difference in children’s lives, we need to involve them as much as possible in their own cognitive and affective learning. With the kind of substantive help that can come from small group “processing,” all can benefit from good intentions. Harpine draws from her vast experience to show just how this can work effectively in small groups with the right kind of leadership.

Harpine has contributed greatly to our understanding and promotion of prevention group work for years. Her new book is in many ways a dynamic integration of what has worked effectively for her in her small group prevention work with children, adolescents and adults. Harpine knows about group leadership, and particularly about prevention groups. In fact, when it comes to prevention group leadership, she’s among a handful of experienced, enlightened professionals.

One of the strongest contributions Harpine offers in this book is a description of the successful “Reading Orienteering Group” that she has led for years. This unique application of group principles and methods to the development of reading skills is truly a substantive addition to our group-centered prevention work. She’s especially attentive to keeping the reader focused on the importance of both support (process) and challenge (outcome). She’s very open about her commitment to change within the group and within each individual. Her group-centered prevention is not just a feel-good approach. She designs interventions to effect growth and change.

The most outstanding characteristic of the book is its specificity. Harpine keeps the reader focused throughout the book on the specific elements of group-centered prevention work, not just process but product as well. She also stretches the reader to remember the prevention is not just targeted on work with children and adolescents, but with adults and couples as well. She wants and expects prevention group members to change.

There are so many wonderful quotes that I’m tempted to end this review with one, but in a variation of one of most consistent messages offered throughout this book, Harpine offers that group-centered prevention requires action on the part of members (or in this case, readers).