Each academic year the Counseling Center offers group counseling to undergraduate and graduate students. Group counseling involves one or two counselors of the Counseling Center and a small number of participants, usually 6-10, who meet together weekly to talk about their struggles and problems. These groups can take a variety of forms. Some focus on a specific topic or problem, while others address a number of different concerns.
What makes group counseling work?
When people come into a group and interact freely with other group members, they tend to recreate those difficulties that brought them to counseling in the first place. Under the skilled leadership of the group counselors, the group is able to give support, offer alternatives, or gently confront the individual. In this way, the difficulty is resolved, alternative behaviors are learned, and the individual develops new social skills or ways of relating to people. Group counseling has been found to be a very effective means of treatment and, in some cases, the best form of treatment for a particular individual or a particular type of concern. Many individuals feel that they are different because of their problems and it is often encouraging to hear that others face similar difficulties. Similarly, during group counseling, individuals begin to see that they are not alone.
“I will be forced to tell all of my deepest thoughts and feelings to the group.” You control what, how much and when you share with the group. Most individuals find that they feel safe enough to share their concerns with the group, and a group can be very helpful and affirming. We encourage you not to share what you are not ready to disclose. Listening to others may also help, as some of what they say might also apply to you.
“Group Counseling will take longer than individual counseling because I will have to share the time with others.” Group counseling can often be more efficient than individual counseling. As a participant in group you can benefit from the group even during sessions when you say little, but listen carefully to others. You will often find that you have a lot in common with other group members and as they work on a concern you might learn more about yourself and be able to apply that information to your own situation.
“Group counseling is second-best to individual counseling.” If group counseling is recommended to you, it is because a counselor believes that it is an effective method to address your concerns. Individuals are not referred to group counseling because we don’t have space in individual counseling or because we want to save time.
“I have difficulty talking to people, I’ll never be able to share in a group.” Most individuals are anxious about the idea of sharing with a group. Typically within a few sessions, participants find that they do feel comfortable talking in the group. Becoming comfortable speaking with others in a safe, group setting may help your relationships with others, and benefit other aspects of your life as well.
- Learn more about how you are perceived by others
- Experience a sense of acceptance and belonging
- Discover that you are not alone in the difficulties you are experiencing.
- Hear ideas from others which enhance your ability to make decisions and solve problems
- Benefit from the experience of being helpful to others
- Learn to constructively express your feelings and ideas to others
- Gain encouragement by observing the successes of others
What about confidentiality?
The responsibility for confidentiality is shared among the group leader(s) and all group members. Virginia law requires that group leaders keep all client communications and information confidential. Every participant of each group at the Counseling Center is required to sign an agreement to adhere to these rules of confidentiality. In signing this agreement group members make a personal pledge that nothing occurring in the group, including names of other group members, will be shared with anyone outside of the group. These rules are critical to the development of a safe, respectful, and trusting atmosphere which allows individuals to openly share their feelings.