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How can mental health counselors support group therapy?

There are many different routes available for people in the US to seek mental health support and guidance.

While many prefer to speak with counselors one-on-one, group therapy has always been popular, partly because it helps people understand and appreciate that they are not alone in their struggles.

Mental health counselors can support group therapies alongside one-on-one sessions in various ways.

It is not always simply a case of asking people to share their stories in group settings, but to take part in special activities and to listen to guidance from their leading counselors.

Let’s examine how mental health counselors can lead and facilitate successful group therapy sessions:

Understanding Group Dynamics

Mental health group therapy, as the name suggests, involves bringing together various people who are experiencing similar concerns or challenges in their everyday lives. Therefore, it is important for a mental health professional, such as a counselor, to understand how to bring together dynamics that are likely to foster success.

For example, a counselor might arrange a specific session for people experiencing body dysmorphia, anxiety, or loneliness.

They might carefully arrange sessions between those people experiencing substance-related problems, so that individuals might learn about the effects such substances can have on their lives should abuse persist.

For instance, a group session might center around the mental effects of taking lean, a codeine-based drug, over long periods.

Regardless, it is important before this stage for a counselor to obtain experience through a specific degree program, such as an online Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling.

The program available at American International College, for example, focuses on inclusivity and the treatment of people from all walks of life — helping to provide the foundation for planning fair and measured group dynamics.

Developing Leadership Techniques

A mental health counselor who is bringing together group therapy sessions will need to be authoritative yet understanding.

This means being ready to pull rank and keep order, and do so with the understanding that people in these sessions are likely experiencing trauma or complex challenges.

Therefore, while there is an opportunity for counselors to be authoritative, they must do so with empathy and by actively listening to what their group attendees have to say. For example, a group session leader might present a topic of discussion and ask guests to answer in a specific way.

They must plan ahead to ensure everyone in the room has a chance to speak and share their stories, while being ready to move things forward if required.

A mental health counselor leading group sessions might insist on the use of cognitive behavioral therapy techniques, or CBT, to help attendees recognize their harmful thought patterns.

Therefore, they might take charge and encourage others in the group to give their own advice. In any case, it is important for counselors who are leading sessions to plan ahead carefully and not to rely on attendees, as they will be looking for guidance.

Counselors keen to set up group sessions would do well to learn leadership skills and study how other professionals lead classes. Are there any techniques, for example, they can take inspiration from to build their own brand of empathetic authority? There is no harm in borrowing techniques in these circumstances — however, it is important for counselors to find their own leadership styles.

Fostering Cohesion

A cohesive support group is one that is ready to support itself without the constant intervention of the leader. That is, during some exercises, attendees might have the opportunity to interject and offer their own advice, should people request it or open up the floor.

Counselors must start fostering cohesion long before the start of a group session. To build a cohesive, empathetic, and supportive group, it pays to consider its potential dynamics ahead of time.

Are the people they are inviting to a session likely to ‘gel’ together and offer support to one another, or are they likely to clash?

A counselor who is attending to individual patient needs will already have insight into what people are facing outside of group sessions.

Therefore, they can think carefully about which of their patients are likely to benefit the most from group therapy, and which personalities could fit together the best.

Fostering cohesion during group sessions is important. Again, a counselor will need to work as a leader to help facilitate discussion and to ensure everyone actively listens to each other.

That means, in some cases, they might encourage people to offer opinions or to support each other during specific exercises.

It is important to remember that a counselor cannot ever force people to work together.

However, by ensuring attendees in a specific group are experiencing the same issues and trying to arrange a group based on personality dynamics or demographics, they can help people to work together more easily.

It is not healthy to force cohesion regardless of how noble the intention might be.

Does Group Therapy Work?

A talented and educated mental health counselor can help bring much-needed relief to people who are going through psychological trauma or associated issues. Some people simply find it cathartic to talk about their issues out loud, plus, it is a great opportunity to share one’s thoughts and feelings with others without the fear of feeling judged.

Counselors will also use group sessions as an opportunity to introduce people to CBT principles. In some cases, this type of therapy can work better in group sessions because other people are weighing in and giving their insight.

Group therapy is just one of several mental health support outlets that counselors can provide to their patients. It might not be the right fit for everybody, but it is an option professionals implore their patients to explore, especially if they feel they need more help beyond one-on-one sessions.

Final thoughts

Regardless of the type of group or the issues discussed within it, all group therapy sessions rely on a thoughtful, empathetic, and inspiring leader — a mental health counselor with advantageous experience, education, and drive to bring people together to share stories and ease each other through troubled times.

There are many techniques counselors can use to support group sessions, but most importantly, they should give their patients time to speak and listen to each other.



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