Essential Skills for Groupwork with the Elderly


Groupwork with older adults can serve many purposes. They can be used for (a) socialisation, education, and recreation (b) service and advocacy (c) support (d) therapy and (e) family and care-giver assistance. It is a modality that uses the setting, structure and process of a group to achieve a therapeutic, educational or social goal. It is usually facilitated by a professional leader. They can be conducted in hospitals, eldercare centres, nursing homes, community or social service organisations, religious organisations, etc. Principles and skills from individual counselling, group processes and gerontology are utilised.

O’Leary (1996) maintained that group approaches may be more appropriate than individual counselling with older adults because of the nature of their problems, such as social isolation, loneliness, role loss and widowhood. Involvement in a group provides support during loss and an opportunity for the development of new relationships. Moreover, the group approach offers older participants the opportunity to develop an awareness of some of the social, psychological, physical and environmental aspects of their lives. The group can provide support, increase self-awareness, develop alternative solutions to personal problems and provide an opportunity to learn new social roles. Mardoyan and Weis (1981) wrote that group gerocounselling is superior to individual counselling because it diffuses the generational gaps between counsellor and counsellee. It also “provides a unique opportunity to use the dynamic interaction of group members as a therapeutic tool (p.162).” Moreover, Mehta and Ko (2003) held that the interaction helps the older person find appropriate social roles for successful ageing, encourages supportive sharing, promotes a healthy cohort effect, and helps the older person renew social interaction skills when social support system are weakest. It also seems to be more cost-effective, although it should not be planned for that reason alone (p. 95).

This workshop will provide an overview of the various types of groups, their purposes, advantages and limitations. In particular, it will highlight group principles, process, dynamics and equip participants with the essential skills to facilitate support groups for older adults.

Course Objectives

Upon completion of the course, participants will:

  • Be able to articulate the different types of groups for working with the elderly
  • Be aware of the factors to consider in setting up a group
  • Understand group processes and dynamics
  • Be equipped with group facilitation and counselling skills to run groups with the elderly

Target Participants

  • Managers, administrators, counsellors, therapists, case managers, social workers, nurses and volunteers who plan to use groupwork as a modality for engaging older adults
  • Participants should possess basic skills in counselling older adults

Course Outline

  • Types of groups
  • Advantages & limitations of groupwork with elderly
  • Factors to consider in setting up a group:
    • Staff factors
    • Group factors
    • Client factors
    • Materials
  • Qualities of a facilitator
  • Group processes & dynamics
  • Group facilitation skills e.g. managing differences & conflicts among members
  • Group counselling skills
  • Topics/issues to address in support groups for seniors

Course Duration

Two days


Mardoyan, J, and Weis, D, (1981) “The Efficacy of Group Counselling with Older Adults” in Personnel and Guidance Journal, Vol 60 (3); 161 – 163.

Mehta, K.M. and Ko, H. (2003) Gerontological Counselling: An Introductory Handbook. Singapore: SAGE Counselling Centre.

O’Leary, E (1996), Counselling Older Adults: Perspectives, Approaches and Research, London: Chapman and Hall.