Significant Or Negative Intervention

The leader can have a significant positive or negative impact on the overall functioning of the existing group and the new member's introduction by providing useful structure. The selection of a new member for an existing group is a matter of finding a good fit, which is based upon the clinical judgment of the leader. This intervention goes further by considering the fact that the group will be regressed back to a new starting point with the addition of a new member. When we are faced with the task of bringing a new member into an existing psychotherapy group we have the opportunity to assist the existing group and the new member in making a transition that is consistent with the developmental status of the group.

Even in the case of a group that has existed for many years with a solid core of well-experienced members, the group composition is changed with the loss of an experienced member and the introduction of a new one. This point of time is at least temporarily marked by a change in relationships between members as well as the overall group-as-a-whole experience. By taking the time to prepare the existing group members, and assisting them to deal with the impact of a loss, they are better prepared to engage in the many accommodations demanded by this transition. By preparing the new member as to what

Bringing a New Member into Group: Marking a New Place in the Cycle 47

to expect and the group rituals they will be joining, the leader ensures that the transition will be less likely to cause distraction or resistance in the course of the work of the therapy group.

A Two-Point Approach

• First point: the existing group. When at the point of being ready to incorporate a new member, the group is should be informed as to how this process will occur. Usually, the therapist is in the position of making the selection of the new member and informing the group of the upcoming addition. The group will do well to be advised that this change will have an impact on how the group may feel toward members and that it is reasonable to have mixed feelings about the transition. Group members who have been through this previously are likely to know what to expect and can offer their opinions about the upcoming transition.

• Second point: the new member should be known to the therapist and the preparatory process for joining a group is best carried out in one or more preparatory interviews. The new member should be apprised of the group rules and agree to abide by them. The therapist can assist the new member to feel less anxiety by telling him or her what to expect in the course of the initial meeting and what will likely be discussed at that time. By preparing the new member in this way it is more likely that he or she will be able to interact with the existing group members in ways that will facilitate a positive initial experience.

At the start of the group meeting the therapist should acknowledge to the group and new member(s) that "we have new people in the room" and that this is an opportunity to review our rules. Upon completion of this discussion, the group and the new member need to all once again agree to the rules; this gives everyone an equal basis for entering together into the work of the group. Process groups should focus on the experiences and perspectives of the individuals involved and, as such, it is often useful to ask the group members to say a little about who they are, what they are working on, and how they feel about the group. This ritual is often comforting in this period of transition and assists both the existing members and the new member to work through their anxiety and address the work of the group, mainly, to talk about their experiences and perspectives.


The major concern about termination and adding of new members is the impact on the working therapy group. The leader can anticipate that this is a regressive situation (Fehr, 2003) and avert resistance by preparing the group and the new member. The leader who does not make these preparations, or is unclear as to the impact of such a transition, is less likely to be able to maintain the safety and structure of the group intervention through transitions of membership.


Fehr, S.S. (2003). Introduction to Group Therapy: A Practical Guide (Second edition). Binghamton, NY: The Haworth Press. Tuckman, B.W. (1965). Developmental sequence in small groups. Psychological Bulletin, 63, 384-399.

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