Book Review

Group-Centered Prevention Program for At-Risk Students

The emphasis of this book on group approaches to prevention is fully consistent with one of the major initiatives of the Society for Group Psychology and Group Psychotherapy. This is a book full of rich examples that is supported by relevant theory and research.

By Robert K. Conyne

Robert K. ConyneAuthor:  Harpine, Elaine Clanton
Publisher: Springer, 2011
Reviewed By: Conyne, Robert K., April 2011

Group-Centered Prevention Program for At-Risk Students builds on Clanton Harpine’s first book on this general topic of groups in schools, Group Interventions in Schools: Promoting Mental Health for At-Risk Children and Youth, which Andy Horne reviewed in the July 2009 issue of this newsletter (pp. 22–23). Please refer to the contents of that review because they highlight and set the stage for much of what continues, by design of the author, in this new book I am reviewing. Where, among other emphases, the first book introduced the topic of group-centered interventions within schools, this one explicates it by focusing on groups used for the prevention of at-risk problems faced by students in the schools (as well as a way to correct existing problems).

In addition, the emphasis of this book on group approaches to prevention is fully consistent with one of the major initiatives of the Society for Group Psychology and Group Psychotherapy. Beginning with a set of task force recommendations on this topic in 2000, the Society has dedicated its APA convention theme to this area (2009) and its journal, Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice published a special issue (2010, Volume 14, Number 3) addressing the group-prevention nexus. I was involved in all these efforts, for example, co-editing with Dr. Clanton Harpine the journal special issue mentioned above. So, fair disclosure holds I indicate that I may not be a completely objective reviewer of this book which I think so clearly explicates the ongoing group-prevention emphasis that the Society (and the Association for Specialists in Group Work) has endorsed and which I, along with an increasing number of other psychologists, feel so strongly about.

Consider the title of this new book for a moment. How does an author organize in one succinctly and wellwritten book the very large and complex topics of: "Group-Centered," "Prevention Program, "and "At-Risk Students"? This is an ambitious project at the start, where diverse sets of concepts must be juggled successfully and it is not for the faint-of-heart. This level of challenge may explain, at least in part, why the field is dominated with a much more familiar line of scholarly work, practice, and research: "Individual-Centered," "Remedial Program," and "Problem Students" (not to imply this line of inquiry and practice is unimportant or easy).

Clanton Harpine pulls this grand project off with aplomb. Her new book is conceptually sound, research-based, jam-packed with practical applications, and is written in a scholarly and readable style. The latter quality is especially apropos because the on-going applied focus of her book is on an intensive 10-hour prevention program based on group approaches she has developed, called Camp Sharigan, which uses reading as the means for exerting preventive effects. Because her group-based prevention program targets school-age children, and because reading is an essential life skill for children (and people of all ages in our society), it makes perfect sense to build a groupbased prevention program around reading, which can be tackled in class, after class, during summer programs, and in community-based efforts. As Clanton Harpine indicates in a critically important point, "Camp Sharigan is not just a reading program. Reading is the intervention to change behavior and strengthen mental wellness" (p. 56). As an aside, I’ve always been attracted to the potential of using indirect approaches for improving mental health, especially in prevention programs, by involving participants in main-line activities such as reading or exercise or volunteer work projects, with mental health guidance and applications intentionally and integrally attached.

Why does this "reading program" work? A key reason, which will be of no surprise to readers of this newsletter, is because of the interactive psychoeducational group processes that run through it by design. As the author points out, group interaction is essential for promoting learning and change. She goes further by saying, "Direct instruction or lecture is never included in a group-centered prevention program" and that "group interaction and group cohesion are built into every group-centered prevention program (p. 49).

This book may hold special value for those who want to apply or adapt the group-centered prevention principles that are presented. This is so because Clanton Harpine has taken the extra step of providing program development and evaluation tools that can be used by readers to help shape similar projects of their own. This is another unique feature of this book, taking theory and practice to a deeper level by assisting those interested to convert into action the ideas that may be inspired or at least stimulated by the many excellent applications about which they are reading.

Finally, I find little to criticize in this book and much more to praise. This is a book full of rich examples that is supported by relevant theory and research. It will be of direct help for those who themselves wish to develop  group-centered prevention programs aimed at at-risk students and of general assistance to those who are interested in developing such programs for other populations. For all readers of this Newsletter and members of our Society, tying our group perspective and skills to prevention goals and programs is the next big step awaiting us. Doing so successfully will help broaden our impact, contributing to healthier people and settings. Thanks to Elaine for providing an excellent source to help guide this needed initiative.