Dr. Kimberly Riley
As you think about your circle of support people, do you feel better after being with them or worse? Most of us tend to look for people we can identify with and share our concerns. It is always nice to know that people have experienced the same things we have. Human connection is important to the healing process, but sometimes we don’t know where to turn to find those we desire to connect with.
One place we can go to find people who may share similar life experiences is group counseling. There are all types of groups that exist to help people connect with others and heal together.
There are groups for marriage, grief, anxiety, addiction, survivors of abuse, health issues, trauma, and much more. Groups are created for the purpose of bringing individuals together to journey through the counseling process together.
What if you had a better understanding of why groups exist? Would you maybe take the step of trying out a group to work on something you might be having a hard time with? We will look at five facts about the theory and practice of group counseling that might be helpful in creating some peace about trying something that will possibly bring shared healing to you and others.
Development of Socializing Techniques and Imitating Behavior
Some people understand how to function well in social settings while others may really have a hard time. When you think about the way you are in the world, it might either pull you towards or push you away from a group therapy setting.
You may be excited about being around people, sharing your stories, and making new friends, while others may be ashamed or embarrassed, quiet, and not so ready to interact with anyone. Either way, being in a group setting may teach you something new about the way you socialize, how you can grow in the area of social interaction, or how others perceive you socially.
Here are some of the things that take place in a therapeutic group setting.
- Direct or indirect social learning; development of basic social skills.
- Possible first opportunity for accurate interpersonal feedback.
- Awareness of how members contribute to their own isolation and loneliness.
- Understanding about the discrepancy between intent and impact on others.
- Development of highly sophisticated social skills; how to be helpful and responsive to others, acquire methods of conflict resolution, becoming less likely to judge and more capable of experiencing and expressing empathy accurately.
- Opportunity to imitate the behavior of others, including the therapist who will model self-disclosure and support.
- The ability to learn how to work through problems by watching others.
- Discovering that your issue is not unique and that you are not alone.
As you learn how to be socially aware and functional within the group, you will be able to use these skills in your individual relationships as well. Sometimes the therapy group will allow a person to take a deeper look at who they are or who they thought they were in the world when relating to others.
Do you have any fears about being in a social setting with others? Possibly you can look at the group as a place to not only gain freedom from whatever issue you may be struggling with but also a place to gain extreme self-awareness in the social interaction department.
Now that a person has gained some important social awareness, they will likely understand themselves better as a result of being in the group. Part of the intention behind group therapy is to allow a person to have total growth, not just growth in the area they are attending a group for, but a better understanding of who they are.
Gaining interpersonal insight means that someone discovers something important about the way that they behave, the reason that they behave that way, and how they have continued to behave that way over time.
During the group-therapy process, group members may gain insight a few different ways.
- You may gain a more objective perspective about the way you are seen by others (maybe you are seen as being angry or someone who knows it all).
- You may explore more deeply the way that you behave or interact with others (possibly you relate to a certain gender in the group or you pursue a person and then reject them).
- You may understand the motivation behind certain ways that you interact with others (it could be that you stay away from being close to other people because you are concerned about losing a piece of yourself).
- You may gain insight with the help of the therapist about how your family system or another influence contributed to the way you behave now.
As you attend group sessions with others who may be there for something similar to what you are dealing with, you can gain some insight that will carry you for the rest of your life. Through your interactions with others, you are able to dig deep into your behavior and gain insight that you might not have gained in individual sessions.
It is helpful to have the chance to look more closely at the way you respond to someone with whom you might never interact in another setting, but have the chance to be in a relationship with in a group.
Benefits of Group Counseling
The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy (Yalom & Leszcz, 2005) lists the results of a study that took sixty viewpoints from twenty different clients who participated in groups. These twenty clients were picked by the therapists leading the groups and were considered to be the most successful.
They were given sixty 3 x 5 cards that asked about what they believed was the most important part of their improvement in group therapy. Once they read the cards they were asked to place them in seven different piles like this; most helpful to me in the group (2 cards), extremely helpful (6 cards), very helpful (20 cards), barely helpful (12 cards), less helpful (6 cards), least helpful to me in the group (2 cards).
These are the top ten things that these twenty group counseling clients decided were most helpful (Yalom & Leszcz, 2005).
- “Discovering and accepting previously unknown or unacceptable parts of myself.”
- “Being able to say what was bothering me instead of holding it in.”
- “Other members honestly telling me what they think of me.”
- “Learning how to express my feelings.”
- “The group’s teaching me about the type of impression I make on others.”
- “Expressing negative and/or positive feelings toward another member.”
- “Learning that I must take the ultimate responsibility for the way I live my life no matter how much guidance and support I get from others.”
- “Learning how I come across to others.”
- “Seeing that others could reveal embarrassing things and take other risks and benefit from it helped me to do the same.”
- “Feeling more trustful of groups and of other people.”
Maybe you have had a group experience before or you have an idea about what a group experience might be like. You may identify with the things others feel were a very important part of their success or their stories motivate you to give group therapy a try. The benefits are great and it might be worth a try to get involved with a group for the first time or reconnect with a group.
Sample Group Counseling Description
You may be wondering what a group counseling advertisement might look. This is an example for children who struggle with anxiety or anxiety symptoms. You might be curious about how the group would begin and progress over time before you join, so the description should give you some insight into what to expect.
Group counseling descriptions should name who the target participants are, what the topic of the group will be, what the goal of the group is, and who will be leading the group. There is quite a bit of intentionality on the part of the therapist or therapists who will be leading the group. If you continue to read below, the role of the therapist will be explained more in detail.
Children’s Anxiety Group
Does your child or teenager experience anxiety, either in school or other social settings? If so, consider sending them to our Children’s Anxiety Group Counseling Session.
What is a Children’s Anxiety Group?
The goal of the group is to:
- Teach children how to better cope with anxiety in their everyday lives
- Give children a safe and comfortable place where they can articulate their struggle
- Show children that they are not alone in their battle with anxiety
- Encourage children to be supportive of one another as they seek to grow, celebrate victories, and overcome together
How Can it Help?
Groups are an effective way to give hope to individuals through the witnessing of change in those around them. This group can be helpful for the child who might be living with anxiety and feels alone because none of their peers have a similar experience.
The group setting encourages people to share their stories with one another so that everyone can achieve healing with the help and support of one another. Children who may suffer from mutism, social, or separation anxiety will have the opportunity to reduce their symptoms naturally through the group process of communicating with others.
Group members will always be supported in a way that encourages them to go at their own pace and share in a way that is meaningful and comfortable for them.
Who Can Participate?
Children between the ages of 6 and 17. We offer one group for ages 6-11 and one for ages 12-17.
When Does the Group Meet?
Every other Saturday morning
Ages 6-11: 9:00-10:00am
Ages 12-17: 11:00am-12:00pm
Groups must have a minimum of six people to meet and will not exceed eight people in size.
A Licensed Marriage and Family Therapy associate and Child Mental Health Specialist in the state of Washington. They have experience working with children, families, and couples from all cultures and economic backgrounds. They have worked with children in the office, school, and home setting, helping them work through many issues, including depression, grief, PTSD, anxiety, and anger.
Role of the Therapist
The role of the therapist in a group setting is to facilitate the group and assist the group members as they learn who they are and experience change. Therapists have their own theories that they use in individual or family settings, so they take that theory and apply it to what they know about the way people behave in groups.
The therapist uses their own awareness, ability to self-disclose as a way to connect, and understanding to support the members of the group in a way that is most meaningful to them and others. If you have ever experienced individual therapy where your therapist is the main supporter in the room, group therapy is similar, but with more people journeying with you to wholeness and healing.
During your first meeting with the group, the therapist may use different methods to help reduce and fear or anxiety the new members might have. Sometimes the therapist will have icebreakers or games that they play to create a relaxed space. They may go over rules about the group but also give members the opportunity to create their own rules and norms for the group, as this promotes togetherness and ownership by everyone in the room.
The three main things the therapist is tasked to do are: Create and maintain the group, Build group culture, and Activate the illumination of the here-and-now. (Yalom & Leszcz, 2005) As the therapist helps the members of the group to be in the here-and-now they encourage them to express their feelings about what others are saying or doing immediately.
Part of the group culture might also match the group norms which may state that everyone will be accepting of others, disclose about themselves, and be willing and excited about changing their own behavior. The therapist is an important part of the way group members enter into the group, as it is their job to model what they are asking the group members to do while keeping in mind the needs of those in the group.
Are You Interested in Group Counseling?
As you read about all of the benefits of the group setting, you may be ready to try a group out. There are several groups offered by therapists here who are passionate about getting people from all backgrounds together to share the experience of healing.
If you would like to meet with someone who can prepare you for the group counseling journey and help you figure out which group might be best, please contact any one of the therapists today. Groups are a wonderful way to connect with people who share your same desire to overcome whatever challenge you may be facing.
Yalom, I. D., & Leszcz, M. (2005). The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy. New York: Basic Books.
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