Within the mental health profession, psychotherapeutic group processes have become increasingly popular. In this age of managed care, therapeutic group have proven to be a timely a cost-effective alternative to individualized treatment. Furthermore, group therapy has been shown to be, “as effective as individual therapy in treating a range of psychological and psychiatric problems” (Markus & King, 2003, p. 203). However, just as group treatment can provide powerful therapeutic change and growth when properly facilitated, if poorly planned, it can have the opposite effect. Furthermore, in addition to the conventional ethical dilemmas and concerns posed by individual therapy, group work presents its own unique challenges, which must be taken into consideration (Kottler, 1994). Given the recent rise in group therapy utilization, it has become increasingly imperative for mental health professionals to make themselves aware of these potential challenges, as well as maintain a solid grasp of the ethical standards that guide therapeutic group work.
Establishment of Guidelines
The American Counseling Association (ACA, 2005) and the American Psychological Association (APA, 2002) established the basic codes of conduct, or ethical guidelines, that are followed by mental health professionals who provide therapy. In 1989, however, the Association for Specialists in Group Work (ASGW, 1989), a division of the ACA, published a comprehensive set of Ethical Guidelines specifically put forth, “to promote quality group training, practice, and research through enhancing the awareness of ethical issues associated with groups” (Durr, n.d., p. 2). And as a therapeutic group leader, one must be conversant with the contents of these rules and procedures.
Coming to be an ethical group practitioner encompasses more than simply avoiding violations of laws or ethical codes. It implies conducting oneself in a mindful manner, doing whatever it takes to perform at the highest level, both professionally and personally (Corey, Williams, Moline, 1995). As a group therapist, one is faced with a multitude of both legal and ethical obligations that influence nearly every aspect of group work, from planning and participation to confidentiality and termination. Collectively considered, this myriad of concerns reveals the intricacies and uncertainties that encompass the therapeutic group process, and that which a competent therapist must be adequately prepared to handle. This paper will focus on the examination of particular ethical issues associated with group therapy, as well as how best to manage them. It will also concisely evaluate the benefits of group work as opposed to individual treatment, as well as touch on some of the personal qualities that aid therapists in being effective group leaders.
Ethics of Group Therapy
The primary ethical concerns and principles of group therapy can be broken down into two broad themes; those concerning the rights of the group members,...