Group Relationships in Early and Late Sessions and Improvement in Interpersonal Problems

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Abstract

Groups are more effective when positive bonds are established and interpersonal conflicts resolved in early sessions and work is accomplished in later sessions. Previous research has provided mixed support for this group development model. We performed a test of this theoretical perspective using group members’ (actors) and aggregated group members’ (partners) perceptions of positive bonding, positive working, and negative group relationships measured early and late in interpersonal growth groups. Participants were 325 Italian graduate students randomly (within semester) assigned to 1 of 16 interpersonal growth groups. Groups met for 9 weeks with experienced psychologists using Yalom and Leszcz’s (2005) interpersonal process model. Outcome was assessed pre- and posttreatment using the Inventory of Interpersonal Problems, and group relationships were measured at Sessions 3 and 6 using the Group Questionnaire. As hypothesized, early measures of positive bonding and late measures of positive working, for both actors and partners, were positively related to improved interpersonal problems. Also as hypothesized, late measures of positive bonding and early measures of positive working, for both actors and partners, were negatively related to improved interpersonal problems. We also found that early actor and partner positive bonding and negative relationships interacted to predict changes in interpersonal problems. The findings are consistent with group development theory and suggest that group therapists focus on group-as-a-whole positive bonding relationships in early group sessions and on group-as-a-whole positive working relationships in later group sessions.

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