Dealing With Problematic Student Behaviors That Emerge in a Group

Educators also have a monitoring (or “gatekeeping”) function, especially in intervening when students demonstrate unhealthy, unproductive, or damaging behavior, are unable to give or receive feedback appropriately, or are unable to relate to others effectively. Group work educators have a responsibility to the students, future clients, the profession, the community, and the training institution to take action when students in a group course give evidence that they are not suited personally to working as group facilitators. Goodrich and Luke (2012) have written about the ethical issues in dealing with students who exhibit problematic behavior in an experiential group. Group work is inevitably one setting in which students’ unhealthy aspects may be exposed. When this situation arises, the group counselor-educator has multiple responsibilities:

1. to the individual student who displays problematic behavior,

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2. to the other students in the experiential group, and

3. to the training program.

A multitude of problematic behaviors can disrupt the cohesion of a group and impede the learning of the other members. Behavior patterns such as these can be identified and explored in an experiential group:

1. members who habitually give others advice, yet remain unknown;

2. members who are hostile and make it difficult for others to feel safe;

3. members who are judgmental and critical;

4. arrogant members who are convinced they can learn little in an experiential group;

5. members who monopolize time in the group; and

6. members who have a difficult time attending to others.

The group format provides excellent opportunities for learning to deal with challenging behaviors. One effective intervention is to simply invite other members to provide here-and-now feedback to the member exhibiting the problematic behavior. The instructor or group facilitator must block unproductive interactions while this feedback is being delivered to prevent the group member from being scapegoated or overwhelmed with negative feedback. It is important to remember that the point is for the group member to understand the impact of his or her behavior, not to cause the member to become even more defensive. As difficult and tense as it might be in the moment, everyone in the group may benefit from the experience of successfully working through the conflict.


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