Traditional- and Activity-Based Laboratory Groups: A Quantitative Comparison of Two Teaching Approaches

By Connolly, Colleen M.; Carns, Michael R. et al. | Journal of Professional Counseling, Practice, Theory, & Research, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

Traditional- and Activity-Based Laboratory Groups: A Quantitative Comparison of Two Teaching Approaches


Connolly, Colleen M., Carns, Michael R., Carns, Ann, Journal of Professional Counseling, Practice, Theory, & Research


Counselor educators struggle with finding optimum methods for teaching group counseling concepts to graduate counseling students. Educators routinely combine a didactic component along with a traditional- or discussion-group process. This study compared a discussion-based laboratory with an activity- or adventure-based laboratory, which included a Challenge Course. This article compares these two approaches using the Group Environment Scale (GES) and the Coopersmith Self Esteem Inventories (SEI). The activity-based group scored significantly higher on five GES subscales: Leader Support, Task Orientation, Self-Discovery, Order and Organization, and Leader Control. The SEI results showed no significant differences between groups. The results of this study suggest that an activity-based group is a viable alternative for educating counseling trainees in the theory and practice of group counseling.

Traditional-and Activity-Based Laboratory Groups: A Quantitative Comparison of Two Teaching Approaches

Ethical and practical concerns continue to plague counselor educators in deciding the optimum approach for teaching group counseling concepts to prospective counselors (for example, see Barlow, 2004; Merta & Sisson, 1991). "Leading a group well is an art" (Chen & Rybak, 2004, p. 30). As Barlow (2004) declares, "Good group leaders are not born. They are trained" (p. 113). As such, it remains important to strategically decide and layer when, where, and how counseling students learn these complex skills.

Chen and Rybak (2002) suggest that the development of group leadership consists of two parts: practicing the related multifaceted skills and techniques, and mastering the interpersonal processes and dynamics. The success of the group is closely linked with the effectiveness of the leader (Becvar, Canfield, & Becvar, 1997). Characteristics of the successful leader include self-knowledge, interpersonal skills that allow a leader to tend fully to another, and awareness of both the process and the developmental group stages (Berg, Landreth, & Fall, 1998).

Around the mid-1970s, group work training experienced a transformation when an experiential component was added to the emphasis on content with the hope of enhancing student members' cognitive and affective understanding from their group participation experience (Conyne & Bemak, 2004). The Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs ([CACREP], 2003) now requires an experiential understanding of group work.

Counselor Training

Universities that educate graduate counseling students generally comply with the professional accreditation standard by teaching the group class didactically along with an experiential laboratory. A widely accepted and integral way to meet this need involves a personal group experience. "A training group, though it is not a therapy group, is therapeutic in that it offers the opportunity to do therapeutic work" (Yalom, 1995, p. 522). In group work, "learning by doing is necessary" (Wilson, Rapin, & Haley-Banez, 2004).

Students seem to benefit by completing an experiential component. For example, it provides an opportunity to have an emotional and personal experience, to "live" what they learned in the didactic portion of the class (Anderson & Price, 2001). It also helps develop sensitivity to the needs of others, as well as a first-hand understanding of the growth potential gained through group (Berg et al., 1998). Participating in a group can help trainees gain a greater understanding of the experiences future clients might have (Anderson & Price, 2001; Berg et al., 1998; Yalom, 1995). Furthermore, skills learned in process groups become easily transferable to the group members' world outside of therapy, as the group is a microcosm of the larger society (Yalom, 1995).

However, counselor educators grapple with potential dual role relationships that can occur as a result of having this twofold mandatory process of education (for example, see Barlow, 2004; Conyne, Wilson, Kline, Morran, & Ward, 1993; Merta & Sisson, 1991).

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