Running head: GROUP PROPOSAL
Group Counseling 518
Rationale for Group Proposal:
As a reflection of societal culture, schools serve as primary units of socialization for children and adolescents. Through their prescribed curriculum, rules and disciplinary actions, schools communicate societal messages to students and the community at large regarding appropriate norms, values and beliefs. Unfortunately, at times, these messages can communicate rejection and intolerance towards certain populations. This is often the case for gay/lesbian/bisexual (hereinafter g/l/b) individuals. Despite the current multicultural counseling trend, the g/l/b population remains unrecognized and ignored by many school counseling professionals.
G/l/b adolescents have the difficult psychological task of identity formulation and consolidation within the confines of a primarily heterosexist or even homophobic school climate. G/l/b individuals often experience feelings of isolation and stigmatization due to their sexual orientation (Nichols, 1999). As a result, g/l/b youth are considered a high-risk group. These youth are more likely to attempt suicide, engage in substance abuse and risky sexual behavior, struggle with depression and/or anxiety, and possess lower self-esteem than their heterosexual peers (Bagley & Temblay, 2000; Slater, 1988). It is of immense importance that school professionals address the issue of homosexuality. This may be done through the establishment of non-discrimination policies, education of students and staff, direct intervention with perpetrators of harassment and discrimination, and most importantly, support for students exploring their sexuality and those targeted for harassment and intimidation.
Review of Literature:
Research regarding the availability of counseling services to g/l/b adolescents is limited. Fontaine and Hammond (1996) conducted research in an effort to provide counselors with information regarding sexual identity formation, increased mental health risk for g/l/b youth, and “coming out” issues. A component of one’s total identity is a sense of who you are as a sexual being. The development of a heterosexual identity is a social norm that typically requires little conscious thought or effort. However, the task of developing a homosexual identity can be secretive, lonely and draining. G/l/b individuals often do not receive societal and peer affirmation when forming their sexual identity. It may be the experience of isolation from family, friends and peers that serves as the motivating factor for g/l/b individuals to seek counseling services. Counselors should be thoughtful of the potential costs and consequences of a g/l/b adolescent’s decision to inform others (family, friends and counselors) of their sexual orientation. Ethical considerations, especially in terms of confidentiality, assume particular therapeutic significance with g/l/b youth (Sobocinski, 1990). Support and advocacy on behalf of g/l/b youth should be a crucial responsibility of the modern educational system.
According to Slater (1988), in order to effectively work with g/l/b youth, counseling professionals must be relatively free of homophobia and have an understanding of alternative lifestyles. Professionals who possess feelings of homophobia will provide little assistance if they project negative feelings onto their g/l/b clients. The counselor should avail themselves to interact neutrally with g/l/b youth. Counseling professionals should also be aware of the major problems faced by g/l/b youth. Slater (1988) identifies homophobia, healthful role models, disclosing sexual orientation to others, and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) as pertinent problems facing g/l/b adolescents. Counseling professionals can provide examples from history, media and literature of successful g/l/b individuals. It is also important to provide clients with quality g/l/b community resources, such as social groups, local publications and support groups. Because g/l/b youth may have a tendency to engage in risky sexual behavior and AIDS is a disease that has heavily impacted the homosexual community, counselors should remain current on information pertaining to the prevention, transmission, and treatment referrals when counseling individuals with AIDS. When a counselor chooses to work with the g/l/b population, he or she should assess their own attitudes, knowledge, skills, and commitment to this important work.
In his journal article, Meyer (2003) researched the prevalence of mental disorders in g/l/b individuals. G/l/b individuals were found to be more likely than heterosexuals to suffer from substance abuse disorders, affective disorders and suicidal ideation. Suicide, in particular, is a serious social issue. It has been found that g/l/b adolescents have rates of suicide attempts at least four times those of heterosexual youth (Bagley, 2000). Meyers (2003) contends that minority stress (i.e., stigma, prejudice, and discrimination that creates a hostile and stressful social environment) causes increased mental health problems. There are three processes of minority stress relevant to g/l/b individuals: (a) external, objective stressful events, (b) expectations of such events, and (c) the internalization of negative societal attitudes. However, g/l/b persons can learn to cope with and overcome adverse effects of stress. Group counseling is one avenue that can have mental health benefits. Through a group, g/l/b individuals are allowed to experience a social environment in which they are given support rather than stigmatization. If a strong sense of cohesiveness is established, members are likely to evaluate themselves in comparison with others in the group rather than with members of the differing dominant culture. Counselors must understand the causes of social stress as well as factors that ameliorate stress and contribute to mental health. Only with this understanding will counseling professionals be able to design and execute effective counseling programs.
Increasing institutional support will help to ensure that g/l/b students develop positive self-images. Support-therapy groups in school settings have been shown to benefit g/l/b students. Chojnacki and Gelberg (1995) wrote a qualitative article addressing the development of a support-therapy group for g/l/b students facilitated by a heterosexual counselor. A vital component of the group was the counselor’s self-disclosure and discussion of their heterosexual orientation. When appropriate, counselors should identify themselves as g/l/b allies and explain their personal motivation for co-facilitating a group of this nature. Such information allows potential participants to make the informed choice of either joining or disengaging from the group.
and Gelberg (1995) refer to Cass’ (1984) Sexual Identity Formation (
Gelberg (1995) believe that support-therapy groups are most beneficial for
individuals in Stages 2, 3, 4, and 6 because the group allows contact with
other g/l/b individuals and provides an opportunity for individuals to explore
the g/l/b component of their identity.
This Proposal’s Objectives for the Group:
Composition of Group:
The group will consist of approximately 6-8 male and female high school students, aged 14-18 years old, who identify themselves as having an uncertain sexual identity, or as a g/l/b person. The Group will be facilitated by a heterosexual female counselor.
Recruitment – The school curriculum can increase multicultural (including sexual orientation) awareness and sensitivity by conducting classroom guidance discussions regarding cultural and social diversity and tolerance. Following such discussions, the availability of a support-therapy for g/l/b students and students who are uncertain of their sexual orientation will be announced by the counselor. Interested students will be invited to contact the counseling office for further information. In addition, written announcements will be designed and posted in inconspicuous locations throughout the high school, such as bathrooms and in the counseling department. The involved counseling staff can inform the remainder of the school counselors, teachers, and the administration about the existence of the group. These professionals may further identity potential candidates. Identified potential candidates can be personally invited to join the group.
Screening and Selection Process -
Interested students will participate in a short (30 minute) screening
process. Potential participants will be
given an opportunity to discuss their expectations of such a group, including
any issues or concerns. The counselor
will disclose the intended nature of the group, her own heterosexual
orientation, and her personal desire for facilitating a g/l/b group. The screening process is important for both
the participant and the counselor. It
allows participants to make an informed choice in deciding whether or not to join. It also provides the counselor with a chance
to control group dynamics to some extent.
The counselor will assemble a group composed of members whose needs are
compatible with the group and whose well-being will not be jeopardized by the
group experience. In addition, the
counselor may seek members with varying degrees of personality (i.e.
extroverted and introverted) and different levels of motivation (i.e. identity
confusion and identity acceptance).
Chosen members will be asked to consent to join the group. In the state of
Frequency and Duration of Group Sessions – The group will meet each Wednesday during the lunch hour in the counseling department. The group will commence during the first quarter of the school year and will terminate three weeks prior to summer vacation. This schedule will allow for approximately twenty-five group sessions. Group members will be invited to return the following school year.
Group Process and Content:
The counselor will attempt to create a balanced partnership between group process and content. The group will begin with a pre-group preparation meeting. It is during the pre-group meeting that the leader and members will clarify expectations of the group and discuss therapeutic groups in general. The leader will also take this time to explain basic ground rules (i.e., respecting members, importance of confidentiality, not becoming intimately involved with other members, etc.) and allow members an opportunity to discuss group norms they would like established. Finally, the leader will administer a brief pre-group written evaluation pertaining to members’ current self-reported attitudes and social interactions.
The initial group sessions will focus on establishing cohesion among the group members. Group norms and expectations will be reviewed. Warm-up activities, such as “checking in”, singing songs, and getting to know one another activities will be utilized in an effort to become acquainted, develop trust, and link group members together. The leader will encourage participation and model appropriate behavior to group members. These behaviors will include actively listening, respecting all members, exhibiting empathy, authenticity, appropriate self-disclosure, and giving or receiving feedback when appropriate. The leader will also help members to define personal goals they hope to accomplish during the course of the group experience.
As group members transition into the action phase, they take responsibility to actively address common concerns and issues of sexuality. The group leader will continue to open and close sessions. However, members will be primarily responsible for generating the focus of group discussions. Anticipated topics may include issues such as understanding and disclosing sexual orientation, coping with homophobia, relationship issues, self acceptance as a g/l/b person, and connecting to community resources. The leader may also utilize bibliotherapy – assigning and discussing readings that relate to member issues. Carefully chosen bibliotherapy provides valuable information and often serves as a springboard for therapeutic work. The group leader will attend to the here-and-now and facilitate the appropriate expression of self-disclosure, caring confrontation and feedback as members address important issues.
Several sessions will be devoted to the termination of the group. The central goals of the termination phase are to allow members an opportunity to honor and reflect on their group experience and the gains they have made during the course of the school year. Group tasks will include giving support, addressing unfinished business, and discussing group and individual growth. In saying goodbye during the final session, the leader and members will engage in disclosing any regrets, resentments and appreciations of themselves and fellow group members. Members will also complete a post-test identical to the written evaluation administered during the pre-group session.
Terminating the group three weeks prior to summer vacation will allow sufficient time to conduct individual 20 minute follow-up interviews with each group member. The postgroup interview will be used to assist the leader in determining the types and degrees of benefits the support-therapy group has provided to participants. The individual’s pre and post evaluation will be discussed. Members will discuss the degree to which they have accomplished their stated goals, whether the group met their expectations, and what the group has meant to them personally. If needed, community resources will be discussed to assist the individual during summer vacation. These resources may include the Gay and Lesbian National Hotline, Under 21 Group, and the leader’s own personal e-mail address or telephone number if assistance is needed in the future.
Provisions will be made for group members who do not progress or who are harmed as a result of the group experience. The screening and selection process will hopefully have screened out those individuals who may not be appropriate for a g/l/b support-therapy group at this time. However, this can only be controlled to an extent. Individual counseling sessions may be held for members who exhibit resistance and/or fail to progress. The leader will use this time to offer assistance, explore the member’s attitudes and reservations in a nondefensive way and allow the member to decide whether or not they wish to continue in the group. If harm is brought upon a group member, it is the leader’s responsibility to attempt to rectify the situation. For example, if a group member is harassed by fellow students for attending the g/l/b support-therapy group, the leader will work with administration to ensure that the perpetrator of harassment or discrimination discontinue, receive a consequence for their actions and be provided with education regarding discrimination. Individual counseling will be provided to the group member to process their experience, as well as identify strategies that will allow them to experience safety in the school environment. The counselor will also possess and distribute a list of quality resources that can be contacted if the need should arise.
The questions presented above could be incorporated into the post-group evaluation. Participants could be asked to indicate whether they strongly disagree, disagree, are neutral, agree, or strongly agree to the questions posed. If the g/l/b support-therapy group were held over the course of five or ten years, such evaluations may yield answers to such research questions.
Group members will be encouraged to transfer the learning and personal growth they have experienced in the group to their lives following the group experience. This may be done through the construction of contracts or homework assignments. What they choose to transfer is up to each individual member. However, time will be spent during the action and termination phase of the group process to assist members in determining how they will apply specific skills and knowledge into their daily lives once the group has terminated.
Association for Gay, Lesbian & Bisexual Issues in
National Association of School Psychologists. Position statement on sexual minority youth.
Bagley, C. & Tremblay, P. (2000). Elevated rates of suicidal behavior in gay, lesbian, and
bisexual youth. Crisis: The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention, 21 (3), 111-117.
Cass, V. C. (1984). Homosexual identity formation: testing a theoretical model. Journal of Sex
Research, 20, 143-167.
Chojnacki, J. & Gelberg, S. (1995). The facilitation of a gay/lesbian/bisexual support-therapy
group by heterosexual counselors. Journal of Counseling & Development, 73 (3), 352-354.
Fontaine, J. & Hammond, N. (1996). Counseling issues with gay and lesbian adolescents.
Adolescence, 31 (124), 817-831.
Meyer, I. (2003). Prejudice, Social Stress, and Mental Health in Lesbian, Gay, and bisexual
populations: conceptual issues and research evidence. Psychological Bulletin, 129 (5), 674-697.
Nichols, S. (1999). Gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth: understanding diversity and promoting
tolerance in schools. The Elementary School Journal, 99 (5), 505-519.
Slater, B. (1988). Essential issues in working with lesbian and gay male youths. Professional
Psychology Research and Practice, 19 (2), 226-235.
Sobocinski, M. (1990). Ethical principles in the counseling of gay and lesbian adolescents:
issues of autonomy, competence, and confidentiality. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 21 (4), 240-247.