Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Researching Women's Groups Findings, Limitations, and Recommendations

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Researching Women's Groups Findings, Limitations, and Recommendations

Article excerpt

There is not a "typical" women's group, nor are there "typical" women's issues. Every women's group is diverse, with as many viewpoints and perspectives as there are members in the group. Using the group format for women is common practice with many counselors. It is interesting that there has been little empirical research reported on women's groups, how women's groups function, or what useful techniques are used in successful women's groups. Indeed, there is a dearth of empirical research on women's groups. Although there are many articles available that describe women's groups with various populations and issues (e.g., Brody, 1996; Comas-Diaz, 1986; Tlakula, 1998) or discuss strategies for use with women in groups (e.g., Boudin, 1998; Green, 1991; Rife, 1997), there are very few articles written that report empirical research on the effectiveness of women's groups.

There have been a handful of articles written that discuss this deficiency. In 1978, Nassi and Abramowitz located only nine published articles on women's groups. They concluded that this "relative paucity of research ... does not appear to be merely the result of a normal time lag between social phenomenon and scholarly notice" (p. 154). They go on to state that this scarcity might exist from the "'masculine bias' that is embedded in all such institutions" (p. 155) and thus is embedded in research.

Walker (1981) reviewed the literature and concluded that women's groups have a unique identity and are different in structure, process, and outcome from mixed-gendered groups. Huston (1986) reviewed the literature on women's groups by critiquing Walker's conclusions and found that many of the articles that Walker cited as being based on empirical research studies were, in fact, not research based. Furthermore, many of the other research studies cited were found to have methodological problems. Huston concluded that "very little" (p. 289) can be concluded from the research. In addition, Huston stated, "feminists must move from presenting theory alone to validating their theoretical positions" (p. 290) by doing and reporting empirical research.

Hoshmand (2003), in the recently published Handbook on Counseling Women, has declared a "sense of discovery about women as a relatively underresearched population" (p. 548). Hoshmand goes on to state that "there is an urgent need to develop research protocols that are both clinically and culturally sensitive" (p. 552). One of the major foci of the chapter is the importance of using qualitative inquiry and action research when researching women and women's issues. Based on this continued dearth of empirical research on women's groups, the purpose of this article is to report the current state of published research on women's groups and provide recommendations for future research in this area.


To assess the current state of research on women's groups, a search of the literature was completed. Two major search engines (PsycINFO and ERIC) were used to find articles. With these search engines, the key words women and research were combined using the Boolean logical operator AND, and group counseling and group therapy were combined using the Boolean logical operator OR. These two searches were then combined using the operator AND. Articles were searched beginning with the year 1960 and proceeding through 2003. The initial search using PsycINFO yielded 880 articles, and with ERIC 220 articles. False hits (i.e., articles not reporting on research studies on women's groups) duplicates between databases, dissertations, books, book chapters, unpublished papers, articles written in languages other than English, articles that had young girls or adolescent girls as subjects, and articles that used focus groups were deleted. Further criteria used for inclusion included the following: data collected during a research study; the words "research," "women," and "group" used in the abstract; and women as participants. …

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