Group psychotherapy has been an important aspect of my career from its earliest beginnings. For several decades I have watched the field of group psychotherapy grow and become a rich service delivery modality. When I began studying and practicing group psychotherapy the literature was not very clear on many aspects of group processes. Many studies were reporting on experiences with very few groups—several with single group designs. Most of the instruments used to measure constructs were created for the studies without sufficient attention to validity or reliability. My experience was that I was entering (and committed to) a field that was still in its adolescence. I was the group coordinator at a large college counseling center for several years and frequently felt that I was trying to advocate for legitimacy for our group offerings. As time passed, it became clearer that groups were adding significant benefit to our clinical services.
For the last decade and a half I have been part of a very active group psychotherapy research team. The literature has become increasingly rigorous, clear, and cohesive. Studies with larger sample sizes, improvements in statistical methods, greater attention to psychometrics, use of standardized measures, and more replications, have all contributed to more compelling evidence for the effectiveness and efficiency of group psychotherapy.
As I have taught beginning psychologists about group psychotherapy theories, principles, and practices, I have witnessed some of them catch the “Group Bug” and then go on to become strong advocates of group psychotherapy themselves. These have been some very rewarding times in my professional life.
In contrast, I have been somewhat saddened in more recent years as some training programs sacrifice their group courses in favor of other offerings. I have felt discouraged when insurers are unwilling to compensate for group psychotherapy at rates that are comparable to other services. Frustration has followed when other providers are hesitant to refer clients to needed group services and are uninterested in learning what groups can offer. In addition, administrators’ continued dismissals of requests for legitimacy for group programs have also been disappointing. The most recent denial of a petition for specialty status for Group Psychology by CRSPPP (Commission for the Recognition of Specialties and Proficiencies in Professional Psychology) was a blow to my positive expectations for the field. I began to feel like I did in my early career—the fear that I might not be hired in the jobs I wanted, that I had chosen a dead-end career that was in decline, and that I was destined to barely scrape by and to feel unsatisfied in my work. However, my career has gone better than I could have ever dreamed in spite of cloudy times and disappointments. I now recognize those doubtful times as developmentally important to help me see beyond the struggles of this year or this decade and to remain committed to what I value.
As a member of the International Board for Certification of Group Psychotherapists and also the Group Specialty Council which is preparing the next petition for specialty status with CRSPPP, I have been able to see more of what is happening in the field. I am more optimistic than ever about the future of group psychotherapy. I am aware of many simultaneous efforts that have potential to propel group psychotherapy into fitting prominence. I am tempering my optimism with my memory that it took much work and several setbacks for my own career to develop. At the same time, my optimism is fueled by confidence that obstacles do not define outcomes. I see great things in our future, and I am pleased to be associated with all of you as we move forward.