top of page

Group Stages (as told by the Fellowship of the Ring?)

Module Five: Navigating group dynamics and stages

Those who complete ADOH training can summarize small group theory and group stages, describe potential behaviors and appropriate peer facilitator (PF) responses during each stage.

Just like LOTF’s Frodo, Gandalf, elves, and dwarfs, people typically decide to join a group based on its purpose and goals. In whatever way PFs define them, partner groups exist to provide a safe place where members experience a sense of belonging and connecting while moving forward in their recovery/healing journeys.

While considering group stages theory and how dynamics evolve during them, facilitators also bear in mind how their group’s structure and time frame impacts both. Short-term groups (six to eight weeks) won’t experience the depth of cohesiveness long-term groups (twelve plus weeks or ongoing) likely develop. However, understanding what can occur in each stage, as well as how to apply effective peer facilitator skills remains critical.

Peer facilitator perspectives

Stage 1

"Members are fragile, hurting, and often afraid. Pre-contracting eases a bit of their uncertainty by giving members a clear idea of what they are signing up for and the ability to decide whether the group is right for them. The peer facilitator (PF) proactively responds by establishing schedule and guidelines, clarifying the group's purpose, and asking open-ended questions to encourage sharing."


"Participants are uncertain if the group will be a safe place, whether they can connect and be understood by others, and whether they are ready to commit to the group process. This is a good opportunity for PFs to connect as a PEER by sharing their own stories and utilizing empathetic listening."

Cindy Bajema, Wholehearted Naked Truth Project "Partners feel fear, excitement, insecurity, hopelessness, and uncertainty as they decide if their expectations and the reality of the group match and whether they belong. PFs provide direction, ensures group understands the PF role and members’ roles as well as practice empathetic listening and acknowledge fears they might have when entering the room."

Faith "Stage one is about assessing the group's safety. Members expect PFs to provide direction, structure, and guideline. PFs affirm group guidelines, purpose, and addresses members' need for safety and structure.”


Stage 2

"Members begin to become vulnerable. Tension is normal, and the group's 'power currency' is established. PFs lead by affirming differences, as well as behaviours they want to encourage. When members display a need for self-protection, PFs can build trust by making it a safe place to share. PFs must not allow any member to violate guidelines during this stage."


"'Trust starts when participants begin testing how much they can safely share.' This is a sensitive time and requires PFs to model allowing space, encourage moments of silence, and pay close attention to group member's responses and non-verbal communication."

"Partners feel anxiety as they test how much they can safely share. PFs validate the normalcy of testing safety and feeling tension, recognize a group member's non-acceptance of guidelines, values and goals, and explains how these guidelines are for the purposes of ensuring safety."


"Stage two is about trust development, power, and control. Members begin testing how much they can safely share. Feelings of discomfort, tension, and irritability may arise. PFs continue clarifying group purposes, guidelines, and needs to affirm 'power currencies' aligning with group purposes, and reminds the group that tension is normal in developing relationships."


Stage 3

"The group becomes more vulnerable and authentic as strengths and weaknesses become apparent. When members risk telling the truth about their experience/feelings and are met with encouragement and affirmation, they build courage and trust. These are parts were damaged by betrayal, so rebuilding is healing."


"'One of the most important characteristics... is validating each other.' When this happens, it demonstrates that the group is functioning in a healthy way. This is when PFs step back to allow the wisdom of the group to speak. This allows individuals of the group to gain confidence in their own voice, abilities, and wisdom."

"Partners begin trusting each other enough to explore triggering comments made by others, experience anxiety, feel affirmed, safe, sense of belonging and relief. PFs help members explore thoughts and feelings when triggered by another and assist in resolving conflict that immobilizes the group."


"The group develops trust and cohesiveness as vulnerability and authenticity are valued. At times members (with permission) challenge and validate each other’s experiences with feedback. PFs developed a less hands-on approach and are considered part of the group. When conflict occurs, PFs address them in safe and appropriate ways."


Stage 4

"Members feel safe and help each other achieve personal goals. PFs create opportunities for members to reflect on their experience and how they will use their growth in the future, initiate celebrations of growth, and re-contract if there are desires to continue."


"Members typically express a desire to continue. It's important for PFs to anticipate and have a way for the group to continue to grow, nurture each other and avoid becoming isolated again. This requires PFs to be proactive."

“Partners feel more safety and as a result give more feedback and help each other move toward personal goals. PFs give more time for feedback and expressing desires to continue or move on to next steps.”


"Group is mature, either leading to conclusion and/or evaluating re-contracting for a new purpose. Members feel safe and comfortable and may seem restless or begin asking for something more. Peer facilitators can remind members that all groups have a life cycle and review group goals and purpose. Peer facilitators may initiate conversation of possible outcomes such as a celebration of what was gained or begin a new subject/format. PF may request feedback from group."


Your voice is important too!

If you facilitate support/recovery groups

  • What is one strength you bring to the peer facilitator role?

  • What is one takeaway for your growth as a peer facilitator related to the needs of members in group stages and dynamics as described above?

If you attend a support/recovery group

  • What did you hope or expect to gain by joining the group?

  • In what ways has your group experience met your expectations?

114 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All

1 Comment

Unknown member
Aug 23, 2021

Hi nice reading your post

bottom of page