Group Counseling

Group Counseling

Counseling is provided in both individual and group formats. In group counseling, you meet with a counselor along with several other students, and together explore areas of common concern. Group sessions are usually scheduled once a week, and the combined experiences and support of other group members can make this a very powerful form of helping.

In group counseling (also called group therapy or simply "group"), up to eight individuals meet face-to-face with a group therapist and talk about what is troubling them. Members also give feedback to each other by expressing their own feelings about what someone says or does. This interaction gives group members an opportunity to try out new ways of behaving and to learn more about the way they interact with others. What makes the situation unique is that it is a safe environment with clear boundaries. Group sessions are confidential; what people talk about or disclose is not discussed outside the group.

Some groups run by the Student Counseling & Psychological Services office are general in their content, while others focus on certain issues, like grief or relationships. Discuss with a counselor which groups are currently available and a good match to your concerns.

Check out our Frequently Asked Questions about Group Counseling for more information.


Relaxation, Stress-reduction and Controlling Anxiety

Stress and anxiety are normal, common reactions when trying to balance the many tasks and demands of college, work, and home. Learning how to relax can be an important way to keep stress in check and reduce your anxiety. It can be an important skill that you can use to manage your own stress levels and maintain a sense of well-being.

The following relaxation exercises are adapted from Full Catastrophe Living (1990) by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD.

Exercise 1

  • Assume a comfortable posture lying on your back or sitting. If you are sitting, keep the spine straight and let your shoulders drop.
  • Close your eyes if it feels comfortable.
  • Bring your attention to your belly, feeling it rise or expand gently on the in-breath and fall or recede on the out-breath.
  • Keep the focus on your breathing, "being with" each in-breath for its full duration and with each out-breath for its full duration, as if you were riding the waves of your own breathing.
  • Every time you notice that your mind has wandered off the breath, notice what it was that took you away and then gently bring your attention back to your belly and the feeling of the breath coming in and out.
  • If your mind wanders away from the breath a thousand times, then your "job" is simply to bring it back to the breath every time, no matter what it becomes preoccupied with.
  • Practice this exercise for 15 minutes at a convenient time every day, whether you feel like it or not, for one week and see how it feels to incorporate a disciplined meditation practice into your life. Be aware of how it feels to spend some time each day just being with your breath without having to do anything.

Exercise 2

  • Tune in to your breathing at different times during the day, feeling the belly go through one or two risings and fallings.
  • Become aware of your thoughts and feelings at these moments, just observing them without judging them or yourself.
  • At the same time be aware of any changes in the way you are seeing things and feeling about yourself.

Other Resources

The following are some links for information that can help you deal with feelings of anxiety, depression, suicide, and other emotional health issues:

  • ULifeLine - An online resource center for college student mental health and emotional well being
  • College Suicide Prevention Resource Center -A collection of specific info for college students regarding recognizing warning signs, finding resources, and utilizing mental health services.
  • Dr Bob's Virtual Pamphlet Collection - Dr. Robert Hsiung, at the University of Chicago has compiled a great list of online resources from universities across the country.
  • Go Ask Alice! - A question-and-answer service by Columbia University's Health Education Program. Go Ask Alice! answers questions about making better decisions regarding health, well-being, relationships, sexuality, depression, suicide, alcohol and drugs, and other topics.
Mental Health Information

The Internet is a great source of information on mental health issues, but it also has a lot of speculation, rumor, and misinformation, so you want to surf carefully.


Frequently Asked Questions About Group Counseling


Just What Is Group Counseling Anyway?

In group therapy (called group counseling, group therapy or simply "group") up to eight individuals meet face-to-face with a group therapist and talk about what is troubling them. Members also give feedback to each other by expressing their own feelings about what someone says or does. This interaction gives group members an opportunity to try out new ways of behaving and to learn more about the way they interact with others. What makes the situation unique is that it is a safe environment with clear boundaries. Group sessions are confidential; what people talk about or disclose is not discussed outside the group.

he first few sessions of a group usually focus on the establishment of trust. During this time, members usually 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.


Why Does Group Counseling Work?

When people come into a group and interact freely with other group members, they find opportunities to learn about themselves in many different ways. Under the skilled direction of a group therapist, the group is able to give support, feedback and offer alternatives. In this way the difficulty becomes resolved, alternative behaviors are learned, and the person develops new social techniques or ways of relating to people. During group therapy, people begin to see that they are not alone. Many times people feel they are unique in their problems, and it is encouraging to hear that other people have similar difficulties. In the climate of trust provided by the group, people feel free to care about and help each other.


What Do I Talk About When I Am In Group?

Talk about what brought you to the counseling center 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 this also. It is important to tell people what you expect of them.

Unexpressed feelings are a major reason why people experience difficulties. Sharing your feelings is an important part of group and affects how much you will be helped. How much you talk about yourself depends upon what you are comfortable with. If you have any questions about what might or might not be helpful, you can always ask the group.


Are There Any Ground Rules For My Participation In The Group?

If group is to be effective, your commitment is essential. Here are the ground rules:

  • If you must miss a session, let the group leader know. The group meeting times have been arranged in advance and you are asked to keep to those times.
  • Having a feeling and acting on it are two different things. Acting out your feelings is not acceptable whether you act them out upon yourself or another member of the group. Our job is to experience our feelings and understand them.
  • It is your responsibility to talk about your reasons for being in the group, when you feel safe enough to do so
  • Group sessions are confidential. Group members and group leaders do not disclose the contents of group sessions to others
  • If you decide that you have gained as much as possible from the group or that it isn't the most appropriate treatment method for you, we ask that you come to the group and say good-bye.
  • The work of the group needs to be done in the group during group time. Therefore, we ask that you not socialize with other members of your group during the time when you are a member of that group.

    • Common Misperceptions About Group Therapy


      MYTH: I will be forced to tell all of my deepest thoughts, feelings, and secrets to the group.

      • Reality: You control what, how much, and when you share with the group. Most people find that when they feel safe enough to share what is troubling them, a group can be very helpful and affirming. We encourage you not to share what you are not ready to disclose. However, you can also be helped by listening to others and thinking about how what they are saying might apply to you.

      MYTH: I have so much trouble talking to people; I'll never be able to share in a group.

      • Reality: Most people are anxious about being able to talk in group. Almost without exception, within a few sessions people find that they do begin to talk in the group. Group members remember what it is like to be new to the group, so you will most likely get a lot of support for beginning to talk in the group.

      MYTH: I will be verbally attacked by the leaders and by other group members.

      • Reality: It is very important that group members feel safe. Group leaders are there to help develop a safe environment. Feedback is often difficult to hear. As group members come to trust and accept one another, they generally experience feedback and even confrontation as positive, as if it were coming from their best friend. One of the benefits of group therapy is the opportunity to receive feedback from others in a supportive environment. It is rare to find friends who will gently point out how you might be behaving in ways that hurt yourself or others, but this is precisely what group can offer. This will be done in a respectful way, so that you can hear it and make use of it.

      MYTH: I will be verbally attacked by the leaders and by other group members.

      • Reality: Group therapy is being recommended to you because your intake counselor believes that it is the best way to address your concerns. We do not put people into group therapy because we don't have space in individual therapy, or because we want to save time. We recommend group when it is the most effective method to help you. Your intake counselor can discuss with you why group is what we recommend for you.

      MYTH: Group therapy will take longer than individual therapy because I will have to share the time with others.

      • Reality: Actually, group therapy is often more efficient than individual therapy for two reasons. First, you can benefit from the group even during sessions when you say little but listen carefully to others. You will find that you have much in common with other group members, and as they work on a concern, you can learn more about yourself. Secondly, group members will often bring up issues that strike a chord with you, but that you might not have been aware of or brought up yourself.