There are several factors that make for the success of group counseling but the strongest determinant is the skill or effectiveness of the leader of the counseling group which in most cases is the counselor.
“Good” members with poor leadership will still make a failed counseling group but “bad” members can be inspired by good leadership for the success of the group. This is what leadership is in the first place— inspiring followers towards achieving a common vision.
In this article I’ll be highlighting the roles of the counseling group leader, the types of group counseling styles and the skills needed by an effective counseling group leader.
Leadership Styles and Types of Leaders in Group Counseling
The three main leadership styles adopted in group therapy are authoritarian, democratic, and laissez-faire leadership. Each of these styles of leadership has its own theoretical background, ideologies, techniques, and impact that all contribute to the success or failure of group therapy.
1. Authoritarian Leadership
The authoritarian leader of group therapy believes that the members of the group do not possess in themselves the solution to their issues and so they must be assisted by an expert.
The leader adopts a directive approach, takes responsibility for every member’s action or group outcome, and the group dynamics is leader centred. The leader establishes group roles, defines the course of action, defines the responsibility of every group member (if they have any), explains members’ behaviours or issues to them and gives them the solution.
Because group members are only allowed to talk when they are asked questions, the technique used tends to fall into advice-giving and the leader is protected from self-disclosure.
This authoritarian style of group therapy leadership is adopted by psychoanalytic counselors more than any other theoretical background. Flow of communication is back and forth only— from the leader to a member back to the leader.
2. Democratic Leadership
The democratic leader of group therapy believes that the members of the group possess in themselves the solution to their issues but only need facilitation to bring out those solutions.
The leader adopts a non-directive approach, does not take absolute responsibility for the members actions or outcomes, and the group dynamic is group-centered.
All group members agree on the group roles, the course of action to be taken, the responsibilities of all group members, and collectively get more insight into their behaviours or issues as well as come up with solutions.
Because all members are allowed to make contributions throughout the sessions, the techniques used by the counsellor in democratic leadership of group counseling are clarification, synthesis, feedback and evaluation, and the leader has a lot of self-disclosure to do in identifying with the needs of other group members.
The democratic type of group therapy leadership is adopted by counselors who adhere to the humanistic approach of counseling. Flow of communication is both back and forth and side to side —from leader to group members and from group members to group members. The leader seeks to raise other leaders within the group.
3. Laissez-faire Leadership
The third style of leadership in group therapy is laissez-faire leadership. Here there is no leader at all.
The laissez-faire leader of group therapy believes that it is the sole responsibility of the group members to direct themselves in whatever direction they feel necessary while the leader simply assumes the role of another group member.
The leader adopts an uninvolved approach and takes no responsibility for the actions and outcome of the group. All the goals, course of action, distribution of responsibilities, as well as insight into the problems and solutions come from the members, with no intervention of the counselor.
No counseling technique is used in the laissez-faire style of leadership. It is usually an unintended approach adopted by novice counsellors while trying to adopt the non-directive approach or trying to be liked by every member of the group.
8 Roles of Counselling/Therapy Group Leader
1. Initiate the Group
The first role of the counselor or counseling group leader is to initiate or establish the group. This involves gathering other group members and choosing a tentative venue for counseling sessions.
All the activities that are to be done at the initial stage of group counseling should be prepared beforehand so that other members do not gather to meet an unstructured group.
Although the counselor must not come with a final list of activities that will be done from initial session to termination stage since that is a joint responsibility of all members, an agenda for the first day should be prepared by the counselor. Activities that can be done at the initial stage of group counseling include:
- introduction of members,
- statement of purpose of group,
- exploration of individual needs,
- setting group goals,
- establishment of group rules and roles,
- agreement on meeting days and place, and
- suggestions and contributions.
This sketch can be employed and expanded by the group leader to set the stage for the initial session.
2. Implementation of Group Rules
Another role of the counselor or leader in group therapy is ensuring the implementation of the group rules. Once the rules have been set and agreed upon by all members, every member should be encouraged and held accountable to stick with them.
This being said, the counselor must not become a nitpicker actively seeking for who is breaking the group rules. Instead the counselor should ensure the rules remain at the back of his mind and he should call back to order anyone going beyond set boundaries.
3. Facilitation of discussion
Facilitation of discussion is the most important of all the roles of the counsellor or group leader in group therapy since this interaction is the most important activity of the counseling group.
The leader must be on the lookout for group members that are becoming withdrawn for whatever reason and try to find out if anything is wrong and possibly resolve them or encourage them to join again in the discussion.
One way the leader can facilitate discussion is through raising relevant open-ended questions or even going off topic for some time to get the environment stirred up again.
4. Follow Up on Assigned Responsibilities
It is also the responsibility of the counselor or group leader in group counseling to follow up on all other leaders who have been assigned with one responsibility of the other.
This includes giving them assistance where necessary, providing them with the resources they may need, setting deadlines for them to ensure the rise up to tasks, and provision of professional coaching in leadership and people management.
The counselor should also evaluate their effectiveness in carrying out assignments to find areas that need to be worked on as well as their strength.
5. Monitoring Adherence to Plan
The counselor or group leader must also be an overseer over all the activities of the therapy group to ensure that they do not drift out of plan.
He or she must continue to visit the goals, strategies and course of action that have been agreed upon by the group to ensure they are not leaving anything behind or getting engaged in frivolities that do not take them towards the goals of the group.
6. Provision of Resources
It is also the responsibility of the group leader or counselor to ensure that all the resources that will be needed for effective group counseling sessions are supplied.
This can either mean the counselor gets/outsources them or assigns a group member to make provision for them. These resources can include television sets for film modelling, books for reading, workbooks for exercises, resource persons and in some cases snacks depending on the group dynamics and nature of the counselling session(s).
7. Creativity and Dynamism
Another role of the counselor in group counseling is to ensure that group counseling sessions are filled with dynamic and creative activities.
One of the challenges that come with group counseling is that with time, some members begin to get bored and uninterested in the activities of the group and withdraw.
This boredom, however, can be minimised through dynamic activities. This can include having special game sessions, having off-topic days to discuss personal life, holding sessions in informal environments like beaches or amusement parks, and it can even get wilder depending on the means available.
8. Moderation of Activities
All the roles and responsibilities of the group leader in group counseling can be summarised as moderation of the activities of the group. The counselor must not take over (as in authoritarian leadership style) but also must not be uninvolved (as in laissez-faire leadership style).
Instead he or she should stir up the leadership spirit within every group member so all can work together and be self motivated to achieve the goals of the group.
10 Skills and Qualities of a Group Counselor
1. Effective leadership
carrying everyone along in reaching goals
2. Management skills (people and resources)
Management is maximizing available personnel and resources towards the goal
3. Organisation skill
ensuring every session is well planned and implemented
stirring up every member to engage in conversation
5. Intervention or Confrontation
calling to order those who want to break group rules
6. Conflict resolution
effectively settling dispute among members
7. Effective communication
relaying information to group members in an understandable way
ability to understand the feeling of others
9. Professional ethics
maintaining all the ethics of guidance and counselling
10. Knowledge and Competence
ability to contribute productively to the group and have more knowledge about the issue than other group members.
A counselling/therapy group is as good as its leader— the leadership style they use, the roles they assume and the skills they possess.
Olusegun Iyejare is a career coach and certified counselor. He helps individuals discover and maximize their potential to live satisfying lives regardless of obvious limitations holding them back.