In Group Therapy, Two Leaders are Better than One

The leadership structure of a group therapy environment has a direct influence on how the participants respond, according to a new study led by Dennis M. Kivlighan, Jr. of the Department of Higher Education and Special Education at the University of Maryland in College Park. “Co-leadership describes a group therapy leadership structure in which two therapists are partnered to facilitate meaningful interactions among group members,” said Kivlighan. “Today, co-leadership is a widely used leadership structure across various mental health, and is often utilized in the training of group psychotherapists.” Leadership structure can have advantages for a group, but can also have disadvantages. Kivlighan said, “For example, large groups often out-perform small group including time, energy, and expertise. Unfortunately, in larger groups, there is also more conflict, absenteeism, and less cooperation than in smaller groups.” He added, “Finally, members of large groups are less satisfied with their group.”

In an effort to identify which structure best supports positive group therapy outcomes, Kivlighan and his colleagues evaluated the interaction between leaders and adolescents in 32 group therapy clusters. The groups had as little as 3 members and as many as 12, and were assessed based on participant satisfaction and overall climate. The team found that members of larger groups participated less than members of smaller groups, except when they were co-led. “In the current study, consistent with our first set of hypotheses regarding group leadership structure, we found some potential advantages of co-leadership over leadership by an individual therapist,” said Kivlighan. “Specifically, group members in co-led groups reported greater benefits of therapy than those in individually led groups, as well as significant interactions of group leadership structure and group size in relationship to avoidance and relationship with the group.” Kivlighan added, “These results suggest that co-led groups have several advantages over individually led groups.”

Kivlighan, D. M., Jr., London, K., & Miles, J. R. (2011, November 21). Are Two Heads Better Than One? The Relationship Between Number of Group Leaders and Group Members, and Group Climate and Group Member Benefit From Therapy. Group dynamics: Theory, Research and Practice. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026242

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

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  • Pam Gowan

    November 30th, 2011 at 4:47 PM

    I have participated in group therapy before, one time with one leader and the other with co leaders. I agree that the sessions that I got the most from was the group that had ttwo facilitators. It just kinf of felt a little warmer and the conversation level was taken up a notch because the two of them could feed off of one another and could really get some good talks going. Sometimes when there is only one in front of the group the topics can kind of lag; with two there is rarely any of that. There is always a conversation starter and maybe when one is getting kind of stuck there is someone else there to take the reins.

  • fiona

    November 30th, 2011 at 11:48 PM

    its somewhat like a classroom isnt it?when the number of students is high then one teacher cannot go on handling the needs another teacher.

    so two leaders for larger groups is something I would support in a heartbeat.


    December 2nd, 2011 at 12:06 AM

    I’ve been to group therapy sessions in the past and it was a good experience no doubt. And although two leaders does sound like a better idea it will need a lot of work from those two leaders if they conduct a group therapy session together. They will need to be consistent with each other about what they would say or how they would react to some situation in the session.Because if they have differences then the entire session can go kaput!

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