THE GROUP COORDINATOR

The group coordinator isn’t just the person who’s simply there to organize and decide who gets to speak and what each member will do. He or she also has a determinant role in the group’s development and success.


Thus, there are some important features that those who are, or want to be, therapists or coordinators in therapeutic groups, will have to pay attention to and try to embody or maintain.


Here’s a list of some of these features, according to Zimerman & Osorio (1997).

1. To Like and Believe In Groups
This is a fundamental feature, it will allow the coordinator to easily pick up on what’s going on within the group and deal with it in the best way possible.

2. Search For The Truth
The coordinator must constantly try to strive and search for the truth (without going so far as to become an obsession), so it’s really important that he or she learn quickly to distinguish the truths, the lies and the half-truths that will arise within the group.

3. Consistency
The coordinator or therapist will have an educating role towards the other group members. He should practice this role with consistency and equality for all members, otherwise, he would be deceiving or harming his group.

4. Sense of Ethics

No one has the right to invade another person’s space, so the coordinator, as the maximum person responsible for the group must strive to keep the privacy and respect within said group.

5. Respect

The respect from the coordinator includes being able to look to the people who stand before him, beyond the labels which might have been given to them, helping these people, trying to understand them, as well as keeping a respectful distance and showing patience for their inhibitions and insecurities.

6. Patience
The coordinator should maintain an active posture, in an attempt of making all members contribute to the group and its success, although, he should do it carefully, respecting their time, in a way which earns their trust and giving them a contained environment for their insecurities and worries.

7. Being container
This can seem like a weird concept, but it’s just the ability that the coordinator or therapist has, to receive and contain the emotional needs and anguish of his group members, helping them to work on/through them appropriately.

8. Contention of his own anguishes
With all he sees and listens, it’s natural that a series of feelings arise in the coordinator, resulting in a certain anguish of his own. Many times, it may trigger some rage or incomprehension toward another member of the group or even about the group as a whole.
These and other feelings are natural and inevitable. It’s necessary, as a group therapist, to deal with a great amount of wear and tear, and the coordinator must know or learn to quickly control his own feelings.

9. Function of Auxiliary Ego
The coordinator must focus his attention and efforts on helping people deal with what they usually can’t deal with by themselves. Thus, he will serve as a auxiliary ego that helps and supports them in that function, until they learn how to do it on their own.

10. Thinking Role
The coordinator will help the group members think about their feelings, their ideas and positions, as these are being verbalized, leading them to face their own point of view, rather then other people’s. The individual must be liable and confronted by his own ideas and thus, dealing with all of this, the person will acquire the liberty to think for herself.

11. Discernment
The ability to discern myself from the other, at all levels. Each member of the group will have a specific role and it’s left to the coordinator not to confuse them, nor to assume the responsibilities that aren’t his own.

12. Communication
This quality is specially important on the psychoanalytic group therapy, where the therapist will have the responsibility of interpreting everything that’s communicated within the group. I remind the readers that communication isn’t uniquely verbal and the subtleties of non-verbal communication can’t be neglected by the coordinator.

13. Individual Features
The better the coordinator knows himself, the easier it will be for him to know and deal with other group members.

14. Identification Model
No matter the group’s main goal, in the end every group will execute a psychotherapeutic function, due to the model provided by the coordinator, who will synthesize, integrate and give cohesion to the group.

15. Empathy
The coordinator must establish an emotional connection with all members of the group, being able to put himself in each one’s place. It’s important to be able to distinguish the feelings that other participants might have, from his own feelings and emotions.

16. Synthesis and Integration
The coordinator or therapist should be able to extract a common denominator from the communications made by the other group members and turn that denominator into the priority task for said group. He will join every aspect of these communications and help the participants in learning from the emotional experiences that occur in the group’s interactions.


REFERENCES
ZIMERMAN, David E., OSORIO, Luiz Carlos & Col. (1997). Como Trabalhamos com Grupos. (How to work with groups) Porto Alegre: Artes Médicas.

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TECHNICAL BACKGROUND

The right way of leading a group depends on the kind of group we might be talking about and its goals. However, there are some global technical backgrounds that you should keep in mind whenever you work with a group, regardless of its purpose.

1. Planning
The person who will organize the group must have a clear picture of said group in order to achieve its goals and make it work as best as it can. So, you should pose yourself a number of fundamental questions that will help you in your goal of better understanding the group.
What’s the goal or purpose of the group? Who will coordinate it? Who are its potential members? How will it work? What resources do we have available? These and others questions are key issues for those trying to learn more about the group they are working with.

2. Selection and Grouping
On this point, therapists hardly ever agree. Some of them prefer giving entrance to the group to any people, while others base their selection on a more strict criteria, trying to have more control over possible outcomes. Why? This choice intends to minimize the discomfort and problems of transference and counter-transference in many different patients, avoiding dropouts and the discomfort that they in turn cause among the remaining group members.

3. Setting
You need to establish a Setting based in the junction of several parameters, such as rules, attitudes, etc. It must be maintained with a certain rigor, given the fact that the setting will play important functions in the development and evolution of the group.
The main elements to define the setting are the homogeneity or heterogeneity of the group, whether it is a closed or open group, has a certain duration in time or not, the number of participants (and if there will be any expected changes to that number, over time), the number of weekly or monthly meetings as well as their duration.

4. Resistance
Dealing with the resistance of the group and each of its members is quite important to the groups’ success and the only way to achieve the goal we set ourselves. However, to do it, we must learn to distinguish the different types of resistance and deal with each and every one of them. There’s the normal resistance (which is even healthy) that points out to us which is the best way to manage the group and the mistakes that we commit along the way and there are other kinds of resistance, the ones that block the development of the group and which we must know how to avoid and advert, pushing them away and leading them towards the right path.

5. Transference Aspects
There are different kinds of transferences within a workgroup: the one of an individual with their peers, those of each one of the group members to the coordinator or therapist, each member with the group itself and the group as a whole to the coordinator.
These transference aspects should not be regarded as a mere repetition of past emotional experiences, they also reflect the new ones that are being experienced by each member, including the coordinator or therapist.

6. Acting
Acting is often used in therapeutic groups and is a way for the individual to replace his emotions when he cannot handle them consciously. It is often a primitive communication feature, which may have benign effects and can be used to “break the ice” or, on the other side, to avoid those emotions, which the therapist must be aware of and act upon.

7. Communication
The group is an excellent observation environment in this field. In a group, we can see how messages are transmitted and received by all, and possible distortions and feedback from all group elements. Non-verbal communication (which includes gestures, mannerisms, somatization, silences, smiles, tears, etc.) becomes often as important as the verbal.

8. Interpretive Activity (do not mistake for interpretation – psychoanalysis)
The group coordinator will try to clarify what each member says, asking questions and confronting individuals in order to promote the integration of dissociated aspects of each one of his answers in particular, and for the group as a whole.
It’s important to notice that the coordinator or therapist should be careful to avoid imposing on the group his or her own prejudices and universal truths, respecting the peculiarities and circumstances of each one.

9. Ego Functions
Within the group, certain functions of the ego will begin to emerge, such as, the way in which individuals apply or use their perception, thought, knowledge, judgment, discrimination, communication …
It’s important that everyone knows how to listen to others and think about their activities and emotional experiences.

10. Roles
The role played by every group member is a very important one, within the context of group field, and it’s up to the therapist to avoid stereotyping and the fixation that a particular member might display in certain pathological roles, which he tends to repeatedly play.

11. Links
Nowadays technicians are granting more and more relevance and importance to the connections between people. According to Zimerman & Osorio (1997), four types of links stand out:
1. A bond of Love
2. A bond of Hatred (in conflict with the first one)
3. A bond of Knowledge (introduced by Bion, allows one to better deal, from a technical point of view, with the different forms of denial)
4. A bond of Recognition (proposed by Zimerman in 1997, also known as the need to belong, this link refers to the need that each of the involved parties exhibits, of being recognized by the other members as well as their need to be different and emancipated)

12. The End
The end of the group may occur in two different ways, one being by dissolution, previously agreed with by all of its members in the so-called closed groups, and the other when certain person ends his or her participation in the group (when it is open).
The ability to finish something is very important and denotes a significant mental and emotional growth.

REFERENCES
ZIMERMAN, David E., OSORIO, Luiz Carlos & Col. (1997). Como Trabalhamos com Grupos. (How to work with groups) Porto Alegre: Artes Médicas.