Mary Morreale, a board-certified music therapist shares some basic principles of facilitating groups of adults that have proven successful in her practice over the years. The audio discussion of this AMTA.Pro symposium covers these topics:

I. Know your leadership style and skills.
II. Know your group.
III. Know your material.
IV. Know your plan.
V. An example from the field.

Click on the gray arrow below to listen to the audio discussion.

Transcript of Audio Discussion

Keys to Effective Group Facilitation for Adults

Mary J. Morreale, MT-BC

Hello. music therapy friends and colleagues. My name is Mary Morreale, a board-certified music therapist in private practice. I have a passion for leading small groups of adults interested in exploring their inner lives and spirit through music, the mandala, and meditation. Since 1999, I have facilitated adult groups using music for personal discovery and spiritual growth through my business, Empower Innovations LLC, using a program I developed called “Music and Transformation.” The classes combine my training in music therapy, GIM, and the Mandala Assessment Resource Instrument as well as many years of experience in music ministry. This AMTA.Pro symposium is an overview – based on my experiences over the years – of the keys to effectively facilitating groups of adults.

I. Know your leadership style and skills

A. Role of a group leader. The leader of a group of adults facilitates interaction, caring, and sharing among participants, selectively using techniques such as stimulation, praise, protection, acceptance, interpretations, explanations, and processing. The effective leader also takes care of the logistical details such as managing time, providing a comfortable room and atmosphere, and setting limits when necessary.

B. Leadership style. While preparing to train a recent group of facilitators for my Music and Transformation classes, I came across the term “conscious leadership,” a concept pioneered by Dr. James Farr in the 1950’s that encourages group leaders to take responsibility for facilitating groups in a manner that recognizes the value and integrity of the mind, body and spirit of each participant. I utilize the principle of “conscious leadership” in my work with groups of adults, making every effort to be truly available to the group by being prepared and organized. Once the logistical details are addressed, I can lead from a deeper and higher place within me.

C. Leadership qualities. Ideally, an effective leader has many of the qualities listed below. I encourage you to determine which of these leadership qualities are your strengths, and to build on those strengths. I also encourage you to look closely at those leadership traits that need some improvement. You might consider working with a mentor to help you refine your skills. Rate yourself in these qualities characteristic of effective leaders:

• Versitle
• Caring
• Open
• Flexible
• Warm
• Objective
• Trustworthy
• Honest
• Strong
• Patient
• Sensitive
• Self-aware
• Comfortable with oneself
• Likes people
• Comfortable in a position of authority
• Has a positive attitude toward the members
• Intuitive
• Creative
• Flexible
• Knowledgeable about the subject manner
• Non-judgmental
• A good listener
• Able to let the process unfold without “fixing”
• Knows when and how to ask questions
• Is a clear channel that does not let personal issues or fears enter the class

II. Know your group

A. Group purpose. Music therapists might work with groups of adults organized to focus on activities, social events, or support for members. Some groups focus on skills training such as anger management, mindfulness, relaxation, or social skills. Other groups may be organized to explore and encourage interpersonal relationships. In this case, the group format is unique within itself because the group context and group process is intentionally utilized as a mechanism of change. What kind of group are you facilitating? What are the specific anticipated therapeutic outcomes for the group? Knowing the group purpose sets the tone for how you approach your plan of action.

B. Participants and group dynamic. Once your group purpose as a whole is defined, the next step is for you as a facilitator to get to know the group collectively and independently. The context of the group will determine the importance of your knowing the individual members well. In some cases, groups of strangers can make an effective group. In other cases, it is important for the members to know one another. Sometimes it is critical for the leader to know enough about each individual to be able to anticipate how they will impact the group dynamic. On other occasions, it is less critical to know that information in advance. For example, if I am conducting a group that is meeting for a short term, I focus more on the educational aspect and less on the group dynamic. When working with an on-going group, I will have more goals addressing the relationship of the members to each other and to the group in addition to my educational and therapeutic goals.

C. Specific group goals. After defining the group purpose, I set intentions or goals for the group as a whole. Depending on the group purpose, I may also have goals for the individuals in the group. An effective leader establishes relevant goals and realistic, attainable objectives for the group. For example, my “Music and Transformation” classes have clearly stated goals and so the group members know the intent of the experience.

III. Know your material

A. Develop content. The group goals and objectives determine the actual content. Research the topic thoroughly, then put together a content outline that helps group members focus on the topic without extraneous or distracting information. Spend time on this step so you can feel well-prepared and as knowledgeable as possible about the topic.

B. Recognize different learning styles. I always consider individual learning styles when planning for groups. For example, my GIM training provides an insight to three different ways in which individuals experience imagery: visually, intuitively and kinesthetically. Visual imagers see pictures as on an internal screen. Intuitive imagers usually get a “sense” of the subject without necessarily feeling it in the body or seeing images. Kinesthetic imagers feel imagery through bodily sensations and feelings. Individuals usually have a dominant direction, but can experience imagery in more than one way. I keep these principles in mind, especially when I lead a meditation or guided imagery.

C. Develop presentation method. An effective group leader considers the group goals and objectives, the content, the time frame and setting of the group, and the learning styles of each individual when developing a presentation method. For example, I usually vary the language to match different learning styles. For visual or intellectual driven people I use words like visualize, see, imagine, think and ponder, whereas for intuitive learners I might use questions such as, “what do you sense?” or “what impressions are you sensing?” For kinesthetic or sensate learners I would invite them to notice what and where in the body it feels like. I weave various words to help different types of learners to get the most out of an experience.

Effective group leaders use these techniques, among others:
1. setting the tone for the group through modeling. e.g. observing facial expressions, emotions, body shifts and comments,
2. establishing the ground rules for the group,
3. setting the pace and energy level for the group,
4. encouraging active participation by all members, and
5. redirecting or cutting off comments when necessary.

D. Consider group dynamics. Many factors influence the dynamics of a group. Group size and make-up, frequency and length of group sessions, meeting space and ambiance, energy level of individual participants, and the hidden needs of participants can impact group dynamics. Some participants may try to monopolize the conversation or attempt to try to “fix” other members of the group, while others may chose to sit quietly and observe. Many of these challenges can be avoided by setting up ground rules in the beginning.

I usually bring up the topic of confidentiality and timing before the session begins. When someone is interrupting others, I gently ask them to hold their comments until the person who is sharing is finished. I then invite that person to share opinions or comments. If the participant speaks too long, I tactfully interrupt him/her by saying that we need to hear from other members of the group, and if we have time will come back to the person. If necessary, I talk to a disrupting member outside of the group, asking for their help with making the group work well together. I also make an effort to determine if that person needs to be heard or helped in a private session.

IV. Know your plan

A. Logistics. An effective group leader works out logistical details for the group sessions in advance. You might consider making a checklist of items such as schedule, location, room size, seating, lighting, ambiance, necessary equipment and supplies, refreshments, location of bathroom, communicating with group members, registration or sign-up procedures, and so on.

B. Session structure. Consider the flow of the experiential, didactic, active and processing pieces of a session. You can begin with a basic plan that includes these four elements: opening, activity, processing, and closing. The structure offers a basic plan whereby you can use creative means for various group activities.

The opening includes a centering exercise or meditation in the beginning to intentionally gather the group. Then I take time to describe the purpose and time line of the session. The activity portion of the group session includes group participation in the primary experiential segment or activity followed by a secondary experiential segment or activity. Before the closing activity, we take time process the sesison experiences in small group or large group discussion.

C. Processing. Processing is an important aspect of any session because it allows for sharing insights, integration, and healing within the session and afterwards. A skilled facilitator can draw out these insights from the participants by asking questions, making observations, or simply giving time and space for sharing.

I use different processing techniques, depending on the size and scheduling of the group. Sometimes I invite the participants to gather in small groups to discuss their experiences and share with one another. In large groups where the attendees do not know each other, I provide guidelines for how to share with timing so that each person has equal time. If the group is on-going and people are familiar with one another, I might ask a specific question to be discussed in the group or ask them to tell something about themselves that no one knows. Many times the music or instruments are used to express feelings, emotions and insights in processing. There are many creative and fun ways to process!

D. Evaluation. Evaluation, a valuable and integral part of your group plan, can involve a formal or informal survey or a group discussion. The evaluation should always include your own observations and reflections, and is most effective if it parallels the group’s goals and objectives.

V. An example from the field

In the final segment of this AMTA.Pro symposium, I am sharing an example of an actual group program I’ve developed for adult called Music and Transformation. The program is a journey exploring the question “Who am I?” from perspectives of the physical and spiritual selves. Over the course of the program, the seven segments – Surrender, Mystery, Abyss, Hope, Discovery, Renewal and Manifestation – are each broken into four classes.

The outline below overviews the goals, format, and process for the Surrender segment in the Music and Transformation program.

Overall goals for Segment 1: SURRENDER

1. To begin the journey of transformation.

2. To follow the river of surrender.

3. To become aware of what within you needs to be released.

Class goals

1. Physical Awareness: To be aware of patterns in your life of letting go through the process of Music and Mandala

2. Spiritual Awareness: To experience spiritual presence through the ancient art of Lectio Divina (divine reading) with music.

3. Intercommunication: To experience a dialog of the physical and the spiritual through the question, “Who am I?”

4. Integration: To unify spirit and physical through visualization and journaling with music.

Music Therapy Processes

1. Conscious Awareness

2. Music and Imagery

3. “Lectio Divina” prayer practice

4. Who am I? discussion

5. Developing personal “I AM” statements

6. Visualization

7. Journaling

8. Meditation practice

Each group is different, but I have found this basic format works well for my groups and helpful and healing to those who take this transformational journey. Facilitating groups is a skill I continue to develop – growing in both personal and professional leadership skills every time I work with a group.

VI. Conclusion

It is my hope that this discussion has provided you with some helpful keys to facilitating groups. I encourage my music therapy colleagues to use the group facilitation ideas and techniques discussed in this symposium for AMTA.Pro and to share strategies that have worked for you. Again, I am Mary Morreale. You can contact me via e-mail at I am a self-employed, board certified music therapist with experience in music therapy services for groups and individuals for personal discovery and spiritual development in my home-based music therapy business. I produce professional self-study courses for CEU’s and offer online and live classes through Empower Innovations LLC. Please feel free to comment on any aspect of this AMTA.Pro on-line symposium, Keys to Effective Group Facilitation for Adults.

© Copyright 2009 by the American Music Therapy Association, Inc.. All Rights Reserved. Content herein is for personal use only. No part may be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying or recording by any information storage or retrieval system, without express written permission from the American Music Therapy Association.

Neither the American Music Therapy Association nor its Board of Directors is responsible for the conclusions reached or the opinions expressed in any of the AMTA.Pro symposiums.