What is it about?

Belongingness in group counseling, sometimes referred to as group cohesion, is an important predictor of therapeutic outcomes including reductions in distress and improvements in interpersonal functioning. We described both how cohesion changes across time and in what ways it's development is influenced by individual members, leaders, and characteristics of the group (e.g. group size, attendance, etc).

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Why is it important?

Our findings suggest a common trajectory of cohesion change across individuals (an upward, linear trend early in the life of groups followed by a curving upward trend in the latter half of groups). While client characteristics are mostly responsible for determining how cohesion will grow, our findings suggest that group leaders who focus on structuring to the exclusion of fostering emotional belonging may inhibit the bonding of groups they lead.

Perspectives

The work itself takes shape around a single question from my early experiences as a group therapist: what influence, if any, do we as leaders have over the sense of belonging our group members feel? As it turns out, the answer to this question is quite complex; requiring a statistical means of accounting for the multiple dependencies of many people interacting across time. In this study my colleagues and I have worked hard to address the question with empirical rigor, and we have been surprised and humbled by the results. The simple answer to the question driving this work is “yes;” our behaviors as leaders definitely do influence the course of cohesion change. Still, the overall significance of our impact is small in comparison to the influence of member traits, and structuring too much may actually inhibit the bonding of members in our therapy groups. In many ways, the present study encourages us as group therapists to, as Irvin Yalom states, “let it flow” in allowing cohesion to emerge naturally over time. The results of this work have truly impacted how I conceptualize group development and I am excited to share them with you now.

Jeritt Tucker

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This page is a summary of: Modeling cohesion change in group counseling: The role of client characteristics, group variables, and leader behaviors., Journal of Counseling Psychology, December 2019, American Psychological Association (APA), DOI: 10.1037/cou0000403.
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