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Groups: Process & Practice

Schneider M. Corey & Gerald Corey

Copyright: ©1997
Publishers: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company, Pacific Grove, CA
Book Review by: Cathy Bernatt

Groups: Process & Practice


Groups: Process & Practice was built on a rich base of knowledge and years of professional experience on the part of the two authors in leading groups themselves. It is filled with an invaluable summary of the stages that groups go through, the role of the leader through each of these stages and a detailed description of the member's roles and challenges at the different stages.

In reading this book, I was most interested in focusing in on the key aspects of a leader's role and what is essential for the development of an effective group leader. My work as team leader of the Outward Bound Global Facilitation Network and the completion of Phase 1 of our project this winter had me keenly interested in what this book had to share. For Phase 2 of our project, this book will be invaluable. I will now quote several passages that I highlighted and comment on those by sharing some stories from a Summer School I attended in August 2002 on Group Work.

"Particularly important is your willingness to examine how your personality and behavior either hinder or facilitate your work as a group leader...It is also essential that you be willing to take an honest look at your own life to determine if you are willing to do for yourself what you challenge group members to do." (Corey, M.S. & Corey, G. 1997, 8)

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This passage brings to mind one of the most powerful exercises I participated in during a five-day residential workshop for leaders of experiential training and therapeutic groups in Southern France this past August 2002. There were 10 participants. On Day 2, we were told that we would be forming 3 digestion groups (3, 3, & 4 members). The leaders explained that these digestion groups would be meeting for about 2 hours each day without a facilitator to integrate or "digest" amongst ourselves the meaning of the day's events. The purpose was for us to use our knowledge and skills to coach and educate each other as well as taking the opportunity to reflect on our own patterns of perceiving, believing and behaving that unfolded each day. We would also have a chance to reflect on and analyze the whole-group patterns and the functioning of the group leaders.

We were sitting around in a circle at this point. As our digestion groups would be a core and very important component of this workshop, they asked us to take a few moments to look around the group and think for a few moments about whom we would like to spend that digestion time with and whom we wouldn't like to spend that time with. They also challenged us to think about taking risks and maximizing our learning and planted a seed that perhaps recognizing discomfort in being with someone might be an opportunity for learning as well. After a few minutes, they then instructed us to get up, move about and approach those we wanted to be with. And the leaders moved their chairs back to observe the process.

As Corey and Corey say, "Group process provides a sample of reality, with the struggles that people experience in the group resembling their conflicts in daily life. (13) I remember my first feeling was I hated the leaders. How dare they as leaders put us in such an uncomfortable psychologically sensitive challenge- my memory bank flew back to my childhood days, when in physical education, two captains were chosen and then had to choose players. I was usually always chosen last or next to last and remembered how rejected and how much of a loser I felt like. I decided to verbalize to the leaders these thoughts and feelings that I was having. They responded by reminding many of us who were experiential educators that we often present our participants with such scenarios without being consciously aware of the dynamics-when we ask them to divide into groups with no structure or guidelines. And they left us again to deal with that reality.

Over the next two hours, a rich, and painful process unfolded as we struggled to form the three digestion groups. My personal experience was mixed. Three people who said they wanted to be with me approached me immediately. That felt very affirming-much different than my baseball memories. Two of those three I had also silently chosen and the third woman, I thought would be a great member to share time with. Moments later two more approached and a group of four was quickly acknowledged as being formed. Suddenly I realized that the third woman was now outside this chosen foursome. I looked at her and didn't know what to do. I wanted to be with the three others, yet didn't want to reject her outright and in fact really liked her as well, but we could only be 4 maximum. I felt selfish, not wanting to sacrifice participating in what I sensed would be a very rich digestion group so as not to reject the woman. Yet, if I went with her, who would be the third? There were two people I definitely did not want to end up with. My final choice was to remain with the three others. I felt really great and awful all at the same time about this. The woman who ended up in another group and I were able to process this together later that day and the following morning, during the reflection time we had each morning following a 10 minute silent period about the struggle and pain. For many of us that exercise was a very deep exploration into ourselves on many levels and into the dynamics of group work.

According to the authors, "Genuine cohesion typically comes after groups have struggled with conflict, have shared pain, and have committed themselves to significant risks. Genuine cohesion... is an ongoing process of solidarity that members earn through the risks they take with one another." (Corey, M.S. & Corey, G. 1997, 157) Our experience in having to form our own digestion groups certainly epitomized struggle with conflict, shared pain, and committing to risks! The result was the beginning of genuine cohesion but not the end.

The other most powerful component to this summer school were the "scenarios" we did everyday. Scenarios are semi-structured socio-dramatic re-enactment of a situation that the facilitator introduces to the group. The whole event is ‘directed' by one of the group leaders. Some group participants take roles in the socio-drama and a facilitator acts as a trained actor in a key role. Participants take turns as ‘group leader' in the scenario; others are observers watching the process. The whole group discusses the learning that be derived from each scene. Putting oneself into the chair of the ‘group leader' was a great risk, one that some eagerly wanted to take, and that others avoided. No matter what choice you made, the mirror was always there for you to look at if you chose to. One of the other points Corey and Corey say is so important is for each of us to "...become aware of your own reactions to resistance. One of the most powerful ways to intervene when you are experiencing strong feelings over what you perceive to be resistance is to deal with your own feelings and possible defensive reactions to the situation... by giving the members your reactions, you are modeling a direct style of dealing with conflict and resistance, rather than by bypassing it. Your own thoughts, feelings, and observations can be the most powerful resource you have in dealing with defensive behavior. (Corey, M.S. & Corey, G. 1997, 186-7)

As I read this book, I was taken back to this France course and was reminded how powerful the learning was for me and how much of what the authors say in this book, I had a chance to learn experientially on a very deep level! I hope to return to France next summer to join this program again. I will use Corey and Corey's book as a valuable resource for my Capstone and as we move into Phase 2 of the Outward Bound Global Facilitation Project.

My own guidelines for governing group process are first to create a container of safety for participants so that trust and openness is established early on, and an atmosphere where taking risks and making mistakes is welcomed as an opportunity to push one's limits and step outside our comfort zone. When conflicts arise, my way to deal directly and authentically about what I see and feel and open a space to allow others to express their thoughts and feelings. I refuse to avoid or sweep uncomfortable issues under the carpet. Rather I strongly support creating an atmosphere where undiscussables can be discussed and forward movement made. It is my strong belief that if we as leaders are not willing to look in the mirror often and tell the truth, then we cannot be effective leaders.

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