Group Psychology and Group Psychotherapy Diversity Column

Jeanne Steffen, Ph.D.
Jeanne Steffen, Ph.D.

The first column after the annual American Psychological Association convention each year typically focuses on the Diversity Committee’s activities at APA, as well as goals for the upcoming year. Our activities and goals keep in mind our original focus: promoting the inclusion and visibility of underrepresented populations in our communities across the globe. One of the major activities we are involved in to further this goal includes the presentation of the Diversity Award to formally honor individuals who have made significant contributions to group psychology practice, research, service, and/or mentoring, with a focus on promoting understanding and respect for diversity.

Chun-Chung Choi, Ph.D.
Chun-Chung Choi, Ph.D.

This year we recognized Dr. Chun-Chung Choi as our Diversity Award recipient. Dr. Choi was nominated by his colleagues for making significant contributions to both scholarship and practice, resulting in the advancement of diversity issues, particularly in the realm of group counseling and advocacy for international students. Some of his many contributions in this area include: creating innovative group programming for International Students at the University of Florida, which evolved into a specialty training program for Counseling and Wellness Center psychology interns; creating two groups that run each semester and that address limited campus resources related to supporting Mandarin speaking International Students; and providing supervision, training, and mentorship to interns in order to assist them in increasing their multicultural competency related to working with diverse populations in group therapy. Dr. Chung has also taught group counseling courses and has published five peer reviewed articles, two book chapters, and a film production aimed at empathy training for ethnic and cultural awareness. In addition he has presented over 49 refereed national publications (including two Division 49 sponsored symposiums at APA in 2014 related to multiculturalism in groups), one international, nine regional, and numerous local presentations. Dr. Choi’s professional contributions in the area of multicultural group counseling and psychotherapy practice, research, service, and training clearly add to our profession and promote further understanding and clinical effectiveness in working with diverse populations. Thank you, Dr. Choi, for your contributions to our profession and to our communities!

At the APA convention this year, the Diversity Committee focused on involving the student members of our committee in submitting a symposium entitled Multicultural Skill Development in Group Psychotherapy. The goal of the symposium was to provide multiple perspectives on increasing multicultural competence, particularly in the area of skill development in group psychotherapy. The contributors of the symposium presented on two topics: (a) “Intergroup Dialogue as a Mechanism for the Development of Multicultural Group Leadership” presented by Brittany A. White and co-authored by Joseph R. Miles, and (b) “Facilitating Group therapy Trainees’ Multicultural Competencies Development through Clinical Supervision” presented by Elena E. Kim and co-authored by Kali Rowe and Eric C. Chen. We had several other Division 49 programs related to diversity and good turn out to our programs. We also met as a committee to discuss goals for 2016. Our focus for next year involves increasing student interaction and interest in our Division and subcommittee. Several ideas were put forth as incentives for students to get more involved, including specific programming targeting student issues, a student focused diversity award, and the creation of a student work symposium. Prioritizing and further developing our goals, as well as adding new members to our committee and seeking Diversity Award nominations will be a focus of our committee this fall.

As the chair of the Diversity Committee, I have a special opportunity to reach out the Division 49 members and spark interest in diversity related topics through this column. In the past year I have heard from a few members who have made comments or suggestions for columns and I’m always glad to hear from you. As always, I invite you to contact me and let me know about the topics that are important to you or that you want to hear about. If you have exciting research and want me to highlight it, please also let me know. As 2014 fades out and we greet 2015, our committee returns once again to recruiting activities. I ask those who are interested in joining us to please contact me. In addition, I ask you to please notice those colleagues around you who are working to engage others, who are writing, mentoring, teaching and researching multicultural issues in group work and making contributions to group psychology practice, with a focus on promoting understanding and respect for diversity. Their work honors us and we would like to honor them. Please contact me to put forth their names so we can acknowledge them in 2016.

My contact information is new this year:


Early Career Group Psychologist Column

Awards, Webinars, and New Members…Oh My

We wanted to take this time to update our membership with some of the recent highlights of activities from the Early Career Psychologist’s Task Force.


The ECP Task Force worked to create criteria and standards for a new Group Psychotherapy Practice award the Society will offer in 2016. The award will be given to recognize outstanding commitment to the practice of group psychotherapy. Our intention is to reach a broad audience, so any individual, agency, or organization that provides exemplary group services to the community will be eligible. Stay tuned for an announcement on the listserv about how to nominate a recipient for this award.


The ECP Task Force is going to continue its tradition of providing free conference calls to anyone (not just Society members). But in 2016 stay tuned for a new addition….webinars! We are hoping to host webinars in February 2016 and September 2016, with conference calls in November 2015 and June 2016. In addition, there are plans in the works for a special series of webinars focus on research techniques for group research in 2016 as well. Good things, they are a comin’ in 2016!

New Members

Finally, we’d like to welcome two new members to our ECP Task Force, Drs. Elina Kanellopou and Barbara Greenspan. Dr. Janellopou lives in Athens, Greece and received her degree in psychology from Columbia University. She is post-doctoral fellow at the University of Athens School of Medicine and Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Unit of Sismanoglio General Hospital in addition to working in a private practice. In her personal life, she has a passion for performing arts, yoga, singing and dancing. We’ll be introducing Dr. Greenspan in a future column, so stay tuned for that.

Misha Bogomaz, Psy.D., CGP
Misha Bogomaz, Psy.D., CGP

ECP Task Force Co-Chair 

Leann Diederich, Ph.D.
Leann Diederich, Ph.D.

ECP Task Force Co-Chair 

Brief Articles

Prevention Corner: Is Homework Helpful?

Elaine Clanton Harpine, Ph.D.
Elaine Clanton Harpine, Ph.D.

As the school year progresses, the number of letters that we have received concerning school problems has multiplied tremendously. The letter chosen today highlights a problem that has been an issue of concern between parents and schools for many years: Is homework actually helpful? How much is too much? In the past several years, the question of homework has also become a topic of study by many researchers as well. Researchers are asking: Is homework harmful?

Editorial Question Posed

Dear Prevention Corner: 

I’m at my wits end. My teenager has been up every night past midnight doing homework. The school says that homework will help raise test scores and help my son prepare for college. He’s worn-out, and says, “That if this is what college is like, he doesn’t want to go.” I think the school is pushing too hard. What should I as a parent do? Am I wrong? Is four hours of homework a night normal?

In Need of Help


Dear In Need Of Help:

As a parent of three grown children, I certainly understand your problem and your concerns. This subject of homework is being discussed by more than just parents and schools. Many researchers are stepping forward to say that there is no correlation between homework and classroom improvement in academics for elementary age children (Cooper, 2006). Only a tiny bit of improvement has been shown from homework in middle school. While research has supported benefits from homework in high school, researchers also caution that too much homework can backfire and create more problems than benefits (Cooper & Valentine, 2001; Cooper, Robertson, & Patall, 2006). So, why do schools still insist on more homework? It’s been estimated that the homework load has increased about 40% for students (Cooper, 2006). As you indicated in your letter, some students are being assigned as much as four hours of homework a night. Still other schools are totally banishing homework. Some schools are suggesting that web-based applications for online teaching opportunities actually benefit students more than paper and pencil homework.

One of the age old problems with homework is that if a student does not know how to work a math problem correctly, practicing the problem incorrectly for homework, will not teach the student the correct procedure for working the problem. Practicing a mistake does not make the mistake go away. Research shows that math scores do not necessarily improve with homework. On the other hand, if online teaching was incorporated, then the student could learn and practice the problem correctly.

Trying to improve test scores by loading on additional homework has also not proven to be successful. Excessive homework and the results of incomplete homework have even been listed as one of the reasons that some students give for dropping out of school before graduation. Homework is supposed to help students learn, improve study skills and organization of time, and teach responsibility. Unfortunately, researchers are finding that too much homework actually reduces its effectiveness and that when students consider homework simply “busy work,” such homework discourages learning (Kalish & Bennett, 2006).

We have worked for years from the premise that “homework is good.” New research is showing that too much homework actually has negative effects on well-being and behavior. If a student sacrifices sleep to study for a test or complete homework assignments, they are going to have more trouble the next day in school and miss out on new material being discussed in class (Gillen-O’Neal, Huynh, & Fuligni, 2013). Students who consume energy drinks in order to stay awake at night also increase their risk of becoming too reliant upon stimulants and other drugs. Excessive homework (over 2 hours a night in high school) can lead to sleep deprivation, headaches, exhaustion, stomach problems, weight loss, and even depression (Galloway, Conner, & Pope, 2013).

When students are assigned too much homework, such homework assignments create stress (Pressman et al., 2015). High levels of stress can lead to physical as well as mental health problems. Homework needs to have a purpose that benefits the student’s overall education and well-being. In a recent survey, 90% of the students surveyed said that homework created stress in their daily life.

Since homework has not necessarily led to better grades or higher test scores and has been found to be a major source of stress for many students, what should a parent do?

  1. Talk with the teacher. See if you can reach a compromise on the amount of homework being assigned.
  2. If your child is exhibiting signs of stress, talk with a school counselor.
  3. If you’re still unable to negotiate a “healthy” homework level, talk with your school principal and/or a member of the school board.

Nancy Kalish and Sara Bennett (2006) state in their book, The Case Against Homework: How Homework is Hurting Our Children and What We Can do About It, that we need to find new educational alternatives to homework. We also need to remember that quality is more important than quantity.

I do not have simple or easy answers for you, but going to the school and intervening on behalf of your child may be the best prevention that you can provide to alleviate problems in the future. No one is saying that your child should just sit around and watch TV or play computer games, but sometimes a student may need a more individualized approach to homework and learning in the classroom. You definitely want to make the teacher and school aware of stress and other concerns. Never be afraid to be your child’s advocate.

Let me know if I can be of further assistance, and watch for our next column when we will turn to some educational policy experts to see if they can offer some suggestions for how to change the schools.

If you would like to join this discussion, let us hear from you. We welcome your participation. We invite psychologists, counselors, prevention programmers, graduate students, teachers, administrators, parents, and other mental health practitioners working with groups to network together, share ideas, problems, and become more involved. Please send comments, questions, and group prevention concerns to Elaine Clanton Harpine at


Bennett, S., & Kalish, N. (2006). The case against homework: How homework is hurting our children and what we can do about it. New York: Harmony Books.

Cooper, H. (2006). The battle over homework: Common ground for administrators, teachers, and parents, 3rd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin press.

Cooper, H., Robinson, J. C., & Patall, E. A. (2006). Does homework improve academic achievement? A synthesis of research, 1987–2003. Review of Educational Research, 76, 1–6.

Cooper, H., & Valentine, J. C. (2001). Using research to answer practical questions about homework. Educational Psychologist, 36, 143–153.

Galloway, G., Conner, J., & Pope, D. (2013). Nonacademic effects of homework in pivileged, high-performing high schools, The Journal of Experimental Education, 81, 490-510. doi: 10.1080/00220973.2012.745469

Gillen-O’Neal, C., Huynh, V., & Fuligni, A. J. (2013). To study or to sleep? The academic cost of extra studying at the expense of sleep. Child Development, 84, 133-142.   doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2012.01834x

Pressman, R. M., Sugarman, D. B., Nemon, M. L., Desjarlais, J., Owens, J. A., & Schettini-Evans, A. (2015). Homework and family Stress: With consideration of parents’ self-confidence, educational level, and cultural background, The American Journal of Family Therapy, 43, 297-313. doi: 10.1080/01926187.2015.1061407

Brief Articles

Group Training Opportunities in Graduate Psychology Programs


Erin Crozier BS, and Samuel Collier BA

This paper elaborates on a brief report about survey data collected by Division 49 leadership. The purpose was to obtain an overview of group training opportunities in APA-accredited clinical and counseling psychology programs in the United States and to determine if opportunities are different across types of program. The sample was 55 directors of clinical training. A majority (64%) reported that their school offers a group course, but over a third have no group course available and only three reported offering an advanced group course. Most of the open responses received stated that group experience is available at affiliated practicum sites, and 67% stated that students in their program have opportunities for involvement in group research. Most respondents indicated that group therapy has a moderate to high level of value in their program. Directors of counseling psychology programs gave a higher rating for the value of group therapy in their programs and were more likely to report offering a group class than were directors of clinical psychology programs. Based on these data, group training is available to many students, but opportunities are inconsistent, leaving the possibility that many will enter the profession with little or no group training.


            An oft-discussed concern among group psychotherapists is the growing demand for group work in the field (Fuhriman & Burlingame, 2001; Taylor et al., 2001), without a corresponding increase in group training provided to students in psychology and other mental health professions (Barlow, 2008; Conyne & Bemak, 2004; Kovach, Dubin, & Combs, 2014). For many emerging practitioners of group psychotherapy, much of their group-specific training is gained on the job, or they are never formally trained at all. In such a case, it could benefit both clinicians and clients if these practitioners were able to gain a more extensive background in group therapy in their masters or doctoral programs. Indeed, several recent studies have demonstrated that trainees in social work (Goodman, Knight, & Khudododov, 2014), psychiatry (Kovach et al., 2014), and counseling (Ohrt, Ener, Porter, & Young, 2014) desire more group work training in their years of formal education.

Despite this inconsistency of group training in graduate programs, some scholars in psychology have expressed hope that pre-doctoral internships provide solid training in group psychotherapy that makes up for inconsistent training in doctoral programs. However, this appears to be a false hope, as group training in internship programs has been found to be inconsistent as well (Markus & King, 2003). Currently, there are multiple options for obtaining specialty training and certifications in group psychotherapy (Barlow, 2008, 2013; Stone, 2010) at the pre- and post-doctoral level. However, the current reality is that many providers of group therapy do not have the time, inclination, or administrative support to seek out such credentials and therefore must rely solely on the training that they received in their doctoral education. Given this reality, it is important to understand precisely what training opportunities exist in doctoral training programs in psychology.

A few previous studies have sought to directly assess available training opportunities; however, these studies are now either outdated (Fuhriman & Burlingame, 2001) or limited by only surveying student experiences in a single training program (Goodman et al., 2014). The present study, therefore, aimed to provide a current overview of the training opportunities available in APA-accredited clinical and counseling psychology graduate training programs. This article elaborates on a brief survey report by Lee Gillis (2014). These survey data were gathered by Division 49 leadership, including Lee Gillis, Sean Woodland, Rosamond Smith, and Leann Diederich.

In addition to obtaining a general overview of current training opportunities in clinical and counseling psychology programs, this study sought to reassess some previous findings. Fuhriman and Burlingame (2001) found that clinical psychology programs reported fewer required courses in small group experience, supervised clinical experience, and group theory than did counseling psychology programs, and that directors of counseling programs reported valuing group therapy more than did directors of clinical programs. Thus, this study sought to discover whether these differences still exist in the current training landscape, as well as to determine the overall availability of group psychotherapy training opportunities in graduate training programs in the United States.



Surveys were sent via email to directors of 57 Council of Counseling Psychology Training Programs (CCPTP), 31 directors from National Council of Schools and Programs of Professional Psychology (NCSPP; identified from webpages), and to the listserv of the Council of University Directors of Clinical Training (CUDCP; approximately 80 members). From each of these requests, 24, 8, and 21 responses were received, respectively. In addition, 3 board members of Division 49 responded to a pilot study with usable data about their programs. Of these 56 responses, 1 respondent declined to participate, leaving a total N of 55. The full response rate (56 of approximately 168) was about 33%. Note that 2 additional responses were received since the original brief survey report (Gillis, 2014).

In addition to the 1 respondent who declined to participate, 8 provided incomplete data. Their responses were included in the analyses for the items to which they provided a response. Of the 47 respondents who provided complete data, 26 (55%) were directors of clinical psychology programs and 21 (45%) were from counseling psychology programs. A total of 37 respondents (79%) were from Ph.D. programs, while 10 respondents (21%) were from Psy.D. programs. Six of the respondents (5 Ph.D. and 1 Psy.D.) reported that students from their programs also receive a master’s degree.

Materials and Procedure

After providing consent to participate, participants responded to a questionnaire created specifically for this study. The questionnaire included five multiple choice and seven open response questions about group training opportunities available in the respondents’ training programs, as well as one scaled question (0-10) asking participants to rank the perceived value of individual, couple, family, and group therapy in their training program. Additionally, participants answered brief demographic questions about their program and were asked if they would like their program’s information to be shared by name on the Division 49 webpage. Information from this component of the survey will be published online at a later date. Respondents were free to skip questions as desired.


            The open response data were sorted qualitatively by grouping data from each question into categories of similar responses, with one author first working independently and then the other checking all work and regrouping responses when appropriate. The full dataset was referenced to clarify responses when needed.

To determine whether any group differences existed between responses of clinical and counseling psychology program directors, simple t-tests were conducted. Paired samples t-tests were also used to examine the differences in the perceived value of individual, couple, family, and group therapy in the full sample.


Of the total survey respondents (N = 55), a majority (n = 35; 64%), indicated that their school offers some form of group psychotherapy course. Of the 29 respondents who provided additional qualitative descriptions of their courses, almost all offer a basic, semester-long course. Only 3 respondents indicated that their program offers an advanced group therapy course. Although only 8 respondents identified specifically that their group course was required, the actual number of programs requiring students to take a course in group work may be much higher because our survey did not ask directly about the presence of a required course.

Of those respondents who said their program provides a group course, 78% (n = 25) indicated the presence of an experiential component. In addition, half of those with group classes reported that their class includes peer leadership opportunities (n = 16; 50%) and a similar number of courses include rotating leadership (n = 17; 53%). Of the 23 respondents who described the experiential component of the class, 17 (74%) described the use of some form of group process simulation. Additionally, 34% of the 50 respondents who provided data on this item (n = 17) reported that group training is included in other coursework within the program, such as within practicum class, multicultural or diverse populations classes, and intervention or technique classes, among others.

In terms of group psychotherapy experiences available during practicum, 37 of 39 open responses reported that group psychotherapy was currently being administered by students at one or more affiliated practicum sites. However, none of the programs indicated the presence of any group-specific practicum opportunity.

In regards to research opportunities, 31 of 46 valid responses (67%) indicated that group-focused research opportunities are available to students within their program. According to the 28 respondents who described these opportunities in an open response question, types of research vary broadly and include student dissertations, special projects, and faculty-driven research.

When asked to rate the value placed on each of four psychotherapy modalities on a scale of 0 to 10, individual therapy was consistently ranked the highest with an average rating of 9.68 and a standard deviation of only 0.66. Not one of the 47 respondents to this question ranked individual therapy lower than a score of 8. Within the value ratings for group therapy (M = 6.15; SD = 2.21), most scores (n = 32) fell between 5 and 8, indicating that group therapy is consistently of a moderate-high importance level in the majority of programs. Examination of the scores for couples therapy (M = 5.19, SD = 2.52) and family therapy (M = 5.87, SD = 2.76) reveals that group therapy is consistently valued as much as or more than these modalities. In fact, results from paired samples t-tests indicate that our sample placed a higher value on group therapy than on couples therapy (t = -2.28, df = 46, p < .05) and that scores for the value of family therapy and group therapy were not significantly different from one another (t = -.58, df = 46, p = .56).

Lastly, while the slight majority of respondents to the survey identified as clinical psychology programs, 100% of counseling psychology programs indicated presence of a group psychotherapy class in their program, while only 35% of clinical programs reported the presence of such a class. Even when accounting for the unequal variance between these two segments of our sample, the difference in the presence of a group class between clinical and counseling programs is clearly significant (t = -6.87, df = 25, p < .001). Additionally, in the aforementioned value ratings of different therapy modalities, respondents from clinical psychology programs gave lower ratings for the value of group therapy than did those from counseling psychology programs (t = -2.35, df = 45, p < .05).


The results of this study have provided an assessment of the current availability of group psychotherapy training for clinical and counseling psychology doctoral students. Despite a few limitations, several conclusions may be drawn, and further research into the sufficiency of group therapy training is warranted.

Although the majority of our sample reported offering at least one course in group psychotherapy, over one third of the responding programs offer no such course. This is even more striking in clinical psychology programs, where just over one third reported offering a class in group. Additionally, only three programs in our sample reported that they offer an advanced group therapy course. In advocating for the importance of group training in today’s professional landscape, several authors have argued that even a one-semester course is wholly insufficient (Barlow, 2008; Ohrt et al., 2014; Stockton et al., 2014). Based on the results of this research, additional opportunities for group training in graduate programs are warranted to meet the demands in the industry.

While almost all of the respondents who answered our open response question about practicum training reported that there are opportunities for their students to provide group therapy at affiliated practicum sites, it is unclear if those who did not respond to this question simply skipped the open response for time or convenience, or if they did so because they do not offer any opportunities for group training at practicum sites. Additionally, regardless of whether students are afforded opportunities for group practice at practicum sites, those who were not offered a group class in their academic curriculum may still be left at a disadvantage due to lack of exposure to the theoretical foundations of group process, group leadership, and other topics essential to developing competency in group psychotherapy. Essentially, more must be done to ensure both proper training and practical experience are offered to practitioners to ensure basic competence in group therapy before entering the field.

It is encouraging that most training directors in our sample placed a moderate to high level of value on group therapy. However, it appears that sufficient training opportunities in group therapy may be falling second to the emphasis placed on other modalities and the varied coursework necessary in training future psychologists. As members of Division 49, we sincerely hope that group will continue to be an increasingly strong presence in those competencies viewed as necessary, but much work is still needed in this area.   Perhaps this argument can be strengthened by authors like Counselman (2008), who argued that training in group modalities provides a profound impact on all clinical work, including individual psychotherapy and other aspects of one’s professional identity. The authors of this paper agree with Counselman that an increase in group training within programs across the board will bring a variety of benefits whether or not practitioners in training ever choose to pursue group therapy interventions.

Several limitations within this study are also of note, and some of these could be overcome in future research. First, the study is limited by a relatively small initial sample size and several incomplete responses, resulting in a final sample of only 47 responses. Although the response rate was certainly respectable for online survey-based research, a larger sample would strengthen the implications that could be drawn from the results. This may be helped by targeting group training faculty, sending email reminders after the initial survey distribution, or rephrasing some questions from open response to multiple, although the latter may result in the loss of some rich qualitative data.

Second, response bias may have skewed the sample towards graduate programs more interested in group training. Of the 168 program directors who were contacted, it is possible that those who were most interested in the subject matter of the survey were more likely to complete it. If this is the case, the results may show only a skewed view of the actual status of group training across all programs.

Third, there were some limitations in the phrasing of survey questions, which could be modified or added in order to gain additional information. For example, as Gillis (2014) pointed out in the initial brief synopsis of the survey, the survey asked “Does your program provide a group-specific class or classes?” instead of asking whether such a class is required, which would determine whether group training is mandatory in each program.   Additional questions such as “Approximately what percentage of affiliated practicum sites administer group psychotherapy at your school?” could also provide valuable information.   Questions qualifying the respondents’ role in the program and expertise in the field of group psychotherapy may also be important in determining whether follow-up could be conducted by a more qualified member of the faculty, as well as allow for the assessment of potential response bias.

This study has provided a snapshot of the current state of group psychotherapy training within clinical and counseling psychology doctoral programs. Future research should continue to assess demand in the field in order to determine whether group training in programs is adequate for the demand placed on emerging practitioners. Because group therapy is performed by professionals from many different disciplines, additional research on group training in training programs in social work, psychiatry, and counseling may also be valuable. If demand is not being met, this research will also set the stage for how programs can be further enhanced.   For example, an increasing demand at clinical sites may warrant the creation of advanced level group training courses. This study provides one small piece of a complex puzzle as we continue to pursue the development of high quality group therapy competencies in our emerging practitioners.


Barlow, S. H. (2008). Group psychotherapy specialty practice. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 39(2), 240–244.

Barlow, S. H. (2013). Specialty competencies in group psychology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, USA.

Conyne, R. K., & Bemak, F. (2004). Preface. The Journal for Specialists in Group Work, 29(1), 3–5.

Counselman, E. F. (2008). Why study group therapy? International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 58(2), 265–272.

Fuhriman, A., & Burlingame, G. M. (2001). Group psychotherapy training and effectiveness. International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 51(3), 399–416.

Gillis, L. (2014). Group training survey: May 2014. The Group Psychologist, 24(3). Retrieved from

Goodman, H., Knight, C., & Khudododov, K. (2014). Graduate social work students’ experiences with group work in the field and the classroom. Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 34(1), 60–78.

Kovach, J. G., Dubin, W. R., & Combs, C. J. (2014). Psychotherapy training: Residents’ perceptions and experiences. Academic Psychiatry.

Markus, H. E., & King, D. A. (2003). A survey of group psychotherapy training during predoctoral psychology internship. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 34(2), 203–209.

Ohrt, J. H., Ener, E., Porter, J., & Young, T. L. (2014). Group leader reflections on their training and experience: Implications for group counselor educators and supervisors. The Journal for Specialists in Group Work, 39(2), 95–124.

Stockton, R., Morran, K., & Chang, S.-H. (2014). An overview of current research and best practices for training beginning group leaders. In J. L. DeLucia-Waack, C. R. Kalodner, & M. Riva (Eds.), Handbook of Group Counseling and Psychotherapy (2nd ed., pp. 133–145). Los Angeles, CA: SAGE Publications.

Stone, W. (2010). Introduction to the special issue on training in group psychotherapy. Group, 34(4), 277–281.

Taylor, N. T., Burlingame, G. M., Kristensen, K. B., Fuhriman, A., Johansen, J., & Dahl, D. (2001). A survey of mental health care provider’s and managed care organization attitudes toward, familiarity with, and use of group interventions. International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 51(2), 243–263.



President-Elect’s Column

Craig Parks, PhD
Craig Parks, Ph.D.

What Good Are Groups, Anyway?

I’m writing this on a Wednesday at noon. I have just come from my 10th meeting of the week, have another one this afternoon, five on Thursday, and three on Friday. (This is an occupational hazard of being an Assistant Provost.) Most of these meetings are a half-hour, so the time commitment is not bad, but it’s mentally exhausting. Fair play, a typical week for me does not include 20 meetings, but the norm—10 to 12—is still a lot. Looking at my calendar for this week reminded me of a quote from Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak: “I’m going to give you some advice that might be hard to take. That advice is: Work alone. Not on a committee. Not on a team.”

That quote likely seems odd coming from a leader of Division 49. But Wozniak raises a good point—do we really need to do everything as a collective? Some of the meetings I’ve attended could have been avoided if the convener would have just sent me a summary document and let me read it. One of my favorite emerging lines of research comes out of the Marketing literature, where Terri Barr, Andrea Dixon, and Jule Gassenheimer have documented a “lone wolf” trait. Quite simply, a lone wolf is someone who prefers to complete a task alone, even if that task could be easily divided among group members. The lone wolf well-understands the difficulty of the task s/he is taking on, and devotes full attention and resources to completing it with quality comparable to that which a group would produce. Further, force a lone wolf to work in a group, and s/he will be essentially useless: Motivation goes to zero, s/he refuses collaboration, and may even become obstructive. Barr and colleagues have shown how to measure the tendency, and have found it to be predictive of behaviors in education groups and sales teams. My students and I are in the process of testing it with ad hoc task groups, and are getting the same results.

There are thus some tasks that can be completed just fine by a single, motivated person. We don’t need groups to do everything. But we do need groups to do a lot of things, hence the motivation for this column: We need to make sure the baby doesn’t get thrown out with the bathwater, in that the growing reaction to unnecessary group tasks doesn’t become a reaction against groups.

If you have read Susan Cain’s 2012 book Quiet, you will know that she calls for better support of those who prefer to work alone (like Wozniak), and argues that in at least American culture, there is an overemphasis on group work, beginning in elementary school, to the point where we are biased against the lone wolf. The book is an interesting read, well-grounded in science. Now that the book is three years on, I recently ran some searches to see what kind of impact it is having in both the scientific literature and popular writing on group work. What I found dismayed me. One of the top human resource management web sites used it to argue that group work is nothing more than “shared incompetence” and that one should question the capability of anyone who suggests a collective approach to tasks. A leading publication for math educators identified group work as a prime culprit for the decline in interest in mathematics among students, suggesting that kids are so used to working in groups that they get frustrated when they discover that math is ultimately a solitary enterprise. (Indeed, I was especially bothered to come across a number of trade publications for K-12 educators that questioned whether group-based learning overall does more harm than good.) A trade publication for nurses suggested that the emphasis on being able to work in groups can blind mental health nurses to the needs of introverted adults and children. I could provide more examples, but these serve the point. Much harder to find was the argument that groups are perhaps overused, a point that Cain herself makes.

Trying another line of inquiry, I contacted a friend of mine who is a leading researcher of virtual groups and has an active consulting business helping organizations set up and manage such groups. What he told me was no more encouraging. His work has dropped considerably, replaced by requests to help set up and manage dropbox systems whereby individual workers can upload their ideas and input on an issue for a project manager to collect and use, or to implement a best method for disseminating information and conducting electronic votes via a secure listserv.

In my last column I talked about my interest in offering workshops on group-related phenomena. I think the discoveries I’ve shared with you here underscore how important such outreach is. Let’s talk to the health and business and education practitioners about the many situations for which we know, empirically, that collective effort is preferable to individual effort. Let’s help them find a balance between having too many meetings and not enough. Let’s try to give them tools that will identify who will thrive in a group setting, and who is best left to go off and work alone. Making connections in these worlds will not be hard to do, and we should give it a try.

I’d love to write more, but I have to leave for my next meeting. Fingers crossed that it’s productive.