Group psychotherapy is a process that evolves in several stages and aims at the delivery of the final mental recovery of all the members. It is claimed that most groups “develop in a regular and observable pattern, allowing for predictions of near-future patterns of group behavior” (American Group Psychotherapy Association, 2009, p. 31). Every preceding phase contributes to the following ones and greatly depends on a therapist’s skills, competency, and the ability to influence a team. Thus, knowing the features of each stage allows a therapist to be prepared and apply appropriate skills and techniques to lead the group through each phase.
Once the group is formed, an exploration, or storming, phase follows, during which the participants learn about each other, try to establish authority, and occupy a particular place within the group. Since individuals might have different characters, temperaments, and visions of their issues, there is frequently a place for conflicts during this stage. For a mentor, it is essential to identify conflicting elements and eliminate their causes. A therapist has to organize psychotherapy sessions in a trustworthy and supportive way that could guarantee a comfortable emotional atmosphere facilitating the curing process.
Leading the Storming Stage
The storming stage is an inevitable developmental step any group takes. Because the members are mostly strangers to each other, it is their first task, when grouped, to establish connections and communication. Often, such initial interactions are marked with confrontations and competition (Project Arrive, 2018). Apart from being placed in an alien environment, the members of a group feel the lack of confidence in the outcomes of therapy and find themselves in an unclear situation that Lafair (2010) calls “the ugly middle” (00:00:06-00:00:15). As a leader of a group, a therapist has to ensure a respectful, supportive, and equally comfortable atmosphere for every member during the sessions.
The task that the therapist needs to accomplish is to help the participants to manage their negative emotions and resistance by assisting in answering a series of questions. Lafair (2010) introduces such issues to address as “What do I want as an outcome? How can I behave differently? How can I ask the questions that will make a difference?” (00:01:50-00:02:20). Asking these questions and helping patients to find responses to them will improve the leading process and amplify the movement of the group forward.
It is essential to lead the group through the storming stage competently because this is the key to the overall success of the intervention. That is why, any “behavior that is incongruent with the group purpose” should be “confronted if necessary” (American Group Psychotherapy Association, 2009, p. 33). The leader should set the rules of behavior and bring all issues relevant to the group development to discussion paying equal attention to every participant. It is crucial to initiate “team-building activities … encouraging group members to find their role in the group” (Project Arrive, 2018, para. 2). Proper leading of the storming stage guarantees a flawless transition of the group to a consecutive phase, thus making progress in recovery.
Facilitating Trust in the Group
Trust in a therapeutic group is an essential factor that is capable of assisting the curing process in all group members. Since the personal growth and recovery from the depression of each patient depends on the reflective inclusion and support of all the group, it is necessary to form trusting relationships. The leader’s long-term goal is to establish a cooperative team that would work as an alliance rather than many competitors (Project Arrive, 2018). This goal might be achieved by completing separate interventions and implementing particular methods in practice.
Constant inclusion of each member of the group in discussion and decision-making processes should be used as a demonstration of the importance of everyone’s point of view. The best way to ensure a comfortable emotional atmosphere during the sessions is the therapist’s transparency. A trust-building process should start with the mentor’s self-disclosure when he or she shares personal experiences relevant to the discussed issues (American Group Psychotherapy Association, 2009). Getting feedback from the group members would be a valid example of teamwork and facilitate trust between the individuals. The feedback delivered constructively without humiliating or shaming needs to be prioritized.
Moreover, to promote trust in the group, a therapist might arrange creative projects the ultimate outcomes of which would depend only on the cooperation of each participant. If there is cohesion in the team, and the patients can reach agreement in the process of communication and work on a project, the therapist will know that the trust has been established. Thus, engaging in trust-building activities, the patients can develop the necessary skills capable of providing support, appraising, and expressing compassion that are the most valuable features of group counseling.
Approaching Leader’s Role During the Storming Stage
The main role of a leader during the storming stage is the ability to maintain conflicts inside the group in a way that allows for the development of trustworthy relationships facilitating each patient’s well-being. It takes competence, professionalism, and willingness to help and support a mentor to deal with this role. When “maintaining authority,” a therapist has to guarantee the individuals’ safe transition through the conflicting stage and creation of common engagement in the recovering process (Fonagy, Campbell, & Bateman, 2017, p. 187).
It is essential “to reaffirm the group’s purpose and the members’ common goals” by retrieving the information during discussions (American Group Psychotherapy Association, 2009, p. 33). Since this is when the patients start working on their issues, the leader has to establish rules and guide with personal example reminding about the ultimate purpose of the intervention.
Learning from each other’s experiences should be viewed as a priority during the sessions. Thus, in a case of negative feelings expression, the therapist needs to address the issue explicitly and elicit a participant’s reflection on the reasons for such behavior and possible ways of overcoming the problem (Ezhumalai, Muralidhar, Dhanasekarapandian, & Nikketha, 2018). It is vital to eliminate any subgroup divisions or biased attitude to anyone inside the group. Approaching the therapist’s role in such a manner, one can achieve positive results during the storming phase and successfully transfer to the next stage.
To summarize, the storming stage is a challenging step in the development of a psychotherapeutic group because it is the beginning of members’ interactions that are often accompanied by confrontations. Conflicting situations are the result of the natural process of authority establishment when each group participant tries to find his or her place among others. It is the therapist’s main task to actively engage the patients in a cooperative and respectful communication that aims and trust- and team-building.
Leader’s self-disclosure, competent demonstration of the goals and outcomes of therapy, as well as the ability to work on the conflicts and lead through them ensure the overall success of the intervention. When teaching how to learn from each other’s experiences and navigate through “the ugly middle,” a group leader accomplishes his or her role and transfers the patients to a consecutive stage.
American Group Psychotherapy Association. (2009). Practice guidelines for group psychotherapy. Web.
Ezhumalai, S., Muralidhar, D., Dhanasekarapandian, R., & Nikketha, B. S. (2018). Group interventions. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 6(4), 514-521.
Fonagy, P., Campbell, C., & Bateman, A. (2017). Mentalizing, attachment, and epistemic trust in group therapy. International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 67(2), 176-201.
Lafair, S. (2010). Storming stage of team conflict. Web.
Project Arrive. (2018). The “storming” stage of group mentoring. Web.