Complex Contexts and Relationships Affect Clinical Decisions in Group Therapy

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Clinical errors tend to be underreported even though examining them can provide important training and professional development opportunities. The group therapy context may be prone to clinician errors because of the added complexity within which therapists work and patients receive treatment. We discuss clinical errors that occurred within a group therapy in which a patient for whom group was not appropriate was admitted to the treatment and then was not removed by the clinicians. This was countertherapeutic for both patient and group. Two clinicians were involved: a clinical supervisor who initially assessed and admitted the patient to the group, and a group therapist. To complicate matters, the group therapy occurred within the context of a clinical research trial. The errors, possible solutions, and recommendations are discussed within Reason’s Organizational Accident Model (Reason, 2000). In particular, we discuss clinician errors in the context of countertransference and clinician heuristics, group therapy as a local work condition that complicates clinical decision-making, and the impact of the research context as a latent organizational factor. We also present clinical vignettes from the pregroup preparation, group therapy, and supervision. Group therapists are more likely to avoid errors in clinical decisions if they engage in reflective practice about their internal experiences and about the impact of the context in which they work. Therapists must keep in mind the various levels of group functioning, especially related to the group-as-a-whole (i.e., group composition, cohesion, group climate, and safety) when making complex clinical decisions in order to optimize patient outcomes.

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