Do Group Counseling Activities Help?
By Sarah Fader
Updated January 29, 2019
Reviewer Lauren Fawley
Group counseling is usually formatted with a small selection of individuals who wish to explore their own experiences and to give them the opportunity to learn from and get or give support to others who have had similar experiences. Groups may also be formed by groups of people with very different experiences who are interested in learning more about a certain topic, for example, stress management. Groups can be used to provide therapy for a variety of different issues, including self-esteem, coping skills, relationships, and more difficult problems like recovering from trauma and addiction. It is often used in combination with standard individual therapy as part of a complete treatment plan, and may also be coupled with medication and other coping methods. Group counseling has been shown to be an effective therapy on its own without a person necessary need to be in individual therapy concurrently
What Happens in Therapy?
Whichever way you have been directed to a group for therapy, most likely you will have an introductory screening session with the group facilitator (usually a mental health professional). This is to explain the goals and norms of the specific group and to talk to you about your personal goals (what you are hoping to get out of coming to groups) to make sure you are a good fit for that group. If it is determined that another group may be a better fit, try not to take it personally, it could just be that the focus of that particular group is not right for you at this time. Sometimes a facilitator may make recommendations of some things to work on individually with a therapist before coming into a group therapy setting, such as learning to relaxation skills if you are someone with social anxiety for example.
Group therapies are not all are structured in the same ways. Some groups are more educational, with a facilitator providing a topic or skill for the day that the group will be learning about. Some groups are more process-oriented, meaning there tends to be less structure and the group talks about whatever feels important to the participants that day. Both these group structures have therapeutic benefit, as both formats offer opportunities in a supportive environment for you to talk about your experiences with others and to also to hear about other people's perspectives.
Group therapy usually begins by telling the group a little about yourself and why you are there. As with any therapy, having a goal that you hope to achieve at the end is important and if you know there is something you will particularly need support with or have a tendency to struggle with, let the group know. It is completely normal to feel some hesitation or reservations at first about group therapy. Most people do not feel initial comfort when it comes to talking in a group setting, let alone talking about personal things with strangers. Take comfort in the fact that everyone likely feels a bit uneasy at times, especially in the beginning. Your facilitator's job is to help to aid therapeutic group interactions, and you will never be forced to share something about yourself that is out of your comfort zone before you are ready to choose to do that.
Group therapy works best when you actively participate and are honest during your experience. Give feedback, both to yourself and to others, and experiment with everything you are learning during that time.
Is it Effective?
Group counseling activities have been found to be effective for several different problems. They are helpful for issues that relate to family and relationships with others. Common interpersonal problems include isolation, loneliness, trust, reassurance, abandonment, and intimacy, and a therapy group provides a supportive environment to address issues involving other people with other people. Humans are social creatures, and it can be very healing to work through your problems in the presence of others as well as support others as they work on themselves. It can feel very validating to have the experience that you are not alone with your problems and that other people truly do relate to your problems and the way the impact you. A group setting provides the unique opportunity of connection and community.
It is also the therapy very commonly used for anxiety, anger, grief, depression, eating disorders, overcoming traumatic experiences, substance abuse and other addictions, social anxiety, interpersonal problems, and chronic illnesses.
What Do Group Counseling Activities Help?
There are a variety of skills that can be improved by group counseling activities including learning to a more effective and comfortable communicator. Many times participants realize their own feelings better when examining others by seeing their own feelings reflected, creating a better understand their own inner feelings. Group is also an ideal time to get safe feedback from others without judgment and have honesty. As this can be a novel experience for some, this is a time to experiment and learn about how to express themselves better, act better, and relate better to others.
Group members often make comments that they get more out of a group experience than they thought they would initially, and many members find themselves (sometimes surprisingly) forming deep, emotional bonds with other people throughout treatment. Members tend to exhibit a greater sense of empathy and understanding for other people as a result of the group too, as well as a sense of being understood and accepted.