SOCW 6121 WK8 Assgn 1 Social Science homework help

Discussion: Involuntary Group Members

Involuntary members have been ordered to attend a group in exchange for some reward. Many times, this is a result of judicial system intervention. Often, these members are not interested in participating and getting to know others. The clinical social worker must understand the potential issues or problems that arise within a group of involuntary members and ways to address these issues. It can be especially difficult to create a sense of empowerment when these members have been mandated to attend.

For this Discussion, pay particular attention to the Schimmel & Jacobs (2011) piece.

By Day 3

Post your description of the strategies for working with involuntary group members presented in the Schimmel & Jacobs (2011) article. Describe ways you agree and/or disagree with their strategies. How might you handle the situations presented in the article differently? Explain ways these strategies promote empowerment.

TRAINING

When Leaders Are Challenged: Dealing
With Involuntary Members in Groups

Christine J. Schimmel
Ed E. Jacobs

West Virginia University

Leading groups can be challenging and difficult. Leading groups in which
members are involuntary and negative increases the level of difficulty and creates
new dynamics in the group leading process. This article proposes specific skills
and strategies for dealing with three specific issues related to involuntary members
in groups: groups where all members are involuntary; groups where some members
are involuntary; and groups with open membership where involuntary mem-
bers join groups that are already in progress. The emphasis is on leaders using
creative and multi-sensory interventions to insure that members are actively
engaged in the group process.

Keywords: group leading; involuntary; negative members

According to both Association for Specialists in Group Work
(ASGW) Best Practice Guidelines (2007) and the American Counseling
Association’s (ACA) Code of Ethics (2005), ‘‘Group leaders screen pro-
spective group members if appropriate to the type of group being
offered,’’ and ‘‘identify group members whose needs and goals are com-
patible with the goals of the group’’ (p. 4). At times however many
counselors find themselves leading very difficult groups that involve
involuntary members—members who, as opposed to being simply
recommended for a group and can choose whether or not to join a
group, are mandated or assigned group membership. These types of
groups are difficult primarily because the motivation of the members
can be extremely low (Greenberg, 2003). Over the years when

Manuscript submitted July 14, 2010; final revision accepted January 8, 2011.
Christine J. Schimmel, Ed.D., is an assistant professor, and Ed E. Jacobs, Ph.D., an
associate professor in the Department of Counseling, Rehabilitation Counseling, and
Counseling Psychology at West Virginia University. Correspondence concerning this
article should be addressed to Christine J. Schimmel, Department of Counseling,
Rehabilitation Counseling, and Counseling Psychology, West Virginia University,
P.O. Box 6122, Morgantown, WV 26506. E-mail: chris.schimmel@mail.wvu.edu

THE JOURNAL FOR SPECIALISTS IN GROUP WORK, Vol. 36 No. 2, June 2011, 144–158

DOI: 10.1080/01933922.2011.562345

# 2011 ASGW

144

conducting group training for agencies, school, and correctional facili-
ties, many participants have expressed that leading involuntary
groups is their most difficult challenge. Involuntary groups often
include mandated clients or clients who are required to attend treat-
ment by a department of corrections or a judicial system and include
DUI (driving under the influence) or long-term in-patient groups such
as drug and alcohol treatment centers. Involuntary situations also
include short-term in-patient groups where members have had psy-
chotic breaks or tried to commit suicide, adolescent residential treat-
ment centers, and school groups where students are in trouble for
their behavior, truancy, or academic issues (DeLucia-Waack, Gerrity,
Kalodner, & Riva, 2004; Greenberg, 2003). Anger management
groups, groups for batterers, and court mandated parenting groups
usually are involuntary as well. In each of these groups, many if not
all of the members are involuntary and this creates challenges for
any group leader. Although Corey (2008) recommends only accepting
involuntary group members for a limited amount of time, involuntary
groups often permit open membership where members are continu-
ously joining and leaving the group. This creates additional difficult
dynamics with which the group leader must contend. It should be
noted that leaders of involuntary groups should not always assume
that group members are unmotivated or that they cannot benefit from
a group counseling experience (Corey, 2008). When group leaders
develop creative, active leadership techniques like those outlined in
this article, involuntary groups can offer much needed help and sup-
port for their members. (Fomme & Corbin, 2004; Morgan & Flora,
2002).

Leaders of involuntary groups need to be dynamic, energetic, and
engaging (Corey, 2008). They must be patient, flexible, and thick
skinned; that is, they need to be prepared for negative reactions,
and not take them personally. According to Corey, Corey, and Corey
(2008), leaders of involuntary groups must be perceptive enough to
face the challenges that these groups present openly and be open to
the idea that involuntary does not mean unmotivated. Additionally,
leaders need to be prepared to cut off members when they are being
negative or when they get off track. Finally, the leader of a group con-
sisting of involuntary members needs to have numerous techniques for
drawing out those members because involuntary members are fre-
quently committed to not participating in protest to being required
to be in the group (Jacobs, Masson, Harvill, & Schimmel, 2012;
Schimmel, Jacobs, & Adams, 2008). Corey (2008) states, ‘‘One effective
way to create a therapeutic climate for participants in involuntary
groups is for the leader to explain to members some specific ways in
which the group process can be of personal value to them’’ (p. 427).

Schimmel and Jacobs/INVOLUNTARY MEMBERS IN GROUPS 145

This article covers three kinds of situations where the leader has to
deal with involuntary members: first, all members not wanting to be in
the group; next, one or more members not wanting to be in the group;
and lastly the open membership group where a new, negative member
joins a group already in progress (Schimmel, Jacobs, & Adams, 2008).
Finally, while reviewing and processing the following exercises and
ideas, group leaders should note that according to counselor ethics
(ACA, 2005), group members must provide informed consent to treat-
ment and thus must be made aware of their rights and responsibilities
as group members (Erford, 2011).

Strategies and Skills for Dealing With Completely
Involuntary Groups

ASGW’s Best Practice Guidelines (2007) require that group leaders
appropriately assess both their knowledge and skills as they relate to
their ability to lead groups. According to Greenberg (2003), among the
skills necessary to lead involuntary groups are the leader’s willingness
to be more active and to be prepared to ‘‘exert greater control’’ of the
group (p. 39). In groups where the entire group does not want to be
there, the leader must recognize that he or she has two purposes:
(1) to try to cover the subject, such as anger, drinking and driving,
new parenting skills, performing better in school; and (2) to try to
get the members to become voluntary; that is, to get the members to
invest in the group experience instead of resisting learning from the
experience (Corey, 2008; Kottler, 2001). It is important for the leader
to keep in mind that she cannot accomplish much if the members have
a negative or bad attitude so the primary purpose of the first and
second session is to ‘‘hook’’ them. When a leader attempts to ‘‘hook’’
group members, she is actively working to get them interested in what
is being said; engaging them, and convincing them that there is some
value to the group and what is being shared. If the leader is successful,
a group that began with involuntary members, then transforms into
one in which members enjoy and look forward to participating. The
examples that follow require a willingness to lead and be active.

Do the Unexpected

One of the best things that a leader can do with an involuntary
group is to do something out of the ordinary. For example, in a manda-
tory group for teenagers who were caught using drugs at school, one
leader started with:

Leader: I know you don’t want to be here so we’re going to use the
first 10 minutes to bitch. (The leader used the term ‘‘bitch’’

146 THE JOURNAL FOR SPECIALISTS IN GROUP WORK / June 2011

intentionally, believing that this may help with rapport since it
was obvious that none of these teenagers were at all interested
in being in the group. We do not ordinarily suggest the use of
bad language but in this case her use of certain words helped
her build some rapport with these involuntary members.) I
want you to get all your trash talking done with and put it in
this trash can (puts a large trash can in the center of the
group). You have 10 minutes and then we’re going to get down
to business. All of you can talk at once and say all the negative
things you are feeling about having to be here.

After 10 minutes, she dramatically put a lid on the trash can, removed
the can, and firmly said,

Leader: Let’s begin. I’m going to tell you how this group can be valu-
able. I want you to fill out this short sentence-completion form.

Starting with negative energy is generally a mistake. According to
Erford (2011), it is usually best to limit the amount of time devoted
to complaints. The uniqueness of this technique did much to reduce
the negative feelings about being in the group. In this example the
leader puts herself in control by using the garbage can and solicit-
ing the negative thoughts which she brought to an immediate end
by putting a lid on the garbage can and then turning to the positive
ways the group could be helpful. She showed that she was in
charge.

When the leader knows a negative energy is present, she can dissi-
pate that energy by using a technique like the one described in the
example. In doing this, she wants to insure that she introduces the
exercise in a way that does not set the tone for the group, but rather
as an opening technique where she demonstrates a strong leadership
approach. This is a way to dissipate some of the negative energy. This
technique works only if the leader is a person who presents a very
confident, take-charge leadership style. Inexperienced, less confident
leaders may be inviting disaster by using such a technique because
they would not be able to reverse the negative flow.

An additional unexpected strategy is to do something dramatic such
as have someone dressed like a policeman come into the room right
before the beginning of the group and fake an arrest or some other dra-
matic scene. This can be a good technique if the unique strategy is
related to the purpose and stimulates members to talk about the
desired topic (i.e., avoiding arrest, staying out trouble with the law,
avoiding another DUI).

Using bold, vivid movie or television scenes is another way to start
an involuntary group. If the clip is a good one, members tend to forget

Schimmel and Jacobs/INVOLUNTARY MEMBERS IN GROUPS 147

that they have all these negative feelings about being in the group.
The key is to find something that is engaging and relevant to the
purpose of the group.

Use Written Exercises

One of the best ways to engage involuntary members is to give
them a brief writing task, such as to make a list or to complete some
incomplete sentences. Members will usually make a list or finish
some sentences if the list or sentences are interesting. When mem-
bers are asked to read what they wrote, most will pay attention
because they are curious to hear what others said, and if other mem-
bers had similar answers to their answers. Oftentimes, negative
members are reluctant to share when asked to simply answer ques-
tions out loud; however, they may feel more comfortable reading from
what they wrote and will therefore feel more comfortable sharing.
Listed below are some potential sentences for use in involuntary
groups:

1. In order to stay out of trouble, I need to __________________.
2. One thing I would like to know about others in this group is

______________.
3. Given that I have to be here, one thing I would like to hear about is

______.
4. When I get angry, I ________.
5. When I drink, I ______________.
6. The toughest part of being a parent is _________________.
7. One reason I want to drop out of school is _______________.
8. One thing I worry about the leader of this group doing is __________.
9. One thing I like about myself is ___________________.

10. One thing I don’t like about myself is ____________________.
11. One thing I would like to change is _______________________.

It should be noted that these are examples of sentences that could
be used in various involuntary groups. Leaders should only use two
or three of these in any one session and the sentence stems chosen
should be related to either the purpose of the group or the members’
feelings about the group.

Using lists also can be effective. For example, having members list
five things that they believe make them angry or list three things they
like and three things they do not like about school can assist in engag-
ing the involuntary member. With any writing activity, the leader clo-
sely monitors the members to see that they are writing or completing
the sentences. Additionally, it should be noted that leaders take into
account that not all members may be able to read and write. Leaders
can avoid the pitfalls of this by doing two things: first, read all of the

148 THE JOURNAL FOR SPECIALISTS IN GROUP WORK / June 2011

sentences out loud so that all members hear what the sentences are
and secondly, assure the members that you are not going to collect
their written answers.

Use Creative Props

One of the best ways to engage involuntary members is to use a
creative prop (Beaulieu, 2006; Gladding, 2005; Jacobs, 1992; Ver-
non, 2010). Creative ‘‘prop’’ refers to any multi-sensory tool, typi-
cally some easy to find or easy to make visual aide. Highlighted
below are some creative props that work well with involuntary
members and, when used appropriately, make the group more
interesting and engaging, therefore diffusing the negativity and
hostility.

Fuses. For involuntary groups where anger management is the
focus, the leader can introduce to the members the idea of lengthening
their ‘‘anger’’ fuse so that it takes more to get angry. To do this, the
leader would show the group some string of different lengths and
ask the members to think of the string as their anger fuse (most would
have a short fuse). The leader would lay on the floor many different
lengths of thick string (e.g., 12 inch to 12 inches). The leader then asks
the members to pick the string that represents the length of their
anger fuse and ask the members to comment regarding their
anger fuse. The simple act of having members identify how long
their fuse is usually gets them talking about the role anger plays
in their lives. The leader would then pick a very long fuse and
talk about the purpose of the group being to help the members
to lengthen their fuse. Using the members’ comments regarding
anger, the leader could teach cognitive behavioral techniques for
lengthening one’s fuse. The leader would be listening for the
‘‘shoulds’’ that the members have that lead to a short fuse.
Usually, most members will relate to having a short fuse and the
need to lengthen their fuse. (Beaulieu, 2006; Jacobs, 1992; Jacobs
et al., 2012).

Beer Bottle

For involuntary groups where alcohol use is the primary topic,
using a large (2 foot tall plastic bottle) beer bottle gets members’ atten-
tion and the leader can show many ways where alcohol is a big
problem. Members can relate the size of the bottle to the size of their
drinking problem. One way to get members attention regarding their
denial that their drinking is a problem is the leader can place the large

Schimmel and Jacobs/INVOLUNTARY MEMBERS IN GROUPS 149

bottle in the center of the group along side a small empty beer bottle to
show the relevant size of the members’ drinking problems. Members
can see the difference and some usually begin to comment. If the
members do not comment, the leader can use the difference in size
of the two bottles to comment on how many with drinking problems
think it is small when their love ones, employers, and friends see it
as big. The large beer bottle helps with the discussion of denial which
is such an important concept with those who have serious drinking
problems.

The larger beer bottle can be used in groups to show the damage to
relationships that excessive drinking can cause. The leader can get
two members to stand and have one member represent the spouse or
family member of the other and then place the large bottle between
them and then ask them to hug. It quickly becomes obvious that the
bottle is in the way and they cannot get close due to the bottle. This
visual image generates much discussion about the effects that drink-
ing has on relationships not only from the two members with the bottle
between them but from many of the other members. (Jacobs et al.,
2012; Jacobs & Smith, 1997).

Rubber Band

Trust is a common issue in groups where the members don’t want
to be there. Using a large rubber band (a rubber band that has the
potential to be stretched to over a foot in length) to get at the trust
issues can be effective (Beaulieu, 2006; Jacobs, 1992; Jacobs et al.,
2012). The leader asks one member to hold the opposite end of a
rubber band and then pulls on it to lengthen it. Then the leader
says:

Leader: In a minute, I am going to let go, but I am not going to hurt you.
(The leader then counts to three and gently releases the rubber
band by slowly closing the distance between the member and
himself) Did I do what I said I was going to do?

Member (nodding): Yes, but I thought you were going to pop me with
that!

Leader: Right. I think all of you thought I was going to pop her with the
rubber band. I know other folks have popped you in your lives,
but I am not going to pop you. I will do what I say I am going to do.

Leaders should be prepared to be popped by the member. If this
occurs, the leader can simply say ‘‘That is OK. I am trained to take
your pops, but I will never pop you. That is not my job; my job is to
be helpful to you and all the group members.’’

150 THE JOURNAL FOR SPECIALISTS IN GROUP WORK / June 2011

Use Rounds

Rounds are exercises where you ask each member to say some-
thing such as a word or phrase or a number on a 1–10 scale
(Jacobs et al., 2012). The value of rounds with involuntary members
is that most members are willing to offer a word or a number
even though they are not willing to say much more than that. Most
members will say something, and from this, the leader gains a better
sense as to whether certain members will begin to become more
engaged in sharing. For example, when conducting a group for
students who are at risk of failing, the leader may say something
like:

Leader: In a word or phrase, when you think of school, what comes to
mind?

In a DUI group, the leader may say something like:

Leader: I want each of you to say how you see yourself in regards to
alcohol by saying one of the following: ‘‘I have a serious prob-
lem with alcohol,’’ ‘‘I may have a problem,’’ or ‘‘I don’t have a
problem.’’

Another round that could be used in a DUI group is:

Leader: On a scale from 1–10, where 10 is ‘‘my drinking causes me lots
of problems’’ and 1 is ‘‘my drinking causes me no problems at
all,’’ what number would you give yourself?

Use Movement Exercises

Since one major problem with involuntary members is getting
them engaged, the use of movement exercises can be very helpful
in accomplishing this task. Movement exercises refer to any activity
where the members have to be up, out of their seats moving around
(Jacobs et al., 2012). It could mean moving along a continuum
such as:

not angry at all——————————very angry
math is easy————————————math is very hard.
The leader would have members stand in the center of the room

lined up behind each other and then on the count of three, members
move either right or left depending on how they felt about the
issue being presented. Another movement activity involves having
the members stand and show how they feel about the group

Schimmel and Jacobs/INVOLUNTARY MEMBERS IN GROUPS 151

using their arms and positioning themselves like a sculpture. For
example:

Leader: I want you all to stand in a circle and in a minute I’m going to
ask you to sculpt how you feel about being in the group. That is
if you hate the group and feel closed off, you could turn away
from the circle with your arms folded (leader demonstrates
this); if you have some interest, you may put one foot forward
and stand sort of open; if you don’t like it, you can put your
hands over your ears. Sculpt how you feel. Do you understand
what I mean? (All nod) Okay, on the count of three, sculpt how
you feel.

Another movement exercise that could be conducted in a second or
third session of an involuntary group involves having members face
an imaginary line that represents their getting something meaningful
out of participating in the group. Then, the leader asks members to
physically move towards the line to represent how far they feel they
are from that goal. For example:

Leader: I want you all to stand and face this imaginary line (leader pre-
tends to draw a line in the middle of the room or actually draws
a line on the floor–the members are all lined up, side-by-side,
about 10–15 feet from the line). This line represents you reach-
ing the goal of getting something meaningful out of this group.
On three, I want each of you to move either towards or away
from the goal showing me where you think you are in terms
of getting something good out of this group. Again, the line
represents ‘‘getting something meaningful out of the group.’’
One, two, three. (Some members move and some stay station-
ary) Now let’s talk about how all of us can make some move-
ment towards that line.

These are just three examples of movement exercises. Many more move-
ment exercises exist and leaders should feel encouraged to create their
own. Movement activities have a better chance of engaging involuntary
members than almost any other kind of exercise (Jacobs et al., 2012).

Strategies and Skills for Dealing With a Few
Involuntary Members

There are many settings where members are required to attend
group counseling. Settings such as treatment centers and crisis care
centers often have some group members who are involuntary. When
leading groups with these difficult dynamics, it is important for the
leader to pay close attention to each person’s level of interest or
investment in the group process. If the leader fails to recognize the
varying levels of involvement, he may focus much of the group’s energy

152 THE JOURNAL FOR SPECIALISTS IN GROUP WORK / June 2011

on trying to get that one or two members invested. Leaders often make
the mistake of focusing on the negative, involuntary members when
these members are not ready or wanting to share. This causes the
involuntary members to have more hostility about having to be in
the group (Erford, 2011). A skilled leader focuses on those members
wanting to gain from the experience, while at the same time assessing
if the involuntary members seem ready to engage in the group.

Assess Member Readiness

Listed below are three means of assessing whether or not members
are ready to work.

Pay attention to speech pattern, voice, and body language. Skilled
leaders can usually read a member’s attitude towards the group by read-
ing their non-verbal cues as well as by listening to their speech pattern
and their voice. Negative members tend to look all around the room, roll
their eyes, sit with arms crossed and generally look disinterested. If
negative members say anything at all, their voice and speech is usually
abrupt, argumentative, or even hostile. If the leader does not pay atten-
tion to members for non-verbal gestures and voice and speech patterns,
she may call on or focus on members who have negative energy which in
turn negatively affects the group process. By paying careful attention to
speech patterns and body language, the leader can focus on those who
seem to have positive energy for the group.

Use dyads. Another technique that can be used to assess members
level of willingness to participate is for the leader to put themselves
into dyads with the negative member to talk about how the member
is feeling about the group (this is while other members are paired
together to discuss some relevant group topic). The leader asks the
negative member(s) how they are feeling about the group and how
they would like to participate if at all. By using dyads, the leader
can talk with, encourage, and possibly confront the member(s) some-
what privately. This way the group does not experience the hostile
and negative reactions that can pollute the otherwise positive energy.

Use inner circle, outer circle. As the group develops and the leader
feels that most of the members are interested in talking, one technique
that can be utilized is to have an inner circle and an outer circle.
Having hostile, involuntary members sit outside the group may be of
benefit to both them and the larger group. The outside members are
permitted to sit, read, or draw; however, at any time they can request
to be part of the group if it is agreed that their participation will not
be negative. The leader can say something like ‘‘For those of you

Schimmel and Jacobs/INVOLUNTARY MEMBERS IN GROUPS 153

wanting to work and get something out of group today, scoot your
chairs to the middle and those of you who don’t can sit quietly out of
the circle.’’ This serves a couple of purposes; mainly, members who
want to gain from the group have the opportunity to do so, and resistant
members don’t have a chance to disrupt the flow of the group. Many
times when this technique is employed, members on the outside circle
pay attention and may even ask to speak and join the group. Even if
they don’t join, resistant members usually pay attention and possibly
gain something of value.

Invite Positive Members to Question Negative Members

The leader can conduct an exercise that invites positive
members to ask questions of the negative members to assess if they
are willing to work. This strategy removes the leader from putting
resistant members on the spot. These questions may include some-
thing like:

Leader: Is there anything you (to positive members) would like to ask
Josie (negative member) about her ________________________
(drinking, relationship, job, etc)?

Leader: (to all positive members) I want to get some of you to ask
Jeremy what we could do to get him more involved in the
group. Shelly (a positive member), let me start with you.

Conduct Feedback Exercises

There are a number of feedback exercises that may get the involun-
tary member(s) interested or more involved. One simple exercise
involves having members answer questions like ‘‘Who do you trust
most in the group?’’ and ‘‘Who do you trust least?’’ or ‘‘Who do you feel
most comfortable with?’’ and ‘‘Who do you feel least comfortable with?’’
By having members do this, the involuntary member is involved
unless she leaves the room. She may not say anything but she will
be listening to whether her name is called. The leader can then ask
her how she feels about what was said.

Another feedback activity that may work is to have everyone write a
word or a phrase on 3 � 5 cards for each member of the group and then
give each member their feedback cards to read. Most of the time, the
resistant member will read them and sometimes may react. Caution
should be used with this technique in that the leader should only do
this when she thinks there may be a chance that the member will open
up or will react in a way that may start the process of him becoming
involved in the group.

154 THE JOURNAL FOR SPECIALISTS IN GROUP WORK / June 2011

In the example below, the leader attempts to give the negative
member(s) feedback by eliciting comments from the members who
are more engaged:

Leader: (Knowing that four or five of the eight members are now
actively engaging in the group and ready to work) Those of
you who are now more interested in getting something good
from our group (leader gestures towards the four or five mem-
bers who are engaged) do this for me. Talk to me about how
you are feeling about members who are not engaging or parti-
cipating in our group. What is your wish for them? How does
their sitting quietly and being negative affect you? What
would you like for them to do?

Finally, it should be noted that it is important to understand that not
all people benefit from groups, especially those who are mandated to
attend. Skilled leaders who make sure their groups are engaging
and relevant can frequently get members interested in a mandatory
group, but there will be times when a mandated member refuses to
buy into the group process and can potentially ruin the experience
for the other members. Ideally the leader has the option to ask nega-
tive members to leave the group, or screen them out of the group, but,
many times, agency policy dictates that these members must attend
the group. Leaders who do have authority to screen out …

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