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Group Counseling

Group counseling can be helpful by replicating the ways you interact in your everyday life. Groups are able to provide support, offer alternatives or gently confront group members in such a way that difficulties can be resolved and new behaviors learned. Often, people in group counseling began to feel less isolated in dealing with their problems. It can be very encouraging to hear that others have worked through similar problems.

Common questions that students have about group counseling:

How does group counseling work?

One of the greatest benefits of group counseling is that it can replicate the ways you interact in your every day life.  Group members and facilitators can give feedback about how they perceive you and offer alternative ways of behaving in order to help you interact more productively.  Groups are able to provide support, offer alternatives, or gently confront members in such a way that difficulties can be resolves and new behaviors learned.  Often people in group counseling begin to feel less isolated in dealing with their problems. 

How do I join a group?

If you're interested in possibly joining a group, contact the Wellness Center. A Wellness Assistant will schedule you for a brief same-day appointment to discuss your struggles with a clinician.  From there, the clinician will discuss options for treatment.

How many students are in one group?

Group counseling includes 3-8 students, meeting with 1-2 trained clinicians.

What is discussed in group counseling?

Group members talk about a variety of issues including exploring relationships, improving self-esteem and enhancing coping skills.  Group members share information about themselves and provide feedback to others while group leaders facilitate productive communication in the group.  Problems discussed in group counseling are wide ranging.  These problems include, but are not limited to, social anxiety, problems in maintaining intimate relationships, general anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and difficulties with grief or loss.

What issues are groups effective in treating?

Group counseling is helpful for almost all individuals and is the treatment of choice for a number of concerns.  There is evidence for the effectiveness of group treatment for the following issues:

  • Anxiety and Panic
  • Chronic Pain and Illness
  • Depression
  • Social Anxiety and other Interpersonal Problems
  • Substance Abuse
  • Traumatic Experiences
What are the goals and gains of group therapy?

People who participate in group counseling benefit in many ways. You will develop your own personal goals but below are typical goals and outcomes of group counseling.

Goals Skills Gained
Decrease social isolation More effective and comfortable communication skills
Develop better communication skills Greater understanding of your feelings
Learn and implement healthy coping skills Greater skills at providing and receiving feedback from others
Gain an understanding of problems and explore possible solutions Increased expression of your own wishes and greater willingness to act on your own behalf
Practice interpersonal skills in a safe group setting Ability to be more honest with self and others
Learn more about how you come across to others Clearer understanding about closeness and intimacy
Enhance problem-solving skills Concrete and new ways of relating to others and behaving differently
Increase emotional awareness and improve expressiveness Reduced judgment of self and others
What would I actually do in group?

Letting the group know why you initially came to UMLCS and sharing what you hope to gain from the group is a good place to start.  If you need support, let the group know.  If you think you need to be challenged, let the group know that too.  It is sometimes helpful to think o the group as a laboratory in which you can experiment with new ways of thinking, feeling and relating to others.  Coming to group with a willingness to talk about your feelings will increase the gains you can get from group.  Unexpressed feelings are a major reason that people experience difficulties.  We have found that the people who benefit the most from group take responsibility for making the group work by sharing their concerns and speaking up when they have reactions to issues or to other individuals in the group.

How can I trust that what I say will be kept confidential?

Groups are private and confidential. that is, what member disclose in sessions is not shared outside of the group.  The meaning and importance of confidentiality are reviewed with group members at the first meeting and every time a new member joins the group.  Group members are asked to make a commitment to protect each other's confidentiality by agreeing to not divulge information that would identify other members outside of group.

Will I have enough time to work on my issues in group?

Each group usually finds its own way of negotiating how group time is used.  Typically a group will begin with a "check-in" so that group members have an opportunity to summarize how they're doing and/or request speaking time during that session.  We have found that group members who are able to request time as needed are most likely to benefit from group.  Group members can also benefit from hearing other people work through and discuss their issues.

Aren't people too afraid to talk in group?

When you meet people for the first time, it's hard to know what to say and how much to trust.  Trust is a process that develops over time as group members take risks and share about themselves.   It helps to remember that groups are usually small (4-8 people) and that other group members may be struggling with some of the same concerns as you are.  Letting the group know that you're uncomfortable can be a first step.  What is asked is that you make a commitment to being in the group and that you be willing to open up as you feel comfortable. 

What is the role of the group facilitator?

Group facilitators have expertise in group counseling.  The role of the group facilitator is to facilitate productive, respectful communication within the group.  To do this, they will encourage group members to interact with one another.  Group facilitators may point out common themes, give feedback to individuals or the group as a whole, or offer support or challenge as needed.  They also try to provide enough structure so that the group doesn't get stuck, but enough freedom so the group accepts responsibility for itself.  The facilitators respect the confidentiality of the group and make every effort to create a safe environment.

How often do groups meet?

Groups meet weekly.  Each group is scheduled for a particular day of the week and time of day that is set for the duration of the group.  Typically, group sessions last for 90 minutes, about 8 - 14 weeks per semester.

Is there a limit to the number of group sessions I can attend?

There is no limit on group sessions.  We hope you will utilize our group program as much as you would need.

What if group counseling is not helping me?

We ask that you commit to attending at least four sessions to give the group counseling experience a change and time to help you.  Discuss your concern with the facilitator(s) of the group.  If you continue to feel that your needs are not met, we can work with you to discuss other options.

What are some tips to make the most of group therapy?

  • Attend regularly.  In joining the group, you have made a commitment to the other group members as well as to yourself.
  • See group as a laboratory. Make the group part of your life.  Don't think of group as something that happens once a week and then forget about it in between.  Between group sessions, think about what happened in group and about how you felt during and after group, and try to figure out why you had those feelings.  You may set goals in group for the time between groups.  Group can help you become more accountable for working towards your goals.
  • Take responsibility for your counseling and your group.  It's your group so if it is not moving in the direction you want, say so.
  • Take some emotional risks in group.  It is structured to be safe and supportive.
  • Learn to listen to others attentively before you response.  If you are formulating your response while someone else is speaking, you are not really hearing what is being said.  
  • Be honest and direct with your feelings in group in the present moment, especially your feelings towards group members and the facilitators.
  • Avoid telling others what they should or shouldn't do.  Don't try to solve other members' problems for them.
  • Ask for feedback when you need it, seek clarification and avoid becoming defensive or making excuses.

Content adapted with permission from The University of Iowa Counseling Service.