President-elect's column

Reflections about the role of a group facilitator and the skills needed to be an effective leader

By Maria Riva, PhD

Recently, I have been thinking a lot about the important role of the group facilitator and the enormous skill it takes to help a group and its members move forward, especially when that group and the membership are not really invested in changing, when the problems seem insurmountable, or making needed change seems much too frightening. Group leaders actually have to have special skills (I would have said special powers but it sounded too supernatural). For example, in everyday life, many people avoid conflict, yet effective group leaders need to be able to address difficult and sticky situations. In typical conversations, it is rare that people address the dynamics being acted out or use immediacy to respond to a situation. Yet group leaders often use these moments to help underscore an interaction that needs to be highlighted. Group leaders look for themes in the group discussion instead of responding to the content of each comment. In regular conversation, there is a tendency to stay on the content level. Competition is often present in everyday life situations. It is also a major consideration in groups, although group leaders do not attempt to escalate these competitions, going much more toward collaboration. Group, therefore, is often a microcosm of the world, yet it is the many ways that it is a different experience that allow for change. Recently, I have had the benefit of watching some very skillful leaders work with groups that had been described as intractable. To see the positive changes in these groups and their members has increased my awareness of the power of groups, keeps me excited about conducting groups, and energizes me to become a more effective leader.