Essay on being better than a bully

Proposal for Group Therapy for Bullies

4 July 2011

Proposal for Group Therapy for Bullies

Introduction and Rationale

In every school across the world, bullying is a significant problem. In schools in Alabama, bullying may not be as prominent as it is in other states, but it is still a problem: currently, Alabama is ranked at around the eighth best state for bullying (BullyPolice. org, 2003) meaning that it is currently one of the best states in the country in terms of its lack of bullying. However, just because it is not a bulging issue, it is still a problem – we cannot simply just ignore those students who are being bullied, simply because they are a minority. The interesting consideration about bullying is that it is both commonly abhorred by civilisation but equally, there are no real legislative procedures in place to deter bullies in the first place (Lines, 2008, p11) meaning that it still occurs far too often in many different areas of social life: school, home, the workplace and so on. However, in schools, it becomes the responsibility of the adults to intervene in a situation which is getting out of hand – children are, after all, vulnerable and sensitive individuals who deserve to attend school safely and happily; without fear of being treated badly.

It is with this view that I propose the school establish a new group called ‘ Being Better Than a Bully’ which will be a group therapy session for children who are active bullies, in order to better understand the root cause of their actions, to eliminate their need to behave in such a way and, ultimately, make school life generally more harmonious for everyone involved. In the past, group therapy has been put forward as a way of broaching bullies’ self-esteem issues, which has been disregarded because of the general lack of issues of this nature experienced by bullies (Sampson, p28). However, group therapy would provide the individuals concerned with an opportunity to express why they choose to behave in that way and to witness for themselves the impression that they give to the world through the discussion of one of their peers. Through group therapy, bullies can begin to see why their actions are wrong and work towards resolving their issues. Matt Lundquist, a group therapist, discusses how in a group therapy situation “ If someone’s struggling, it’s the therapy group’s task to figure out what to do” (Lundquist, 2010). This idea is how group therapy should work for bullies – addressing, assessing and evaluating their issues and drives to try and improve their social behaviours.

Proposal for Session Outlines

Session One

In order for these sessions to work, the individuals need to trust one another properly. So, the purpose of this first session is to establish a sense of trust and openness in the group and with the therapist (Lennox, 1982, p133).
1. Objective: Establish trust and unity in the group to allow for an open forum.

Once this is done, the group should pair off and discuss how they feel on a one-to-one basis in order to voice their concerns quietly to just one individual rather than avoid a ‘ whole group’ scenario which can be intimidating.
2. Individuals are to voice their immediate worries and concerns.
Taking a few minutes each to express what they are afraid of or worried about to another individual will allow the student to establish their thoughts without being faced with a scary situation such as a whole room of people watching them. Following this task (and it is important to establish this will be what happens next), the individual should introduce their partner to the rest of the group. This should follow a simple structure such as: ‘ This is Chris, he is 8 years old and he is afraid that his mum’s boyfriend is more important to her than him’ for example. Obviously, young children are unlikely to be as eloquent as this but their fears, once voiced, should be taken seriously. Once the whole group have been introduced, the group should become an open forum where a system of ‘ who is speaking when’ should be implemented. This is an opportunity for the students to discuss each other’s fears. The effect of this should be that they can see that they are not alone.

Session Two

This session should directly address their bullying behaviour. This is with the view to addressing the issue head-on and bringing to their attention how unfair and unreasonable their behaviour can be.
1. Discuss their bullying behaviour in detail.
Each member of the group should take it in turns to describe an act of bullying that they have done and feel badly about. The purpose of this is to draw attention to what is negative behaviour and to discuss how it makes people feel – both the bullies themselves, as well as their victims. This should achieve a purpose to try and establish what they, as individuals are doing wrong. Ultimately, their peers’ reactions will help to enhance this experience. Allow the students to react naturally but remind them of the ‘ openness’ of the circle to ensure that they are supportive and mature about it.
Following this, the group should attempt to think of a selection of words which describe how their victims might feel/have felt.
2. Begin to develop the students’ empathy skills.
Developing empathy skills is very important as often, bullies have a very low ability to empathise (Middleton-Moz & Zawadski, 2002, p7) and this can cause a detachment from their actions, meaning that they do not fully see the problems and consequences of their actions. By establishing words and emotions which are evoked by being bullied, the students can begin to see the effects of their actions. As is often the case with young children, they are unable to fully comprehend consequences and as such, their behaviour is often dictated as such that they do not think before they act. The object of these activities is to encourage them to begin thinking more before they act. To finish, the students should discuss words and feeling that they would prefer to invoke in people – this will end the session on a positive note. Encourage the students to focus on this during their days before the next session.

Session Three

This session will focus more on why the students behave as they do, rather than focusing on how. Ask the students to think back to the first session and the fears that they discussed and question whether that fear motivates them or demotivates them?
1. Encourage students to really think about what motivates them to behave as they do.
Allow the group to discuss these factors openly and to question whether they alleviate their fears or not through these actions. So, to use our earlier example, if Chris is worried that his mum’s new boyfriend is more important than him, does bullying make him feel any less worried about this? Does it motivate him because it attracts her attention? But is that attention positive or negative – does it inevitably conclude with him being in trouble or with his mum lavishing the hotly-desired attention on him?
Pose the question: ‘ How else can you reduce your fears? Encourage the students to consider how alternative actions by them could actually lead to improved consequences that will lead to a positive experience.
2. Create a set of ideas for how different actions can lead to better consequences.
In pairs, provide each student with a scenario where the resulting action can be to react like a bully or to react like a non-bully. Encourage the students to discuss this in pairs and to then present their ideas to the group. Upon hearing their discussion, ask the group to consider how their choices will lead to certain consequences and what they may be. Ask the group if they agree with the decisions made. In doing this, the students will begin to take ownership of their decisions and actions and begin to assess the consequences before acting.
Ask each student to write a letter to one of their victims before next week’s session, apologising for their actions and explaining what they have learned in the sessions.

Session Four

In this final session, there is only one objective:

1. Evaluate and discuss what we have learned in our sessions and question whether we are now ‘ Better than a Bully?’
Each student will take it in turns to read out their letter and the group should praise each effectively. Perhaps applause after they are finished reading will be appropriate – this will boost the individual’s confidence and self-esteem. Following this, the students should take it in turns to go around the circle and make a statement about how they feel now. Are they as scared as before or are they less scared? Have they noticed a change in their behaviour towards others – their peers, teachers or family members? How will they continue improving into the future? How will they deal with fears and worries in the future? This session should be full of positive reinforcement for the correct lessons learned and to enhance the students’ self-esteem and sense of achievement.

Marketing and Screening

This sort of group therapy does not suit everyone. In preparing for these sessions, it is important to establish whether the individual is a good candidate for such a therapy or not. In order to make such an assessment, the individuals would need to be screened to ask whether they would benefit from such a practice. Some questions that would need affirmative responses are:
1. Would you call yourself a bully?
2. Are you sometimes mean to other children?
3. Do you understand that your actions upset others?
4. Are you tired of always being in trouble?
5. Would you like to try and improve your reputation?
6. Would you behave properly and correctly in sessions?
In establishing that the child would be responsive to the group therapy, it would then need to be confirmed through the child and his parents that this action is being taken as an alternative measure to punishment. It should be made clear that this is not a punishment, but rather an opportunity to make amends. In doing this, the therapy will be marketed as a positive concept rather than having negative associations which will automatically put the child in opposition to it.

The marketing of the sessions is very important and should be something which every parent in the school is made aware of. It will present our school as being a zero-tolerance for bullying school and, as such, this procedure will take place before more extreme measurements of punishment, should the child be unreceptive. The purpose of these sessions is to not only improve the atmosphere of the school and the safety of our students, but also to improve the happiness quotient of the individuals who are causing the problems – if their issues are worked through then they are more likely to behave appropriately and fairly.


Albert Bandura, renowned psychologist, conceptualised Social Learning Theory on the basis that human beings learn from observing the behaviours and actions of other people and the outcomes of these; Bandura himself stated: “ Most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others, one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action.” (Learning-Theories. com, 2008). The implications of this for our group therapy sessions are clear: the students will bear witness to the thoughts and actions of their peers and consequently draw their own conclusions as to what is acceptable and what isn’t, as well as what procures positive responses and what doesn’t. The individual sessions are set up to involve a lot of interaction and open discussion which means that the students will be exposed to the various thought processes and Social Learning Theory states that by default, they will begin to apply the lessons they learn through the mistakes of others to their own actions.

The term ‘ holistic’ has become a popular ‘ buzz word’ in the last decade and Holistic Approach Counselling refers to the idea of treating the whole person as opposed to individual specific ailments (Lees, 1999, p78). In our scenario, the group therapy sessions will endeavour to examine the individual as a whole through asking probing questions that query how and why their actions are as they are. It is not simply enough to say ‘ I kicked that boy because I didn’t like him’ and instead, in a holistic view, questions must be asked as to why they kicked instead of name-calling, or why that specific child was kicked or even what had happened at home that morning. We all carry our bad mood from home to work some days and children are, unfortunately, much less equipped to be able to manage those feelings and their irrational actions reflect this.


As with all things, it is important to accurately measure the progress that happens as a result of the group therapy sessions. To my mind, it is important to assess the child before and after the sessions using the same questionnaire. To make the results easily quantifiable, they should not involve written responses and this means their progress can be easily demonstrated – along with the success of the group therapy itself. A questionnaire such as the following should, therefore, be administered before the sessions begin and again once they are completed.
I feel angry and upset a lot of the time.
1 2 3 4 5
I know how to handle those feelings without upsetting others.
1 2 3 4 5
I understand what is meant by ‘ consequences of my actions.’
1 2 3 4 5
I understand how my actions can affect others.
1 2 3 4 5
I consider other people before I act.
1 2 3 4 5

I’m scared or worried about something in particular.

1 2 3 4 5
I try to act like I’m not scared or worried.
1 2 3 4 5
I am happy to talk about it when I feel scared of worried.
1 2 3 4 5
I become upset by things at home and act on them in school.
1 2 3 4 5
I feel I am a valued member of the school community.
1 2 3 4 5
I feel I am a valued member of my family.
1 2 3 4 5
I understand what empathy is and how it can shape my actions.
1 2 3 4 5
I don’t like being in trouble and would like to be less so.
1 2 3 4 5
I often feel frustrated and don’t know how to act because of it.
1 2 3 4 5
I accept people for who they are as individuals.
1 2 3 4 5

Please circle a number to show how much you agree with the statement

1 = Strongly Disagree; 3 = Neither Agree/Disagree; 5 = Strongly Agree

Problem Solving

In the event of the following, the school’s group counsellor should act accordingly:

The Chronic Talker: To dissuade one individual from dominating the session, direct question to individuals specifically. As the adult in the room, sensitively manage the situation by thanking the individual and then moving the discussion to the next child (Harvill et al, 2008, p379). The group therapy session is designed to involve everyone equally.
The Silent Member: Encourage quieter members of the group to interact by utilising the proposed session structures as these will require everyone to contribute. In creating a safe and trusting forum, the individual in question should begin to feel more capable of talking over time (Harvill et al, 2008, p387).
The Member Who Attacks Another in the Group: If a hostile situation arises, the group counsellor should encourage individuals to air their grievances openly with the rest of the group as this is the nature of group therapy (Harvill et al, 2008, p390). If a member of the group openly attacks another person in the group then it is prudent to keep them separated from one another and it may also be necessary to ask one of them to leave.
The Member Who Stops Coming: If an individual ceases to attend the session then it suggests that they were no benefitting from it in the first place. In terms of that individual’s position within school, that is to be decided by the school board. However, try to ask the student why they stopped and actively encourage them to return or to try an alternative (Kendell & Zealley, 1988, p624).


Bully Police USA. (2003). State Rankings: Bullying in America. Retrieved from http://www. bullypolice. org/survey_stats. html
Harvill, R. L. et al. (2008). Group Counseling: Strategies and Skills. California: Belmont Education.
Kendell, R. E. & Zealley, A. K. (1988). Companion to Psychiatric Studies. Michigan: Churchill Livingston.
Learning-Theories. com. (2008). Social Learning Theory. Retrieved from http://www. learning-theories. com/social-learning-theory-bandura. html
Lees, J. (1999). Clinical Counselling in Primary Care. London: Routledge.
Lennonx, D. (1982). Residential group therapy for children. London: Tavistock Publications Ltd.
Lines, D. (2008). The bullies: understanding bullies and bullying. London: Kingsley Publishers.
Lundquist, M. (2010). On Bullying: What About the Group? Retrieved from http://tribecatherapy. com/314/group-therapy-and-bullying/
Middleton-Moz, J. & Zawadski, M. L. (2002). Bullies: from the playground to the boardroom. Florida: Health Communications Ltd.
Sampson, R. (n. d.) Bullying in Schools. Cops. usdoj. gov: U. S. Dept. of Justice.