Group Work Intervention with Adolescents

This paper describes Strategies taught to adolescents that will assist them with increased self-esteem and confidence. The group will also create opportunity for young individuals to think about their self esteem in relation to issues they face, and develop positive approaches and strategies to assist them in their daily lives. Members share what it is like to be an adolescent, to adjust to social life and manage tension gain confidence, and getting and keeping employment etc. (Osei-Hwedie, Mwansa, and Mufune, 1990, p. 188).
The group is open-ended, new members can begin at anytime. As mandated by group work theory, the purpose of the meeting was a composite of the expressed purposes of both members and workers (Northen and Kurland, 2001). The group never consisted of more than fifteen adolescents and was often as low as ten or eight. This evenly split mixed sex group was set up for long term activity based work one evening each week. Northen and Kurland (2001) defines group work as a method of social work that is utilized in order to `help individuals to enhance their social functioning through purposeful group experiences, and to cope more effectively with their personal, group or community problems`.
This definition shows a tradition within group work of helping individuals with problems. Brown provides a more comprehensive definition of group work (1994, p.8). He states that `group work provides a context in which individuals help each other; it is a method of helping groups as well as helping individuals; and it can enable individuals and groups to influence and change personal, group, organizational and community problems. He goes on to distinguish between `relatively small and neighborhood centered` work and `macro, societal and political approaches` within community work, explaining that only the former may be properly classified as group work. Thus the role of group work can be seen as one which places emphasis on sharing of thoughts, ideas, problems and activities.
Roles within Groups – each individual within a group has a role to play in the development of that group to a greater or lesser extent. Through observation, understanding of difference, awareness of personal resources and effective communication each member may affect group processes and individual emotions (Douglas, 1995). Roles develop within groups both through formal appointment and because of the personal characteristics and interpersonal relationships that develop between members. Roles which develop can be constructive and support the group and its members in achieving its goals, or can be destructive and work against the overall group aims. Individuals within the group can develop several roles and at times these may conflict. For example a member was designated as leader for a specific task, also played a clown and was fond of practical jokes. The fooling state that group work is not an exact science is something of an understatement. As we have seen, it is problematic to even define what is meant by a group as no absolute definition exists. Similarly most, if not all, concepts within group work theory can be, and are, contested.
Groups are extremely important in the lives of all individuals. Johnson and Johnson (1975, p1-2) state `many of our goals can be achieved only with the cooperation and coordination of others. However, the success of any group depends on the ability of its members to exchange ideas freely and to feel involved in the life and decisions of the group` (Massallay, 1990). All groups within youth work have goals. It is important that short term and long term goals are set realistically if the group is to develop and function effectively. These functions are achieved through the direction of leadership and the development of individual roles within each group. Two of the most useful theories of group stage development are those discussed by Tuckman (1965), and Rogers on encounter groups (1967). These models, propose that as groups develop and change they pass through stages which may be conceptualized. Tuckman??™s model has been used extensively within youth work theory and practice and is an excellent model for attempting to analyze individual and group behavior.
A brief synopsis of each stage is outlined in this paper with examples from my observation. The first stage is forming- this group process is joining, referred to as engagement by Rogers. This phase involves significant testing, and trial and error. Initial concerns about openness and support within the group are manifested by a lack of cohesion and a difficulty in sharing thoughts, feelings and experiences with each other. An internal appraisal of group value and how each individual belongs to the group are key features of this stage. Anxiety, isolation, inadequacy and frustration are common emotions felt by group members at this early stage in the life of a group, as well as being emotionally threatened by members of the group who are perceived to be stronger or better. Thus the group seeks to create a comfort zone in which individuals are not keen to upset the status quo for fear of alienation. Oppressive behavior is least likely within the formation stage of a group as individuals generally look to create a comfort zone and do not wish to rock the boat. Often frustrations will be built upon between individuals who disagree strongly, but this will generally not surface until storming begins.
A knowledge and understanding of the feelings and emotions felt by group members in this stage is helpful, if not essential, to the effective structuring of a program to work towards the desired outcome for the group. For example the groups I had experience with were set up to encourage social interaction and personal development. Having an awareness of group stage theory enabled my colleague to structure the early encounters for the groups to be;
a) Fun and enjoyable ??“ to encourage continued attendance;
b) Relaxed – offering the promotion of effective communication and allowing members to get to know each other a little while gaining confidence and trust. To this end ice breaker, introduction and communication exercises were used. As Dynes describes games stimulate the imagination, make people resourceful and help develop social ability and co-operation` (Dynes, 1990).
Storming- this stage sees group members begin to confront each other as they begin to strive for roles within the group that will help them to belong and to feel valued. Thus as members begin to assert their individual personalities, the comfort of the forming stage begins to come under siege. Members experience personal, intra and inter group conflicts. Aggression and resentment may manifest in this stage and thus if strong personalities emerge and leadership is unresponsive to group and individual needs, the situation may become destructive to the group??™s development. Indeed there is a high potential for individuals to abandon the group during this stage, as for some the pressures created by the group may become too much of a strain. The potential for oppressive behavior is strong within the storming phase as group members vie for preferred roles and release frustrations built within the forming period.
This personal oppression should be discouraged while it is understood that a degree of conflict is necessary if the group is to further develop. This stage was represented by a rebellious streak within the young people and much of the storming was directed towards the adult leaders. Boundaries within the group were tested as the group explored how far they would be allowed to go and what they could get away with. Two of the group with strong personalities began to vie for intra-group leadership. Each used their own abilities to strengthen their claim to lead the group, while sabotaging and undermining the other??™s efforts in an attempt to usurp the leadership role. I am aware that conflicts take place within all groups, and if handled well this conflict can produce benefits for the group in terms of development, objective and task setting, and ultimate outcome. Thus conflict is not inherently something to be feared or avoided.
Norming- During this stage the group begins to work more constructively together towards formal identified or informal tasks. Roles begin to develop and be allocated within the group and although these may be accepted, some members may not be comfortable with the role or roles which they have been allocated. During this stage sub-groups are likely to form in order that a supportive environment is once more created. Acceptable and unacceptable behaviors within the group are created and reinforced and thus the `norms` for this group become fabricated. The group settled into group norms quite quickly; however some of the roles that were adopted were challenged by the co-leaders as they were seen to be obstructive to the group and individual??™s objectives. One young person (J.) who often exhibited behavior problems was previously known to other group members. As these young people expected poor behavior from J. this was the role which he adopted. This was challenged within the group context and it was pointed out that alternatives to this behavior were available.
Performing -this stage sees the group performing effectively with defined roles, in fact at this stage it could be said that the group has transformed into a team. It is now that decisions may be positively challenged or reinforced by the group as a whole. The discomfort of the storming and Norming phases has been overcome and the group has a general feeling of unity. This is the best stage for a group to complete tasks, assuming that task, rather than process and individuals, are the focus of the group. An excellent example of performing within the group came during a summer outing to the Park??™s with the group. A member of the group (A.) admitted to a fear of heights and thus did not want to take part in riding a roller coaster. The whole group supported this decision but offered encouragement and support in order to promote participation. One individual (M.) spent time and energy showing leadership and helped (A.) to overcome his fears. (A.) took part on the ride being assisted by (M.) and encouraged by the whole group. Potential exists within this stage for oppression to begin if one or more group members does not appear to fit in with the group??™s view of its task, or is not performing as effectively as expected. Again it is important to challenge this if it occurs and to show how each member can benefit the group, through achievement of task, leadership, reviewing, moving on, or by monitoring the groups process.
Mourning -the final stage in the life of a group ultimately is its termination. Though often overlooked, this stage in group development is equally important to positive outcomes. The ending of a group can be a very unhappy and distressing time for some members, as they may feel some extent of dependency on the group. Garland et al. describe some of the typical responses to the ending phase as:
Denial ??“ `forgetting` the time of the groups??™ termination.
Regression ??“ reverting to a less independent state of functioning.
Need expression ??“ in the hope the group will continue.
Recapitulation ??“ detailed recall of past experiences within the group.
Evaluation ??“ detailed discussion on the value of the group experience.
Flight ??“ destructive denial of any positive benefit of the group, or a positive disengagement towards other interest.
Potential also exists within this stage for members to be oppressed as scapegoats, that is blamed or at fault for the ending of the group. This can be minimized by constant focusing and refocusing on group end points and staged celebrations of group achievements. The end of the group was marked by a large presentation to which friends and relatives were invited. The presentation marked a clear ending for the group from day one while as a celebration of all the groups??™ achievements during its existence. Thus the end did not come as a `surprise`, and was something to look forward to (Preston-Shoot, 1987).

Douglas, T. (1983). Groups: Understanding people gathered together. London, England: Routledge.
Dynes, R. (1990). Creative games in group work. Great Britain: Winslow Press.
Kurland, R., & Northen, H. (2001). Social work with groups.
Massallay, J. L. (1990). Methods, techniques and skills of youth and community work.
Osei-Hwedie, K., Mwansa, L. K., & Mufune, P. (1990). Youth and community work practice: methods, techniques and skills. Zambia: Mission Press.
Preston-Shoot, M. (1987). Effective group work. Hampshire: Macmillan.
Rogers, C. R. (1967). The process of basic encounter group` in bugental, j. f. t. (ed.) the challenges of human psychology. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Tuckman, B. W. (1965). Developmental sequences in small groups` in psychological bulletin no. 63. (pp. 384-399).