First off, I am very grateful to the Groupwork journal for this opportunity. As for some background, I am a novice groupworker, though I do have some experience on which to draw in terms of facilitating groups. For a number of years I have undertaken a voluntary facilitation role with an Irish charity that supports people who are experiencing depression or related mood disorders. This has taught me the importance of language and the way in which things are said, in communicating effectively and positively with people. Managing a group while having the ability to allow the group progress in an unhindered way is one of the challenges of facilitation. I feel that it is the members who drive the group forward while the facilitator must be alert to keep it on track. While on MSW placement, I gained further experience in planning and facilitating psychoeducational group sessions with hospital service users, community support and information group sessions with service users and family members and behavioural family therapy sessions.
As a long-time teacher of English as a second language, I have worked in group settings with diverse groups of people. The ability to build rapport over a short period of time is necessary in that work, while assessing and evaluating student abilities requires observant and perceptive interaction. On a practical level, teaching has enabled me to develop skills in designing plans that react in an appropriate fashion to situations as they arise.
When asked to plan and facilitate a psychoeducational group session, I decided to do a practice learning enquiry on the experience. This involves looking into a practice situation and posing a question so to explore and reflect on its implications for practice development. I asked myself how my previous experience working with groups transfers to facilitating a hospital-based mental health group. It was while engaging with the learning enquiry that I realised how grounded the planning, preparation, format and actual facilitation of the group session were in my teaching experience. Teaching has taught me the importance of having a lesson plan. The plan can be used to remind the teacher of stages, procedures and timing and this transferred well into a group session plan. Another advantage of the plan is that it allows you to structure the session in such a way that a flow is clear to you and the participants, while it also allows you to visualise how the session might run and progress from stage to stage. Having a plan brings a sense of comfort with it so that as questions arise the facilitator can answer them without losing their own flow. This realisation prompted me to draw connections between the two disciplines and research further the teaching methodologies I employ to analyse how they informed my facilitation of the group session, this formed the basis for the essay.
While winning the competition was unexpected, it is an honour to have my essay make a good impression on those who had the difficult task of judging the entries. Groupwork is of course a practice that requires much on-going personal and professional development. Nonetheless, I hope that my paper can show that all novice groupworkers have something to bring to their practice. Hopefully this suggestion might have a calming effect on the nervous novice facilitator and then on the group as a whole. I look forward to reading the other papers published alongside my own.