Group counseling for teens creates peer connection and support
Teen Group Therapy:
Does your teen want to make better connections but doesn’t seem to know how? Do you feel your teen would benefit from therapy, but you also worry that 1:1 therapy might feel too direct? Is your teenager dealing with loneliness? Could your teenager find relief in knowing other adolescents are struggling too? Do you find your teen struggles with initiating confrontation (or maybe initiates confrontation too frequently), giving forgiveness, asking for forgiveness, or admitting when he/she has been wrong? The dynamics of an adolescent process group allow many of these personality challenges to be dealt with in real time (as opposed to individual therapy where they are usually dealt with hypothetically). Group therapy can be of tremendous benefit for your teenager in many situations.
How is group therapy helpful?
- Adolescents learn from watching peers work through similar problems.
- Teens gain support, courage, and encouragement from one other to grow.
- The group therapist helps facilitate kind and honest feedback from other group members.
- Teens are more likely to make changes when they feel a sense of belonging to a group.
- Teens experience a lot of relief when they find out they aren’t alone in their feelings and experiences.
- Adolescents improve and practice their social skills within a safe, supportive group environment.
- Adolescents learn how to show empathy, listen, and provide compassion.
What are some common concerns with group therapy?
You might feel worried your teen will meet another group member who is a bad influence. Every effort is made to keep the focus of the group on positive ways to cope. Teens are also asked not to socialize outside group during the weeks the group is running.
You also might feel concern that your teen won’t like the therapist or other group members. The group therapist pre-screens group members to try and form a cohesive group, but if your teen still doesn’t like other group members, it’s an opportunity for your teen to explore some of what keeps him/her from close relationships. A lot of learning to have more meaningful relationships is learning to look beyond both the judgements we make of others and the fear of judgement from others we feel. It’s our hope that your teenager loves their group experience with us, but even if they don’t, there is something to be gained.
Another thing that is harder in group therapy than individual therapy is confidentiality. Every group member agrees to keep group confidentiality, and the group therapist emphasizes the importance of this. Even still, there is a chance another group member might break the group’s confidence. If this happens, the group therapist will process this with the group. It may be a painful discussion for the teen who told secrets, but what a wonderful opportunity for growth! If your teenager struggles in relationships because he or she lacks integrity with peers, they will learn from this situation. While we strive for everyone to maintain confidentiality, the beauty of group therapy is the ability to find opportunities for growth in almost every interaction.
A final concern is what to do if your teen still wants therapy once group ends. At that point, your teen will either be placed in a subsequent group, offered a slot with an individual counselor, or given appropriate referrals if they are wanting to continue counseling.
What are some diagnoses where group is helpful?
Group therapy can have tremendous benefit for teen with depression, anxiety, social struggles, and with poor coping skills. In any of these cases, teens grow by hearing feedback given by others. They feel a strong sense of purpose and belonging because each group member’s input is highly valued. The group therapist is experienced in helping teens lead one another to deeper expressiveness and sharing. Adolescents in group therapy have a truly safe emotional space to experience being cared about by peers. Many, many teenagers have deep pain because it is hard to feel like they are wanted/welcomed around peers at school. At TTOC we have seen teens thrive in the group setting and then translate this growth into their everyday life.
Specific to depression, group therapy creates purpose, belonging, and activation (In depression teens are often lethargic and avoidant of activity). All three are key for a teenager to find his or her way back to emotional health.
For teens who are trying to overcome anxiety, group therapy gives teens a chance to feel validated by peers. It also helps a teenager because feedback is usually given if a fear is unrealistic. Worry is frequently quelled when a person has something to focus on outside him or herself. Group therapy can help your teen see beyond his or her own struggles as your teen develops empathy for other group members.
The social benefits of group therapy cannot be overstated. Your son or daughter will have to interact with peers in group therapy. The other group members will provide positive feedback on why your child is likeable, and they will provide feedback on social skills that might need adjusting. Your teen is able to receive this feedback in a safe, warm, and affirming space.
Teens tend to make more progress in group therapy in developing positive coping skills because of the effect of having peers support them in a safe space. When your teenager witnesses another teen trying and benefitting from positive coping skills, your teen is more inclined to try using them too. When the therapist challenges the group to collectively give up social media for a week (as an example) to see if it improves everyone’s sense of well-being, your teenager is more likely to follow through because of the solidarity of doing this with other teens.
Lastly, for the lonely teen, group can be life-changing. We have seen teens who feel totally isolated at school feel welcomed in therapy groups. For your teenager to find out that he or she matters to peers can be the launching point to a completely different, more positive view of him or herself. When this happens, it is the most rewarding part of running group counseling sessions for teens. Because the adolescents in the group all come from different middle and high schools, different circumstances, and different backgrounds, there is a wonderful opportunity to experience compassion and belonging from many types of teens. This can help the lonely teenager broaden his or her horizons when making friends in daily life.