Group Counseling - D. Reflection

5. Group Counseling

How did students change as a result of group counseling? 

  • Overall the data has been a somewhat mixed, but most students seem to have had some improvement to their anxiety since groups started.  We started back in early November so we have met something like 15 or 16 times. Members have rotated in and out as their needs change, as they exit they complete post-group screeners, and I take a look at these to see the observable changes. Most students have experienced a positive change from the time that they started group, but there are a few that have reported a negative change. These students I usually continue to stay in touch with after they exit group so that I can provide individual counseling. 
  • The reports that I get from students are usually pretty positive. Most of the students seem to enjoy group sessions and several have reported that they are glad to see that others face some of the same thoughts and feelings that they do. This feeling of universality is really important to me. I can tell them that there are others who feel the same way, but having them see it is totally different. 
  • The other large change that I observe in students is how comfortable they get. After meeting with some of these students for nearly 6 months now, they are incredibly interested in each other, discussing their feelings, and genuinely look forward to attending group sessions once a week. 

What worked? 

  • Since our group is so long lived at this point I have had the opportunity to try a variety of teaching methods, group methods, and teambuilding activities. What I really have had the most success with so far has been playing simple games with the students. This started as me purchasing some mindful card games. From there we now play Uno, Counseling Jenga, and even Scrabble. Students really enjoy being able to take a break, play a game, talk about some feelings, and eat lunch. Since incorporating games into our lessons we are much more productive and really get to talking a lot faster than what we did otherwise. 
  • I started group by presenting some psychoeducational lessons, this was back when we were able to meet in a larger group and I had about 12 students who reported to me all at the same time. This was basically an additional 30 minute class where students could learn a little about anxiety and share a little of their own experiences. This worked out really well, but was then shut down by covid. Thankfully though I was able to provide some framework and a basic foundation for students so when we broke into smaller groups they were able to continue to function. 
  • After covid restrictions broke our large group meetings up I had to come up with a way to adapt to the new rules and still meet the goals of hosting a group. I decided to do some small groups during lunch. While the group size actually went down the number of students I was able to see actually increased. We have three lunches at my school, so I set a limit of 6 or 7 per group and went from there. With a large group I had to set the limit at about 12 total. For a while we were also on a hybrid schedule so I was actually seeing 6 students per lunch on two different days. Things got pretty difficult to balance and to keep straight but the kids stuck through it and I think we emerged pretty successful. Now our small lunch groups are our norms and it will almost be like breaking up a friendship group at the end of the year.

What would you do differently next time? 

  • One thing that is really important is to make a very clear exit procedure and to notify students of that upfront. One difficulty I had was that students would go through the screener, bring back their permission slip, and then simply wouldn’t show up. While I never want to force someone into an uncomfortable situation, I also didn’t want to be left with loose ends. I also had some students who felt like they were obligated to continue working with our group even though they were no longer getting anything out of it. This required me to figure out how I could allow students to exit without upsetting anyone and without them just ditching me. If I explained a simple process from the beginning I think I could save a lot of time and headache in the future.
  • Once you get a good group together you have to take care not to upset the group balance. I overextended in our Jr. High group by adding some very personable students to the group that began to dominate the conversation. It actually made our group fairly uncomfortable, after trying to address it a few times I had to make some adjustments to the organization of our group. 
  • Virtual groups are no fun and I really don’t recommend them. Our school shut down for about two weeks around Thanksgiving. I had to take our group virtual for that time in order to have some continuity. Participation was low, it was pretty awkward to try to keep conversation going. Students had things going on in the background and all around it wasn’t as effective. 

How has this activity impacted you?

  • I’ve grown a ton through this group building process. I never thought it would take quite so much work to set up. Finding students to fit in the group was a bit of a challenge and then I had to convenience them that it would be helpful and beneficial for them to join. I had to screen every student, acquire parent permission, work with their schedule, and then they might not even show up to our sessions. All in all it was a pretty exhausting experience but I am glad that we were able to make it happen. 
  • I’ve had lots of positive experiences and laughs with my different group members, and while they take a lot of my time, I’m really not sure there is a better way to spend it. I am thinking about adding more groups to our program next year, but I know they might have to be smaller and have a more specific scope than something like anxiety. I’ll be honest there are weeks where going to group is a struggle, there are so many other things that I can be doing that sometimes I feel like sitting down in my office and just working. However as soon as I get to group, I feel much better and the feeling afterwards is always enough to get me to do return the next week. 

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