Early Developments and Interactions
From the outset, we ask members to briefly report some things they have been thinking about since the
pre-group meeting and what they are aware of at this moment as they are convening for this weekend
group. James says he often feels like an outsider in his life. As we listen to James, our interest is in
finding out how James perceives himself in this group. We ask him, "Do you feel like an outsider in
here?" We hope he will verbalize what it is like to be an outsider both in and out of group.
Jacqueline reports that she feels stupid and thinks that she rambles and makes no sense. It is important
to find out what feeling stupid and being inarticulate mean to her. We do not assume that we know
what she means by rambling. Our interest is in finding out if and how this is problematic for her. We
might make the assumption that she has a critical judge within her; we do not pursue this at this point.
Instead, we ask her to mention a few ways that feeling stupid gets in the way of what she wants.
Andrew acknowledges that, like James, he too feels like an outsider. When Marianne inquires whether
he feels like an outsider with everyone in this group and whether there are some with whom he can
make a connection, he tells us that he finds it is easier to trust the men in the group. The inquiry is
aimed at getting Andrew to note that he does not feel equally distant from everyone. Again, we do not
assume that we know what being an outsider means to Andrew or James, nor do we know what feeling
stupid is like for Jacqueline, so we ask all three of them to note and verbalize when they become aware
of these feelings.
3. James says, "I feel like an outsider." How might you work with his statement?
4. Jacqueline says, "I feel stupid when I ramble." How would you deal with her self-deprication in the
Some Teaching about Group
We know that confidentiality is essential if members are to feel a sense of safety in a group and is basic
for them to engage in risk taking. Even if nobody raises this issue, we raise the topic and caution them
about how it can be broken. We then provide guidelines for maintaining the confidential nature of the
exchanges. Specifically, we emphasize how easy it might be to break confidentiality without intending to
do so. We ask them to refrain from talking about what others are doing in the group. We emphasize to
members that it is their responsibility to continually make the room safe by addressing their concerns
regarding how their disclosures will be treated. If they do not feel trust because they are afraid that
others will talk outside the group, this doubt will certainly hamper their ability to fully participate.
We also mention to members that it does not make sense to open up too quickly without a foundation
of trust. As is evident in the DVD, the way to create trust is to get members to verbalize their fears,
concerns, and here-and-now reactions during the early sessions. We emphasize that it is up to each
member to decide what to talk about and how far to pursue a topic. During the early phase of a group,
we are not likely to make interventions that lead to in-depth exploration of what members are saying.
Rather than focusing immediately on the first member who speaks, we make sure that everybody has a
chance to briefly introduce himself or herself.
3. Imagine yourself as a member at the first meeting. What fears would you have about participating?
What would help you feel more trusting?
The Dyad Exercise
Marianne gives instructions to members about how to make best use of the group, and then introduces
a dyad exercise. Working in pairs facilitates member interaction, since talking to one person seems less
threatening than addressing the entire group. We ask members to say a few things to their partners that
they have been thinking about since we first met at the pre-group meeting. Specifically, we suggest they
talk about any fears or expectations they have about this group, and anything they hope to explore in
the group. We typically have them talk for about ten minutes to a partner and give them a chance to
participate in a couple of dyads. After the dyads, we ask members to take turns verbalizing to the entire
group a few of the points they shared with the partner(s) in this exercise. Again, our aim is to hear from
everyone, to clarify what they are saying, and to help them become more specific about their goals for
the group. We avoid interventions that would facilitate deeper exploration for any of the members
because we want ample time for all members to at least identify their concerns. While it may be
tempting to stay with anyone member for a great deal of time to work on what he or she initially brings
up, we do not do so because it would be at the expense of including others. If all participants speak early
on, it provides everyone with a better sense of each other. They usually discover some commonalities
enabling them to identify with one another, which leads to a climate of trust.
We expect everybody to become a participating member. If members do not bring themselves in
spontaneously, we continue to invite them to speak. We are likely to say any of the following: "Let's
hear from everybody. A few of you have not yet spoken. Even though it is difficult to speak up, we hope
you challenge yourself to do so." Members may choose to share relatively little about events outside of
the group, yet they can still actively participate by keeping themselves open to being affected by others
in the group and they can share this.
1. What would help you to feel comfortable enough to speak about yourself if you were a
member of a group?
2. What would you say to a quiet member who tells you that in his or her culture it is considered
impolite to speak up without being specifically asked to talk?
As leaders, we do not want to be the only ones working, nor do we want members to rely on us to
consistently bring them into the interactions. A few examples from the DVD illustrate how we build a
norm of shared responsibility. Marianne invites Jackie to bring herself into the group process after Jackie
says, "If I bring myself in when someone else is talking, my fear is that I would interrupt what's going
on." The co-leaders teach members how to best include themselves in what may be happening in the
group at a given point. We tell members that they are not as likely to interfere with the group process if
they share how they are affected at that moment by what is going on. Thus, we encourage Jackie to take
the risk of possibly interrupting an interaction, rather than sitting in the group quietly while she waits for
her turn to speak. Our attempt is to shape the norm for members to spontaneously enter into
interactions when the current issue has meaning to them, rather than to rely on us to draw them in.
We teach members to take an active role in the process of monitoring what they are feeling, thinking,
and doing. We do not want them to expect that we will know and point out when they are feeling
scared, intimidated, or withdrawn. A few examples illustrate this point. James says he feels he has to
prove himself. We want James to monitor specific times during the sessions when he becomes aware of
striving to prove himself. We ask Jackie, who is aware of the authority figures (co-leaders) to pay
attention to the times when the presence of Marianne and Jerry might get in her way of doing work. You
will soon see Casey who says she fears being vulnerable and that she rehearses endlessly before finally
speaking. We encourage her to speak up when she experiences feelings of vulnerability. Casey can
accomplish this by simply announcing that she feels vulnerable and that she is rehearsing.
Casey is a good example of a member who is in the habit of censoring her expression of thoughts and
feelings. She is afraid of being inappropriate or being judged if she voices what she is thinking. We
encourage Casey to speak up, especially when she is having reactions to what is transpiring in the group.
Hopefully, she will learn that this group is a safe place to discover what would happen if she more
frequently says out loud, what she is thinking and feeling.
Assume that you were co-leading this group. What would you say to each of these member's
2. James says, "I worry a lot that I need to prove myself."
3. Casey says, '1 rehearse countless times before I speak because I want to say things right."
As you will notice throughout the program we frequently use role-plays to have members show us how
they struggle with a particular relationship rather than report stories about problematic relationships.
We ask members to identify specific individuals in the group, who could represent significant others,
and who could be helpful to them in furthering their work. Routinely, we instruct them not to talk about
an issue, but to make it present by speaking directly to another person during a symbolic role-play.
Darren identifies people that could assist him as he explores his feelings of "being a young kid." He
selects Andrew and James to be his older brothers and Jerry to be his father. By bringing a conflict into
the present, we get a much better understanding of how Darren struggles with feeling young. Roleplaying techniques facilitate a deeper understanding and insight, a greater emotional connection, and
tend to draw others into the work by tapping into their own emotions. Engaging in a role-play and
symbolically reliving some painful experiences tends to help members release pent-up emotions and can
be a catalyst for the beginning of a healing process. Experiential methods, such as role-playing, enable
participants to attend to unfinished business from the past and allow them to find a different ending to
a painful event. Members often are able to make a new decision about a particular life situation. When
a conflict situation is enacted, members also have opportunities to practice more productive ways of
relating to others.
Reflect on these questions from the vantage point of you being a group leader.
1. What purpose do you see in asking members to engage in role-playing, even at the early
2. What factors pertaining to a member's culture or gender might you consider before initiating a
role-play in this group?
We consistently ask members to pay attention to their present reactions to and perceptions about one
another. For a group to achieve a genuine level of trust, it is essential that they express persistent
reactions that pertain to what is going on in the context of the group. We underscore the importance of
members saying what is on their mind, even though they fear that they may interrupt what is going on.
When members keep their reservations to themselves, there is no way that we can deal with such
concerns. When participants share certain reactions that could get in their way of participating fully in
the group, we have a basis to do some productive work. For instance, Jackie lets us know that she will
probably feel intimidated by us as authority figures, because she never feels good enough. She also
shares that she tends to be cautious as a way to avoid hurting anyone's feelings or creating a conflict.
With this information now being public, she is in a good position to use reactions that will emerge for
her as a reference point for some intensive work.
We are interested in both a here-and-now focus and a there-and-then focus. However, we find that
members are usually not ready to take the risk of dealing with significant personal issues outside the
group until they first deal with their reactions to one another in the room. When members bring up
either a present or past problem situation from outside of the group, we explore how this might be
played out in the context of the present group. For example, James says that he often feels that he has
to prove himself at work. Both Jacqueline and Jackie inform us how much they are seeking approval.
Andrew talks about feeling isolated. All these members are asked to take note when they experience
these feelings or thoughts in the group. While we emphasize members' here-and-now reactions, we also
ask them to explore how their present reactions in the group may reflect how they feel away from the
group. Jackie expresses her concern that she will not live up to our expectations, nor will she get our
approval. Eventually, as the group becomes more established, we hope that she will also increase her
awareness of how her struggles operate in her everyday life.
As members state what they want to accomplish, we routinely ask them if they are willing to take the
steps necessary to reach their goals. We also check to determine that the goals they are setting for
themselves represent what they want, rather than goals they feel pressured to accept from someone
else. Casey reports that she wants to rehearse and edit less, and express herself more often. She agrees
to make a contract to more spontaneously express her inner thoughts. Marianne wonders if Casey's
desire to challenge her own cultural injunctions is indeed her own agenda. She asks, "How come you
want to change this?" Later in the group, Jerry suggests some work to Casey. When Casey hesitates,
Marianne again asks Casey whether this is her agenda or Jerry's.
1. How would you use contracts with a group you are leading? How would you help members
design their contract?
2. If you were a member of this group, how open would you be in agreeing to making a contract?
What would help you in making a contract?
Rather than have members talk about a concern they mention, we consistently ask them to select
someone in the group to talk with directly. Also, members have a tendency to talk about an individual in
the group. When this occurs, we instruct them to look at and talk directly to that person. For example,
Jyl reveals that she is feeling very exposed. Marianne makes the assumption that when people feel
exposed they are usually aware of someone noticing them, and thus, she inquires, "Whom do you
notice?" After Jyl indicates that James is the one she notices, she is asked to look at James, speak
directly to him, and tell him what she is experiencing.
1. What do you observe in members when they talk directly to another person as opposed to
talking about that person?
2. If you were a leader in this group, what cultural factors would you be sensitive to before asking
members to speak directly to one another?
Look and See
Throughout the duration of a group, we ask members to look at those with whom they are having
reactions or making assumptions about. Jyl assumed that James was judging her; however, when she
looked at him as she spoke to him; she began to see acceptance rather than judgment. Jyl would have
missed that had she directed her eye contact away from James. With this, we also help Jyl become
aware of her projections. When Jacqueline indicates that she feels marginalized as an African-American
woman and sometimes feels different around Euro-Americans, we ask her to look around the group and
notice her reactions. We could have her address individuals by indicating some of the ways she feels
different from them.
1. What therapeutic value do you see in asking members to make eye contact with another person
in the group as they are talking about a problem area?
Avoiding Quick Solutions
Rather than providing quick solutions, it is essential that members have an opportunity to express their
feelings and thoughts. When a member raises self-doubts, fears, or struggles, we block other members
from offering reassurance too quickly, before this individual has had an opportunity to explore his or her
concern. When Jyl is crying as she is talking to James, we do not facilitate members giving her
reassurance or telling her that she has no reason to feel embarrassed. Instead, when Jyl says she feels
exposed, our intervention leads her to say more about what it is like for her to feel exposed. Although
quick reassuring feedback from members may make her feel good for a brief moment, it is doubtful that
this feeling will be long lasting. This is based on the assumption that Jyl's critic lies within her and not
primarily with others.
1. Jyl cries and says she feels exposed. As a leader, how would you respond to her?
Dealing with Conflict
A group cannot achieve a genuine level of safety if conflict is brewing and is not addressed. Conflict may
occur at any stage of a group. During the first session in this group, there was conflict between Jyl and
James when she announced that she felt judged by him. Jyl's feelings were hurt when Jacqueline made
the comment, "What I have to say is not very nice." Although Jyl did not let Jacqueline know how she
was affected by her comment, it was crucial that the leader drew attention to Jacqueline's comment.
Marianne, operating on her hunch that Jacqueline's comment did not register well with Jyl, asked Jyl
what it was like to hear the remark. Jyl responded with, "Being me with you is not safe. I am going to
have to protect myself. The look on your face lets me know that I'm likely to be judged by you." Because
both of them continued talking, they were able to resolve the conflict, and they were able to again
establish trust between them.
The same was true for Jyl and James. Another potential conflict situation was prevented when Jyl gave
her reactions to both James and Jacqueline when they were talking about not being taken seriously
because of their ethnicity. Jyl admits that she does not know what it is like to be an African-American
woman or an educated Chicano, yet she discloses how she struggles in a similar way when she says, "I
know what it's like to be a white woman-an educated, white woman-who is sometimes treated like a
piece of fluff." These examples show that conflict does not have to be divisive, if all who are involved
express their reactions and continue the dialogue.
What is crucial is that the leaders are alert to subtle conflict that may be brewing and teach members
how to deal with one another. Leaders should not collude with members to avoid conflict; instead, they
need to model that it is safe to address an interpersonal conflict, and that the conflict can be
productively resolved. During the early stages of a group, the members are keenly aware of ways that
conflict is being dealt with by the leaders and between members. If conflict is not addressed adequately,
it is likely to have a significant impact on the trust and cohesion of the group at a later phase of
Reflect on these questions from the vantage point of being a leader of this group.
1. How might the way you deal with conflict in your personal life help or hinder you as a leader in
dealing with conflicts in groups?
2. How would you respond to Jacqueline when she makes the comment, "What I have to say
would not be nice."
What Will Get in Your Way in this Group?
We teach members to speak up, even if they have not yet formulated exactly what they want to say. We
often say, "It is easy to let an entire session go by without getting around to bringing yourself into the
group. The longer you wait to involve yourself, the more difficult it will become. Challenge yourself to
say something at the beginning of each group, even if it's a brief statement of what it is like for you to
come to group today." Members often discover that if they force themselves to express even briefly
something that is on their mind as they come to a session, this will pave the way for them to become
more involved. It is especially useful for members to monitor their internal dialogue and any hesitations
they may have about participation and vocalize this.
Early in the course of a group, we typically ask participants to reflect on what they are likely to do that
will interfere with w ...
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