Role specialization in small leaderless psychiatric groups



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The purpose of the present study was to test in a natural setting role specialization concepts which have emerged almost exclusively from small experimental groups of college students. The study was primarily based on the role specialization concepts and research of Robert F. Bales and Philip E. Slater. The terms 'role specialization' and 'role differentiation' were not used interchangeably. Role specialization referred specifically to those groups composed of individuals who gained prominence as specialists in either the task area or the social-emotional area. Data used in this study were from 78 small leaderless psychiatric groups from the Patients Training Laboratory (PTL) at the Veterans Administration Hospital, Houston Texas. Routine group and member evaluation instruments completed by group members provided role specialization measures comparable to those used in previous studies. The two specialized roles investigated were, 'did most to keep the group 'on the ball',' which corresponds to the task role, and 'wanted the group to be warm, friendly and comfortable', which corresponds to the social-emotional role. The results indicated that some of Bales' and Slater's specialization concepts generalized to the present population while other concepts found no support or only partial support. Specialization on the two roles investigated indicated that role specialization was not a common occurrence among the PTL groups. The present data suggested a tendency for more than one group member to share in either the task or the social-emotional functions of the group. This finding was partially attributed to the special training received by PTL groups. The present study did not support Bales' suggestion that participation, task ratings, and social-emotional ratings should be considered as three uncorrelated factors. Methodological difficulties prevented comparing role-specialization, no-role-specialization groups on effectiveness.



Group psychotherapy