Advantages of Group Counseling

chives | fields of knowledge | jordache williams

The advantages of the group counseling setting versus the individual setting are often thought of quantitatively.  More opinions, more support, more scenarios, more interactions and more opportunities to learn.  When asked, “What do you think are the advantages of a group format for delivering counseling services?” I understand that it is my instinct to merely look at what is “good” about group counseling.  In doing so, my mind is framed around a hypothetical and quintessential group session.  In challenging myself to look beyond the multiplication of the benefits of individual counseling, I have arrived at a few other areas where the group format can be advantageous.

First, is cost.  Group sessions are often more affordable than individual sessions.  In this format, individuals who would not otherwise arrive at counseling are able to retain those benefits because it is simply less expensive.

Secondly, the group format curtails the impacts of “no shows.”  In an individual session, if a client does not arrive, the counselor is (typically) not able to use that time frame to directly assist another client.  While there are a myriad of ways to utilize such a schedule opening, in the group format, it is likely that some members of the group will be present even if all are not.  Thus the counselor’s time is spent facilitating the progression of the clients present, as per the group’s agenda (e.g. healing).

Additionally, group counseling has less uninstructed silence.  Counseling groups may on average range from 8-12 participants, in most cases someone from the group will have an answer, a question or a comment.

Furthermore, group therapy provides clients the opportunity to bear witness.  One such instance is the sharing of goals.  The ability for people to witness the progression of others towards a goal can be motivational.

Let’s look at a common reality.  All too often, individuals look up to people who are successful but without understanding the process for such success.  Goal sharing is powerful in the group setting because it provides practical insight regarding goal attainment versus empty aspirations, hopes, and dreams.  In group counseling, success is witnessed realistically and in a manner that can truly provide influence.

Lastly, in the group setting, clients and counselors are less likely to participate in inappropriate or unethical engagement.  Not only does the presence of others increase ethical accountability, it also provides a much less intimate setting than one-on-one counseling.

For further thought and despite the outliers, I simply think about the human needs as prescribed by Chilean economist, Manfred Max-Neef.  Of those, affection, understanding, identity, participation, subsistence, and identity are all benefits of group counseling.  In that light, group counseling is a synergistic satisfier, thus arguably by nature a better form of counseling than the individual counseling format.

I realize that every coin has two sides.  For instance, the absence of group members (“no shows”) does affect the group dynamics, and can be a limiting factor in group counseling.  Perhaps that’s a topic in itself for another day.  Better yet, leave a comment to start a discussion centered on both the pros and cons of the group counseling format.  Additionally, no particular group counseling theory or technique is the basis for this article, and each maintains its own set of advantages and disadvantages.  As always, thanks for visiting fieldsofknowledgeblog.com.

Jordache Williams

Jordache Williams is currently based in Rock Hill, SC and is the Program Manager for Atlas Concepts, LLC. He is a Certified Life Coach and holds a Master’s Degree in Human Services.

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Play Nice or Tell it Straight

Imagine that your employer always has nice comments to share with you about your work.  Sounds great, right?  You feel as though you must be doing a great job and you’ll certainly get a large bonus at the end of the year.

However, when the end of the year comes, others are getting promoted and you are not.  Others receive large bonuses…you do not.  You’re either broken or angry, but mostly confused.  You begin conjuring up conspiracy theories and may even begin looking for a new job.

While there are a multitude of possible reasons for this conundrum, it may boil down to a basic difference between you and your employer—that difference being the understanding of affirmation.  Your boss may be trying to empower you through affirmation, while you interpret her actions as confirmation.  Although her positive comments were meant to encourage you to excel, your interpretation led you to remain consistent.  To you, your complacency is holding you steady at A+ work, while your boss C’s you differently.

The reality is that individuals are different and, for one to truly impact another in an intended way, there has to be a certain level of understanding.  Sometimes people need to be told, with #nofilter, what they need to do, how they could improve and about their weaknesses.  Others need encouragement and positive words as motivation for reaching their potential.  Some need both.

Here are two models of group therapy, which help illustrate the utility of both approaches.

Person-Centered Therapy involves a self-directed evolution towards an individual’s full potential.  In a group setting, the group members dictate not only who the therapist is, but also control the nature of the session(s) as well as set their own individual and group goals.

The members of the group are responsible for monitoring their own progress and the progress of the group.  The therapist’s role consist of providing an empathetic and trusting environment.  The therapist must remain adaptive to the shifts in the group’s norms, and have the ability to evaluate group and individual progress without being intrusive or judgmental.

Additionally, the therapist must accurately perceive the groups’ meanings and feelings while consistently employing unconditional positive regard.  The Person-Centered approach claims that, through trust and genuineness, a therapist can inevitably improve a client’s self-concept and behavior.

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy contends that individual’s belief systems are responsible for emotional consequences.  In theory, a client’s irrational beliefs could be effectively refuted by challenging them rationally, inevitably reducing the conflict.  In a group setting, the therapist takes a lead role in attempting to change the minds of the clients; the therapist can accomplish this without fostering a “warm” relationship with the clients.

Within groups, there is potential for judgments to be made of group members by other members of the group, which may prove of benefit or detriment to the therapeutic experience.  Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy holds that humans have the equal potential to be rational or irrational and both preserving and destructive.  Therapists must promote clients to confront their behaviors as well as accept their faults.   Additionally, Rational Emotive Behavior therapists claim that it is possible to assist clients with changing their behaviors as a means to restructuring their way of thinking.  In this light, the therapist must continue to encourage self-discipline as well as self-direction.

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The tried and true good cop, bad cop technique works, in part, because it addresses the spectrum of individuals discussed herein.  In this light, leaders, therapists and supervisors are oftentimes able to best serve more individuals when they understand the dynamics and exercise balance.

In this effort, it is necessary to understand how individuals perceive criticism, even constructive criticism.  It is also incumbent for you to understand how your personal attempts at either are perceived.  While an individual may confide in you that they enjoy or need constructive criticism, they may hold a different definition of such than you.

Understanding what triggers or prompts you as an individual towards progression is critical to your individual development but is also telling of how you may elect to treat others.  You cannot always rely on others to direct you, as in some instances they will fail.  Not necessarily because they don’t care, but perhaps because they don’t truly understand you.  Likewise, when you begin to understand how you prefer to receive information, you will also gain perspective regarding how you give it.

Reverting back to the opening scenario, emotional support and encouragement from leaders can be a benefit to the overall performance of those being led.  In this light, the employer hasn’t necessarily done anything wrong.  A clear understanding of goals and expectations, as well as continual evaluation of the progression towards those goals can complement such affirmation.

In many environments, such as in sports and within the workplace, leaders are under a certain amount of internal and external pressures often challenging their own reserve.  Therapists and counselors are typically at an advantage because they are trained and educated on empathy, and should be well-versed concerning dealing with their own pressures as well.

Helping professionals may choose to assist clients’ progress towards goals the clients set themselves.  Another lesson here is that individuals who are not internally motivated towards a goal may present a greater challenge than those who are.  Regardless of your role or environment, in most instances it’s best to ask the tough questions and find a nice way to tell it straight.

Atlas Concepts, LLC_Jordache WilliamsJordache Williams is currently based in Rock Hill, SC and is the Program Manager for Atlas Concepts, LLC. He is a Certified Life Coach and holds a Master’s Degree in Human Services.