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Interpersonal Skills & Groups

ELGs or practice groups

By Tony MartelloPublished about a month ago Updated 11 days ago 20 min read
Interpersonal Skills & Groups
Photo by Jason Goodman on Unsplash

As this class comes to a close, I reflect back on the lessons I have learned about interpersonal dynamics and my own growth as an aspiring counselor. To begin, I reviewed my SEA assignment, my journals, my dyad practices, and our ELGs to evaluate where my turning point was in getting the gist of this course. In week 5, the class reflection and dyad assignment were similar in that both demonstrated that I had a few strengths and a few weaknesses to reflect on. During my dyad practice with EC, and while reviewing my interpersonal goals and SEA’s (1-4) in class, I realized my strengths were: inspiring others, providing empathy, and goal setting. I also identified a few weaknesses: not using enough silence to allow time for thought, not enough effective/active listening, and finding more empathy during my interpersonal interactions with others. I am sure this analysis applied to both inside and outside of the classroom. I believed it was a fairly accurate indicator of how my real life was lived interpersonally and socially, so I asked my wife for her feedback and she agreed that I need to work on more silence, active listening, and more presence. My wife was a solid reference to use because she knew me outside of the classroom.

While looking at my SEA’s in our class ELG, EC and I realized we had a few skills we could develop better. Mine were the three I mentioned above: the use of silence, active listening, and deeper empathizing. The asynchronous material supported from week 5 supported my analysis as well because Yalom demonstrated that silence works, deeper empathy works, and the power of suggestion and providing intragroup topics to discuss for interpersonal and group therapy.

After our dyad session, I realized I performed better on showing presence, awareness, and validation but could have used more silence, practiced more empathy, and given less advice. I learned that it is probably better to facilitate your client to learn to empower themselves during and after therapy. As a way to quantify my evaluation, I observed my prior SEAs and observed 6-7’s before the dyad and re-evaluated those measures after our dyad exercises and improved by 1-2 points on the reference measurement. Therefore, the SEA’s provided a way to measure my skills, and re-measure after practicing. I was happy to see that I was able to increase my scores by 1-2 points on the interpersonal skill meter.

To dive even deeper into personal reflection, I reviewed week 6 and my interactions with my new dyad partner, CK. We were tasked to discuss a series of Questions and Clarifications and found this exercise to be very fruitful as we role played on topics that related to our current frustrations. We explored questions that brought critical priorities front and center in our minds and helped us prioritize our action items. I proceeded by asking, “Which concern bothers you the most?” and others like, “How do expect to manage these?”

We would discuss the questions and answers and then leave space for silence and then allow for a set of clarification questions following the first set of questions. We both found this to be systematic and natural at the same time. I felt better at striking somewhat of a balance in these series of questions. I self-evaluated and realized that I could have listened even better and allowed for more silence between questions as is my challenge many times.

While studying the async material during week 6-7 on the topic of deepening, I put all these pieces together and integrated my personal challenges into one overall focus for my future dyads and ELG. I found the skill of deepening to glue it all together for me. It was during this week's practice with CK where the lightbulb went off and I began to realize that I could incorporate all the skills into one session. I made sure to practice using presence, silence, deepening, and most importantly empathy. To sum up my self-analysis, this is where I began to feel improvements in my focus on the challenges I had and feel positive momentum moving forward on the rest of my dyads and ELGs. At this point in the course, I asked my wife to practice with me on deeper conversations and she provided positive feedback that she felt more presence and connection with me during our day to day interactions.

ELG Observations & Growth

The ELG experience was one of the most impactful exercises we did in this class because we got to experience running our own groups and participating as group-members. First and foremost, just having the platform to be able to practice a group situation was valuable in itself. We could get an idea of the structure of a group, the dynamics of interpersonal interactions, and the skills required to run an effective group with meaning and value. Overall, I observed our depth and breadth of skill developing from the first ELG to the last and appreciated the deepening that occurred for each of us.

For me, my learning began early on when A.W. ran her group. I learned about group trust, cohesion, and presence of members, emotionally. I enjoyed her set of questions that drew out our present feeling by asking, “what color would you be?” what animal do you identify with?” etc. I observed how each group member was able to explore within themselves, how each felt at the moment, and then respond with a representation of emotion by using creativity, color, and animism. I noticed that this technique allowed group members to easily step outside any problems they may be encountering and answer with creativity, “I feel clear and transparent” and furthermore, “like an x-ray fish in the sea,” for example. I found her skills and techniques very effective in opening up a conversation with each other and stimulating an interesting topic of discussion. I was impressed with her bravery, creativity, and ability to engage a large group effectively. I learned that I would most definitely want to take away the engagement skills she used and utilize them for my own ELG and real-life groups.

Taking away A.W.’s skills of group engagement and moving forward, one of our breakout groups during class with S.G. and E.D. was very fruitful as we discussed how we manage conflict in our personal lives with our family members and how we communicate to address the conflict and clarify our feelings during times of fighting and distress. I found it helpful to get various perspectives. For example, when S.G. shared her frustrations with her husband, I related to her frustrations because I have a wife and can feel similar modes of nonverbal commutation and passive aggressive conflict that can arise in a marriage. She, conversely, acknowledged the same effect as well. While this may be amusing during a role play/practice, it is critical to acknowledge during a real counseling session. At this point in the class, I realized how important the break-out sessions are for us to interpersonally reflect on each other’s point of view and share our experiences. We are able to have space and time to digest each group members perspectives and learn the most from our ELG’s.

S.G.’s ELG demonstrated the group skill of deepening nicely as she picked a topic that was very engaging like A.W.’s but took that concept and applied used deepening to explore her group further. Unlike my ELG which was brief and applicable, S.G.’s had length and deepness to her conversations and so I learned how to have more questions ready during preparations for our ELG’s and real-life Group Sessions. I appreciated her balance of self-disclosure and applying the material to the members. While observing the group members, I noticed that they found enough material to relate to at least one part of her presentation and learned that I should prepare more questions before to deepen my ELG.

Bringing along A.W.s skill of engagement, S.G.’s use of deepening, I found a lot of meaning and purpose from E.D.’s existential ELG on heroes, fear of death, and living life to the fullest. This was a lightbulb moment where I learned the importance of purpose and meaning in our groups. E.D. explored the meaning of life by sharing creative stories that inspired him and then opening up the circle for our stories as group members. We were each able to now explore our own sense of purpose and value to ourselves, families, friends, classmates, and communities. I realized how important it is to design a group with a purpose so each member can benefit. I noticed strong group cohesion as we went around the circle sharing our purposes in life.

Furthermore, as counselors all these skills are great but what if we don’t motivate our members to make changes, then how do they do out and adapt to the stressors of the world? It was M.M.’s ELG that answered that question for me. While the topic of goal setting was very practical and useful, it was what we took away that was the most impactful in her group meeting. She educated us on taking our goals and challenging ourselves to motivate us to take our fear of failure and rise above by focusing on overcoming that fear. It was her ELG that taught me to have some tools to offer your members to help them motivate and incorporate those skills into real-life adaptations.

Before I ran my own group on the topic of Displacement of Anger, I utilized the Corey readings to learn about the importance of initiating a group and building trust early. Some examples are making members feel accepted, uncovering hidden agendas through open communication, and developing cohesion.

In addition to the Corey readings, I incorporated the Yalom readings, by realizing the importance on setting the "here and now" tone for the group to fully engage and share the current state of feelings and affairs to help the microcosm grow and thrive. I also found the process illuminating skills to be very helpful and critical to the group. In addition, forming a strong cohesion is critical to the health of the group. In the Messages reading, I particularly enjoyed the reading about influencing others and how people only change when they want to change, and threats just build resentment and anger. I reflected about times in my life when I was affected by this behavior and certain people in my life that were affected by threats and how damaging they were. I appreciated the skills building about positive rewards, self-care, and facilitating positive change in people. As I read more in the Corey reading from chapter 7, I was intrigued by the fact that some conflict is good and healthy and that the way the therapist manages it matters most. I appreciate the part about how self -disclosure must benefit the group and the group goals and problems and not just benefit the therapist. I also found the dialogue examples very helpful with the demonstration of the “I” statements instead of the “you” statements. I imagine this can be very powerful when dealing with challenging group members.

So, armed the skills I observed from my classmates and the reading on groups, I created my group by choosing a topic I felt was most applicable to our everyday lives-displacement. I was happy with the engagement, flow of conversation, and purpose but felt that I lacked the depth needed to complete a full group course effective in the real world of counseling. I learned from the evaluation from M.M. and Professor W. and will make sure to focus on deepening, time management, and timing the next time I practice running a group in this program and of course in my professional life outside of Pepperdine University.

Countertransference, Culture, and Challenges

Before I got into this program, I knew that we each had our own biases and schemas of culture, faith, and life challenges, but this program, previous classes, and this particular class have helped me explore my own biases even deeper than I thought possible. In my first term here at Pepperdine University, I learned from Dr. L.'s book, Metathoughts, that there are certain mental traps to be aware of as counselors. The bias that resonates with me the most since taking that class is the Dichotomous Thinking bias, or extreme black and white thinking. Recently, I have been asking the question about many facets of my daily life, “Is this extreme, black and white thinking?” and I have been discovering many of us in everyday life are still stuck in extremely polarized beliefs.

This particular bias entered the spotlight for me during week 7 of our class. For our dyad practice on diversity conversations, CK and I chose the LGBTQ topic as a diversity conversation as we felt it would challenge us the most. Because we both came from strict Christian upbringings where the question of morality and homosexuality and bisexuality was a question mark, we discussed our familial perspectives and our own perceptions of the LGBTQ community. I shared with CK that I had a previous discussion with my father about the morality of this community and how I chose that I would help counsel this client profile. I elaborated by sharing with CK that I saw homosexuality and bisexuality through more of a gray lens than “black & white” like some of my Christian church members. I shared with her that my belief systems are more flexible than the churches and that I would openly accept clients from the LGBTQ community. I dug deep into my Biology (pre-med) background, remembering the variety of diseases we have in the human race and the complexities and various degrees of discomfort, we face as human beings. We discussed that there are many examples of challenges, problems, and clinical issues that encompass a wide range of problems and that they can be addressed differently. We realized that our Christian background and culture may have individuals that perceive homosexuality and bisexuality as pathological, but we were able to explore different ideas and comfort zones. I shared that I used to feel this way when I was more immature but have re-educated myself and believe that we are all born with different biology and desires in life and that this must be respected and supported. CK shared with me her perspective as well and how she would approach the same issues. This exercise helped us stretch our comfort zone as we both believed it should.

Along with exploring my beliefs on the LGBTQ community, I also explored the potential to have countertransference of my marital stress onto clients. Like I mentioned previously in this paper when S.G. and I were in a breakout session together, I picked up on a stressful vibration that she potentially was going through in her marriage at the time. I simultaneously may have also been experiencing stress in my marriage and could have been vulnerable to react negatively to her dialogue in response to my own problems with my wife. Now, how do we as counselors approach this challenge? Well, Dr. W. reminded me to be aware of this while I was planning my ELG on displacement, so I used a very minimal amount of disclosure as to not distract the group and I focused more on topics outside of marriage per her advice. But, out in the real world, I would most likely have to meet with a co-worker or counselor of my own to resolve my own distress before continuing to counsel my clients where this could be a potential problem. S.G. and I discussed this interesting dynamic and chuckled a bit but also realized the importance of recognizing how easy it is to fall in this trap if we are not aware. To sum up this section, week 7 was a critical turning point for me in learning countertransference from the async material and actually experiencing it during a breakout session with S.G.

Conceptual Learnings and Implications for Development

Firstly, one of the most important concepts I learned was the truth about listening and how to improve it in my interpersonal relationships. In particular, the statement from the first chapter in Messages by McKay that explains: listening is a compliment because it means, “I care what’s happening to you; your life and your experiences are important.” I also found the blocks to listening to be very important (in the first 2 weeks of reading from McKay) to understand because we have all used them defensively, and hopefully, we realize they can stop clear communication and unintentionally disrespect the person sharing information with you. I know I have been guilty of using the Mind Reading block too much and will try to eliminate that from my listening and receiving skills. I found the example of parataxic distortion very interesting as well. I have over glamourized people I have met before because they remind me of someone I knew before who I really liked. This is not fair to the new acquaintance that is a unique person. And, on the topic of prejudices, it is better to tread the conversation with an open mind and allow a natural flow to let you discover more about that person without keeping a schema in your mind of the stereotype they potentially fit into.

Secondly, from the Yalom reading, I liked the excerpt, “A freely interactive group with few structural restrictions, will, in time, develop into a social microcosm of the participant members.” I find it interesting in this chapter that the microcosm allows the individual member to bring out their true qualities, especially if the group leader had developed high qualities. On page 205, chapter 7, the therapist must have an understanding of transference as to not let it taint the neutrality or clarity of the group communication. “Without an appreciation of transference and its manifestations, the therapist will often not be able to understand fully the process of the group.” Like I discussed previously in this paper, the clearing of transference and countertransference is paramount to our effective counseling. I believe as aspiring counselors we should meet with our practicum leaders, co-workers, and professionals to address our potential challenges of transference.

For the Yalom reading, I found the client types to be very interesting indeed. I learned that each member has a different self-disclosure rate and that (p. 398) sometimes the silent type gets left behind in the pace of the group discussions. On page 401, I thought the feedback on encourages spontaneity was interesting because it sort of covers stimulating the silent type and encouraging the boring type to get involved with the group discussion.

Thirdly, in the Corey reading from chapter 7, I was intrigued by the fact that some conflict is good and healthy and what matters most is the way the therapist manages it. I appreciate the part about how self-disclosure must benefit the group goals and problems, and not just benefit the therapist. I also found the dialogue examples very helpful with the demonstration of the “I” statements instead of the “You” statements. I imagine this can be very powerful when dealing with challenging group members. I have been in therapy groups where self-disclosure statements are very effective in sharing and connecting with the group. This ultimately provides more group cohesion.

Fourthly, in the Messages reading (week 6) I found the reading on communication styles in groups on Assertiveness to be very helpful in identifying ways to communicate boldly without hurting others. I also found the section on reacting to criticism to be especially helpful as I have struggled with this concept in the past and still sometimes today in the present. I also found the negotiation statements and exercised to be very valuable as well. I am sure I will use all of these concepts weekly in my future practice and will make sure to utilize these techniques often.

For the Corey reading, a critical takeaway I had was how important the introduction is and developing trust with the group right away. The reading from page 285 on deepening the trust demonstrates that trust may need to be reestablished and developed in order to make it through the more challenging middle and end stages. In addition, more depth and breadth was displayed on page 287 in the Critical Incident where I thought the different perspectives on “tone of voice” truly explained some of the interpersonal challenges group members will face and how the leader and shift the misdirected energy into a positive outcome.

The fifth point of critical importance is from the Corey reading, one main take away I gathered from the reading was how important it is to stretch out of your comfort zone in both an emotional realm as well as a multicultural perspective (page. 15). The only way to grow as a counselor and a group member is to expand our perspectives and understandings of the trial’s others go through in their daily lives. The first step is to understand your own cultural background, so you can relate your own reflections to those of other cultural backgrounds and their colorful perceptions. It is prudent to embrace different perspectives and ideas so we may meet our clients/members where they are existing at the time.

I also learned further along in the reading that groups allow platforms for social justice to be discussed in a healthy way. This is a great way to give an equal share of feelings, thoughts, and ideas for members experiencing oppression and discrimination. I am looking forward to getting this type of experience in group learning. This week's reading has provided me with more understanding of the importance of cultural differences being voiced, social justice matters addressed, and the concept of growing out of our comfort zones emotionally and culturally.

The sixth point I gathered from class is from the Corey reading on page 77, there are explanations of group norms and individual norms, and I find it comforting that staying in the "here and now" can keep the values discussed in a parameter of current feelings, connections, and reflections. It is critical to be nimble in allowing various members to share or express their feelings in their way and when they are ready vs. pushing them to do it in a highly systematic, controlled way. As shown on page 78, some group members may choose to be silent, pass, and not discuss certain topics in the way facilitated and this may give the group more of education or idea of a particular cultural value they otherwise would not have known.

Because I am motivated to specialize in Couples Counseling, I reflected on how I would prepare a process group for a couple’s session and I used the template (7th point) given (on page 153, from the Corey reading) as a guide in preparing how to propose a plan and objectives for the group, how to screen clients/members for the group, and what procedures I would use and evaluate. Currently, I would propose a couple’s process group and write out a plan that supports my current interests as a trainee. Furthermore, based on the reading in Corey from page 161, I would most likely form groups that have 1-hour meetings-1-half-hour meetings as I feel they would fit this type of setting appropriately. I was refreshed to put my mind to work and feel like I could really develop a working group as I performed this exercise.

I found the eighth point as I reviewed chapter 10 of the Yalom book-modeling and designing a group therapy program. I furthered imagined how I would arrange the couple’s therapy group I mentioned above. I came up with an idea to use a model I saw at Kaiser once when my wife and I attended couples group therapy for an hour and a half. I read on page 283 in the Yalom book that good durations are once a week for anywhere from one hour to 90 minutes. Because of the intensity and stressors that affect work/like balances, I would prefer to organize more brief sessions and allow for some flexibility for the group to make 5 out of 6 sessions at least. For the size of the group, I came up with the idea of 6-7 couples and confirmed that this would be wise in my preparation as to create an efficient environment in which to work through a couple’s process group. I really enjoyed the Yalom reading and will definitely refer to this text often throughout my career.

The ninth conceptual point I will discuss is the application of our counseling skills to real-life issues families are facing today. Because bullying and self-esteem are common problems in the elementary and middle school age range, E.D. and I wanted to choose an applicable topic for our dyad. It was during our 9th-week dyad that we applied our learning from the Corey reading, reflecting much of what E.D. and I discussed about school counseling. One thing we did not discuss during our dyad was the use of exercises and techniques that are appropriate for children. The Corey reading explained that leaders and co-leaders should not use topics, props, or techniques that require a lot of self-disclosure (p. 347). Furthermore, ED and I also learned from the reading that we should most likely create a 12-week program (double what we originally thought) to cover all topics thoroughly (p. 348).

The tenth concept and one of the most interesting topics in chapter 11 that I came across was the emphasis on positive masculinity on page 389. This final point will conclude my list of ten lessons learned because I am the most interested in developing specialized men’s groups to help men cope with stress and foster healthier relationships with families, friends, and co-workers. I found this to be very important because I have encountered many single and family men from their 30s-80s that are in conflict with the "old school" culture of masculinity and the new gender roles men are presented with today. So many men, especially family men require more flexibility in their jobs and work/life balance as the modern woman is working full-time today. I found the men's groups section interesting and refreshing as many men should learn better ways of communicating and providing more flexibility from the old school culture of the stoic man is the cool, mysterious man. Today, with all the complexities of both parents working, and the high expenses of living and time and money hanging in the balances, men must be able to come home from work and watch a sick child if the mother is at an important meeting, for example. Clear communication with their bosses and other community members is more crucial than ever with all the distractions and events that happen when raising a family. Wives and mothers are no longer wanting to stay home and raise children solely by themselves. So, I took away some key ideas on modern groups I would design for today's multitasking fathers.

In the Yalom reading, I was drawn in by the specialized therapy groups and some of the differences we see in these group vs. traditional groups. On page 483, I found the following passage interesting, “the presence of brief duration of treatment and the range of psychopathology makes it evident that a radical modification of technique is required for specialized therapy groups.”

I also found the achievable goals to be a great guide for remembering what an inpatient group can do:

1. Engaging the patient in the therapeutic process

2. Demonstrating that talking helps

3. Problem spotting

4. Decreasing isolation

5. Being helpful to others

6. Alleviating hospital related anxiety

I can see how doing an inpatient group would require following a more rigid time schedule based on the hospital/healthcare protocol and being cognizant of the organization’s rules and terms (p. 487). To conclude this paper, it is a privilege and blessing to have participated in this class and learned all these important skills we will take to our counseling practice. I am thankful for the invaluable lessons we have learned and grateful for all the wonderful relationships we have formed that will strengthen our ability to provide excellent counseling services to our communities and empower those in need of our help.

References

Corey, M. S., Corey, G., & Corey, C. (2018). Groups: Process and practice (10th ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

Levy, A David, (2009) Tools of Critical Thinking: Metathoughts for Psychology Waveland

Pr. (2009) second edition.

McKay, M., Davis, M., & Fanning, P. (2009). Messages: The communication skills book (3rd ed.). Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

Yalom, I. (2005). The theory and practice of group psychotherapy (5th ed.) New York, NY: Basic Books.

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About the Creator

Tony Martello

Join an author like no other on various tales that entertain, philosophies that inspire, and lessons that transform us. He is inspired by nature, the ocean, and funny social interactions. He is the author of Flat Spell Tales and much more.

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