As a substance abuse counselor, I hear many of my clients refer to our group sessions as “classes”. This made me start thinking about what the difference is between them. When I think of groups, I think of a safe environment that has a “give-and-take” approach where members can explore their knowledge about a given subject, and share areas of their lives that need help. When I think of classes, I envision a set curriculum that allows for discussion but no departure from the original material. Groups rely on a counselor to guide them to knowledge and how to apply a set of tools to their lives. Classes depend on an educator to teach information, but not necessarily how to make that information become their own.
I am a counselor and not a teacher. Specifically, I have a degree in counseling, not teaching. I was not required to learn how to set up lesson plans or grade papers. I did learn how to write tests, though. But, the focus of my education was in helping others explore their options in a given situation and to make choices – hopefully better choices – where no choices seemingly existed before. Yes, there is a psychoeducational component to group counseling. However, the greatest difference I see is that in groups, there is an added component of personal growth.
Working with addicts can be difficult as no addict embraces change, and will often dig their heels in to resist. My job as a counselor, is to help them through these changes with minimal collateral damage. My job as a teacher, is to educate my group members on the differences between groups and classes. While it doesn’t seem, at first glance, to be much difference, as I see it, the major difference is that teaching is part of a group dynamic, but applying that knowledge and information to one’s personal life is not necessarily a part of classes. I would love to hear other substance abuse counselor’s opinion on this subject.
Linda Magnelli is a counselor who works in Phoenix as a substance abuse and mental health counselor specializing in difficult cases.