Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Action Research Shows Group Counseling Effective with At-Risk Adolescent Girls

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Action Research Shows Group Counseling Effective with At-Risk Adolescent Girls

Article excerpt

Long recognized as an indispensable component of effective school counseling programs, group counseling is one means of coping with growing student loads and increasing duties (Borders & Drury, 1992; Corey, 1995; Praport, 1993; Shechtman,1993). Done well, group counseling can make planned, purposeful, and effective counseling available to greater numbers of emotionally needy students (Becky & Farren, 1997; May & Housley,1996; Phillips & Phillips, 1992). In schools, group counseling offers excellent potential for increasing the number of students served in counseling (Sells & Hays, 1997).

In their analysis of school-based studies of counseling, Prout and Prout (1998) found strong support for the effectiveness of group intervention. They suggested that given a common limitation on resources, school counselors should make greater use of group counseling. In particular, thematic groups bring together students experiencing similar problems and allow counselors to make effective use of their time and skills. Group counseling has proven to be especially effective in schools, addressing adolescent problems such as school attrition (Praport, 1993), abusive and violent dating relationships (Becky & Farren, 1997; Rosen & Bezold, 1996), and sexual abuse (May & Housley, 1996). Phillips and Phillips (1992) developed a successful school-wide group counseling program to help students improve communication skills and cope with alcohol abuse, learning disabilities, and developmental concerns. In a study of students manifesting social and academic maladjustment, Shechtman (1993) demonstrated that short-term group counseling correlated with significant improvement of achievement scores and interpersonal relationships. In an analysis of school counseling outcome research, Whiston and Sexton (1998) concluded that group counseling is effective in assisting young people to adjust to changes in family structure and to manage aggression and stress.

At the school in which this study was conducted, the demands upon counselors had progressively increased, the student population had swelled, and doing group work entailed increased negotiation with staff and administration for cooperation and space to work (Corey & Corey, 1997). The assumption that group counseling was effective in promoting positive and enduring student changes required re-evaluation, especially for at-risk students who typically consumed large amounts of counselor time in individual sessions. Confirmation of this assumption would provide an empirical basis in responding to calls for accountability (Whiston, 1996) and questions regarding the effectiveness of group counseling in school settings (Whiston & Sexton, 1998). Negative results would indicate that the program required modification or that other approaches to serving at-risk students should be considered.

The study was designed as action research. Gay (1996) stated that the "purpose of action research is to solve practical problems through the application of the scientific method" (p. 10). Action research is conducted by practitioners to improve practice by evaluating a specific program, establishing its value, and determining what adaptations may increase the effectiveness of the program (Krathwohl, 1998; Whiston, 1996). Counselors can use action research as a systematic approach to reflect on their day-to-day practice and enhance their delivery of counseling services (Mills, 2000). Action research is easily adapted to school settings and allows research within the limits of time, resources, and scheduling typically encountered by secondary school counselors.

Five guiding questions in the action research study were: (1) Does group counseling effectively decrease problem severity for at-risk students? (2) Does progress toward goal attainment endure beyond termination? (3) Do students notice other changes in themselves related to what they learned in group counseling? …

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