What is Group Work?


Robert K. Conyne & Leann Terry Diederich

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  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Copyright


    Group Work Practice Kit Dedication

    To professors Shelley C. Stone (deceased) and Bruce Shertzer of Purdue University's Counseling and Personnel Services Section, where I did my graduate work. Your innovative Guidance Monograph Series from the 1960s inspired this kit and its companion, The Prevention Practice Kit (coedited with Andy Horne). Along with your Purdue colleagues, I could never have asked for better role models.


    Thanks to the SAGE staff for their support, to the book manuscript reviewers for their insight, to all group work practitioners for their dedication and contributions, to my coauthor, Leann, for her great ideas, and to my wife, Lynn, for allowing me the freedom to take up such projects in the first place!

    —Robert K. Conyne

    Many thanks to all the group work practitioners who have mentored me throughout the past 10 years; you are too numerous to name but have been instrumental in my development. I value Bob, for his patience and support through this first experience in writing a book, and my husband, David, for helping me laugh and play when life gets a bit too serious.

    —Leann Terry Diederich

    Group Work Practice Kit Acknowledgments

    Thanks to Kassie Graves and the wonderful SAGE team, once again, for their support and guidance. Appreciation to the kit's reviewers, who offered valuable insight in its development: Sally H. Barlow, Brigham Young University; John C. Dagley, Auburn University; Arthur M. Horne, The University of Georgia; Marilyn MacGregor, Western New Mexico University; Niloufer M. Merchant, St. Cloud State University; Chuck Reid, The University of Texas -Pan American; and John L. Romano, University of Minnesota. All the authors in this project merit particular thanks, and I especially value the mentorship provided by the senior authors to their younger coauthors. I am honored for the endorsement of the kit by the Association for Specialists in Group Work. A tip of my hat to all group leaders and those learning to assume that vaunted role. And, finally, I bow deeply and thankfully to my family for all their support and love.


    The Group Work Practice Kit: How to Improve the Everyday Practice of Group Work consists of a collection of brief practice books covering the span of group work application, based on research evidence. Its intent is to provide practitioners, instructors, students, and trainees with concrete direction for spreading and improving group work practice by counselors, psychologists, social workers, student personnel, and other human service personnel.

    The kit comprises nine independent books that are presented concisely, intended to be easily readable and to provide usable ideas and directions. These books all address critical practical areas within group work. The emphasis throughout is on creating interesting, scholarly, and pragmatic guidance for planning, performing, and processing group work. Each book is infused with appropriate attention to diversity and multicultural issues, with attention to accreditation and/or specialty standards.

    This series is a closed-ended series of books, purchasable in its entirety or as individual books. The kit has been developed to attract interest across a number of disciplines and among practitioners.

    The kit's span encompasses major aspects of planning, performing, and processing group work—that is, across the span of group work practice, from conceiving an idea for a group (planning) to delivering it (performing) and then evaluating its conduct and effectiveness (processing). Each book within the kit, however, independently represents a single area of substance.

    A unique aspect of this kit is that all senior authors, who are established scholars in the group work field, have teamed up with knowledgeable coauthors who are early career professionals in the field. The intent is to produce solid and innovative products while also nurturing and mentoring (and learning from) these early-stage professionals.

    Another special aspect of this kit is that it is endorsed by the Association for Specialists in Group Work (ASGW). In fact, ASGW will receive a designated portion of any royalties generated from the sale of books in the kit.

    A third feature of this kit is that all books weave evidence-based information with practical application. In the latter instance, all books include a range of learning exercises aimed at helping readers translate concepts into everyday use and enabling instructors to assist the readers in doing so.

    Thumbnail Sketch of Book Contents
    Section A. Context

    Group work is defined, providing the background for all other books in the kit.

    Book 1: What Is Group Work?

    Robert K. Conyne and Leann Terry Diederich

    This introductory book establishes a general context and framework for the kit and its chapters. It presents an inclusive conception of group work, defines types of groups, connects with extant accreditation and/or specialty standards, demonstrates how best practices in group work and attention to diversity and multicultural issues can be used to guide practice, illustrates how key group processes (e.g., group cohesion) can be used to mobilize effort, and sets the stage for the importance of translating available group work evidence into group leader practice.

    Section B. Planning

    Effective practice depends on many factors, not the least of which is proper planning and preparation.

    Book 2: Effective Planning for Groups

    Janice L. DeLucia-Waack and Amy Nitza

    Any intentional group is based on a coherent group plan. This book identifies the elements that are basic to any plan and applies these elements within an ongoing example. Among these elements are identifying the population, need and environmental assessment, goals, rationale for using group, type of group, conceptual framework used, attention to group developmental stage and group dynamics, group size, group composition, session-by-session plans, and evaluation methodology.

    Book 3: How to Form a Group

    Lynn S. Rapin and Jeri L. Crowell

    One of the larger challenges in using groups stems from the practical challenges involved in their formation. Environmental roadblocks (e.g., agency staff's lack of support for groups) to group formation are identified and countered with strategic antidotes that work. This book outlines clear strategies to consider for organizing groups and how to attract the “right” members to the “right” groups. Organizing, marketing, recruiting, screening, selecting, and composing groups are concretely addressed, with differential attention to groups that are more remedial in purpose and those that are more preventive in scope.

    Section C. Performing

    Group leaders need to create with members conditions that serve to empower growth, learning, and change, and they need to deploy leader interventions in a genuine and strategic way.

    Book 4: Groups: Fostering a Culture of Change

    Cheri L. Marmarosh, Emily Carter Dunton, and Claudia Amendola

    Group leaders need to be “culture-of-change builders.” This book identifies group conditions that have evidentiary support. The authors point out how these conditions combine to yield a positive group culture, and they indicate how leaders can nurture and support these conditions.

    Book 5: How to Select and Apply Change Strategies in Groups

    Ed Jacobs and Christine Schimmel

    Group leaders need to develop competencies, functions, and strategies aimed at helping members benefit from a positive group culture as they pursue their own learning. These competencies, functions, and related intervention strategies are detailed in this book.

    Section D. Processing

    Both group members and leaders learn from experience, but they learn more powerfully from the meaning they derive from their group experience.

    Book 6: How to Help Leaders and Members Learn From Their Group Experience

    Donald E. Ward and Christopher A. Ward

    This book highlights practical ways that leaders can help members learn from their ongoing group experience through guided illumination of selected group events that have recently occurred. It also shows the necessity of group leaders' reflecting on their practice between group sessions (e.g., through supervision) by providing examples and practice exercises.

    Book 7: How Leaders Can Assess Group Counseling

    Maria T. Riva and Robin E. Lange

    Researchers have produced ample evidence that well-planned and well-delivered group work can benefit members. To add to the general storehouse of knowledge and, more important, to continually improve local group work practice, it is desirable that each individual group experience be evaluated for effectiveness as well as for its capacity to meet other criteria (e.g., appropriateness). Practitioners frequently find the evaluation requirement difficult to accomplish due to its assumed complexity. This book provides practical guidance about how to establish—or collaborate with researchers to accomplish—research designs aimed at evaluating group process and outcomes. Group work measures and both quantitative and qualitative approaches are described, with suggestions for group leader use.

    Section E. Applying Group Work in the Community and in Schools

    Book 8: Groups in Community and Agency Settings

    Niloufer M. Merchant and Carole J. Yozamp

    Group work is becoming commonplace in community settings, such as in sexual assault centers, mental health centers, battered women's shelters, chemical dependency units, community planning, employee training and development, employee assistance centers, and in other outpatient, inpatient, and residential settings. It even is beginning to occur somewhat more frequently in private practice. This book demonstrates how group work, ranging from remedial through preventive forms, is manifested in an array of community settings, thus providing readers with practical, concrete information about how group work is being used—and can be used even more effectively.

    Book 9: Group Work in Schools

    John Dagley and Erin English

    Schools receive too little attention in the group work literature, but they are settings in which groups play a critically important role—one that can be expanded in the future. This book demonstrates how group work is being used within schools, ranging from elementary through college and university levels. It emphasizes remedial as well as developmental and preventive applications of groups—including psychoeducation group formats—and gives attention to groups having an educational and career focus.

    Intended Audiences

    The Group Work Practice Kit: Improving the Everyday Practice of Group Work is intended for undergraduate courses in the human services and for graduate courses in psychology (counseling, clinical, school, consulting, and community), counselor education (mental health, community, college, and school counseling), education, social work, and student affairs, as well as for the legion of practitioners in the group work field. The intent is to provide pragmatic approaches based on research evidence better to support the effective use of group work. Therefore, both current practitioners and faculty/students/trainees are prime targets, each category being in strong need of a resource such as that being provided here.

    Current practitioners often are asked to deliver groups without having been taught research-based practice methods for forming, leading, and processing them. The limited availability of group work courses in higher education tends to include texts that are conceptual and theoretical in emphasis, without giving sufficient attention to concrete application issues and approaches. This kit provides accessible resources focused on practical application issues and approaches based on research, presented in a highly readable and usable manner, and structured to enhance teaching and learning processes.

    This resource is intended to be practical and to provide readers with pragmatic practice directions across the key cycle of group work, from conception to delivery to determining effectiveness. The goal for the kit and each of its books is to contribute to the improvement of everyday group practice. The kit, I should think, will be fully useful in its entirety to practitioners, and the design of the selected books within it will cogently supplement required texts assigned in any group-oriented course.

    Targeted Professional Associations

    Members of a range of associations involved with the helping professions should find the contents of this kit of interest. These associations include American Counseling Association, American Group Psychotherapy Association, American Psychological Association, Association for the Advancement of Group Work, Association of Counselor Education and Supervision, Association for Specialists in Group Work, National Association for Social Workers, National Organization for Human Services, Society of Counseling Psychology, Society of Group Psychology and Group Psychotherapy, and others.

    Academic Disciplines

    Group work is a multidisciplinary, multiprofession method. In addition to psychology, social work, and counselor education, the kit could serve courses and practitioners in a variety of other disciplines and professions: human services, social work, public health, and health promotion, among others.


    A key target audience for this book is practitioners in the field—those who are asked to undertake group work, too often with inadequate training and practical skills. They need focused resources, such as the books in this kit, to guide their thinking and efforts.

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    About the Authors

    Robert K. Conyne, PhD, Professor Emeritus at the University of Cincinnati and William A. Allen Endowed Chair and Distinguished Professor, 2013–2014, at Seattle University, is a licensed psychologist, clinical counselor, and Fellow of the Association for Specialists in Group Work (ASGW) and the American Psychological Association (APA). He has compiled 40 years of professional experience as a university professor and department head, counselor, administrator, consultant, and trainer. Bob has received many awards, including the Eminent Career Award from ASGW; the Lifetime Achievement Award in Prevention from the APA's Society of Counseling Psychology; the Distinguished Alumni Award of Distinction from Purdue University; and a Soros International Scholar. He was president of the APA's Division of Group Psychology and Group Psychotherapy and also of the American Counseling Association's Association for Specialists in Group Work. With more than 200 scholarly publications and presentations, including 14 books in his areas of expertise (group work, prevention, and ecological counseling), along with broad international consultation in these areas—most recently with U.S. military personnel—Bob is recognized as an expert in working with people and systems. With colleague (and wife), Lynn S. Rapin, PhD, he also helps people plan and prepare psychologically for their upcoming retirement, using the holistic approach they developed, “Charting Your Personal Future.” The Prevention Practice Kit (coedited with A. Horne, 2013) and his text Group Work Leadership: An Introduction for Helpers with SAGE are his most recent efforts, preceded by the Oxford Handbook of Group Counseling (2011) and 12 other books. Bob will assume a special position at Seattle University for 2013–2014 as the William A. Allen Endowed Chair and Distinguished Professor. When not working, Bob and Lynn—as often as possible with their children, Suzanne (married to Pete) and Zack—can be found traveling or enjoying life at their Northern Ontario cottage with their dog, Lucy.

    Leann Terry Diederich, PhD, group therapy coordinator at the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services at The Pennsylvania State University, is a licensed psychologist. She is a member of the Association for Specialists in Group Work. She is also Member-at-Large for the Society of Group Psychology and Group Psychotherapy (Division 49 of the American Psychological Association) and focuses on the needs of early-career professionals. She is active in providing group work training, both locally and at the national level, through presentations at the American Group Psychotherapy Association annual conference. She is a firm believer in the value of sharing group resources, promoting group work, and mentoring. As part of striving toward a balanced life, she enjoys gardening, horseback riding, and ballroom dancing.

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