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What is Group Counseling?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Group counseling is a form of therapy, which posits that people benefit from shared experiences. Usually, it's focused on a particular issue, like obsessive-compulsive disorder or anger management. While a therapist usually manages the group, contributions from other members are considered valuable since all in the group share similar issues.

One of the main principals behind group counseling is the idea that dealing with specific issues may cause isolation, and a feeling that one is alone in facing his or her problems. This form of counseling attempts to counteract isolation by assembling people with similar issues to enforce that difficulties are not singular to one person. Additionally, knowing other people with similar troubles can be comforting to individuals who may not have access in their own family and friends to people with the same problem.

Group counseling may be highly organized, with people doing specific activities together and then sharing the results. Alternately, it may be more freeform, where members share their current issues related to the group’s purpose. One person’s verbal contributions to a group might be discussed, validated, and provoke problem solving by other group members in a session. It might also be an entry into a discussion regarding a certain aspect of an illness or condition that is then primarily led by the therapist.

Different groups may also embrace different psychological schools of thought. For example, a Jungian-oriented group dealing with depression might evaluate symbols in dreams that could shed insight on each member’s condition. A Gestalt-oriented group might be encouraged to question a person’s motives and evaluate both verbal and body language. Confrontation in Gestalt therapy is considered a vital part of healing.

Some forms of group therapy take place in psychiatric hospitals. The success of such therapy often depends upon the diversity of people’s conditions. Other groups are more like Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and may not be counselor directed, but may merely be a number of people meeting to help find their way out of addiction.

Many large therapy businesses now offer group therapy as an alternative to private counseling. Such groups might address subjects like living with anxiety, parenting the special needs child, living with grief, or living with depression. Some people find the group counseling experience a better alternative than private therapy because it tends to cost less. Frequently, this form of counseling is covered by insurance, and many groups offer sliding scale fees for those without insurance.

The length of group therapy also varies. Some counseling groups take place for a defined period of time, while others are open-ended, allowing people to drop in as needed. Usually, more freeform groups are open to drop-ins, and they may last for an indefinite period of time. More organized groups can last for a specific period of time, and require materials, study books, or the like. These groups may require a time commitment and a payment upfront.

Not all group counseling efforts are completely successful. Occasionally, therapy suffers if a group is too large or small. It may also become problematic when one person appears to monopolize the group. Usually, the counseling works best when an experienced therapist can redirect a person who is sharing too much, and allow equal time for people to share their ideas, problems, or opinions.

People may vary in their need for therapy, and generally those who monopolize a group should not be looked down on but should be redirected to private counseling, where he or she can be the sole focus of attention. After some time in private sessions, a person may feel less need to monopolize a group session.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon926774 — On Jan 21, 2014

Could someone please categorize problems in counseling?

By CopperPipe — On Jul 24, 2010

Group counseling will often have a physical component as well -- there are a lot of different kinds of group therapy exercises, everything from icebreakers to trust building exercises.

It can be really helpful for those in counseling to have the physical touch and interaction that comes with some of these exercises.

By yournamehere — On Jul 24, 2010

@FirstViolin -- There are usually some standard questions, but it's not set in stone or anything.

First, the counselor would ask what kind of issues they are having, and how they think that group therapy could help them.

Then they would describe some common group counseling activities, and sound out the person's opinion on whether they think that would be helpful, or appropriate for them.

Finally, they would ask the person what level of support they feel that they need, and try to determine if a group would be able to provide that.

Although these are pretty common questions, it usually does come down to the counselor deciding or recommending a course of action -- these questions can just help them come to a decision.

By FirstViolin — On Jul 24, 2010

How do counselors determine if someone is suited for group counseling?

Are there some standard questions to ask, or is it usually a personal decision?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
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