8 Characteristics of Group Counseling/Therapy and Counseling Groups

group of people sitting on sofa in group counseling

There are certain characteristics that all counseling groups have that make them successful. Any counselor or leader of a counseling group that does not pay attention and insist that their group possesses these characteristics will make the work difficult for himself or herself and unproductive to other members of the counseling group.

Below are the eight characteristics of a successful counseling group.

8 Characteristics of a Successful Counseling Group

1. Members engage in frequent interactions

The strength of a counseling group, just like any other relationship, is dependent on the quality of interaction that is being made among members. No communication equals no progress and no group counseling.

This is the first characteristic of group counseling. Interaction however is not limited to talking. Although talking is the principal way of communicating, the group counseling leader should guide the group members on how to pay attention to nonverbal cues members are giving regardless of what they say or do not say. 

The moment interactions begin to die down, especially verbal, attention should be drawn and an examination done to determine what exactly is wrong.

2. Group members accept membership in the group

The second characteristic of group counseling is that all members accept membership in the group. Any counseling group that is made up of members who are not willingly involved or interested in the activities of the group cannot be successful.

Hence at the initial stage of the counseling group, every member’s consent should be sought and word gotten on their acceptance to be active and committed members of the group.

Since group counseling is not a lecture where the counselor gives a one-way communication to the client but a back-and-forth, side-to-side interaction, no member of the group is permitted to be apathetic.

Flow of Communication in Group Counseling

3. Group members share norms in matters of common interest 

The next characteristic of counseling groups is the commonality of norms and interests among group members. In the first place, most counseling groups are homogeneous where all group members have similar issues they’re seeking to be addressed e.g survivors of war seeking to be rehabilitated back to normal life.

But apart from having common issues, members of counseling groups usually have common norms. These norms can be established by setting up rules and principles or even using them as a basis to admit members into the group.

A group of Christians can form a counseling group that allows only Christians. If a counseling group does not have common norms, it will result in continuous disagreements or some members of the group becoming uninvolved in group activities.

4. Members identify with one another

The fourth characteristic of group counseling is that members identify with one another. Outside the group counseling sessions, all members of the group still treat themselves as members of the same family.

Usually, because they’re in the process of addressing similar issues in their lives, their relationships become more personal and they continue to serve as support systems to each other in their daily lives.

In many cases, the relationship formed with group members is what makes group counseling more effective than the counseling sessions because rather than going back to a world that doesn’t understand their situation after each session, members of the counseling group continue to encourage each other after sessions and the entire period becomes more uplifting and transformative for all.

5. Members have a collective perception of the universality of the group

The fifth characteristic of group counseling is that every member understands that the group equally belongs to everyone. Counseling groups become ineffective when some members begin to see themselves as the key members of the group and others see themselves as just support for junior members.

In a successful counseling group, there is equality, it is emphasized and every member knows it. Even the counselor or the leader of the counseling group is not more important to the group than any member. He or she is equally a member.

All group members can therefore choose to disagree with the decision(s) made by any other group member (leader inclusive), and before any cause of action can be taken, consensus should be reached.

6. Members participate in a system of interlocking roles

The sixth characteristic of group counseling is that all members have interlocking roles to play in the group. As a way to establish the universality and equality of the group, roles must be assigned to each member of the group that will collectively contribute to the success of the group counseling. 

These rules are usually defined in the initial session of group counseling.

Common rules established in counseling groups include:

  • the leader serves as a moderator of the activities of the group,
  • one individual stays in charge of monitoring compliance with the group rules,
  • members are assigned in clusters to follow up on each other after sessions,
  • another individual is saddled with getting the venue ready, and so on.

Roles are assigned to individuals based on their strengths or counter-intuitively based on their weaknesses to help them develop strength in those areas.

7. Members accept the commonality of individuals’ needs

The seventh characteristic of a counseling group is that the needs of each person are the need of every other person. The dissatisfaction of one member is the dissatisfaction of every other member.

This disposition is necessary to ensure that no person is left unattended. No one should be seen as too demanding if they have “too many” challenges to overcome or disturbing if they have a slower rate of assimilation. Instead, as a principle of counseling, all members must show empathy for every other person.

There becomes an exception to this rule when a member tries to hijack the group through monopolistic behaviors or necessary attention-seeking. The situation should be confronted and addressed immediately.

8. Members delight in the potential benefits of group interaction

The eighth characteristic of group counseling is that members are excited and anticipatory of the end goal the group is working towards. 

This should naturally be the case since members usually have common interests and goals, but things can change along the way, especially during the productiveness stage of group counseling where adjustments must be made based on the level of dynamism that rises in the group. 

However, whatever adjustments are made, every member must still be interested at the end that is being driven towards.

If this is not paid attention to, other characteristics of successful counseling groups will be displaced e.g. interactions will be reduced, common interest undermined, universality and commonality of need eroded, and so on.

Conclusion

These are the 8 characteristics of counseling groups: frequent interaction, acceptance of group membership, shared norms or interests, identification with other members, the universality of the group, interlocking roles, commonality of needs, and delight in the benefit of group interaction. The success of group counseling is first the presence of these characteristics then the result of the presence of these characteristics.

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