Frequently Asked Questions about Group Counseling
Students often come to the UCS with problems that are most effectively addressed in group counseling. These groups are free, unlimited, and open to all university enrolled students. Information below will help you better understand group counseling and how it can help you work through your concerns.
How does group counseling work?
One of the major ways that group counseling can be helpful to you is that it can replicate the ways you interact in your everyday life. Group members and leaders can also give feedback about how they perceive you and offer alternative ways of behaving in order to help you interact more productively. Groups are able to provide support, offer alternatives, or gently confront group members in such a way that difficulties can be resolved and new behaviors learned. Often people in group counseling begin to feel less isolated in dealing with their problems. It can be very encouraging to hear that others have worked through similar problems.
How do I join a group?
If you’re interested in possibly joining a group, you need to schedule a group screening appointment. The meeting can be 30 minutes or an hour long. During this appointment, the group leader and you will decide if group counseling is a good fit for your needs. You may be referred to a group screening appointment during your initial consultation appointment, or you can just call UCS and schedule a screening with the leader of the group you’re interested in.
How do I know if group counseling is right for me?
The counselor during your initial consultation appointment will help you to decide whether group is appropriate for you. If so, you will be referred to the group leader for a group screening.
How many group members are in one group?
Group counseling involves 4-8 students, meeting with 1-2 trained counselor(s), typically once a week for 90 minutes.
What is discussed in group counseling?
Group members talk about a variety of issues including exploring relationships, improving self-esteem, and enhancing coping skills. Group members share information about themselves and provide feedback to others while group leaders facilitate productive communication in the group. Problems discussed in group counseling are wide ranging. These problems include, but are not limited to, social anxiety, problems in maintaining intimate relationships, general anxiety, depression, eating problems, low self-esteem, and difficulties with grief or loss.
What issues are groups effective in treating?
Groups counseling is helpful for almost all individuals. It can be especially helpful for people who have concerns about relationships. Some common concerns of group members include loneliness or isolation, shyness, over-dependence in relationships, superficial relationships and/or a lack of intimacy, frequent disagreements with others, discomfort in social situations, difficulty trusting others, being easily hurt or offended, needing a lot of reassurance from others, and fear of being left or abandoned. Group therapy is the treatment of choice for several other concerns as well. There is evidence for the effectiveness of group treatment for the following issues:
- Anxiety and Panic
- Chronic Pain and Illness
- Eating Disorders
- Social Anxiety and other Interpersonal Problems
- Substance Abuse
- Traumatic Experiences
What are the goals and gains of group therapy?
People who participate in counseling groups benefit in many ways. You will develop your own personal goals, but below are listed typical goals and outcomes of group therapy at UCS.
What would I actually do in group?
Letting the group know why you initially came to the UCS and sharing what you hope to gain from the group is a good place to start. If you need support, let the group know. If you think that you need to be challenged, let the group know that, too. It is sometimes helpful to think of the group as a laboratory in which you can experiment with new ways of thinking, feeling, and relating to others. Coming to group with a willingness to talk about your feelings, will increase the gains you can get from group. Unexpressed feelings are a major reason that people experience difficulties. Group leaders and group members can help you become more honest with yourself and others as you explore your feelings and life experiences. How much you choose to talk about yourself is up to you. However, we have found that people who benefit most from group take responsibility for making the group work by sharing their concerns and speaking up when they have reactions to issues or to other individuals in the group.
How do I make the most of group therapy?
- Attend regularly. In joining the group, you have made a commitment to the other group members as well as to yourself.
- See group as a laboratory. Make the group part of your life. Don’t think of group as something that happens once a week and then forget about it in between. Between group sessions, think about what happened in group and about how you felt during and after group, and try to figure out why you had those feelings. You may set goals in group for the time between groups. Group can help you become more accountable for working toward your goals.
- Take responsibility for your counseling and your group. It’s your group, so if it is not moving in the direction you want, say so.
- Participate actively. You will make more progress if you get actively involved in the group discussions.
- Experiment with new forms of behavior. Until you begin to act differently, you likely won’t see much, if any, change.
- Take some emotional risks in group. It is structured to be safe and supportive.
- Be as honest and open as you are able in group. It allows other group members to get to know who you really are and to connect with you in a more genuine way
- Speak in the first person. This makes what you say much more personal and powerful.
- Accept responsibility for your own experience and allow other to be responsible for theirs. Don’t foster dependency by assuming responsibility for others in the group.
- Learn to listen to others attentively before you respond. If you are formulating your response while someone else is speaking, you are not really hearing what is being said.
- Learn to differentiate between thoughts and feelings…when you say “I feel that…”, or “I feel like…,” you are moving away from expressing feelings to expressing thoughts.
- Be honest and direct with your feelings in group in the present moment, especially your feelings toward group members and the leaders.
- Be spontaneous. Often we wait our turn to speak, try to be polite, or think about what we want to say for so long that the moment to say it has passed.
- Be specific and direct with your feedback. Phrase your feedback so it is about your experience of the other person, and not a judgment of how they are. Share both positive and negative.
- Avoid giving telling others what they should or shouldn’t do. Don’t try to solve other members’ problems for them.
- Don’t blame or judge others. Be respectful, even when you don’t agree with a person’s position or behavior.
- Ask for feedback when you need it, seek clarification and avoid becoming defensive or making excuses.
How can I trust that what I say will be kept confidential?
Groups are private and confidential; that is, what members disclose in sessions is not shared outside of the group. The meaning and importance of confidentiality are reviewed with group members at the first meeting and every time a new member joins the group. Group members are asked to make a commitment to protect each other’s confidentiality by agreeing not to divulge information that would identify other members outside of group
Will I have enough time to work on my issues in group?
Each group usually finds its own way of negotiating how group time is used. Typically a group will begin with a “check-in” so that group members have an opportunity to summarize how they’re doing and/or request speaking time during that session. We have found that group members who are able to request time as needed are most likely to benefit from group. Group members can also benefit from hearing other people work through and discuss their issues.
Aren't people too afraid to really talk in group?
When you meet people for the first time, it is hard to know what to say and how much to trust. Trust is a process that develops over time as group members take risks and share about themselves. It helps to remember that groups are usually small (4-8 people) and that other group members may be struggling with some of the same concerns as you are. Letting the group know you are uncomfortable can be a first step. What is asked is that you make a commitment to being in the group and that you be willing to open up as you feel comfortable.
What is the role of the group leaders?
Group leaders have expertise in group counseling and in the specific focus of the group (e.g., social anxiety). The role of the group leaders is to facilitate productive, respectful communication within the group. To do this, they will encourage group members to interact with one another. Group leaders may point out common themes, give feedback to individuals or the group as a whole, or offer support or challenge as needed. They also try to provide enough structure so that the group doesn’t get stuck, but enough freedom so the group accepts responsibility for itself. The leaders respect the confidentiality of the group and make every effort to create a safe environment.
Will other group members be like me?
Within any group, there are bound to be similarities and differences among people, both of which can be helpful in making progress on your goals. If a group has a particular theme (e.g., eating disorders), members will likely be similar in certain ways. Other groups may be more dissimilar. The UCS has a strong commitment to meeting the needs of diverse people. In all individual, program, and group services, we strive to create an environment where all people feel welcome. As a staff we attempt to facilitate mutual respect and understanding among people of diverse racial, ethnic, national, and cultural backgrounds, sexual/affectional orientation, mental and physical disabilities, language, religion/spiritual beliefs, as well as other types of diversity.
What are the different types of groups?
There are interpersonal process groups, psychoeducational skills groups, support groups, and clinical workshops. Each type of group has different focus. Information listed on this page primarily focuses on interpersonal process groups.
Support groups are based on a certain theme such as such as family of origin concerns, international student support group, GLBT support, or dissertation support. Groups also decide whether they are open and allow members to come and go as they please or whether they require a commitment to group and close after a certain number of members is reached. Some groups specify a certain length of meeting time (e.g., 6-12 weeks), and others can be ongoing for semesters or years. Finally, group leaders may provide planned activities and educational materials, or they may allow the group to decide how to use its time each week.
How many groups are available every semester?
The number of groups available every semester is different. Generally, there are about 15-25 groups available during the fall and spring semesters, while in the summer we typically offer 2-5 group opportunities.
How often do groups meet?
Groups meet weekly. Each group is scheduled for a particular day of the week and time of the day that is set for the duration of the group. Typically, group sessions last for 90 minutes, 8 – 14 weeks per semester.
Is there a limit to the number of counseling group sessions I can have?
There is no limit on group sessions. We hope you will utilize our group program as much as you would need.
What if group counseling is not helping me?
We ask that you commit to attending at least four sessions to give group counseling experience a chance and time to help you. Discuss your concerns with the leader(s) of the group. If you continue to feel that your needs are not met, we can work with you to discuss other options.
What are some groups offered OUTSIDE of the UCS?
The information will be updated soon.
What are the MYTHS about group counseling?
That’s one of the common misunderstandings about group therapy:
“Group therapy will take longer than individual therapy, because I will have to share the time with others.” - Group therapy can actually be more efficient than individual therapy for two reasons. First, you can benefit from the group even during sessions when you say little by listening 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. Second, group members will often bring up issues that strike a chord with you, but which you might not have been aware of or brought up yourself.
“I will be forced to tell all of my deepest thoughts, feelings and secrets to the group.” - No one will force you to do anything in group counseling. You decide what, how much, and when you share with the group. No one will force you to share what you are not ready to disclose. You can be helped by listening to others and thinking about how what they are saying might apply to you. When you feel safe enough to share what is troubling you, the group will likely be very helpful and affirming.
“I have so much trouble talking to people, I’ll never be able to share in a group.” - Many people are a bit anxious about being able to talk in group. Almost without exception, within a few sessions people find that talking in the group has become easier and actually beneficial. Group members remember what it is like to be new to the group, so you will get a lot of support for beginning to talk in the group.