Frequently Asked Questions about Group Counseling

What is group therapy?

Group therapy is one of the many forms of treatment offered in the Student Counseling Center. In group therapy, approximately 10 people meet face-to-face with trained group therapists. Interaction between group members is encouraged and provides each person an opportunity to learn more about the way they interact with others, and to try out new ways of behaving. Group members give feedback to each other by expressing their feelings about what someone says or does.

Why does group therapy work?

One advantage of group therapy is that people begin to see that they are not alone. Many people feel they are unique because of their problems, and it is encouraging to hear that other people have similar difficulties. In the climate of trust provided by the group, people feel free to care about and help each other.
Another benefit of group therapy is that group members have the opportunity to learn a great deal about how they come across to each other. You will be encouraged to challenge yourself, to look at your reactions, and to understand more fully who you are as a social being and as an individual. Group therapy provides a special opportunity for you to learn about your interpersonal style, try on new behaviors, and get honest and direct feedback about how you are coming across.

What do I talk about when I am in group therapy?

Talk about what brought you to the counseling center in the first place. Tell the group members what is bothering you. If you need support, let the group know. If you think you need to be challenged, let them know this also. It is very important to tell people what you expect of them. Some types of groups focus on a particular problem that you might be experiencing, while others are more general in nature. Groups will sometimes focus on providing information and education, but all groups provide an excellent opportunity for interpersonal growth.
Unexpressed feelings are a major reason why people experience difficulties. Revealing your feelings – self-disclosure – is an important part of group and affects how much you will be helped. How much you talk about yourself depends upon what you are comfortable with. Group is not a place where people are forced to tell their most deep and innermost thoughts. You are ultimately responsible for how much you share. As you experience trust and security in the group, you will feel freer to take risks. You need to determine how active and involved you want to be. Being active means expressing your reactions to what another person is saying or doing, sharing your concerns, listening to another person, asking for clarification when you don’t understand, giving support and comfort, and seeking support for yourself. Sometimes you may feel more reflective than active and prefer to listen and to consider new dimensions of your personality.

What are the ground rules for my participation in group?

Confidentiality: All group therapy sessions are confidential. Group facilitators are bound legally and ethically to not disclose the contents of group sessions. Group members are asked to sign a “Group Agreements” form in which they agree to maintain the confidentiality of the group. As a member of the group, you are welcome to share with others in your life information about your participation in group. But, you are asked to refrain from mentioning any information about other group members, as this could compromise their confidentiality.
Safety: If group members discuss safety risks or concerns in group (e.g., suicidal thoughts, self-injury, abuse), group facilitators are obligated to follow up to ensure that group members can maintain safety. Further questions may be asked in the group to conduct a proper assessment and allow the group to provide support to members.
Attendance: Group members are expected to attend group each week, be on time, and stay the entire time. If a member needs to miss a group, he or she should let the group facilitators know. A minimum commitment of three sessions is required to begin group. That way, members will get a chance to see how group works and how it can be beneficial to them. There is no maximum amount of group sessions that members can participate in.
Participation: It is up to each individual member to determine their level of participation and disclosure in the group. No one will ever force a member to disclose information. If a member is not comfortable discussing a topic or answering a question posed by the group, he or she can simply let the group know.
Member Relationships: Group members are asked to refrain from having social relationships outside of group. This is done in order to avoid any circumstances that might adversely affect group dynamics (e.g., subsets of members being closer and knowing information about each other that the rest of the group does not). It also serves as a protection for group members so that they do not feel pressured to provide support to group members outside of group time.
Please note that ground rules may be changed/added depending upon the type of group members are involved in.
For additional information, please reference “Group Agreements”  which are provided when you sign up for a specific group. 

Common misperceptions about group therapy

“Group counseling is not as good as individual counseling.”
Individual and group counseling have different benefits and help people in different ways. Research has shown that group participants are equally, if not more, satisfied than people who participate in individual therapy. While neither form is inherently better than the other, there are some struggles that are better suited for group counseling, such as developing communication skills, getting interpersonal feedback, obtaining social support, and understanding relationship patterns. If you have been referred to group, it is because your clinician believes it is the best way to address your concerns. People are not put into group therapy just to save time or because there’s no space for individual therapy.
“It’s so hard for me to talk to people I don’t know. I’ll never be able to share in group.”Most people are anxious about being in group and sharing information about themselves, and group can feel awkward at first because it’s a new experience. But within a few sessions, most members find that they want to share with the group. Even the most private or shy people find that group is a place where they can trust others.
“Group therapy will take longer than individual therapy because I have to share the time with others.”
Actually, group therapy is often more efficient than individual therapy. You can benefit from group sessions just by listening to others. You’ll find that you have things in common with other group members, and as they work on a concern, you can learn about yourself. Also, in group, the bulk of the work is done by the participants, not the facilitator(s), so you can gain a great deal of benefit from your peers.
“I’ll be forced to talk when I don’t want to.”
Participants are often encouraged by other members and facilitators to share their observations, reactions, and experiences in a way that is comfortable and supportive. If you don’t feel comfortable talking in the group, you can share this preference with facilitators and/or other members. In group, even individuals who don’t feel ready to participate can benefit. It can allow time to observe and reflect, which can be helpful tools in and of themselves.
“Other people in the group will be confrontational and overly aggressive.”
Although there are plenty of stereotypes from movies and television of group members throwing things or storming out of the room, this behavior rarely happens. Group members are encouraged ahead of time to put their feelings into words instead of actions, so that they can help others understand them and learn effective means of communication. Also, facilitators are responsible for making sure that all members feel safe in the group; therefore, they would step in if any member felt attacked in any way.

Information was adapted from “Myths about Group Counseling”, DePaul University Counseling Services