Group Psychotherapy: Sparky Tilts at Windmills

John Breeskin, PhD
John Breeskin, Ph.D.

I am really quite a mellow person, however, when something raises my ire, I react very strongly. This column will illustrate this phenomenon all too well.

I wish to discuss two recent articles, one in the Wall Street Journal and the other similar one in a publication by the American Group Psychotherapy Association. (Of which I am a card-carrying member.) The unhappy title from the Wall Street Journal is, “No Joke: Group Therapy Offers Savings in Numbers.”

The first article is not difficult to read or to understand, as it takes a simplistic view of group therapy as a treatment modality. I have no trouble with this idea; however, the rationale offered is that group therapy is cost-effective, and that should be its selling point. To use cost-effectiveness in this manner is not only misinformed, it is ultimately ridiculous.

Group therapy has inherent benefits, and doesn’t need to be judged on a dollars and cents basis. To make my point, I want to discuss the Great Bed of Ware. There was a tavern, during medieval times, on a main road out of London, where weary travelers could put up for the night. The bed itself was approximately 10′ x 10′ and was covered with a green fabric. It looked like a gigantic putting green. As mud spattered travelers came off the road they were chucked on the outer periphery of the bed with their feet in the middle, while still wearing their boots. There was always room for one more. The warmth of the bodies in the bed was substantial and kept out the chill night air. In addition, people woke up next to one another and shared a common experience. This is my concept of group therapy. We gain warmth, support and belonging as basic human needs.

The article goes on to suggest that the reluctance to consider group therapy as a treatment model is due, in part, to the idea that mental illness is infectious and the feeling that if a therapist’s attention is directed toward another group member, there will be less available to the others. This is a deadly example of the scarcity model. In fact, behavior of one individual and group is a learning laboratory for all of the others. It is an enhancement model. The metaphor here is” Stone Soup.”

The article goes on to say that an inherent problem in groups is to find sufficient clients. This is nonsense: I have run as many as six groups a week with unbelievable attendance. In fact, one men’s group of mine did not have an absent group member for 17 straight weeks. This should go in the Guinness Book of Records.

I consider individual therapy to represent a model of the world which is unhelpful. The idea that one person is there for other person’s benefit suggests that individual therapy is like a hothouse orchid, which can only flourish in an artificial environment. The fact that group therapy powerfully reflects the family of origin is an obvious point. Needs are met, through negotiation, in the marketplace: this is a realistic view of life.

The idea that certain diagnostic categories do not belong in group is erroneous as long as the “Noah’s Ark Rule” is kept firmly in place. (No more than two schizophrenics, no more than two borderlines or no more than two depressives or the group can become symptom driven.) In fact, the idea of more than two depressives in a group is quite depressing.

The idea that a therapist has less power in groups than he or she has an individual therapy just isn’t true since the group leader’s task is to develop indigenous leaders, which, in time, will replace him or her in the center of the group. All is not lost in this article, however, since the final quote is:” By the group we are wounded, and by the group we are healed.”

The second article from the AGPA itself, unfortunately, mimics the first article with the same tired economic rationale but has errors all its own. The statement that children, adolescents and adults can all successfully participate in groups is just plain false. There are specific exclusionary criteria, which flat-out contradict this conclusion.

I hope the reader of these articles will become aware of the inherent value of group therapy as a treatment modality and not get caught up in an economic value argument.


Helliker, K. (2009). No joke: group therapy offers savings in numbers. The Wall Street Journal, D1. Retrieved from

American Group Psychotherapy Association. (2009). Group psychotherapy emerges as a cost-effective and highly beneficial mental health treatment in challenging economic times [Press Release]. Retrieved from


Group Psychotherapy Column: Current Thoughts about Group Therapy Theory

John Breeskin, PhD
John Breeskin, Ph.D.

After 50 years of running a wide variety of groups I am tentatively ready to make some general statements about the field. These thoughts are the result of a lengthy process of my learning and they represent, as clear as I can make them, a part of my current conceptual framework.

I use, as fundamental building blocks, the sequence of:

  1. 1. A focus upon internal- personal learning
  2. 2. A focus upon intra-personal learning
  3. 3. A focus upon transpersonal learning

Another way of saying the same thing is looking inward, looking outward, and looking upward, always remembering that Jungian archetypes are the DNA of the unconscious.

These concepts are fundamentally based upon the four beats on the kettle drum as follows:

  1. Forming
  2. Storming
  3. Performing
  4. Adjourning (A necessary addition which cannot be ignored)

As an additional complicating factor, as if the topic were not complicated enough, the group, from a psychodynamic point of view, operates on two levels simultaneously. Level one consists of the content of the group’s membership with one another and can be thought of as content in the here and now.

The second level, operating simultaneously with the first, consists of the powerful family of origin dynamics which are inextricably merged with level one. The group functions on both levels simultaneously and every action on the part of group members can be looked at through the twisting tube of that kaleidoscope. A group member, for example, can act toward other group members with contempt but he/she is accurately mirroring how he/she was treated when growing up.

A fair pictorial analogy would depict a group therapist juggling tomatoes while blindfolded. Another ingredient in the Stone Soup is, for me, comfortably within this theoretical framework, is whether or not the individual group member presents himself/herself as either a victim or a victimizer. The “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” by Coleridge is particularly appropriate here as is the most famous short story in English literature by Herman Melville called “Bartelby , The Scrivener “ which is, to me, the Victim’s National Anthem.

Still another compelling image from my symbolic toolbox: My clients who define themselves as victims try to pay for my services by using counterfeit gold coins. I carefully bite the coins, learn that they are counterfeit and let my client know that I know. Then I take out a purse of true gold coins and I offer one of them to the client has a temporary loan until he/she can mint one of her own and repay the loan. As to reader will have determined a long time ago, my clients are very high functioning human beings and they have no trouble following me at the symbolic level.

It is my earnest hope that I have succeeded in thoroughly confusing the gentle reader of this paper. That has been my hope from the start. I hope that I have succeeded.

Your Friendly Shape Shifter Who Promises to Continue,


Brief Articles

University-Community Group-Centered Prevention Project with At-Risk Students: Four Year Study

Anna Thompson, M.A.
Anna Thompson, M.A.

Anna Thompson, M.A.

University of South Carolina Aiken


The Reading Orienteering Club (ROC) is a university-community collaborative group-centered prevention after-school project that focuses on the reading ability and comprehension of what children are reading. This program’s concentration is on 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders primarily from a southern small town, population 29,884 with an ever increasing low socio-economic community base. Reading is a vital skill necessary in order to survive and thrive in all aspects of life including school and future jobs. The students who participated in this case study experienced academic problems in reading, spelling, or comprehension. The ROC program, recorded the level of reading, spelling and sight words using a pretest and post-test. Children were evaluated as to their improvement by age: 5 to 7-years-old, 8-years-old, and 9 to 11-years-old. Participation was open, free, and self-selected by the parents, teachers, and other community after-school groups who are affiliated with the students. The 1st hypothesis was: children who begin the program at younger ages will improve more than children who begin when they are older. The 2nd hypothesis was: children who attend the program for more than one year will show greater increases from pre to post test. Overall, the three groups of children showed similar improvements in all literacy areas. Outcomes of the program were positive and provided evidence of significant improvements from pretest to post-test. Results showed that there were no significant main effects or interactions with age group. The 2nd hypothesis was not supported.

Keywords: group-centered prevention, prevention groups, after-school programs, reading failure

This study describes the outcomes of the ROC, “a year-long group-centered after-school community-based prevention program that emphasizes phonological awareness, reading and writing, spelling, and intensive hands-on instruction” (Clanton Harpine, 2013, p. ix). The ROC uses vowel clustering, the 4-step method, and group-centered prevention interventions to improve the literacy scores and behavior of the children, primarily 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders, of Aiken County in South Carolina. The 4-step method involves having the children: (a) capture tricky words, words they do not know, (b) write the word correctly, (c) look up the words in the dictionary to find the definition, (d) and write sentences using these words (Clanton Harpine, 2013). This lets the children correct themselves, learn a new word, and get a better comprehension of the word. The main goals of this program are for the children to practice “reading, writing, spelling, focusing their attention, comprehension, following step-by-step instruction, learning new words, and practicing a specific vowel cluster for the day” (Clanton Harpine, 2013, xi).

Torgesen believes “the ultimate goal of reading instruction is to help children acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to comprehend printed material at a level that is consistent with their general verbal ability or language comprehension skills” (2002, p. 10). At the ROC, a goal is to bring a child from reading below the appropriate reading level to reading at or above their reading level (grade). One study conducted used children from 14 elementary schools (Hatcher et al., 2006). The children were split into two groups. One group received the small group intervention for 20 weeks and the other received the intervention for only the second 10 weeks. During the first 10 weeks of the full 20 week program, students who participated in the intervention improved more than the other children who did not receive the first half of the program (Hatcher et al., 2006). On the other hand the second group who only received the small group intervention during the second set of 10 weeks, caught up to the first group. This may mean it does not matter how long the small group intervention is, but just that the children participate in the intervention. The current study looks at the amount of time spent in the program in order to see if more time spent in the program translates into more improvement. It also looks at whether or not early intervention helps improve test scores. Targeted skills include taking turns and sharing, building self-efficacy, working together, and motivation (Clanton Harpine, 2013). A child’s self-efficacy is their belief that they can succeed.

Motivation Component

Motivation is defined as the inner power that makes people do what they do” (Clanton Harpine, 2013). The key to motivation is that it is something that cannot be forced onto a person, particularly a child. Motivation comes from different experiences and the affect that each experience has on the internal mindset of the child. There are both intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. Extrinsic motivation comes from quick automatic rewards such as ice cream after completing homework or a particular amount of money for every A on a report card. The ROC does not reward students by using extrinsic motivation, but focuses instead on intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is motivation that does not come from receiving a prize after completion but the motivation to complete the task because of the enjoyment and interest in the task at hand. “Intrinsic motivation can help children rebuild their self-efficacy, change their approach to learning, and consequently, change their behavior” (Clanton Harpine, 2008, p. 20).

The creator of the ROC has discovered several items that help a group-centered program like the ROC, build children’s motivation, particularly intrinsic motivation. These according to Ryan and Deci, include: “positive self-efficacy, efficacy expectations, outcome expectations, choice, competence-affirming feedback, and self-determination” (Clanton Harpine, 2013, p. 56). Children are encouraged to continue learning when not only the parents see improvement and give praise, but also when the children themselves see an improvement in the struggling area. The ROC is a program that allows children of different ages to work together as a team and not be judged based on their lower reading skills. Each child has areas that may need improvement. They are able to receive the extra encouragement, helping to increase their intrinsic motivation.

A study conducted by Gottfried, Fleming, & Gottfried (1994) discovered, using a longitudinal study of 9 and 10 year-olds, that the intrinsic motivation practices of the group of 9 year-olds influenced an increase in academic level when they turned 10. The study looked at verbal and math skills. The predications of the experimenters were “children’s academic intrinsic motivation … [would be] positively related to encouragement of task endogeny and negatively related to provision of task-extrinsic consequences” (Gottfried, Fleming, & Gottfried, 1994, p. 104). The results of this study supported these predications in showing the importance of internal motivation in academic success.

The current study looked at the impact of the amount of time spent in the ROC program and the compared literacy scores of 46 children. These 46 children were grouped by age: 5 to 7-year-olds, 8-year-olds, and 9 to 11-year-olds. The hypothesis was that the longer children continued in the ROC program, the more their literacy scores would increase. Another hypothesis of this study was, the early starting ages of children completing the ROC program would result in an increase of later scores. In this study, Literacy includes reading, spelling, and comprehension. Literacy is important especially as a child due to the influence it has on later life experiences including jobs, secondary education, and day to day activities. All of these experiences involve literacy. Spelling is the skill of putting letter sounds together correctly to form a word and reading is the skill of decoding these letter sounds to read written or printed material aloud (Clanton Harpine, 2013). Comprehension is the ability to understand what is being read and use what is read to: elaborate on material, continue with stories, apply it to today’s world, and complete activities based on reading material (Clanton Harpine, 2013).

This study tested the hypothesis that the early starting ages of children completing the ROC program would result in an increase of later scores. This hypothesis was created due to Lyon’s idea that “if children are not provided early and consistent experiences that are explicitly designed to foster vocabulary development, background knowledge, the ability to detect and comprehend relationships among verbal concepts, and the ability to actively employ strategies to ensure understanding and retention of material, reading failure will occur no matter how robust word recognition skills are” (1998, p. 10). Keller & Just showed that the white matter of the brain can change over time, even though it takes more time and is harder with age (Keller & Just, 2009). They tested 62 children with ages ranging from 8-years-old to 12-years-old. Attitude, motivation, and stigmatization of failure play a major role in change with these older children which can cause for change to be more difficult. The second alternative hypothesis of this study was, the longer children continue in the ROC program, the more their literacy scores would increase.



The participants of this study included 46 children who received no compensation or coercion in participating. There were 25 male participants and 21 female participants. Eighteen participants were ages 5 to 7-years-old. Eleven of the participants were 8-years-old. Seventeen of the participants’ ages ranged from 9-years-old to 11-years-old. All the participants were enrolled in the Aiken County school system. Starting ages ranged from 5 years old to 11 years old. Sixteen participants were Caucasian, 28 participants were African American and three were of mixed descent.

Materials and Procedure

In order to correctly test the reading level of each child, the children all completed the same test. The skills were assessed using the Howard Street Tutoring Manual, 2nd ed. (2005) by Darrell Morris. The test data on reliability and validity of test was also completed by Morris (Morris, Shaw, & Perney, 1990; Morris, Tyner, & Perney, 2000). The 46 children were first tested before the program begins in the fall to get a starting level. Then the children were tested using the same test in the winter as a mid-point test to see any improvement made and any areas that may need more help. Lastly, the 46 children were tested in the spring at the completion of the program for that year to see how far they improved. Fourteen of the children who completed the ROC program continued for an additional year and were tested before the start of the school new year and again for mid-point testing. Two of the children continued for an additional third year and received the same testing. Testing effects have been evaluated previously in order that the children are not scoring better on the later tests just because they have already completed the test. There was no testing effect discovered.

Each child was given the same test during the beginning, middle, and end of the ROC program. The test consisted of reading, spelling, comprehension, and sight word sections. Each section was then split into three more sections, which corresponded to 1st grade, 2nd grade, and 3rd grade levels. Scores were organized by reading level and the amount missed, spelling level and the amount missed, sight word level and the amount missed, and the comprehension scores which consisted of the amount missed by the participants. Levels 1, 2, 3 represents before 1st grade. Level 4 represents 1st grade, 5 represents 2nd grade, 6 represents 3rd grade, and 7 represents 4th grade.


This study is a quasi-experimental study. The dependent variable is the scores for each of the literacy areas. The two independent variables for hypothesis 1 are ages of the children and the time of measurement. The independent variable for hypothesis 2 is the amount of time in the program. This study has a mixed design with the independent variable of, time of measurement, and the age and gender of the between-subject variable. Three different age groups include: 5 to 7-year-olds, 8-year-olds, and 9 to 11-year-olds. The 46 children who completed the Reading Orienteering Club (ROC) fall under one of these categories of ages. Eighteen of these children started at the age of 5 to 7-years-old, 11 of these children were 8-years-old, and 17 of these children started at the ages of 9 to 11-years-old.


The first hypothesis was tested using a repeated measures ANOVA. It was 3 (Ages) x 3 (pre, mid, post) using mixed design. Overall, the three groups of children; aged 5 to 7-year-olds, 8-year-olds, and 9 to 11-year-olds showed similar improvements in all literacy areas. The results showed boys and girls improved from pretest to midtests, but not much improvement from mid-test to posttest, no matter their ages, for the level of spelling. Thirty-five percent of the variations in spelling scores were explained by the ages of the participants. There was a significant main effect for age based on spelling, F(2, 4) = 6.93, p = .002. There was also a significant main effect for age based on reading, F(2, 4) = 19.87, p = .000. Overall from midpoint testing to post testing all participants improved; from pretest to posttest, the younger age groups improved. This supports the hypothesis for younger children improving more than the older children, due to a main effect for time based on the age groups, F(4,4), p = .033. Looking at the data generally, everyone still improved. A significant main effect was sight words, F(2, 4) = 9.06, p = .000. From the mid-tests to post-test, the younger children showed improvement. This also supports the hypothesis: the early starting ages of children completing the ROC program would result in an increase of later scores. The last significant main effect was found for comprehension, F(2, 4) = .64, p = .000. From pretest to post-test, all groups improved. The stigmatization of failure, mentioned earlier, may also be part of the reason for not receiving stronger change with the older students.

A second aspect of this study also involved the 46 children. These 46 children represent three years of participation. Thirty children finished the ROC program in one year. Fourteen children took 2 years to complete the program and two of the participants took 3 years to complete. Participants who took 2 years and 3 years to complete the program were put into one group, which was compared to the children who were able to complete the program in 1 year. There was a significant main effect for the amount of time spent in the program based on spelling, F(2, 2) = 5.96, p = .004. Participants improved as much the second years, as they did the first year. Unfortunately, there was not a significant main effect for reading, F(2, 2) = 2.07, p = .133. Everyone did show signs of improvement. A significant main effect was found for comprehension comparing time and years, F(2, 2) = 0.17, p = .007. The children who completed the ROC program in 1 year improved more from midpoint test to post-test. Overall, children who completed the program in 1 year did better than children who took a longer period of time. Lastly there was not a significant main effect was sight words, F(2, 2) = 1.73, p = .184. Participants did still improve overall.


There was not much support for the hypothesis that staying in the program for a longer length of time, increased test scores. The only set of scores that showed significance for this hypothesis was the reading comprehension scores that showed one group improving more from mid-test to post-test. In this instance the group of children who showed significant improvement above the rest was the participants who completed the program in one year.

There are many reasons for the hypothesis to not be supported. One reason for the hypothesis to not be supported involves the nature of the second and third year children. The case may be that the children who have to continue on for another year or 2 have more serious learning problems, which would take more work and time, than the children who finished the program in one year. The analysis itself may also cause for no significance to be reported. Age was reported as a covariate which is a statistical way to look at a comparison group that is not reported. This compares the current data to an above and beyond natural group. The data was briefly analyzed without using age as a covariate, but was not used due to the lack of a real comparison group. Overall, the ROC program has shown improving scores of participants. The concept behind the ROC program is to help all children learn how to read in order to better their lives now and in the future.


Clanton Harpine, E. (2008). Group Interventions in Schools: Promoting Mental Health for At-Risk Children and Youth. New York: Springer. doi: 10.1007/978-0-387-77317-9

Clanton Harpine, E. (2013). After-School Prevention Programs for At-Risk Students: Promoting Engagement and Academic Success. New York: Springer. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4614-7416-6

Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2014). Retrieved from

Gottfried, A., Fleming, J. S., & Gottfried, A. W. (1994). Role of parental motivational practices in children’s academic intrinsic motivation and achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 86(1), 104-113. doi:10.1037/0022-0663.86.1.104

Hatcher, P. J., Hulme, C., Miles, J. V., Carroll, J. M., Hatcher, J., Gibbs, S., & … Snowling, M. J. (2006). Efficacy of small group reading intervention for beginning readers with reading-delay: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Clinical Psychology and Psychiatry, 47(8), 820-827. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.2005.01559.x

Keller, T. A., & Just, M. A. (2009). Altering cortical connectivity: Remediation-induced changes in the white matter of poor readers. Neuron, 64, 624-631. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2009.10.018

Lyon, G. R. (1998, April 28). Overview of reading and literacy initiatives. Retrieved July 14, 2014, from

Morris, D., Shaw, B., & Perney, J. (1990). Helping low readers in grades 2 and 3: An after-school volunteer tutoring program. The Elementary School Journal, 91(2), 133-150. doi:10.1086/461642

Morris, D., Tyner, B., & Perney, J. (2000). Early Steps: Replicating the effects of a first-grade reading intervention program. Journal of Educational Psychology, 92(4), 681-693. doi:10.1037/0022-0663.92.4.681

South Carolina State Department of Education. (2014). Retrieved from

Torgesen, J. K. (2002). The prevention of reading difficulties. Journal of School Psychology, 40(1), 7–26.

Early Career Psychologists

The Early Group Psychologist Update

ECP Task Force Co-Chairs: Leann Diederich, Ph.D. and Tracy Thomas, Psy.D.

Leann Diederich, Ph.D.
Leann Diederich, Ph.D.
Tracy Thomas, Psy.D.
Tracy Thomas, Psy.D.

The Society of Group Psychology and Group Psychotherapy Recognized as the Division with the Best ECP Engagement

At the 2014 APA annual convention, our Society entered a poster into a competition hosted by APA’s Committee on Early Career Psychologists (CECP). Criteria included having an array of ECP activities, leadership development, and mentoring opportunities. They also evaluated ECP resources, such as social media, and upcoming plans for ECP engagement. To our delight, we won!
Below are selections of the text from the poster, which is linked in full here. While many of these goals and initiatives may be familiar to readers, we wanted to share them here so they are all in one location.

ECP Members and the “Leadership Pipeline”

As is true with many divisions of APA and the membership as a whole, most members are over 60 years old. Over the past 5 years, the Society has taken a number of steps to address this. Since 2011 the numbers of ECPs has increased (from 19 members in 2011 to 30 members in 2014), both in general membership in the Society and in leadership positions (2 ECPS involved in Board or committees in 2011 to 8 involved in Board or committees in 2014).

The Early Career Psychologist Task Force group was created to help introduce ECPs to the Society governance in a graduated method, with many members then moving onto other leadership positions. For instance, in the past few years members have moved from this committee into positions such as the Society’s Secretary, Program Chair, and Member-at-Large.

A secondary component of this pipeline is to have consistent support from the Executive Board. This includes both a stated commitment to ECP participation in avenues such as Presidential addresses at convention; attention to ECP needs our newsletter, The Group Psychologist (TGP), but also practical support through financial support for ECP events at Convention and nomination of ECPs for Board positions.

Preparation for Leadership

New ECPs involved in the Task Force, are encouraged to publish short articles in The Group Psychologist. This includes articles introducing themselves, talking about their involvement in a committee or liaison to an APA group, or articles stemming from our Conference Calls (see below). Each newsletter has an ECP Column which provides an established forum for these publications. Publishing in the newsletter helps promote name recognition for the ECPs, which is a crucial step towards later election to the Executive Board.

ECP Task Force & Group Dynamics

Our ECP group has been through a number of different identities. We originally were an Ad Hoc committee appointed by the President. However, our by-laws require yearly reappointment for this, which we found cumbersome. We then moved to a sub-committee under the Membership Chair (which was co-chaired by an ECP). However, this did not allow for an optimal group identity. Imagine having to introduce yourself as “a member of the Early Career Psychologist Sub-Committee of the Membership Committee”. That didn’t allow for a high group salience (e.g., the “felt significance of a particular social identity” [Gastil, 2010, p. 205]) within the members, so we brainstormed ways to make additional changes.

Thus, at the mid-winter meeting in 2014, the Board approved our formation of an Early Career Psychologist Task Force. There are several benefits to this identity; it is a group that does not require yearly approval for its continuation, it provides a unique group identity, and provides a recognition and status for the ECPs who volunteer their time for the group.

Focusing on group cohesion is a key role for the co-chairs of the Task Force. Taking the lead from the current literature on cohesion, we focus on developing:

  • An understanding of the shared tasks of the Task Force through regular meetings to brainstorm and create goals
  • Creating bonds through personal introductions, social hours with fellow members (e.g., happy hour following the open committee meeting at APA)
  • Creating channels for feedback to attend to the relationships between members (e.g., one to one conversations with upcoming leaders taking on more

ECP Initiatives

The ECP Task Force has several initiatives to aid with ECP engagement. Our goals with these initiatives are to provide services to members, as well as the public at-large. We choose initiatives that the Task Force members are interested in, do not take a large amount of time each week, and are relevant to students and ECPs.

Social Media Presence

The first initiative is to create content for our Facebook and Google+ pages. We started a new series of Wisdom on Wednesdays (#WOW) posts. These are short, educational, and group focused posts which provide resources for our followers. Each Task Force member also creates 4-5 educational posts, thus providing psychological content for our followers, but that isn’t necessarily tied directly to

Since we started our Facebook page in January 2013, we have gained 450 followers. We are reaching our target audience, as 78% of our followers are ages 18 to 44 years old. Our Society Secretary, Dr. Jennifer Alonso (ECP Task Force member) also works closely with our newly hired Social Media Coordinator, Tanya Dvorak, to have posts that are inspirational and motivating. Our Coordinator uses HootSuite to push content to multiple platforms, to capitalize on the work of our small Task Force, without relying on it to manage the content daily. We also are starting a small Twitter presence which we hope to expand in the future.

Conference Calls

A second initiative is to host regular conference calls that are open to the public. This initiative was approved at the 2013 mid-winter Board Meeting.

Topics have included:

  • Diversity in Group Therapy
  • Referring and Recruiting for Groups in College Counseling Centers
  • Teaching Group Therapy Course
  • Groups in Private Practice
  • Group Psychotherapy Research (with special guests Drs. Gary Burlingame and Dennis Kivlighan)

These calls are moderated by members of the Task Force, but are geared towards providing a forum for dialogue for participants and to provide resources related to group therapy and group psychology. A summary of the conference call is sent out to all members, as well as interested parties who couldn’t attend. We then use the content from the call to create an article for The Group Psychologist, so that all Society members can benefit from the ideas discussed.

Member of the Month

A new initiative we are starting in August 2014 is to randomly select one of the Society’s Member’s to feature in a Member of the Month (#MOM) posting on our webpage and pushed to our social media outlets. We hope to feature a member monthly, as a way to bring attention to the great work that our members do in the field of group psychology and group psychotherapy.

Future Initiatives

We are proposing a new initiative of a group based Mentee/ Mentor program at the Executive Meeting during this year’s APA Convention. Due to the small size of our Society, we wanted to take advantage of our Mid-Career Psychologist’s expertise, without overburdening them with a 1:1 ratio. We also wanted to utilize their knowledge in group dynamics to model some of the exact principles they’d be talking about (e.g., creating cohesion in groups) with their mentees.

We hope that this program will take advantage of Google Hangouts by hosting monthly or bi-monthly group meetings between the mentees and the Mid-Career Psychologist. Depending on the interest in the program, we hope to match ECPs with career trajectories that are similar to their Mid-Career Psychologist Mentor.

How to Get Involved

Getting involved in the Society is quite easy. There are several ways to get in contact with us:

  • Visit our social at APA to meet many of the key leaders within the Society. It’s a small group at the social (30-40 people) which allows you to socialize and network with psychologists who share similar interests to you.
  • Speak to one of our volunteers at any of our Society events at Convention. We have a group of students and ECPs who are handing out materials and Society information at each event at the convention.
  • Email us at

Special thanks to the ECP Task Force Members: Joe Miles (Div. 49 Program Co-Chair), Jennifer Alonso (Div. 49 Secretary), Rachelle Rene, Jennifer Smith, Misha Bogomaz, and Sasha Mondragon.

Early Career Psychologists

Highlights from the Early Career Task Force’s Supervision of Group Psychotherapy Conference Call

Joe Miles Ph.D.
Joe Miles Ph.D.

Periodically, the Early Career Psychologist (ECP) Task Force of the Society hosts conference calls on topics that are of interest to group psychologists. The most recent of these conference calls was held on June 16th, and focused on supervision of group psychotherapy. Over 30 people RSVP’d to participate in this conference call, which covered issues related to supervision models at various training sites, multicultural issues in supervision of group work, and issues in co-leader relationships (e.g., building the relationship, sharing power, and dual relationships). The call offered the opportunity for group psychotherapists from a variety of different settings to raise questions, discuss challenges and successes in group supervision, and to share resources with each other. Below are some of the highlights from this phone call.

Supervision Models in Various Settings

Several participants shared that they use developmental approaches to group supervision at their training sites. One such approach involves having practicum students serve as process observers who write process notes for psychotherapy groups that are facilitated by more advanced trainees (e.g., postdoctoral interns and staff). The process observers are then responsible for sharing these notes with the group in the following session. After a semester or two of process observing, these practicum students move on to co-leading a psychotherapy group with a licensed staff member. These licensed staff members serve as both models and the trainees’ supervisors. In addition, some participants mentioned that the group coordinators at their sites also meet with group trainees for one hour per week.

Another model of group psychotherapy supervision discussed was the use of agency-wide group case conferences. These provide an opportunity for the entire staff, not just the trainees, to meet, watch videos from group sessions, discuss particularly difficult situations, and to share group experiences with one another. An advantage of these agency-wide case conferences is that they provide the opportunity for licensed staff members to engage in additional learning about group work, thus providing opportunities for all participants to grow, not just trainees. These different models highlight the many levels on which group psychotherapy supervision may be offered.

In discussing different models for group psychotherapy supervision, the question was raised as to how different individuals have gotten “buy in” from other staff members about the importance of group work and group training. Several participants from a large counseling center at a major, public state university talked with pride about their group program. They stated that, in the face of ever-increasing demand for services, their center has put a lot of effort into strengthening their group program. Specifically, they said that group treatment is discussed as a viable treatment with all clients at intake, and clients are encouraged to consider group over individual treatment. In addition, this center holds a “Fall Group Kick-Off” at the beginning of the year, in order to reenergize staff about groups and to provide some group training. For example, they provide staff with client scenarios and then have the staff members discuss which groups offered at the center might be possible treatment option for the client. They also do periodic “Group Spotlights” at staff meetings about groups still accepting new member. These efforts to strengthen their group program have paid off, and have led to a “culture shift” in their center over the past few years, such that group is now seen as just as good of an option for clients as individual treatment.

Co-Leader Relationships and Group Supervision

The participants discussed the importance of talking about cultural issues among co-leader pairs, and Leann Diederich shared a handout that she, Eri Bentley (Utah State University) and Joeleen Cooper-Bhatia (Auburn University) developed on establishing effective co-leader relationships (see attached “Discussion Guide for Building Effective Co-Leadership Relationships”, along with the a handout called “The One-Minute Co-Therapist”). An important part of this handout is the discussion of “Personal Background Information,” which should include cultural information. This handout provides guidelines for sharing cultural influences with supervisees. Others shared that they find it important to openly discuss any potential biases that one might have. Participants noted that it is important to be aware of and talk about power differentials, however, when engaging in conversations about multicultural issues with supervisees, and to realize that this should be an ongoing process.

The conversation turned to some of the difficulties in managing conflict in the co-leader relationship, particularly when one co-leader is a trainee and the other is a staff member with an evaluative/supervisory role. One participant shared a resource that she has found particularly helpful: an article by Miriam Berger called Envy and Generosity between Co-Therapists (citation below). This article may be helpful for naming and talking through some of the challenges that we might expect in any co-leader relationship.

Several participants noted that, when one co-leader is a trainee and the other a senior staff member/supervisor, the supervisor might intentionally “miss” a group session, in order to provide the trainee to lead the group on her own, and to work on developing her own voice. This can also be helpful in creating a greater sense of equality in the co-leader relationship. Others mentioned that, as a senior staff member or supervisor, they often ask their trainee co-leaders to take on the role of opening and closing the group, in order to share ownership of the group, and to help the group members see the co-leaders on the same level.

Participants discussed a shared challenge of balancing between allowing a trainee co-leader to feel empowered to intervene as they deem fit in the group, with the desire to intervene themselves when they think there is a different or “better” intervention to be made that the trainee has not made. One participant said that in his own struggles with this challenge, he has learned discipline in allowing trainees to find their own voice and providing a place for them to speak, even if he sees an opportunity for a slightly different intervention. Another participant talked about setting very specific goals with supervisees, such as making sure that they are responding at least twice every half hour in the group. Another suggested that it is helpful to talk to supervisees about their different experience co-leading with different co-leaders, and to periodically have meetings where the entire staff discusses group work.

Other Issues in the Supervision of Group Psychotherapy

Participants shared a variety of different structures for supervision of group psychotherapy. For example, several suggested that it is especially helpful to set aside a half hour immediately following the group to debrief, when possible. Another participant discussed meeting in the 10 or 15 minutes directly before the group starts. He said that, in his experience, this has helped him to solidify his relationships with co-leaders, and to allow them the opportunity to discuss what they, as leaders, are bringing to the group.

A group therapist in private practice described another model of supervision, a consultation group. He described a model that he developed for facilitating consultation groups for group psychotherapists. In these 80 minute consultation groups, participants begin by talking about dilemmas that they are facing in their group work. Following this aspect of the group supervision, the second part of his consultation groups become process groups, in which group members have the opportunity to experience being group members. He ends the groups by talking about what went on for him as the leader of the process group portion, what he felt was happening in the group, and how he tried to determine the best interventions. Another participant asked about obtaining informed consent, and it was noted that there is definitely a need to attend to dual relationships in this work.

Finally, several participants discussed balancing supervision with more didactic methods. Several participants discussed having seminars in the summer, or early on in the semester, before trainees’ caseloads fill up. Another participant mentioned seminars that included both trainees and all staff members who are leading groups. This may even include discussing articles on group counseling. A few resources that were shared are listed below. Please look for information on upcoming ECP Task Force conference calls in the near future!


Berger, M. (2002). Envy and generosity between co-therapists. Group, 26(1), 107-121.

Davis, F. B. & Lohr, N. E. (1971). Special problems with the use of cotherapists in group
psychotherapy. International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 21, 143158.

Dick, B., Lessler, K. & Whiteside, J. (1980) A Developmental Framework for Cotherapy.
International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 30(3), 6476.

Fernando, D. M., & Herlihy, B. R. (2010). Supervision of group work: Infusing the spirit of social justice. The Journal for Specialists in Group Work, 35, 281-289.

Gallagher, R. E., (1994). Stages of group psychotherapy supervision: a model for supervisiong
beginning trainees of dynamic group therapy. International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 44(2),169183

Heilfron, M. (1969). Cotherapy: The relationship between therapists. International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 19(3), 366381.

Hoffman, S. et. al (1995) Cotherapy with Individuals, Families and Groups,Jason Aronson McGee, T.F., & Schuman, B. N. (1970). The nature of the cotherapy relationship. Presented at American Group Psychotherapy Convention, New Orleans, Louisiana.

Paulson, I, Burroughs, J., Gelb, C., (1976) Cotherapy: What is the Crux of the Relationship? International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 26(2), 213224.

Roller, W., & Nelson, V. (1991). The Art of Co-Therapy. New York, NY: Guildford Press.

Rutan, J. S., Stone, W. N., & Shay, J. J. (2007). Chapter 11: Special Leadership Issues. In
Psychodynamic Group Psychotherapy (4th ed.). (pp. 212-225). New York, NY: Guildford Press.
**Read 212-219

See also handouts available from ECP Task Force ( “The One-Minute Co-Therapist,” and “Discussion Guide for Building Effective Co-Leader Relationships.”