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The first question that many students have is "Just what is group counseling, anyway?" The short answer is, group counseling is one of the forms of counseling that are offered at the PAU Counseling Center. That might sound obvious, but it is important to understand what is meant by that statement: the counseling work that happens in groups is just as meaningful and "real" as that which takes place in the individual counseling context.
In group counseling, approximately six to eight individuals meet face-to-face with group therapists or counselor team. During the group meeting time, members are responsible for talking about what is troubling them. Discussion flows according to what members would like to talk about -- the group leaders do not, for the most part, assign topics for the group to discuss. Members are encouraged to give support and feedback to others, and to work with the responses and associations that other members' contributions bring up for them.
Feedback involves expressing your own feelings and thoughts about what someone else says or does, or about what is happening in the group as a whole. This kind of interaction between group members is encouraged, and provides each person with an opportunity to try out new ways of relating to herself and others. It also provides members with an opportunity for learning more about their own interpersonal styles.
Group work usually begins with a focus on the establishment of trust. Members work to establish a level of trust that allows them to talk personally and honestly. Group trust is enhanced when all members make a commitment to the group.
One of the things that makes the group therapy situation unique is that it is a closed and safe system. People who join groups must agree to keep the content of the group sessions confidential. What people talk about or disclose in groups remains strictly among the members of the group. It is not appropriate for a group member to disclose events of the group to an outside person.
There are a number of reasons that group counseling can be a powerful experience:
During group counseling, people begin to see that they are not alone. Many times people feel isolated with their problems. It is encouraging to hear that other people have similar feelings or difficulties, or have even worked through a problem that deeply disturbs another group member.
When people come into a group and interact freely with other group members, they usually re-experience some of the difficulties that brought them to group therapy in the first place. Under the skilled direction of a counseling team, the group is able to give support, provide new perspectives, and/or offer alternatives to the person in such a way that the difficulty becomes resolved.
Group is an ideal setting for exploring social or interpersonal difficulties -- and most of the concerns that bring students to counseling have an interpersonal component. The group experience allows a person to better understand her interpersonal concerns, and to develop new ways of relating to people.
In a climate of trust, people feel free to care about and help each other. New members are often amazed at how much their contributions help other members. In turn, by helping others, we learn about and help ourselves.
Talk about what brought you to the Counseling room in the first place. Tell the group members what is bothering you. If you need support, let the group know. If you think you need confrontation, let them know that, too. You'll get the most from the group if you can tell people what you expect of them (and if you are having trouble identifying exactly what you need, you can talk about that). In addition, you will probably be most helped and satisfied if you talk about your feelings. The safety of the group permits expression of feelings which are often very difficult to express outside the group.
When we talk about revealing our feelings, we are talking about self-disclosure. Self-disclosure is an important part of group counseling, and relates directly to how much people get from the group. Of course, how much you talk about yourself will depend upon your own comfort level. Group is not a place where people are ever forced to tell their deepest and innermost thoughts. You are ultimately the person responsible for how much you share.
There are six ground rules for participation in a group at the PAU Counseling Center:
1. The group sessions are confidential. Group members, like the leaders, are bound ethically not to disclose the contents of the group sessions.
2. It takes some time to get to know the group, and to really give yourself a chance to become a member. For this reason, and to protect the group from "drop-ins" (students who come once and then disappear), we ask that, if you join a group, you agree to attend at least four sessions.
3. If you have decided at some point that you have gained as much as possible from the group, or that the group isn't for you, we ask that you come one last time to the group and say goodbye.
4. It is the responsibility of each person to talk about her reasons for being in the group.
5. Having a feeling and acting on it are two different things. You can talk about any feeling in the group. Acting out these feelings, however, is not acceptable. This is true whether feelings are acted upon oneself or another person.
6. If you are going to miss a session, please let the group leaders know at least 24 hours in advance