Group counseling sessions can take varying forms depending on the preferred style of the group therapist and the peculiarities of the group. Group counseling sessions can either be homogeneous or heterogeneous.
Homogeneous therapy groups are groups where all clients have similar issues that need to be addressed while heterogeneous therapy groups consist of group members with varying needs and issues to be addressed.
In this article, I’ll be focusing on heterogeneous therapy groups, their definition, characteristics, advantages, and disadvantages.
What Is A Heterogeneous Therapy Group
A heterogeneous therapy group consists of at least one professional therapist or counselor as well as several group members with divergent issues that need to be addressed.
Characteristics of Heterogeneous Therapy Group
- Presence of at least one professional therapist or counselor
- Presence of a minimum of four group members (which can be as many as 12)
- Group members possess divergent backgrounds and issues
Advantages of Heterogeneous Group Therapy
1. Heterogeneous group therapy provides a perfect representation of society
One of the goals of group therapy is to provide a simulation of real life where every client gets to relate with people with different backgrounds, personalities, and perspectives so that the skills they develop in the therapy sessions are practiced in relating with members before they go into society. Heterogeneous counseling groups make this very possible.
Unlike homogeneous groups where members can easily relate to the mindset and challenges of other members, in heterogeneous groups every member must meet people who most likely have never had the experiences they are having. Now, that is what is truly obtainable in society.
2. Group members get divergent perspectives about their issues
Heterogeneous therapy groups provide group members with the opportunity of having people who aren’t going through their issues give them a different perspective on the issue.
For instance, one who is struggling with making friends and is placed in the same counseling group as one who makes friends easily can get the perspective of the latter on the challenges stopping them from making friends.
This change of perspective can be the solution that person needs, unlike a homogeneous group where it is mostly the therapist who brings a divergent perspective.
3. It is easier to find group members
One challenge group therapists face when trying to set up a homogeneous counseling group is finding people with similar issues. If you take a random sample of 4 people from any population, there is a slim chance that four of them need help in similar areas. So forming a homogeneous therapy group would be difficult.
For heterogeneous groups, on the other hand, less effort is needed to find group members.
4. Provides a greater avenue to develop interpersonal skills
Because the group members in the heterogeneous therapy group have different backgrounds, personalities, and perspectives, apart from the issues individual group members come to address they also get to develop relevant skills to successfully relate with other group members.
This is not the case with homogeneous groups where members have many things in common. Members of heterogeneous groups will need to learn how to express themselves and convey their intention in understandable terms to other group members as well as learn to keep up with their personalities.
5. It is effective when there’s a shortage of resources to cater to a large population
If a group of 20 people needs counseling on a diverse range of issues, dividing them into homogeneous groups will require more resources of office spaces, counselors, or time.
But if there are not enough resources, if there’s not so much time, no extra offices, and just one counselor available (e.g in a school setting), opting for a heterogeneous counseling group will still avail every group member the opportunity of receiving therapy.
Disadvantages of Heterogeneous Group Counseling
1. No intensive focus on individual issues
Because there are several issues to be addressed in a heterogeneous counseling group, the group therapist cannot dwell so much on one issue because it will lead to boredom or lack of participation for group members who have no idea or interest in the issue being addressed.
On the contrary, homogeneous groups help group members dig deeper into their issues because if there is a grey area a member is unable to express, another will since they’re all going through similar issues.
Because of this surface-level approach heterogeneous groups take, it is more likely for members to leave dissatisfied.
2. High chances of lack of participation
Even though group therapists try to spread thin and satisfy everybody, some people will still be left out. Some group members might consider their issues to be inconsequential when they hear that of others and refuse to speak. Others might think they’ll be judged or their problems are intense.
Lack of participation is one of the major problems of group counseling that the group leader must be on the constant lookout for but it is almost inevitable in heterogeneous group counseling.
3. Gross personality differences
One of the benefits that come from a homogeneous group apart from the fact that members are facing similar issues is that they have similarities in personalities. This is so because certain issues are prevalent among individuals with certain personalities e.g depression is more common among introverts.
The differences in personalities prevalent in heterogeneous groups usually lead to much time spent trying to understand each other and overlook behavioral differences and so on. There are also varying communication styles leading to more conflicts.
4. Demands a highly-skilled counselor
Not every therapist can handle heterogeneous counseling groups. Because of the complexities of trying to handle diverse issues at the same time, diverse personalities, and even the demands of group counseling itself, it takes a therapist who is skilled specifically in group counseling to handle it.
In many situations, finding a skilled group counselor might take a little more searching and settling for just any counselor reduces the effectiveness of the entire process.
5. Absence of group empathy and free communication
On one end, having group members who aren’t going through the issues you are going through will help you see things in a new light but on the other end, it can make you feel weird.
Someone who is a compulsive attention seeker in a group where there are no attention seekers will begin to feel like a bad person and draw back from disclosing more about himself. This stops him from receiving help in the end.
There’s a sense of belongingness that comes from having people who can relate to your pain.
Heterogeneous group counseling is best done when there are not enough resources for a homogeneous group or when there is no need for intensive therapeutic attention. However, under whichever condition, group therapists can make heterogenous group counseling very effective with more intentionality.
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.