My second year placement was at Outlook based in Kirklees, which provides services in the community around drug rehabilitation. Their aim is to provide a high quality service, which helps people to re integrate back into mainstream society. The aim of the agency is to help service users in time to live independently.
The group consists of 4-8 adults who have various difficulties with learning. The history and background of each client is wide and diverse, but each with their own needs and issues. The education department is one aspect of the Outlook organisation, it was the education department that set up the sessions and the group There role was to provide training and advice to increase opportunities for adults affected by problematic drug and alcohol use. The education set up the group with the formation of a number of taster sessions. The formation of this group was to enable the clients to overcome barriers and re-integrate them back into society. An objective of the taster sessions is by working together as a group the member could then accomplish the goal of integration.
In order to explain the processes that the group I worked with underwent I have used a systematic approach to illustrate its development through a number of phases and crisis, drawing on aspects of Tuckman’s and Roger’s models.
It seems to be group can be defined in many ways, providing an absolute definition of a group, as with a lot of the theory around group work, is highly problematic and contestable. (Douglas T. (2000). Group work may simplistically be described as the study and application of the processes and outcomes experienced when a small group comes together. As a result, theories of group development have been cultivated, some linear, others more cyclical, and it must be stressed that no definitive model of group stage development exists. However, for the purposes of discussing group work within a context of working with Outlook’s clients, I could define a group in the sense that group work is a social method practised with groups of individuals (Konopka, G. (1963). This method includes five steps: intake, assessment and case plan, group composition, intervention and termination. (Konopka, G. (1963).
To examine the processes the group underwent I have chosen to use an approach developed by Oded Manor (Manor , O. 2000). At the centre of Manor’s theory is the paradox of talk, which stipulates that the most effective way of examining a group is through the way it communicates because even in silence a group cannot help but communicate.
Although the group worked together and communicated well with one another, the group did not enter into the intimacy crisis or mutuality phase. (Rogers, ; Freiberg. 1994, p85-102) Normally at this stage, the group performs effectively with defined roles of its members, in fact at this stage it could be said that the group has transformed into a team. It is now that decisions may be positively challenged or reinforced by the group as a whole.
The discomfort of the storming and norming phases has been overcome and the group has a general feeling of unity. (Tuckman, B. W. (1965) This is the best stage for a group to complete tasks, assuming that task, rather than process and individuals, are the focus of the group. Both stages intimacy crisis or mutuality phase develop when the group’s communication changes from the interpersonal level, needed to work effectively as a team, to the personal level, which develops as a consequence of discussing inner feelings and emotions together. (Manor, O. (2000)
The reason for the group not developing into these stages was due to a number of factors: the group’s purpose was to aid clients find employment, not to discuss personal issues in front of the group, although such issues were discussed in private. There was also a lot of disruption with clients starting and leaving at different intervals.
The Separation crisis began when I announced that I would be leaving the group because of my placement ending (Manor, O. (2000) It was not clear at this stage who would continue the group if anyone, but it was taken for granted that somebody would, rightly or wrongly. My behaviour shows a similarity to the Tuckman’s mourning stage, whereby he describes need of expression with the hope that the group will continue. The termination of the group was not made clear to me or any of the clients; Outlook suggested they had an individual in place to continue with the group after my departure.
At Outlook, my role is to work in the education department, providing training and advice to increase opportunities for adults affected by problematic drug and alcohol use. The history and background of each client is wide and diverse, but each with their own needs and issues. Diversity issues in Outlook are now considered important and are projected to become even more important in the future due to increasing differences in the UK Population, but diversity among members is an important resource to be utilized to improve the group’s productivity.
There is a need for Outlook to focus on diversity and look at ways for the programme to become totally inclusive, because diversity has the potential of yielding greater rehabilitation Outlook’s overall aim.
There are a number of challenges to managing a diverse client group. To combat diversity is more than simply acknowledging differences in the individuals. It involves recognizing the value of differences, combating discrimination, and promoting inclusiveness. Groups are similar to individuals in the sense they are all unique with their own experiences and aspirations.
To deal with diversity is a comprehensive process for creating a relaxed atmosphere that includes everyone.
The importance of diversity is to remember that people do not come to an environment on an equal footing. They bring self-identity, race and nationality etc, which has been deeply inscribed by social forces. The experience of being members of particular classes, cultures or races; and the pressures and expectations which people feel, because of their body, gender and sexuality, interact and are work in such exchanges. As an educator I must, thus, look to questions of identity and power.
In an environment ”voice’ alone isn’t just a matter of speech – it also has to do with how people are seen and heard. Excluded groups i.e. drugs and alcohol tend to become a powerful motif in the minds of the dominators, they are viewed both as a threat to order politically and socially.
As soon as a worker moves beyond issues surrounding diversity i.e. race, gender, sexuality, and embracing uncertainty is when we can begin to attend to the experiences of those who are excluded and those seeking to exclude; the relationships between them; the context in which these are formed; and our place in all this. Engaging with the politics of difference and the forces that feed simplistic oppositions is not to act in the belief that we are ‘all the same under the skin’. Rather it is to recognize and celebrate diversity, while at the same time looking for what we hold in common. Therefore, for a free and vibrant society, tolerance is fundamental, and tolerance is most tested when communities are confronted with people and actions they do not understand. Their essential “otherness” frightens us.
Outlook, indicate that it is important to celebrate the diversity of different cultures represented in this group. However, the group wished to organise a Christmas party, this could have gave the group an opportunity to learn about different religious celebrations. Outlook, decided against this and not to celebrate it at all and in my opinion this caused tension because diwali was celebrated, and therefore there is a founded concern on the basis of equality. Even though, this had the potential to oppress certain individual, we then engaged in a conversation with all nationalities the importance of celebrating diversity and this acted as a common theme to bring the group together.
The communication process involves transmitting information and exchange of meaning, otherwise known as coding and decoding; coding refers to the way a transmitter chooses to word and express there message; decoding concerns the way in which the receiver interprets the message (Buchanan & Huczynski, 1997). Both verbal and non-verbal messages often involve face-to-face interaction. Usually these messages are congruent (Johnson and Johnson, 1997). When delivering an activity the group members interact with each other and tend to work together with the help of the support workers. This can also relate to the first stage of the group process ‘amalgamation’, referred to as engagement by Rogers. (Rogers, & Freiberg. 1994, p85-102)
This phase involves trial and error through communication, and the group itself will have initial concerns, about what support there is and as a result, this will constitute anxiety within the group and show obvious signs of a lack of communication. During this stage, there will be obvious signs of a lack of cohesion and a difficulty in sharing thoughts, feelings and experiences with each other, which centres on the paradox of involvement. If the client perceives that the reward for participating in the group out weighs the personal cost of joining, the client will involve himself or herself and remain in the group (Douglas, 2000). This became apparent when one of the clients I was working with left the group. (Tony Recording1 2005)
As a professional worker, there was a requirement to understand that there are various different ways of communicating with groups and no one group is the same. At the start of my second year placement there were some communication barriers, because it was difficult for me to engage the group in the education aspect of the group, as they feared there academic weaknesses would become apparent, as a result, the education department implemented the taster sessions, which were organised by me and another volunteer. As a professional worker, I feel I was able to communicate effectively with the group towards the end of my placement, and the main barriers to communication were within the group.
For example, Tony Recording 2 provides an example where my communication skills were effective, but my approach with the individual was very informal, I recognised his disruptive and was pro-active in my approach. However, rather than communicating in a verbal capacity and run the risk of getting involved in confrontation I decided to identify his ‘need’ – attention. Through identifying his need, I was able to communicate a solution to the conflict using a non-verbal capacity, by providing a role for this individual to play in the group.
My communication took various forms in this example, Firstly, it took the form of no effective communication as the individual nor were the group interested in discussing the matter further. Secondarily, I adapted my approach to take a less orthodox approach with a non-verbal communication approach to address the individual’s negative behaviour. I verbally communicated a new role to the group, which would in turn resolve the conflict, by providing this individual with a role/ the need to be recognised enabled the individual to be more productive for the group. My communication skills yet effective were both verbal and non-verbal at all times in my placement, but on occasions, my non-verbal communication skills were not as prominent.
Some of the taster sessions set up was not successful and this was due to a lack of communication, because many of the individuals had a short attention span when undertaking certain activities and found it difficult to concentrate on verbal communication only. One reason for this session not being successful could be in my communication skills, which I found it difficult to communicate with the individuals that had a short attention span, which I felt I struggled to keep their interest. One reason for this is my body language may have been negative, and verbal communication was not enough to keep them focussed.
I also have to acknowledge that my decoding skills may have been distorted by pre-judging the client group, and assuming the group was all at a level where they could understand long spells of verbal communication. By pre-judging this group in this way, it may well have played a powerful role in reinforcing stereotypes. For example, my negative or lack of communication skills, with appearing to get frustrated and negative body language, may well have gave the group the impression that I was bored and thought they were boring me, because they did not understand my communication skills. Therefore, before attempting to communicate with a group I must first know who my group is, what sort, what level and what purpose does the group have, in order to avoid conflict.
Even though, I thought I knew all the above to required standard, I was wrong, and as a result of not knowing one of the above to the required standard, it made my communication less effective to the group as some members had a short attention span and this type of communication alone was ineffective.
Roles in Groups
Roles can be defined as expectations of the appropriate behaviour of an occupant of a position toward other related positions. The support workers role was to assist the service users with communication, behaviour and to help those complete activities during the sessions. As a facilitator, my role was to clarify the aim and objectives of the group and to help the group to set sub-goals in the planning phase of the group. In addition, our role as support staff was to make sure that all group members understand the concepts and the group’s conclusions. The support workers role was also to ensure that the group completes its tasks in an appropriate fashion and to empower the group members. (Refer to Tony Recording 4).
Every member of the Outlook group played a certain role within the group. Some roles relate to the task aspect of the group work sessions, while others promote social interaction between the individuals and encouraged integration. A third set of roles are self-centered and can be destructive for the group: Members of the Outlook group obviously have their own individual desires, needs, and agendas, some of which was in benefit with the group’s aim and some was not.
However, these must be recognized and dealt with, and either explicitly brought into the group’s process or consciously set aside. Ignoring these needs often results in the individual as well as group frustration. This frustration is frequently expressed through behaviours that tend to block the effective functioning of the group. For example: The aggressor that we can see in recording 2 showed the individual playing a role which was initially deflating the status of others, expressing disapproval of acts, or feelings of others, attacking the group or the problem it is working on, joking aggressively and showing envy toward another’s contribution. It was only by recognising his need could a constructive role be developed for him within the group.
As we identify more clearly the roles that individuals in Outlook can play in the group processes, and as a facilitator I can now see the group’s strengths in the overall pattern. The challenge the group process at Outlook was for each to take as many different roles as are appropriate to the group’s need in the various phases of its movement toward achieving its purpose of integration and raising self-esteem.
A core characteristic of authority is that of control. At this time, the leadership style took a directive approach, whereby the tutor controlled the group and its agenda. This was evident in the tutors preferred style of teaching, referred to as the traditional style by Carl Rogers (Kirschenbaum ; Henderson, 2002), or the Banking Concept by Paulo Freire (1996). Such methods constitute the tutor as the source of knowledge feeding the students information to learn and memorize. There is potential for this method to oppress individuals by treating them as all the same (Thompson 1998, p155-156).
Whilst working with the group I managed to build a number of good working relationships through Empathetic understanding. I realised that if the leader of the group has the ability to understand the individuals reactions from the inside, has a sensitive awareness of the way the process of education and learning from the student perspective, then again the likelihood of significant learning is increased. (Infed, 2005)
The term Leadership appears to be a contestable, which seems to can be described in many ways, but in relation to community work, it can be described as a dynamic variable and any `person who performs actions that moves a group towards the objectives in order to meet its goal and preserve the group more effectively than other group members` may be identified as group leaders. (Brown, R.1988: 48-90)
As a facilitator of the group I have not necessarily recognised myself as part of the group but as a leader, although on further reflection I can see this is not the case, because in broad terms my leadership role may be described as influence, thus the individual who will often be seen as the leader of a group, that is not the worker, can often be seen as the most influential member of the group. Therefore, when an individual challenges me on the blueprint of the project, they are in a sense attempting to be the most influential member and compete for the perceived leadership they may or may not exist. (Tony Recording 4).
In my opinion, there are several possible ways of dealing with conflict, and the one implemented will depend greatly upon the stage of the group’s development and the particular situation involved. The most desirable method, perhaps, is that of integration. This is the process in which the members of the group discuss the situation amongst themselves, see all sides of the argument, and then arrive at a new solution, which includes the best points of both sides. The group creates something by this process and valuable informal learning takes place.
On occasions within the Outlook group, it was not possible to reach the state where conflict was not noticeable in the group, and as the facilitator of the group I first acknowledged in my approach that every problem differs in some aspects from others, and must be treated accordingly. When conflict around the integration of the group became apparent the first question I asked, and attempted to answer, is, why is the group acting in this manner? I also looked into this conflict maybe fulfilling a need for the individuals concerned. The normal human needs maybe classified as those for security, response, recognition, and new experience.
The question, then, is which of these four is at the basis of the mode of behaviour? Having answered this question, I tried to substitute desirable methods of expression for undesirable ones, rather than merely eliminating or suppressing the latter. (Buchanan, D & Huczynski, A (1997) (Refer to Tony Recording 2 for direct example of the approach used above) However, most issues that caused conflict were resolved within a few minutes, by merely compromising with each other, but compromising is not the same as integration. Compromising means that both sides will give up a section of their claims and will agree on something that is only part of what they desire to have. The Outlook members were not always satisfied with this solution and therefore integration was not fully possible. However, it seemed the best possible solution without causing more conflict on occasions was compromising.
Conflict is not inherently something to be feared or avoided. This period of reciprocity in opposition to conflict is a process of building trust and creating ‘learning relationships’ (Tiffany 2003,p 20-80 ) whereby learning can take place as a two way process between group members and tutors alike due to the level of trust achieved. This process takes time, but is essential when working with others, especially those with low self-esteem and confidence (Tony Recording 2005a). Conflict also arises and is an essential part of group work, when a member of the group feels the need to ‘test’ boundaries in order to know where the limits are. This is part of their normal and natural behaviour, and boundaries change, of course, as an individual develops. If adequate boundaries are not in place, this could have an impact on my work in terms of a client, may feel the need to resort to more extreme kinds of behaviour, in order to feel any kind of boundary.
Boundaries of Involvement:
With being, the facilitator of the Outlook group I felt that in order for the group to progress in a constructive manner, they needed some boundaries such as, it is unacceptable for anyone else to enter someone’s personal space, without first obtaining their permission. One of my main roles as a facilitator of the group is to provide boundaries, which help to contain and guide the clients, especially as most of these clients are in a fragile state. Some boundaries are physical, and already exist, like the classroom at Outlook. Others are social, for example: ‘Confidentiality’.
Many of the group members at Outlook had difficulties with learning, and as a result often crossed boundaries, as they did not communicate productively with each other.
On occasions, some individuals may talk about inappropriate behaviour or language. For example, on one occasion a member of the group said where to buy a stolen phone and where to find the person. The individual in question was quickly pulled to one side and the boundaries were explained to him. However, this individual had to be reminded on several more occasions about the boundaries in place for the group, this maybe because of his short attention span and poor communication skills, because it is likely that this explanation may have been misunderstood, and if that is the case, it is my communication that is in-effective.
By setting limits on group interaction, it will allow for productive learning opportunities to take place, such as, a ‘code’ of behaviour within the group. Generally, people need to know where they stand and that is, what the ‘rules’ are, for clients and others. If adequate boundaries are in place, these help to provide a framework within which a user of the group feels supported.
Issues of Confidentiality:
Group members are asked on joining the ‘Outlook’ service to make a commitment to protect each other’s confidentiality, by agreeing not to reveal any information, which can identify other members outside of group. However, with nature of my work at Outlook I cannot provide absolute guarantee of confidentiality in-group, my experience in Outlook shows that group members normally respect each other’s privacy in the same way as they respect their own. To help ensure the safety of users, some issues do not remain confidential. If a group member appears to be planning harm to oneself such as, harm to others, or reports abusing children or dependent adults, as a group facilitator I am legally bound to break confidentiality in order to provide the individuals with the assistance they need.
An issue surrounding confidentiality and boundary of involvement occurred with some Outlook members when a volunteer openly discussed issues about the group members in their presence. This was unprofessional behaviour, as the service users information was confidential and should only be discussed when necessary in a private and appropriate environment. (Refer to recording 3)
As a youth and community worker, I am supposed to increase the individuals experience, reflection and learning. The classroom environment caused me to change my style of working. To encourage reflection within a client was extremely challenging, as there were a number of barriers that hindered me. Firstly, the cultural barrier between the client and myself made talking about personal feelings difficult. Secondly, the environment did not facilitate it as there were too many people around and no-where to talk privately.
Thirdly, encouraging reflection was not always the most appropriate when working with drug and alcohol users because of Outlook’s policy, which was not to talk about drugs or alcohol in any circumstance. I would quite often ask about their ideal job and encourage the actions needed to achieve it, but for the client, their circumstances often limited their employment opportunities. I realise now that I was expecting too much; reflection does not have to be deep and personal, it can be achieved through creating a ‘forked road’ (Jeffs and Smith, 1999 p10) in a persons thought process, encouraging them to explore an alterative to their normal way of thinking.
For me, the experience has revealed the importance of building an effective relationship and understanding with the client to the fullest extent possible in order to work in the most effective manner. The cultural understanding I have gained will aid my work in the future, either when working with clients from a similar background, or in helping others to understand in order to reduce the discrimination directed at groups of people because of their difference.
To conclude, a theoretical understanding of group behaviour and functioning can help to understand and even explain individual and group behaviour, helping us to achieve our ultimate aim as community workers delivering informal education. It is important not to treat group work as an exact science with definitive answers, because many of the results and theories can be problematic at best and should only be used as a benchmark that we can develop on and work around.
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One of the clients I was working with left the group. The reason the individual appeared to leave the group from my opinion was due to a break down in communication. The individual that left the group gave the impression that he may have misunderstood the task set, but this was only part of the breakdown in communication.
The individual’s body language in the session was not very receptive. When asked to participate in a task as part of the group, the individual said yes and agreed to participate, but it is reasonable to say that through observation of the individual’s body language, i.e. his tone of voice and smile that he did not want to. I initially thought the reason for this type of body language could be that the group member may have a learning difficulty and needs further assistance or it maybe that the individual is not too interested in the subject area.
During the group work activity, I did notice the individual’s body language of not being too receptive to this activity. I asked the individual if I could be of any assistance, he replied no he was ok, and due to my question, it appeared that the individual became further withdrawn from the group. I felt as there was only 15 minutes left and the possibility of excluding the individual further from the group, so I let it go unnoticed until after the session. After the session, I engaged in an informal chat with the individual, in order to identify any possible problems he may have felt or experienced during the activity. Instantly, it was visible that by chatting on a one-to-one basis he became more receptive and appeared to be more relaxed. The individual then said he found the activity difficult because of the fear of being in a group environment with some individuals.
It appears that the two greatest barriers to effective communication in the group for this individual is to do with previous experience of certain individuals that may attend the group work session, and the possibility this individual is making false and inappropriate assumptions about other members of the group, and his initial impressions of them. I explained to individual that everyone is an individual and should be treated as such. In addition, it was reinforced that we are all entitled to dignity and respect, and if he feels that in the future, some members of the group are excluding him he can speak with a member of staff about this, but at present, the individual suggested this was not the case. (Douglas, T. (2000) this person may not realise how they are being interpreted by another, and could simply have their wires crossed. (Douglas, T. (2000)
Tony Recording 2
Working with a client that had low self-esteem and confidence. This individual of group attempted to engage in a non-constructive way with bullying the other members. The client did this by playing practical jokes on them and the tutor.
I decided to observe this individual over a number of sessions. After a while, it became apparent that the individual had little ability in the activity and he seemed to come to the conclusion that the pranks were intended to get him the attention that he could not get otherwise.
I decided to attempt to include the individual and provide him with a role to play in the group, so he would feel he still had attention but it would be in a productive way for the benefit of the group. I made up a role of Taster session support. This role consisted of highlighting any problems in a constructive way that people may have with the activity and sessions. Before the individual was given this position, I made a point of stressing the importance of this responsibility to him and all the other members.
The individual got the recognition he needed and was no longer a problem with being appointed to this new role. All this was accomplished with little said about his initial behaviour. By manipulating the situation and using an informal method, I managed to show him an alternative approach for gaining the attention and productive for the group. The individual communicated effectively with the group from this point and understood his role within the group. The method used for dealing with conflict was without threats or punishment, which seems to be the way he normally gets attention from tutors and staff in my opinion.
By communicating with this individual using this particular approach, it stopped conflict because it actually integrated the individual into the group, because he felt apart of the group and the group now recognised his role as well. Also, this conflict issue enabled me to build and develop a working relationship with this individual as well as the group, because by breaking down the barriers of staff – client, thus can be seen that I am going some way in redressing the imbalance of power and oppression, as Thompson states, “Empowerment is a goal and a process for overcoming oppression.” (Thompson N p164 2001). This in turn will raise the clients self esteem and confidence.
Tony Recording 3:
An issue surrounding confidentiality and boundary of involvement occurred with some Outlook members when a volunteer openly discussed issues about the group members in their presence. This was unprofessional behaviour, as the service users information was confidential and should only be discussed when necessary in a private environment.
While it is necessary for staff to know certain information about the group members, their family, or their activities, it is not always necessary or advisable for the staff to demonstrate to the individual or the group that they are aware of all this personal information. The volunteer demonstrated that she knew about issues in their past and openly seeked to discuss the issues using the method X, Y and Z, but some individuals realized that the information could relate to them directly and became uncomfortable in the session. A couple of individuals within the group had been sexually abused in their past, and if all team members are aware that one or two group member has been sexually abused in the past, it may be best for discussion about this abuse (and reference to it) to occur only in the context of a relationship with one team member. However, the volunteer could be interpreted of discussing this issue with the group and all team members using an X,Y and Z approach. The same may hold true for other forms of confidential information that staff are aware of.
(Tony Recording 4).
Once the group members became comfortable with each other and began realise that culture does not have to be a barrier for success it became more united and the group’s confidence grew as a result. This new-found confidence led some members to challenge the group leaders, complaining that the sessions were not relevant to them.
By empowering the client and enabling them to identify their own needs, the theories I feel were useful to me were that of a task centred and solution focused, task centred requires that, “The worker’s main skill is eliciting, so clients are encouraged to express their concerns freely.” (Hanvey & Philpot p24 1994). By taking this approach, it also allows the client to feel empowered and redresses the power relationship between client and worker as Ahmad states “The principles of task-centred [practice] have much potential for empowering clients”.
Implications for future action:
To changes I make to the client group should not take on too soon too much, although I feel the clients know they are fully supported by other workers and myself. I feel the clients are beginning to feel that they are treated like anyone else in society and therefore have opportunities to participate in things they wouldn’t normally do like education and work.
(Tony Bebbington Recording 5)
A number of the clients in the Outlook service see them self as a separate group from the alcohol users and sometimes exclude them from activities. In addition, many of the drug users see alcohol use as acceptable and openly discuss going to the pub, when it is forbidden to talk about alcohol and drugs in any light as this maybe a trigger for the individual. In addition, some drug users openly attempt to attend the session with obvious signs of alcohol consumption, but this has the potential to oppress and discriminate against alcohol users.
By certain members of the client group seeing themselves as different from the alcohol users they have the potential to oppress themselves as well as the alcohol users, because the more people in the group the more opportunity you have for debate, discussion and help.
That being said I feel that the demonstration of debate was empowering in that the individuals concerned have experienced discrimination , and as result do not want to discriminate as they have been in the past, which resulted in them having low self-esteem in the first place by providing them with the knowledge of how to discuss situations and difference enables them to build on their self-esteem and confidence, from listening to their comments after the session it was apparent that they were all more positive about experimenting with the new techniques they had learned.
Being aware of motivational skills, I had motivated the client group by drawing on what they knew. This in turn empowered and stimulated interest in difference, in terms of ethics, values and viewpoints. Also being aware of informal learning experiences, for example, on this occasion, the client group could build their social skills, and to understand, people wherever they come from or whatever their class is, but the important aspect was what was underneath the person that counts.
Implications for future action:
The important thing for me to be aware of is difference within the client group is a positive thing in-group work, because difference amongst viewpoints and attitude allows for an informal atmosphere to thrive.