Handling Facilitation Challenges Copy

Handling Facilitation Challenges

Even if you adhere to the principles listed in this module and follow all of the tips provided, you will encounter challenges in facilitating your groups. This is just the nature of human interaction. In the behavioral health setting, you will be dealing with participants at various levels of vulnerability. Not all of the participants will have equal skill in communicating with others. In addition, while some participants may be in your group voluntarily, others may be mandated to attend.

As the facilitator, it is your job to recognize and respond to signs that there are problems in the group process. Sometimes, the problems are centered on one person, but at other times, more than one member may be responsible for derailing the process. Here are some signs to watch for to tell you that the group may need some intervention or re-direction.

  • Dependence on the facilitator
  • Challenging the group leader
  • General lack of participation
  • Giving the “silent treatment”
  • Domination of discussion time
  • Marginalization of one or more members
  • Scapegoating or judging others
  • Violating group norms
  • Not listening
  • Arguing or creating conflict

The most important skill you will use in responding to problems in the group process is the skill of awareness and active listening. As you observe the verbal and non-verbal communication of each participant in the group, you will be able to read the signs of problems and, in the best of circumstances, to address them before they become too disruptive of the group process. When you cannot forestall a problem, then it is your job as the facilitator to contain the problem as quickly as possible and get the group back on track.


Here are some specific techniques for responding to difficulties within the group:

Problem Remedies
Dependence on the Facilitator ·  Stay deliberately silent until someone else responds

·  Ask a specific participant to respond to a question

·  Assign roles and responsibilities to group members

Challenging the group leader ·  Acknowledge the challenge and invite the challenger to explain his or her position

·  Remind participants that all opinions are valid

·  Admit it if you are wrong

·  Use “what then” or “and if” type questions to expose the fallacy in the challenger’s reasoning, if appropriate

·  Allow group members to quiet the challenger

General lack of participation ·    Break the group into pairs for more private discussion

·    Call on specific group members to respond

·    Pass a “talking stick” or ball around the room

·    Use silence to create space for participation

Domination of Discussion ·    Set a time limit for each participant

·    Invite other participants to respond to the dominator’s comments

·    Assign the dominator to the responsibility of recording discussion

·    Invite the dominator to continue discussion later

·    Allow the group to confront the dominator

Arguing or conflict among group members ·    Remind members of ground rules

·    Acknowledge validity of each side

·    Take a time out

·    Ask participants to “agree to disagree”

·    Ask group members to suggest a middle ground or compromise position

·    Remove group members who continue to disrupt after multiple warning

Do not expect every session to run smoothly. Be prepared with appropriate responses to these common difficulties in group process so that you can minimize the time they take away from positive process for the group. With careful attention to your own communication and the communication of group members, you will make a positive difference for everyone.


 Action Points – Working in Groups

  • Within the behavioral health setting, there are three types of groups focused on clients:
    • Support groups
    • Education groups
    • Therapy groups
  • Peer support specialists facilitate support and education groups, but do not lead therapy groups.
  • You may conduct one of three types of support group:
    • Curriculum-based
    • Topic-focused
    • Open-Forum
  • As a support group facilitator, your role is to
    • Set the tone or climate for the group
    • Manage the process of the session
    • Ensure the comfort and cohesion of the group.
  • If you facilitate an education group, you will perform the roles of a support group leader and also
    • Convey required information
    • Model skills to be acquired
    • Provide opportunities for skill practice and feedback
    • Confirm client progress or mastery
  • You can use specific verbal and non-verbal techniques to help move discussion along in the group or to manage conflict and disruption in the group.
  • While creating a safe, welcoming and inclusive environment is important in both support and education groups, it is important to know when disruption by one person is damaging to the whole group and to have a plan for dealing with that situation by removing the person from the group.