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Impact Therapy and Group Counseling
Author: Ed Jacobs
"Thank you for giving me permission to lead" is one of the most frequently heard comments at my group counseling workshops. Impact Therapy is a concrete approach to group leading with much emphasis on the leader leading the group. A number of different models of group counseling exist that tend to put much of the responsibility for the outcome of the group on the members rather than the leader (Carroll, 1986; Yalom, 1985). The emphasis of these models has been on the interpersonal dynamics or group process rather than on the intrapersonal experience of each individual. The Impact Therapy approach to group leading puts more emphasis on the individuals needs and how the leader can make the group experience valuable for each member. Impact Therapy is an active, multi-sensory approach to counseling that encourages the leader to be creative by using props, chairs, movement, writing and drawing to tap into members different learning styles. Impact Therapy integrates creative counseling techniques and ideas from RET, TA, Gestalt Therapy, Reality Therapy, Adlerian Therapy (Jacobs, 1994b).
Core Beliefs of Impact Therapy
Impact Therapy stresses listening, thinking, action, and impact, whereas many other approaches primarily emphasize listening and facilitating. Impact Therapy group leaders are guided by the following four core beliefs:
1. People don't mind being led when they are led well.
2. Group counseling should be clear and concrete.
3. Group counseling should never be boring.
4. The leader is primarily responsible for what happens in a group session. (Jacobs, 1994b).
The PPFF Map
The impact therapist uses the initials PPFF (purpose, plan, focus, funnel) as the primary organizing "map" for setting up and conducting a group session.
Purpose. The leader is very clear as to the kind of group (educational, support, counseling, or therapy) and why the group is meeting.
Plan. The impact therapist always plans the session. Good planning of the warm-up, middle, and closing phases is essential and yet many leaders do not plan or plan superficially. In-depth planning helps greatly in making group sessions productive.
Focus. The Impact Therapy group leader consciously focuses the session; that is, sees to it that relevant topics or issues are discussed. One of the biggest problems in groups is that the session never focuses long enough for there to be impact. Without focus, members go from topic to topic, causing the interaction to be superficial or disjointed. Unfortunately many leaders have been trained to wait for the members to focus the session.
Funnel. The impact therapist is always thinking of how to funnel the session; that is, how to take the session to a deeper, more meaningful level. Impact Therapy leaders feel that it is their responsibility to funnel the session. Funneling is accomplished by asking good thought-provoking questions, by using deepening exercises, or by working with an individual using theory and the other members. Sessions have much more impact when they are funneled and often sessions will not funnel unless the leader actively intervenes and directs the group. The impact therapist believes that funneling is the key to a successful group.
The Impact Therapy group leader has the courage and permission to do what it takes to make a session productive. The leader is willing to take the session to a meaningful level by using counseling theory, psychodrama, the other members, or him or herself in whatever way that may have impact on the members. The leader is willing to draw out and cut off members when it is appropriate to do so. In order to focus and funnel a session, the leader often will need to interrupt and redirect the flow of conversation. Cutting off is an essential skill for group leading (Jacobs, 1994a). Leaders who allow members to be inappropriate, ramble, distract the group, or tell long, detailed stories are not being as effective as they can be.
Using creative activities is an integral part of being an Impact Therapy group leader. I have found that creative techniques help make the group session more engaging, interesting, and meaningful. In the remainder of this digest I discuss a number of creative techniques that have been useful in groups.
Large Newsprint Pad or Wipeboard. Many people are visual learners. The benefit of having something large to write on cannot be over emphasized. It is helpful to visually represent concepts or ideas to the group such as irrational and rational self-talk, lists generated by the members, time lines, TA drawings, or drawings of enmeshment. I consider a large writing surface to be an essential tool for the impact therapist.
Use of Movement. The Impact Therapy group leader often has members stand up and move around to make points more concrete or to generate energy in the group. Group exercises that involve movement are valuable (not dance or yoga, but simply moving according to some instruction). Having members sculpt how they feel about the group or move along a progress line as to how much they have progressed, or move along value continuums are excellent movement exercises. (Jacobs, 1992). Having members move between chairs that represent different people, ego states, or goals can serve as a valuable visual and experiential learning activity. Physical movement can be very beneficial in groups.
Small Child's Chair. Another essential tool for Impact Therapy group leaders is a small childs chair which can be used in a variety of ways. The chair can be used to represent the Child ego state or the little boy or girl in each of the members. So often, when a member is struggling with an issue, part of the problem has to do with the child part of themselves. The small chair makes the struggle more concrete for members. Having members sit in the chair or even look at the chair can be quite impactful.
Shield. The impact therapist often will use a prop (some tangible item such as a shield, cup, filter, rubber band, or blocks) for an exercise or when working with an individual member. Frequently members talk about needing to shield themselves from verbal abuse from someone in their lives such as a parent, spouse, or boss. By having them hold a shield (I use a 12 inch x 12 inch piece of Plexiglas) as they discuss how they need to protect themselves, the members get the point about how they can make themselves safe. Often I have a member role-play the parent, spouse, or boss and the working member experiences being poked if left unshielded and then protected when the shield is used to deflect the attack. This leads to in-depth discussion about the need to shield and how to do it psychologically.
Other Props. Styrofoam cups are used to represent ones self-worth. Punching holes in the cup to indicate leaks in self-esteem or smashing the cup to represent how members allow themselves to be psychologically smashed are two ways that cups can be used. A furnace filter is a good prop for getting members to discuss how they may need to filter input from certain people in their lives. Rubber bands can be used regarding stress--each person can stretch the rubber band to the level of stress they are feeling and then discuss either adding to the stress or reducing the stress. Wooden blocks with holes in them and pegs that either fit in the holes or nearly fit, or definitely do not fit can be used to symbolize the fit of relationships in members' lives.
These are just some of the props that are used by the impact therapist to focus and funnel the session. The impact therapist believes that visual metaphors often are more effective than just verbal metaphors because the visual metaphor is more concrete.
Impact Therapy is a creative, multi-sensory approach to counseling that uses different theories and advocates making counseling clear and concrete by using props, chairs, writing and drawings. The impact therapist uses PPFF (purpose, plan, focus, funnel) as a guide for leading successful groups. Impact Therapy encourages group leaders to be active, dynamic, and take responsibility for trying to make each session more meaningful.
Carroll, M.R. (1986). Group work: Leading in the here and now [Film]. Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.
Jacobs, E.E. (1992). Creative counseling techniques: An illustrated guide. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.
Jacobs, E.E. (1994b). Impact Therapy. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.
Jacobs, E.E., Harvill, R.L., & Masson, R.L. (1994a). Group counseling: Strategies and skills (2nd ed.). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.
Yalom, I. (1985). The theory and practice of group psychotherapy (3rd ed.). New York: Basic Books.
Ed Jacobs, Ph. D. is a professor in the counseling department at West Virginia University and the originator of Impact Therapy.
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