Group Problem-Solving Strategies, Part 2

Click here to read Part 1 of this series…

The Storming Stage is a time of conflict and anxiety within the group as it moves from primary tension (awkwardness about being in a new and strange situation) to secondary tension (intragroup conflict between members). Each group experiences the storming process differently. Some groups may encounter all the problems associated with this period where others may only experience a few of the related problems. The danger of this stage is that a group’s development may get arrested if the group either dwells on the conflict or ignores it, thus putting at risk the group’s capacity to proceed successfully onto the next stage.

It is therefore imperative that the group therapist help members recognise and deal with their conflict and any anxiety and resistance associated with it (Gladding, 2003). One method used to work through particular forms of problematic intra and interpersonal conflict during the storming stage is to use a process observer.

This is a neutral third party who observes the group and gives feedback on interpersonal and interactive processes. By giving the group feedback, a process observer can help the group become more open in acknowledging and constructively responding to tensions and anxieties that may be present in particular group member relationships (Gladding, 2003).

Another way of working through the storming stage is to use the process of levelling in which members are encouraged to interact feely and evenly. In levelling, the group therapist draws out group members who are not participating and those who are excessively active and helps them to understand the impact of their behaviour through feedback. By having everyone in the group interact, issues that have the potential to facilitate conflict may surface and be resolved sooner.

For example, if the therapist notices that a particular group member always makes a negative comment after each member voices a concern, they may intervene by saying “do you realise how your active participation in the group affects other member’s alibility to get involved?”. The therapist can also encourage other group members to help that group member come to an understanding how their actions are preventing others from getting involved in the group.

For the inactive group member a therapist may use a different strategy whereby they may choose to offer an invitation to the “not so speaking” group member by saying “what is on your mind? You look to be a bit puzzled or concerned over what was said. Is that correct?”

Another method of working through storming is to get feedback from the members about how they are doing and what they think needs to be done. The feedback process can be either formal or informal. Using informal feedback the group therapist may ask members to give their reactions to a group session in an unstructured way at any time they wish to do so. Such an invitation is more likely to increase spontaneity and sensitivity (Gladding, 2003).

Formal feedback on the other hand is structured. The therapist adopts a more structured way in which members provide feedback. This includes the use of rounds and logs or journal. Rounds involve the therapist having each person in the group make a comment .Each individual has the same amount of time to say what they want to say without being interrupted by others.

The use of time specific rounds gives every group member the opportunity for their views to be heard. Logs or journals involve members writing comments about every group session. This may include documenting the entire group experience. Logs are ideally read by the therapist between group sessions and provides feedback to group members and the group as a whole about specific and general comments

Group norms serve to regulate the performance of a group as an organised unit by helping to keep it on the course of its objectives. The process of norming is often characterised by enthusiasm and cooperation by group members. Norming can be promoted through actions by either the group therapist or the group members. Some of the relational aspects between group members that should be promoted as norms include the following:

  1. Supporting
  2. Empathising
  3. Facilitating
  4. Self Disclosing

1. Supporting

Supporting is the act of encouraging others. The aim of supporting is to convey to individuals that they are adequate, capable and trustworthy. It is through supporting that group members feel affirmed and as such are able to risk new behaviours because they feel safe and sense backing from the group. Giving a sense of support promotes group cohesion and unity allowing group members to potentially achieve their desired therapeutic outcomes.

2. Empathising

During the norming stage of group development, expressing empathy takes on special significance. Empathising refers to “putting oneself in another’s place in regard to subjective perception and emotion while keeping one’s objectivity (Gladding, 2003). It demands a suspension and a response to another person that conveys sensitivity and understanding.

To show empathy, the therapist must encourage group members to listen to both the verbal and non verbal messages of others in the group in order for them to be responsive. For example: a member that says to the other “it seems to me that you are very sad. Your voice is low and you can hardly lift your head up” reflects an understanding of another’s mood and opens up potential for dialogue and avenues for problem solving. It also demonstrates the broader group’s empathy and support.

3. Facilitating

The act of facilitating involves the process of making sure clear and direct communication channels are used between individuals. Facilitation, while assumed to be a major responsibility of the group therapist, is also something all group members should aim to encourage and uphold as a norm. An example of facilitating clear and direct channels of communication is seen in the following dialogue a group therapist may have with a group member, “when Tom said that he was glad you had resolved your differences, you looked a bit confused. I wonder what you were thinking.”

This creates an opportunity for the two concerned members to voice their concerns and resolve whatever issues they may be experiencing. By doing this, the group therapist facilitates a conversation between the two concerned group members to ensure both members feel connected so that any underlying problems do not arise later to the detriment of the group as a whole (Gladding, 2003).

4. Self Disclosure

Self Disclosure is one of the strongest signs of trust and is enhanced when members feel safe. Self disclosure involves revealing to group members personal information that they were previously unaware of. It is through self disclosure that barriers between group members are dismantled.

The group may model self disclosure to show which material should be revealed and how. It is best to disclose material that is related to the individual experience within the group. Disclosure creates stronger bonds between members preparing them for the next stage of group development.

Stay tuned for the third and final article in this series, which explores a range of problems that can arise from the action-packed Performing stage of group development.


  • Gladding. G.T. (2003) Group Work: A Counselling Speciality (4th ed).New Jersey: Prentice Hall.