FAQ and Common Misconceptions about Group Counseling

How does group work?

While participating in group, people begin to see that they are not alone; that others share similar concerns and difficulties in life. Under the direction of skilled group leaders, the group is able to give support, offer alternatives, or gently confront group members. Through group interactions and group feedback, new insights are gained, alternative behaviors are explored, and new ways of relating to others can be tried. As a result, the original difficulties people brought to group become resolved.

What do I talk about in group?

Talk about what brought you into counseling. Let other group members know what is bothering you and what your goals are. If you need support, let the group know. If you think you need confrontation, let them know that too. It is important to tell the group what you expect of them and what you need from them. Unexpressed feelings are a major reason why people experience difficulties. The most appropriate disclosures will be those that relate directly to your present difficulty. It is important that you feel comfortable with your level of self-disclosure.

How often does group meet?

Most of the groups at the Counseling Center meet once a week for 90 minutes.

Can I do both group & individual counseling at the same time?

Yes. Combined group and individual counseling can help you maximize your growth by working on different goals in different methods of treatment. The insights gleaned from individual therapy can be turned into action in group. Consult with your counselor to see what’s best for you.

How long can I stay in group?

You can stay in group as long as you and the group leaders feel it is beneficial for you. Some members stay for a semester, while others stay for longer.

“I have so much trouble talking to people; I’ll never be able to share in group.”

Most people are initially anxious about talking in group. Almost without exception, within a few sessions, new members find that the group process draws them in and they begin to share with the group in ways they never anticipated.

“I will be pressured to share my deepest thoughts and feelings with the group.”

You control what, how much, and when you share with the group. We encourage you not to share what you are not ready to disclose. Many group members find that when the group feels safe enough to share what they are most apprehensive about, the group can be very helpful and affirming. At the same time, you can also be helped by listening to others and thinking about how their thoughts might apply to you.

“Group counseling is second-best to individual counseling.”

Group counseling is just as effective as individual therapy for various reasons. First, most members identify with concerns other members share and find they are helping themselves just by being present and processing the issues vicariously. Second, by listening, giving feedback, and engaging other group members, you may also be practicing new ways of interacting. It is a safe place to practice new behaviors or new ways of relating to others.  Third, group counseling offers the opportunity to get multiple perspectives and increased support from peers.

“Group counseling will take longer than individual counseling because I will have to share the time with others.”

Group counseling is often more efficient than individual counseling, for two reasons. First, you can benefit from the group even during sessions when you say little, but listen carefully to others. You will find that you have much in common with other group members, and as they work on a concern, you can learn more about yourself. Secondly, group members will often bring up issues that strike a chord with you, but you might not have been aware of, or brought up by yourself. Therefore, learning from others can be a powerful therapeutic experience and often enhances the work.

“I will be judged, criticized, or verbally attacked by the leaders and by other group members.”

It is very important that group members feel safe. Group leaders are there to create a safe environment for all involved. We understand that feedback is often difficult to hear, from leaders and members alike. As group members come to trust the group, they generally experience feedback, and even confrontation – as if it were coming from a good friend. One of the benefits of group therapy is the opportunity to receive feedback from others in a supportive environment. It is rare to find friends who will gently point out how you might be behaving in ways that hurt yourself or others, but this is precisely what group can offer. This will be done in a respectful, gentle way, so that you can hear it and make use of it.

Thanks to the American Group Psychotherapy Association– College Counseling Special Interest Group community, Scott Kaplan, PhD, for allowing us to incorporate their text into this page.