I previously posted about some of the pros and cons of group counseling. I would like to now share some of my tips for conducting group sessions.Group Therapy for addiction and substance abuse

  • I prefer groups of 6 to 8 –You can certainly have some success with larger groups, but for me, fewer than 10 seemed to work the best. Larger groups can be more difficult to control and with a larger group they are not as likely to share personal information.
  • Same sex is optimal but not necessary – Having an all male or all female group would be nice but in a smaller clinic, we didn’t often have that option. There are some advantages to a co-ed group because you can get a male and female perspective on certain issues.
  • Have prepared material – I have known counselors who would go into group sessions and just “wing it.” With experience, you can probably get away with this but your best bet is to always have something prepared. Sometimes groups just aren’t very talkative and you need to have material handy.
  • Be flexible – You should have material prepared, but don’t force it on them if there seems to be a more pressing issue that has engaged the group. I have had sessions where I covered all of the material and finished early and I have had session where we never even got to the material.
  • Pay attention – Sometimes the sessions may feel like it is just a group of people talking, but remember this is still a counseling session. You try to pick up cues and watch body language just like you do in individual sessions.
  • Make brief notes and reminders – Each counselor develops his own system for this. If I try to write detailed notes during the session then I am likely to miss things that I should be paying attention to. However, I don’t trust myself to remember everything, so I take a few brief notes. I always made notes on the sign-in sheet. So, beside their name, I may write things like has court next week, had an argument with spouse or seems to be a little depressed.
  • Set specific rules – It is important that everyone in the group knows the group rules. You may even want to post the rules in the group room. Rules can cover everything from attendance requirements to confidentiality to not allowing cell phones.
  • Maintain control – This is why it is so important to have specific rules. Whether you are working with kids or adults, at times they will act like kids and they will test you.
  • Don’t be a speaker – You are the moderator. You keep the conversation focused and encourage everyone to get involved. Take advantage of the wisdom of the group. When someone asks a question, put it to the group instead of answering it yourself. Group members get the most out of the group when they are actively involved.
  • Create a relaxed yet professional atmosphere – Many people feel uncomfortable in a group setting, particularly one in which they are admitting problems. You can maintain your professionalism and still create an atmosphere that is relaxed and enjoyable. It is okay to have fun.
  • Be yourself – You can certainly learn from watching other counselors, but don’t try to imitate them. You will be more comfortable just being yourself and that will help the group members feel more comfortable and that will lead to more effective group sessions.

If you talk to a different counselor, you may get a different set of tips. For more information on group counseling you can get a free manual on group therapy at this link:

http://store.samhsa.gov/product/TIP-41-Substance-Abuse-Treatment-Group-Therapy/SMA12-3991