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Increase visibility of group psychology

Though there is support for group treatment, we need to change how group treatment is perceived, through a focus on legislation, collaboration with other APA divisions and work with APA Practice and Education Directorates.

By Maria Riva, PhD

Hi everyone, this has been a busy year so far and I will continue to work energetically for the division in the last 2 months of my presidency. I am honored to serve in this role. 

The APA convention was quite successful and there was considerable energy around group practice and research. My presidential address focused on the urgent need for more training and supervision in group leadership. 

Along with a greater emphasis on training and supervision, we need to continue to increase the visibility of group psychology and group psychotherapy as a specialty.  Regardless of the strong research support for the effectiveness of group for many different problem areas, as well as research that shows that group psychotherapy is as effective as individual therapy in many situations, there continues to be considerable resistance in the field to seeing group psychotherapy as a primary form of treatment.  

At a conference for behavioral health providers, I talked to many agency personnel who were absolutely supportive of group treatment yet they discussed the difficulty of getting group programs started or firmly planted in their organizations. Several people agreed that one way to make changes in how people see group treatment is to focus on legislation. 

This is an area that we will need to consider going forward especially with regard to increasing the reimbursement rates for group treatment, encouraging federal and other grant sources to specifically include group treatment as an emphasis, and messaging about the effectiveness of group treatment.  

As a small division, we need to collaborate more with the many other APA divisions and other organizations that emphasize groups. We also need to see our skills as essential both in small and large group situations. With the recent floods in Colorado, the fires in California and several other western states, Hurricane Sandy, the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School and many other disasters, group leadership has many important applications. 

Likewise, the emphasis on integrative care is really about people working together as a group. This past year, both of my parents were very ill. I was involved with hospitals, nursing homes, assisted and independent living facilities, and Veterans Administration Hospitals. I have experienced both excellent and horrible patient care. The examples of positive care were those when people worked together as a group or team, communicated well across agencies, and saw family and social support as essential and not an interference. Integrative care is really a group process and it is essential that groups and group training find their way into this complex and crucial treatment avenue. 

In the upcoming months, I will work with the APA Practice and Education Directorates to revise or create new messaging on groups that stresses evidence supported group treatment and the wide range of applications that group leadership has in the field. Recently we have been asked to partner with other divisions to collaborate on two APA interdisciplinary grant proposals. It was really positive to have other APA divisions see our group focus as a necessary component in prevention, training, and supervision. Instead of being overwhelmed, this is a really exciting time for us to more boldly advocate for the importance of group psychology and group psychotherapy. Thank you for all of the group work that you do.