Step 1: Identify the Goals of the Individuals and the Group:
Before you plan a group, you must make a list of the goals of the various individuals you are planning to put in the group. This will help you understand more about the shared needs. Based on this, make a list of goals for the group. You must keep these goals in mind and keep reevaluating the group at various intervals to know if your group is reaching its goals.
Some of the main goals are to help clients to identify negative automatic thoughts, teaching clients to dispute automatic thoughts and improve their social skills.
Step 2: Plan the Strategies to be Used:
The therapist will have to identify which strategies he or she is going to use, as these will also impact the group planning. Strategies include cognitive restructuring, homework diary, teaching social skills, exposure to feared situations and relaxation techniques. Some of these are strategies are used during activities, and others are used during group discussions.
Step 3: Decide if it is going to be an Activity Group or a Support Group:
You will need to decide if the group is an activity group or a support group. Activity groups aim to develop specific skills. Cooking group, home making group etc. are some examples. Support groups are for the sharing of experiences, support and development of emotional skills. A support group for cancer or an alcoholics anonymous group are some examples. A social anxiety disorder group falls somewhere between the two. Depending on the specific goals of the group it can be more of an activity group or a support group. Understanding what group yours is going to be will help achieve group goals.
Step 4: Is it an Open group or a Closed Group?
Open groups are ones where people keep joining and leaving the group. The first session may have five members, but in the second session only two of the five members may be attending, and two new members may have joined. A closed group is one where the same members attend from the first session to the last one. Support groups are usually closed whereas some activity groups can be open. With social anxiety disorder closed groups work better because the clients get to know each other and start to feel safe in the group. This is essential as they will need to face their social phobias during the group.
Step 5: Decide on the Size of the Group:
The size of the group must be decided in advance. Psychoeducational groups usually consist of 6- 12 members. Six is a recommended number for a SAD group. For some groups, one therapist may be enough, but for a SAD group, two therapists are recommended.
Step 6: Consider the Time Factors:
Choose a day and a time for the group that will be suitable for all the members. The duration of the group can be between one and three hours depending on the clients, the time available and the goals of the group. session frequency is ideally twice a week as it allows enough time for the clients to practice skills and ideas that they have learnt. The number of group sessions depends on the needs of the clients.
For a SAD group, six sessions of 2.5 hr each have been found effective. These sessions can be conducted weekly. However, depending on the clients, 12 or even 24 sessions can be conducted.
Step 7: Set up the Environment:
It is important to set up the environment for the group. A quiet room, where there are no distractions are ideal. Clients must feel comfortable talking and doing things without worrying about other people watching them or listening. All the materials needed for the group must be available nearby.
In the case of a SAD group, the environment and ambience is very important. Clients must be seated comfortably, and must not feel crowded, as it can increase anxiety. The room must have a good temperature control, because clients with anxiety often sweat excessively, and feel embarrassed about it. Moreover, if they are practicing social skills, it should be in a safe place where outsiders cannot watch.
Step 8: Structure the Sessions:
Each session must be planned and structured as follows:
Orientation: It is the first phase of the group where the clients are helped to feel welcome and get comfortable with the group.
Introduction: In this phase members are introduced to each other – an introduction to the theme for the day may be given.
Warm Up: This phase usually consists of an activity to help the clients feel more comfortable, or an activity that is an introduction to the session.
Action: This is the main part of the session where the group aims are implemented.
Wind down: It is a time for closure. Clients can talk about what they learnt and how the group was useful. The leader may give some information regarding the next session.
In addition to this, you will have to plan the focus of each session, before you start the groups. Here is one example of session planning for an SAD group.
Session 1 and 2: Cognitive behavorial model for social phobia, introduction to cognitive restructuring.
Session 3 – 11: Clients confront personally relevant feared situations
Session 12: Reviewing each client’s progress over the course of treatment.
I hope these ideas on how to plan a psychoeducational group for SAD were useful to you. You can use these principles and steps to plan any kind of therapy group.
Finlay, L. (1993). Groupwork in Occupational Therapy. London: Chapman and Hall.
James D. Herbert, A. A. (2002). Brief cognitive behavioral group therapy for social anxiety disorder. Cognitive and Behavorial Practice , 1-8.
Richard G. Heimberg, R. E. (2002). Cognitive-Behavioral Group Therapy for Social Phobia: Basic Mechanisms and Clinical Strategies. New York: Guilford Publications.