People are programmed to work and live in groups. Sure, we all need our individual space, but survival depends on being part of a clan. People that live well form attachments and know how to ask for help and provide support to those that they are called upon to care for. I have conducted group work in my counseling office for many years. The purpose of these groups are diverse. Some are to help develop social skills, some are designed to help members learn to overcome challenges of a developmental nature, while others are geared to building up self-worth and understanding one’s personality. Regardless of the nature of the group, there are several benefits to group counseling, especially when it comes to young people.
“Hey, I’m Not the Only One…”
Kids and teens often feel like “I’m the only one.” I’m the only one with divorced parents, I’m the only one who had their parent die, I’m the only one” and on and on. The reason for this is that the brain shifts to a very self-directed perspective during development while other parts of the brain are forming. Interestingly, it is during this time that the young person thinks “everyone is watching me” and feels very self-conscious and vulnerable. The group experience shatters this concept and forces the young person to hear the story of another kid that lost his mom in a car wreck. The teen that thinks no one could feel as sad as she did hears there’s someone else who felt like killing themselves because of a bully situation. Group counseling puts everyone in the same boat, and while problems are unique and take on different forms, the feelings are the same. And when we find others who feel like we do, there is a sense of empowerment and comfort that follows. For kids and teens, feeling empowered and comforted provides the emotional rain forest-like conditions in which big growth happens: Self-worth forms, which means I feel good enough to notice tasks around the house that need to done and I do them. Identity formation occurs: I know who I am, who I want to be, and I see a path to make that happen. Confidence, etc. all of these spring from being empowered and comforted by being in the presence of others who are going through similar circumstances.
“Learning is Fun…”
The group counseling experience is an exciting, dynamic experience in which new ways of thinking and behaving can be taught in a fun way. Sure, there are serious topics and discussions, but the overall teaching method is through an open invitation of fun-based learning and experience. Many young people I talk to tell me that life moves so fast for them that they have little time to know who they are or notice others around them, much less interact with others on a deep level. The group experience allows young people to take a pause – to breathe, to laugh, to think. Whether it is learning about personality or how to deal with the rejection of someone you thought was a friend, fun pervades the atmosphere with a lightness that allows learning to occur.
“There is Strength in Numbers…”
For young people with developmental challenges, life can be hard. Every human should be respected and honored for who they are, but it is not so in our culture and in our world. People with disabilities or even simple differences can trigger a predatory or nurturing instinct in others. All too often it is the predators who rule in the worlds of our young people, maiming and wounding those that appear vulnerable. The group counseling experience represents a safe place, and it is in the context of safety that growth and learning take place. When the young person leaves the group session, he or she leaves with a mindfulness of the experience. Memories are created, not only of a fun time, but of being accepted, being listened to, and feeling valued. The power of this is that when the young person re-enters the world in which they must face alone, they are armed with the positive attributes of the group experience.
If you think that your child or teen is struggling with something, or you want to expand their developmental experience consider group counseling as a fun and dynamic way to not only develop social skills, but to instill a sense of value and worth. Specific skills for managing ADHD or similar developmental challenges can easily be taught in group counseling, and there are many other benefits as well. Like one young man, who attended one of my groups when he was in elementary school told me just before he entered college, “The group was always a safe, fun place to learn and just be myself. And I really needed that back then.”