Group counseling and therapy groups are increasingly being embraced in our society. This is evidenced by the rise of various support groups of people with similar challenges charting a course to freedom together.
But is group counseling simply a choice people opt in for when they don’t have anything else to do? Or are there specific advantages that come with group counseling that cannot be gotten through individual therapy?
I have identified 10 importance and 7 goals unique to group counseling or therapy.
10 Importance of Group Counseling
Here are some advantages of group counseling:
Therapy groups create a sense of belonging among members
The first and most obvious advantage of group counseling over individual counseling is the sense of belonging it creates for members.
Rather than sitting with a counselor and feeling that you are so weird and unfortunate to be going through your issues, a counseling group allows you to see other people who have similar challenges and are seeking the transformations you desire.
This sense of belonging is therapy on its own. It saves you from self-hatred and negative self-talk, then it encourages you to continue on the path toward freedom.
Counseling groups create a support system for members
Rather than just having to rely on your therapist and yourself for support, as the intervention goes on, group counseling gives you a community.
It provides a family who understands your challenges and is willing to stand by you and provide assistance in ways they can.
This is different from the sense of belonging because it is possible to know that you are not alone in challenges and yet not have the people present with you.
Having a support system increases the speed with which you adjust to the changes therapy seeks to effect in your behavior or mindset.
Group therapy gives a deeper understanding of members’ issues
When you are the only one with your counselor in an individual session, all the information available about your challenges is all you can provide.
This means that your inability to express your feelings and thoughts fluently will affect your therapist’s appraisal of the issue. This further affects the quality of help they can render to you.
But with group therapy, other members of the group will point out difficulties they are also facing that you didn’t remember to mention. They also bring up the events and situations that trigger behaviors in them that might contrast with yours.
All of these back-and-forths give every member of the group, including the group counselor or group leader, deeper insight into the issues which brings about quicker and more holistic solutions.
Group counseling gives each member new perspectives
Our view of life is dependent on our belief systems and experiences. All you can know can only be deduced from all you have heard and seen. This includes all you know about your challenges.
However, in group therapy, you are allowed to hear about the experiences and belief systems of others.
From this, you begin to find gaps in your mindset and trains of thought that might be making your issues worse. You also see gaps in people’s knowledge giving a new perspective on how far you have come in overcoming your issues.
The goal of group therapy is not to compare yourself with others, but to see your differences and uniqueness can give you a new perspective on life that will improve other areas of your life.
Group counseling is cost-effective
Group therapy sessions are generally cheaper than individual counseling sessions. This is logical enough because your therapist gets to spend the same amount of time with everyone they would have spent with just one client.
Although reducing cost is not the primary purpose of group counseling, persons who do not have the financial ability for individual therapy sessions can take advantage of it rather than being deprived of help.
On average, individual therapy costs $70-$150 while group therapy costs $30-$80.(1)
Therapy groups aid in self-discovery
As you kind of “forcefully” have to relate with the members of the group and share experiences, you begin to discover things about yourself that you never knew. For instance, you may discover you can understand someone’s feelings better than others.
You will also understand your personality better and know why you act the way you do. Or discover the kind of relationships and environment where you thrive best.
All these discoveries will make you better adjusted to society after you leave the group therapy sessions.
And they wouldn’t have come if it were just you and a therapist in an individual session because there is less dynamism and fewer perspectives.
Counseling groups provide accountability for members
It is not uncommon to see counseling groups that are broken into subgroups and members of each subgroup are asked to look out for each other.
They also serve as accountability partners to each other to ensure that they keep up with assignments, and do not return to stimulating environments or revisit bad habits.
They can also encourage each other whenever one doesn’t feel like going for a therapy session or feels they are not making any progress.
This of course is not possible in individual counseling sessions where counseling ethics demand the therapist to minimize outside-session relationships with the client as much as possible. Accountability makes therapy more productive and is a win for every member of the group.
Group therapy creates an avenue to develop new relationships
It is no doubt that several people lack close friends and acquaintances. One of the reasons this is so is that they don’t find people they can connect with or people who relate to their experiences.
Being in a therapy group, however, breaks this divide because all members of the group already have some meeting points that can be the spark of a great friendship afterward.
Group therapy helps members develop social skills
Similar to not finding the right people, another reason why people find it difficult to make friends is that they lack social skills.
But social skills can only be developed through practice. When members join counseling groups, they have no option but to relate to the members and the skills continue to develop.
This would have not been the case if they were left in society because they will be avoiding social situations, claiming they don’t have social skills.
Therapy groups give members an avenue to find their voice
One of the characteristics of group therapy is that every member gets to talk, answer questions, and express their feelings. This avenue becomes especially useful to people who haven’t had the opportunity to speak while others listen.
As they continue to do this, they begin to become more comfortable with talking i.e they find their voice. This skill can up their game in their career and generally improve their life. It is one of those hidden benefits of group counseling.
7 Goals of Group Counseling/Therapy
Having seen some of the advantages that come to clients for being members of a counseling group, here are the goals of group counseling that the group leader must intentionally work toward.
To enhance problem-solving skills
A therapy group creates a similitude of society where the members meet people with different personalities and perspectives.
This certainly will give rise to conflicts (one of the problems of group counseling) and demand conflict resolution. When members continue to stay in such an environment they develop problem-solving skills.
They also acquire the skills from watching how the group therapist and other members dissect problems in getting to their root causes. The counselor must consciously see that every member’s problem-solving skills improve.
To understand problems and explore possible solutions
Group counseling is a better platform to deeply examine an issue than individual counseling. As we saw while considering the advantages of group counseling, it provides several perspectives and different experiences around the issues at the table which gives a more holistic view.
The quality of solutions being provided will also be proven because they are adjusted to work for every member of the group, not just one client. The counselor must be intentional about this and tailor all activities toward understanding problems and finding solutions.
To improve clients’ comfort level in the group
The next goal of group counseling is to increase the comfort level of members in the group. When the group members are apprehensive and not true to themselves in the group, every activity done within the group will not serve its purpose.
The group therapist right from the first session must work toward making every member feel accepted and safe. They should be assured they are in a place where they are understood and valued.
To increase openness in the group
Openness will be a natural result of the feeling of comfort, value, and acceptance in the group. Openness is necessary for everyone’s issues and experiences to be understood.
Group members shouldn’t just give an overview of their concerns; the more detailed they are, the better.
Openness is also needed in relating with other members of the group. No one should hide their disagreement with another member’s viewpoint or leave grievances unexpressed and unresolved.
To increase observation and feedback skills
In every counseling group, group members get to pay attention to other members while they tell their stories. They make inferences and deductions from them and also get a chance to give feedback on what they have noticed.
This cultivates in them observation and feedback skills that are also needed outside therapy.
To develop self-awareness
Except for heterogeneous counseling groups where members’ needs are different, typical group counseling gives members the platform to understand themselves by hearing from and about others.
Since they see people going through similar challenges like them, they can look at their situation from a third-person perspective and appraise it without bias.
The therapy group, therefore, serves as a self-mirroring environment.
To improve interpersonal relationship
The last goal of group counseling is to improve the international interpersonal relationship skills of clients. The group members should learn to maintain healthy relationships with others, handle rejection or perceived rejection, overcome social anxiety and learn to love their style of interaction.
A Word From Olusegun
While group counseling cannot serve as an absolute substitute for individual counseling— that is not its goal, it can create a great platform for group members to practice the skills they learn while still learning.
Olusegun Iyejare is a career coach and certified counselor. He helps individuals discover and maximize their potential to live satisfying lives regardless of obvious limitations holding them back.