As a counselor, I think group counseling can be invaluable. Corey, Corey & Corey (2010) noted counseling groups can provide a short-term, valuable solution- focused approach that can be very helpful. For example, the researchers pointed out schools often integrate counseling groups for certain situations such as for the purpose of providing psychoeducation, or to help facilitate change through enhancing interpersonal skills. From my perspective, groups can also help its members by alleviating a sense of isolation and by promoting healing via group cohesion. For example, after our son's passing, my husband and I participated in a grief support group for four years. The experience allowed us to connect with other parents who had lost adult children, and other loved ones. The group became almost as a second family, a great source of comfort, and a way to help us reach closure. In addition, the grief support group provided an emotionally safe place to unleash painful feelings we otherwise might have kept bottled up, so to speak. It was actually in that group, that I first witnessed my husband of 16 years, cry. We also bonded with the other members who were struggling just as we were with loss. Group work proved to have quite a significant impact on our lives, as we began over time to embrace the hope that we would one day, develop the inner strength to finally accept our son's passing, and move on with courage. After several years, we did begin to let go little by little, and our grief seemed to lessen.
How group members benefit from group
Yalom & Lesczcz (2005) noted clinical populations within groups vary in terms of their therapeutic goals, and particular treatment settings. For example, a panic disorder group may, "emphasize different clusters of therapeutic factors" (p. 77), than a substance abuse group, for example. Members of the group will benefit depending upon the particular needs of the group, and the therapeutic factors they seek. For example, in an incest survivor group members may benefit from the cohesiveness provided within the group, as the researchers noted. The group cohesion is instrumental in setting the stage for the conditions needed for members to feel validated enough to express difficult feelings. For example, the researchers clarified an HIV positive man undergoing grief, found within a group, the strength to express emotions, but also identify meaning through the loss. The researchers explained individuals who express grief [in a support group] have a higher immune function, and longer life expectancy than those who suppress grief. The researchers asserted the primary family springs to life in group therapy, and the process can immerse members into delving into memories and feelings of the past. This process can have a powerful, and beneficial effect. For example, group members can relive family patterns (and experiences). As a result, group members may attempt to resolve family conflicts.
Yalom & Lesczcz (2005) further explained in terms of how group members may benefit from group work. The researchers pointed out in their study members of self-help groups, like my grief support group identified therapeutic factors of, "universality, followed by guidance, altruism, and cohesiveness" (p. 109) as factors they valued the most. I entered my grief support group with my husband as we had both experienced an existential crisis, and we were both forced to confront our own mortality head on. The researchers noted in their study, existential factors were relevant and valuable to group members. The value of the existential approach rests on the fact that it focuses on, "awareness of death, freedom, isolation, and life purpose" (p. 105). We confronted all of those areas, and continue to do so now, but we have also grown in self-understanding.
Why group work is emphasized in the professional literature.
Group work is emphasized in counseling literature for its effectiveness. For example, Stockton (2012) noted research demonstrated group counseling can be considered as effective as individual counseling. Tantum & Hyde's (2007) research emphasized the quality of group psychotherapy, and they noted assessing the training quality is as important as measuring the quality of treatment. Tantum & Hyde (2007) pointed out Hamilton et al. (1993) made available the first publication that addressed "quality assessment of group psychotherapy" (p. 378). The publication noted group therapy and treatment planning were integrated as well as documented. After observation, therapists who received low marks were provided further training. It is important to discuss the work of Hamilton et al. (1993) (as cited in Tantum & Hyde, 2007) as it sheds light on the development of group work, and we can understand how over time, that group work evolved to be as effective as individual counseling, and is today emphasized in the professional literature.
Other professional literature has emphasized group work among diverse groups. For example,
Dickey & Loewy (2010) in light of developing cultural competence in practice, explained the importance of the feminist, social justice, and multicultural approaches to group counseling among transgender individuals. Groups that serve the transgender population, in order to be effective, need to among other concerns, seek training and coursework in transgender issues. The researchers emphasized it is crucial for therapists undertaking group work with transgender individuals to have an understanding of the multitude of stressors confronting the transgender population. The focus in group work may be on developing social skills rather than addressing stressors. The reason why group work would be emphasized is because among this population, individual counseling may not always address their concerns. The researchers asserted transgender individuals are often misunderstood and stigmatized. In addition, transgender studies are still in the evolutionary stages. As a newly minted counselor, this information helps me understand the importance of continuing education in group work as research has demonstrated its effectiveness. Tantum & Hyde ( 2007) cited the Hamilton et al. (1993) study in which it was concluded certain therapist behaviors provided indications of high quality group therapy. Among the behaviors were listening and confirming understanding, providing feedback, and facilitating a supportive climate. Other high quality therapist behaviors included attending to non-verbal cues, and working in depth with reflection of feelings. Recently, during one of my recent group sessions, I learned a great deal about the value of empathy, and advanced empathy, as well as the effectiveness of immediacy in counseling. As a counselor, the demonstration of these skills in group and individual counseling will be key to my efficacy and the effectiveness of any group work I undertake.
Corey, M. S., Corey, G., & Corey, C. (2010). Groups: Process and practice (Laureate Education, Inc., custom ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.
Dickey, L. M., & Loewy, M. I. (2010). Group Work With Transgender Clients. Journal For Specialists In Group Work, 35(3), 236-245. doi:10.1080/01933922.2010.492904
Stockton, R. (2010). The art and science of group counseling [Commentary]. Journal for Specialists in Group Work, 35(4), 324–330.
Retrieved from the Walden Library databases.
Tantam, D., & Hyde, K. (1998). What student psychotherapists want from an experiential group.European Journal of Psychotherapy, Counselling & Health, 1(3), 377–393.
Retrieved from the Walden Library databases.
Yalom, I. D., & Leszcz, M. (2005). Theory and practice of group psychotherapy (5th ed.). New York, NY: Basic Books.