Theoretical Orientation

All groups have norms. But different groups develop very different norms. Norms, simply put, are the shared implicit and explicit rules of a group, and comprise a major ingredient of the culture of the group. They include the stated rules such as "you are expected to arrive on time," and more implicit rules such as "do not sit in the therapist's chair." Some norms are simple, such as "wait for someone to pause before you speak," while others can be more complex, for example, "do not express too much angry affect because the group gets frightened by it."

How do norms get established? Group members often carry into group therapy the norms of society, since norms are ubiquitous in society: "Social norms are the 'rules' that govern behavior within each society" (Agazarian & Peters, 1981, pp. 96-97). In this regard, new members to a group often expect to be welcomed as though they were entering a social situation as guests. If unprepared for the fact that this is not typically a group norm (especially in psychodynamic groups), they may feel rejected or mistreated.

Part of the therapist's task in group therapy is to initiate constructive norms and to recognize and modify disruptive or nontask-related norms, some of which are promoted by group members. Yalom and Leszcz (2005) write, "Norms of a group are constructed both from expectations of the members for their group and from the explicit and implicit directions of the leader and more influential members" (p. 122). Rutan, Stone, and Shay (2007) state, "Since the therapist is a potent initiator of group norms, reinforcement through interest or noninterference serves to communicate and establish appropriate ways of interacting within the group" (in press). Ulman (2005) remarks, "I try from the outset to encourage the development of group norms that foster curiosity about everything that happens in group" (p. 94).

Norms can vary—some can evolve and change over time, while others become entrenched and difficult to modify. A particularly difficult situation arises when a norm is established inadvertently, and then ingrained, out of the conscious awareness of therapist or group members. These norms can be especially difficult to modify. The intervention described in the next section was developed to address one such situation.

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