In my work as a Therapist, when I discuss group counseling with a client, their eyes widen. Like, a big “no thanks” is the immediate thought that passes through their mind. And honestly, I get it. I think people hear “group counseling” and imagine baring their souls to a room full of people (full of strangers!), who judge you and can’t relate. However, I think this is an unfortunate misconception. More often than not, clients comment on how much they enjoy their group. The experience tends to be helpful and healing, rather than dreadful and intimidating. There is warmth and a commonality found within the group room that people are initially surprised by, yet quickly settle into.
While group counseling might intimidate you (at first), there are many benefits to it that are often overlooked. Psychologist Irvin D. Yalom wrote “The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy,” offering a wealth of information and research on group counseling benefits. I’d like to highlight three of his “therapeutic factors” that I personally believe are the most beneficial aspects of group counseling: Universality, the Instillation of Hope, and Altruism.
Group Counseling Benefit #1: Universality
Universality is the idea that you are not alone. You’re not the only person who has ever experienced what you are going through right now. Often times, we experience events or circumstances that are deeply personal — the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, a traumatic event, and the like — and we give ourselves messages like “no one will understand,” “I am the only one who has ever felt this way,” “it’s ridiculous that I’m still impacted by this event.” However, many of us have experienced the death of a loved one, for instance, and while our experiences are unique to the specific circumstance, the emotion you feel as a result of the loss is relatable. A group setting helps you recognize that you aren’t alone. You are relatable. You can be understood, no matter how “on the outside” you feel.
Group Counseling Benefit #2: Instillation of Hope
Instillation of Hope is an important factor in all counseling; it’s the awareness that counseling can and will help you. You gain hope in a special way during group counseling. Yalom says “I often heard clients remark at the end of their group therapy how important it was for them to have observed the improvement of others.”
Sometimes it’s hard to “see” your own progress, but in the group setting, the opportunity to see the growth of others is powerful. When you see someone come into the group and hear their struggle with an event, emotion, or circumstance, you are given the opportunity to watch how they grow. You are given an opportunity to observe, and be an active participant in the process of their healing. You watch how they grow to understand themselves and others. Observing others growth empowers you to do the same. Watching how others change causes us to realize we can change and from this comes hope.
Group Counseling Benefit #3: Altruism
Altruism is a fancy word that means “the ability to give something to another.” Yalom tells us that group counseling is the only therapy that offers clients the opportunity to help others. This can be a powerful experience for you; getting the opportunity to connect with other people that are seeking to be helped. In turn, you get the opportunity to share your own stories, thoughts, and experiences that you’ve walked through and play a part in another’s healing. The group is a beautiful experience, as you get to both give and receive advice and encouragement that is welcomed and readily received.
Are you ready for Group Counseling?
While I’ve only highlighted three group therapy benefits, I hope it gets you thinking about getting involved. I’ll be upfront in saying that being in a group takes a willingness to be vulnerable. You’ll be sharing parts of yourself with others that often remain hidden or unseen. I believe that through vulnerability you’ll gain healing and be empowered as will the others next to you.