The Kalamazoo College Counseling Center offers groups to meet the mental health needs of students. Groups may either be open, allowing for anyone in the student body to participate at any given time, or closed. Closed groups are filled by referral from Counseling Center clinicians and are designed to run with a set group of students for a particular length of time.
Group Counseling: Frequently Asked Questions
What is group counseling?
Group counseling provides a supportive environment to discuss problems and concerns and to work toward your goals. In group counseling, approximately 5-10 students meet with a trained group counselor(s), typically once a week for 50 minutes. Group members talk about a variety of issues, common themes include wanting to learn how to change their thinking, feelings, and/or behavior in order to feel better about themselves and their relationships and to learn to cope more effectively with life. Group members also provide feedback to other group members, including expressing feelings about what someone says or does.
Why am I being referred to group instead of individual counseling and how does group work?
Group referrals are made when the counselor feels the person’s needs would be better served in a group atmosphere. Sometimes this stems from matching a specific concern (e.g., depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, etc.) with a theme-oriented group designed specifically to address this problem. In fact, group is the optimal treatment modality for individuals dealing with relationship concerns and those who have general difficulties dealing with other people. A group is the most direct way to provide the type of contact needed to work through these types of issues. The group is able to give support, offer alternatives, or gently confront the person in such a way that the difficulty becomes resolved and new behaviors are learned. People in a group begin to see they are not alone or entirely unique in their problems. It is encouraging to hear that others have similar difficulties and have worked through similar problems. Through helping others, one also learns about, and helps oneself.
What do I actually do in group?
Letting the group know why you initially came to the Counseling Center and sharing what you hope to gain from the group is a good place to start. Group is not a place where people are forced to tell their most deep and innermost thoughts. You are ultimately the person responsible for how much you share. You will probably be most helped and satisfied if you talk about your feelings. Unexpressed feelings are a major reason why people experience difficulties and the group can be a safe place for you to explore you inner feelings, whether they be hurt, anger, confusion, joy or excitement. Co-leaders and other group members can help you be more honest with yourself and others as you explore these feelings.
I can’t imagine what it would be like to tell a room of people about my problems. Aren’t people too afraid or uncomfortable to really talk in group?
Trusting is a process that develops as group members take risks and share about themselves. It helps to remember that groups are usually small, 5-10 people, and that other group members may be struggling with some of the same concerns as you. Letting the group know you are uncomfortable can be a first step. What is asked is that you make a commitment to being in group and that you be willing to open up, as you feel comfortable. Group trust is enhanced when all members make a commitment to the group. Groups experience difficulty when a person either holds out from making a commitment via frequent absences or tardiness, for example.
If I do share personal information with the group, how can I trust that it will be kept confidential?
The issue of confidentiality is important and addressed in the first group session and reiterated over the course of the group experience. Group members are asked to make a commitment to protect each other’s confidentiality by agreeing not to divulge details that would identify others outside of group. While we at the Counseling Center cannot provide you an absolute guarantee of confidentiality since we cannot control every group member, our experience shows that group members respect each other’s privacy because they want their privacy respected just as much as you do.
What will be expected of me?
Each group may establish its own ground rules, but there are some general guidelines:
- We ask that you give group a chance, but if you decided group isn’t appropriate for you, please discuss your concerns with the group facilitators.
- It is your responsibility to talk about your reasons for being in the group and to let the group know what you expect from them.
- You are expected to respect the confidentiality of group members by not disclosing information they share outside of the group.
- If you are going to miss a session, please let the group facilitators know.
What is the role of the group facilitators?
Group facilitators encourage group members to interact with each other. They may point out common themes, give feedback to individuals or the group as a whole, or offer support or confrontation as needed. They try to provide enough structure so the group doesn’t flounder, but enough freedom so the group accepts responsibility for itself. The facilitators make an effort to create a safe environment where members can be themselves.
If you have questions about the group, please raise them with your counselor during the referral process or during the group meetings.
Adapted from the University Counseling Center at Virginia Commonwealth University, the Center for Counseling and Student Development at the University of Delaware and Bowling Green State University