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Using the Stages Model for Group-Based Physical Activity Programs

This is an excerpt from Motivating People to Be Physically Active-3rd Edition by Bess H. Marcus & Dori Pekmezi.

Leading a Stage-Based Group

Group programs are influenced by group members’ stages of motivational readiness for change and by the role and teaching style of the group leader (Rinne and Toropainen, 1998). You are likely to adopt the role of teacher and use a didactic leadership style more often with clients who are in the earlier stages of motivational readiness (stage 1, not thinking about change, and stage 2, thinking about change). For clients in stage 2, thinking about change, and stage 3, doing some physical activity, you may find yourself being a motivator who encourages them to try new skills. For clients in stages 3 (doing some activity) and 4 (doing moderate activity), you can also be less didactic and serve more as a facilitator, who encourages group members to share ideas, experiences, and support. For clients in the later stages, 4 and 5 (doing enough physical activity and making physical activity a habit, respectively), you will probably find that you need to give even less information but rather serve as an analyzer, who helps clients identify potential pitfalls, and as a consultant, who offers suggestions for avoiding pitfalls or handling them better. As the group leader, you will also need to be flexible about your role and instructional style when the people in your group are at different stages of motivational readiness for change (Rinne and Toropainen, 1998). Table 8.1 describes teaching styles and instructor roles suited to each of the stages of motivational readiness.

Table 8.1 Group Leader’s Role and Teaching Style in a Stage-Based Group

Setting Up a Stage-Based Group

There are no hard-and-fast rules about the number of people you should have in a group, how the counseling should be delivered, or the number of sessions you should hold. Groups with fewer members offer more opportunity for participation and instructor attention. Larger groups, on the other hand, are more cost and time effective. Both issues are important to consider when deciding the size of a group. Our general guideline is to have a maximum of 12 people if there is to be individual participation. Five people is probably the minimum useful number for idea sharing and discussions among the participants. That way, if one or two people cannot attend a given session, enough members will still be present to exchange thoughts and ideas.

Rinne and Toropainen (1998) suggested that two or three group sessions are not likely to have much impact, whereas group sessions that stretch over several months may become boring. For group treatment, 10 to 12 weekly group sessions are appropriate. If the group expresses an interest in continuing to meet, consider having a break at the end of 12 weeks or so and then scheduling a follow-up group in one month so that members can share their experiences of continuing their activity plans on their own (Rinne and Toropainen, 1998).

If you will be leading a larger group, consider having a colleague serve as a co-leader. It is always nice to have more than one professional perspective and to share the work of preparing for group and facilitating group discussions. If group members are in various stages of motivational readiness and you decide to break them up into smaller groups based on stage, each co-leader can take responsibility for facilitating a subgroup.

Consider calling participants who do not show up (or comment and engage) for a group session or two. Giving no-shows a quick call helps with accountability and lets them know that you missed their presence and perspective in the group. It also gives you a chance to learn whether something about the group made them decide not to participate or whether personal circumstances kept them from coming. Sometimes people drop out because they believe they are not making progress. A quick phone call to these people gives you an opportunity to reiterate that people’s stages of readiness to make a personal behavior change vary and that attending group sessions should be considered progress in itself. You could also encourage the client to consider one or two individual sessions, if available, to get back on track before, or in addition to, rejoining the group. Whatever your policy is on missed sessions, tell the people in your group what it is at the outset so that they know what to expect.

More Excerpts From Motivating People to Be Physically Active 3rd Edition