In order to “sell” stakeholders small groups should be a major part of the responsive services offered in our programs, we need to be clear on “Why Group Counseling.” Most counselors can explain how small groups are structured but to convince stakeholders why a student should participate we need to be clear on the why ourselves. At my school my part-time counselor and I run as many groups as time permits and need demands because we believe small groups are the best responsive service school counselors can offer. I was a classroom teacher so I enjoy teaching tier 1 lessons, especially now that we are using evidence-based materials like Second Step and MindUp, but I know that 15-20% of the students could use more help with social emotional development. These are the students who can benefit from tier 2 groups and there are 1-5% who need tier 3 groups (remediation and extra support). Tier 3 groups and individual counseling typically address problems of living like illness of a family member, separation and loss, and grief.
Most of the groups we run are psycho-educational and focus on specific attitudes, skills, and abilities. They focus on typical areas of growth and prevent more transitory difficulties. Group members like the recognition that several others are experiencing the same developmental issues that they are. Yes we could work on these in individual counseling, but our ratio does not make that feasible. Besides we believe students learn from one another not just the counselors. Groups are ideal for improving communication and socialization. They also are extremely useful in fostering a sense of belonging and understanding. They promote development of positive interaction. Many of our groups focus on the need to increase self regulation and coping with difficult emotions.
Another reason why we offer groups is they provide exposure to a common set of skills but are flexible enough for each member to set an individual goal and work on it over the life of the group.
Once a teacher or parent is familiar with the small groups we offer they understand the WHY. However, for new staff and parents new to our learning community it is important to explain why a child might benefit. We also work very hard to insure there is no stigma or record kept of group counseling participation. We want children and adults to see most groups as prevention and others there to support students who are experiencing some challenges - not that the members of groups have any identified mental health issue or specific disorder.