Scapegoating: Dynamics and Interventions in Group Counseling

By Clark, Arthur J. | Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

Scapegoating: Dynamics and Interventions in Group Counseling


Clark, Arthur J., Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD


According to the Biblical story, the term scapegoat originates in the ancient ritual in which a goat was sent into the desert to symbolically atone for the sins of the Israelites (Leviticus, 16:8-17; New International Version). In contemporary usage, an innocent person is assigned the blame when actual targets are excessively threatening and thought to have the potential for retaliation (Clark, 1997). In both the historical tradition and the modern definition, individuals purge themselves by transferring their iniquities to a victimized scapegoat. From the long-established perspective of family therapy, the scapegoated member of a family, who is perceived as a problem by his or her parents, is implicitly encouraged to persist with acting-out behavior (Vogel & Bell, 1960). By adopting the role of a disruptive family member, the scapegoat provides a relative degree of equilibrium by masking tensions and submerging unresolved parental issues. Within an alcoholic family, a scapegoat may perform a stabilizing function by diverting conflicts in what is an otherwise chaotic and confusing family system (Harris, 1996). In group counseling settings, the prevalence of scapegoating is common. Yet the dynamic has not received the attention it deserves, especially in light of its prominence in the family therapy literature (e.g., Scheidlinger, 1982; Toker, 1972), which suggests that it is an important factor when working with any group.

The scapegoat often performs a central function in counseling groups by channeling tensions and establishing a type of unity among group members (Toker, 1972; Vogel & Bell, 1960). While the group repeatedly focuses on the inadequacies of a group member who deviates from the norm, the dynamic serves to minimize the scrutiny of other group participants through a form of group collusion. Typically, the most vulnerable and weakest group member becomes the focal point of negative and harsh interactions, and the emotional cost for the targeted person can be high. Inexperienced group counselors may inaccurately assume that intense member exchanges that occur during scapegoating represent sound therapeutic process (Carroll, Bates, & Johnson, 1997). At the same time, if the group counselor does not understand the dynamics leading to an occurence of scapegoating and attempts to protect the scapegoated member, other participants may view this response as intrusive and unjustified (Rutan & Stone, 2000). Finally, existing literature suggests that, in many instances, particular qualities of the scapegoated member serve to trigger an attack, and the target is not always simply an "innocent" bystander (Toker, 1972). For example, in a children's group, a group participant occasionally bobs his head and makes bird sounds, and he becomes upset when criticized for his behavior by other group members. This article explores the dynamics of scapegoating in group counseling and suggests interventions for processing scapegoating in counseling groups.

DYNAMICS OF SCAPEGOATING IN GROUP COUNSELING

Scapegoating can have a profound effect on the intrapsychic functioning of the target member, but the phenomenon also affects subgroups and the group as a whole. Scapegoated individuals range from innocent victims to group members who more "willingly" assume the role. Frequently, group participants will collude to stigmatize a single member in order to avoid assuming responsibility for their own behavior. As an interpersonal response to conflict and threat, member scapegoating in groups is associated with the defense mechanisms of displacement, projection, and projective identification (Clark, 1997, 1998a; Gazda, Ginter, & Horne, 2001; Ginter & Bonney, 1993). At the group entity level, members channel tensions and gain stability by exploiting victims, either inside or outside of the group, and thus effective interventions aimed at occurrences of scapegoating have the potential to positively affect an entire array of interpersonal involvements. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Scapegoating: Dynamics and Interventions in Group Counseling
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.