Group Counseling Theory
Theoretical approaches to group therapy and dynamics conveniently depend on what the group is and who’s doing the research, perhaps putting the lie to social science as the road to Shangri La. Cartwright and Zander gamely argue that many disparate theories merely validate each and propose (with the confidence of their Victorian forebears) that one day when we know more, a unifying theory will show us to the broad sunlit uplands of useful improvement.
Toseland and Rivas list the following five theories important to group practice:
psychoanalytic theory (Freud, et al.)
learning theory (Bandura)
field theory (Lewin)
social exchange or interaction theory (Blau; Homans; Thibaut and Kelly)
systems theory (Anderson; Olsen)
Cartwright and Zander add four others:
sociometric orientation (Jennings; Moreno)
general psychology orientation (looking at individual group members)
empericist-statistical orientation, or group syntality theory (Cattell)
formal models orientation (French & Snyder; Harary, Norman, & Cartwright; Simon)
Shaw includes the FIRO theory of interpersonal relationships (Schutz), along with group congruence theory (Benoit-Smullyan). While emphasizing the interworking of theory and research, Shaw quite sensibly sees each theory as adding its unique part to understanding group behavior.
Eclectic approach -- Corey & Corey suggest therapists take parts from various theoretical models to create a personal approach in tune with their own philosophies of helping and leadership.
Whole Group and Individual
Therapists choose between working with the group as a whole and working with individual members in the group.
Whole group -- This approach attends to group setting, relationship building, task, and process. According to Yalom, process comments serve to keep the group in the moment and help members appreciate how they relate to one another. This should maintain group awareness and goal orientation.
Individual -- As basically individual therapy in a group setting, this approach is sometimes called vertical intervention (as opposed to whole group, horizontal intervention). Kissen suggests that the same therapist may use whole group or the individual approach depending on a group’s internal dynamics.
Outcome and Process
Research into outcome seeks to find out how well groups work, while research into process investigates how they work. What studies there are suggest the heartening result that group therapy is better than no therapy at all, but there’s not enough research out there to definitively compare group to other therapy outcomes. From a research standpoint, it’s uncertain exactly how and why groups work as treatment.