Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Evaluating Personal Construct Group Work with Troubled Adolescents

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Evaluating Personal Construct Group Work with Troubled Adolescents

Article excerpt

Group work with adolescents continues to be a challenging and important area in which both counselors and researchers should collaborate to advance the understanding and treatment of adolescents. As the amount of group work being done with adolescents has increased, the credibility of adolescent group research has also improved (Dagley, Gazda, Eppinger, & Stewart, 1994; Hoag, & Burlingame, 1997; Pollock & Kymissis, 2001).

Recent psychological practice with adolescents has been drawing increasingly on a range of models of group work, although research has primarily investigated cognitive-behavioral approaches (e.g., Rathvon, 1999; Rose, 1998) and interventions designed to target specific diagnostic groups of adolescents (e.g., Barrett & Shortt, 2003; Hajal, 2003; Lochman, Barry, & Pardini, 2003). However, group work has been reported to be an effective counseling intervention in schools for building empathic skills in elementary school children (Akos, 2000), promoting emotional regulation in adolescents (Dwivedi & Gupta, 2000), and supporting adolescents in distress (Glodich, Allen, & Arnold, 2001; Jagendorf& Malekoff, 2000; Layne, Pynoos, & Cardenas, 2001; Saltzman, Steinberg, Layne, Aisenberg, & Pynoos, 2001). Effective outcomes have been reported for group work that draw on other treatment approaches such as psychodynamic interventions (Evans, 1998; Nichols-Goldstein, 2001; Zayat, 2001) and interpersonal/constructivist methods (Gersie, 1997; Pressman, Kymissis, & Hauben, 2001; Sharry & Owens, 2000; Verhofstadt-Deneve, 1997). In the current research, we attempted to demonstrate the efficacy of another alternative approach, personal construct counseling using group work with troubled adolescents, and to investigate the usefulness of this short-term structured intervention in a school setting.

Personal Construct Counseling

Kelly (1991a, 1991b), who developed personal construct psychology, saw human behavior as an experiment, a way of asking questions of the world (Leitner & Thomas, 2003). Construing of successive events is experienced, and, with experience, learning takes place and events are then reconstrued (creativity cycle; Kelly, 1991a, pp. 378-379). From this perspective, words are not considered constructs but are symbols of the underlying meaning encapsulated in the construct.

Unlike cognitive behavior therapy, in which there is a greater emphasis on cognitive analyses, personal construct counseling, as a humanistic counseling approach, holds the belief that although "cognitive insight may illuminate experience and its meaning, it is not likely to have much effect on the change process unless the emotional aspects of problematic experiences are felt, explored and integrated" (Cain, 2002, p. 38). Personal construct counseling is grounded in the process of creating meaning, and the goal of counseling is the restructuring of meaning.

Counseling becomes a relational approach in which the client is considered a colleague, with the relationship between the client and the counselor being fundamental, and with each person attempting to understand the other (sociality corollary; Kelly, 1991 a, pp. 66-72). Central to this interpersonal relationship within the counseling process is the notion of role. "If he or she tries to understand others by putting on their spectacles and then does something, then that which he or she does could be considered as a role" (Bannister & Fransella, 1986, p. 34). Within personal construct counseling groups, the group leaders are encouraged to understand the group member's construing, enabling the leader to be able to view the world through the group member's eyes (Winter, 1997).

Adopting the role of scientists, group members, in a collaborative relationship with the group leader, engage in experimental processes. Experimentation by the group members with personal meanings, along with shared meanings (Leitner & Pfenninger, 1994), is facilitated by the group leader. …

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