When organizing and establishing group counseling platforms, certain issues are sure to come up which will continue to increase in degree depending on how large the counseling group is.
This is because the largeness of the group tells how dynamic the group will be and the diversity of personalities that will be brought to the group.
As much as these problems are inevitable, a lot can be done in preventing them from destroying the effectiveness of the group counseling activities and attainment of group counseling goals.
In this article, I’ll be highlighting 9 challenges or problems that come with group counseling and what can be done to address them. They were identified by Corey and Corey (1987).
Problems and Issues of Group Counseling
1. Silence and lack of participation
The strength and success of group counseling are in the quality of interactions that take place among group members.
Although progress can only be made with group members’ issues when they are active participants in the activities of the counseling group, there will still be cases of lack of participation and silence. This is the number one problem of group counseling.
Not only does this deprives the inactive member of the group’s benefits, but it also deprives other members of the similitude of society group counseling seeks to create.
The first step the counselor or leader of the counseling group should take in avoiding cases of silence is to ensure that all members give full consent to joining the group and even sign a consent form agreeing to be active.
Secondly, the group’s activities should be structured to give room for every member to participate e.g asking open-ended questions specific to individual members, giving them room to share opinions and insights, and ensuring the atmosphere is lightened/ not tensed up, so everyone feels comfortable to talk.
2. Monopolistic behavior
The second problem of group counseling is the rise of monopolistic behavior among some members. While on one end there are members who shrink in and become uninvolved in the group’s activities, there are those who take over the group.
This can also be a causal factor to the silence we saw earlier.
Monopolistic behavior in group counseling is when a group member tries to make all the activities of the group about themself.
They talk only about what they want, how they feel, why they came, the goals they seek, their preferences, their style of communication, and their needs are endless. They want every other member of the group to readjust and suit them.
This is destructive to group counseling and should be confronted.
Firstly they should be confronted and explained to, that the group is not centered on just them. They should also be monitored from time to time whenever they’re beginning to slip into monopoly because they most likely won’t stop after one conversation.
Another way to reduce monopoly is through the distribution of group roles so it is easily measurable when they begin to take up roles that are not theirs.
Similar to the effect that monopolistic behaviors have on group counseling is the next issue that comes with counseling groups, storytelling.
Some people can get so intoxicated about their situation that they begin to give unending stories and irrelevant details about their life.
Like someone trying to explain how she was raped by her husband going on to explain what and how she cooked the day before, how she took her bath and dressed up, how she walked to the room and met him sleeping before he woke up, and so on.
These details in no way provide value to the group and are not required in helping her overcome the trauma of rape. Instead, it takes time, bores other members, and reduces overall group efficiency.
Emphasis should be made by the group leader that stories should be tilted towards what the event made them feel rather than how the event took place. If it is explained at the initial stage of the group counseling and restated at the beginning of every session, it will be easier to call people back to order when they are telling stories without them picking offense and becoming silent.
Every group member should be brought to a point of mutual understanding of why stories aren’t necessary and counterproductive.
Another challenge that comes up in group counseling is the situation of a group member who takes up the role of interrogating others while they speak.
For example, when a group member is telling an account of a fight she had with her best friend, another group member can begin to interrupt intermittently, asking why she did what she did, how she felt, and what she was expecting the other person to do, if that was the first time she was doing such a thing and so on. Questioning is indeed a technique of counseling necessary to understand clients’ issues better and facilitate interaction but it can become discouraging when questions are used to hinder the flow of the person’s thoughts or to find fault in what they are doing.
As much as possible, every form of interruption while a person is speaking should be avoided. If the questions are truly necessary they should be suspended until they are done talking.
5. Advice Giving
Another problem that can arise in group counseling is when members take up the roles of advice-givers, wanting to always tell other group members what to do.
These people see themselves as being more enlightened than other members of the group and as knowing how to overcome the challenges other group members are facing.
This behavior will hinder the effectiveness of the group. In the first place, counseling is not advice-giving. It is a relationship that seeks to open the client to the options that exist before them so they can make their own decisions on what is best for them.
Even the counselor is not in a position of telling the client what to do or how to live their lives and no other group member should. The activities of the group should be structured in a way that all members see themselves as part of a community driving towards a common goal (overcoming a challenge) instead of attending a mentorship school.
Group members can share insight and tell what has worked for them but they shouldn’t tell people “stop listening to your wife” except when the person asks for advice.
6. Seductive behaviors
The display of seductive behaviors is another issue that can rise in group counseling. Seductive behaviors do not just cover behaviors that are targeted at eliciting sexual relationships, but also every form of manipulative behavior like sulking, trying to get sympathy, and excessive attention-seeking.
Some group members can become so quiet and refuse to talk just to get everyone constantly asking them what is wrong.
Most attention-seekers do not do it intentionally; it has become a part of their natural behavior that they will still do it even if confronted. For this reason, it would be important that the counselor has an individual session with the person once those attention-seeking behaviors are noticed to help them overcome them.
7. Feelings of superiority
Some members of counseling groups tend to believe that they are superior to other members and that they have more rights and more say in the group than other members.
This is another problem that has to be dealt with in group counseling. No member of the group, not even the group leader, is superior. All members have equal say and equal rights in the group and this must be clearly emphasized.
Whenever some members begin to feel and act superior, action should be taken by the group leader to curtail their activities while reminding them of the equal place they have just like everyone else.
Some displays of superiority include trying to direct group activities, relegating or shutting down other members who are perceived as inferior, coming late for sessions, and expecting not to be talked to.
Measures that can be taken against superiority in counseling groups include setting group rules that state the consequences of actions displaying superiority and stopping actions immediately after they occur.
While some group members show excessive strength and superiority, on the other end of the spectrum some group members can take on dispositions of weakness and refuse to take actions or decisions in the group.
This is another issue that comes up in group counseling. The equality of the group must be emphasized and this includes ensuring members do not play victims as much as others do not play superior.
Dependency is when certain group members rely on others to do simple tasks for them. It can get as bad as not answering questions and just saying “same as hers” after another group member has responded.
Specific roles should be assigned to group members who are highly dependent on others with no option of being assisted by others. Questions should be directed to them and everyone should wait until they answer.
The counselor should also have an individual session with them to train them to become less dependent because sometimes there might be an underlying issue causing it.
Band-aiding is finding a quick fix option to cover up problems instead of actually solving them. Because that is what some group members have been doing to issues in their lives before coming to the counseling group, they will most likely bring it over.
It is therefore on the counselor to be on the outlook for such options and refuse them, as group members will leave the group without experiencing any change.
If someone is experiencing excessive fear it is a band-aid to just encourage or motivate them to stop being afraid. The real solution is to find the root beliefs or thought patterns that are sponsoring that fear and address them.
The challenges that are associated with group counseling include lack of participation, monopolistic behaviors, excessive storytelling, questioning, advice-giving, seductive behavior, a feeling of superiority, dependency, and band-aiding.
These are not all the problems that must be addressed in group counseling but are the most common ones. The group leader is at the center of making sure these problems do not overwhelm the group by managing the group effectively.
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.