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Mar 21, 2016

Counselor Identity and Group Therapy

As professional counselors, do we realize our unique perspective in our role as group facilitators?  

Group counseling is one of my passions- I revel in the magic that happens, the deep connections that are formed and the realness of it.  Counselors make wonderful group therapists because of our profession’s orientation toward wellness, empowerment and resilience of the human spirit.  Many counselors enter the profession with formal training in group therapy, and some take on additional learning through supervision, course-work or credentialing later in their careers. While some counselors may be intimidated by the work of creating and maintaining a successful therapy group, I believe counselors are well prepared by virtue of their approach to therapy and ability to engage clients toward change. Counselors are capable of successfully navigating the stages of group process, understanding social systems, and developing cohesion in groups. Counselors are skilled at interventions that promote change in group, such as direct feedback, emotion stimulation and transparency (for other skills and basics of group work, see the Practice Guidelines for Group Psychotherapy published online by the American Group Psychotherapy Association). Counselors can build upon their skills to become expert group facilitators, and the identities of both counselor and group therapist merge well.

If you are like me, you may have been ‘encouraged’ to work as a group counselor through initial counseling education, with work in agencies, or in intensive treatment programs. During my first job with an agency and without really knowing what I was getting into, I signed on to cover a long-standing interpersonal process group when a colleague was unexpectedly out of the office.  Within a few weeks, I was assigned to take over full responsibility for facilitating this group. I wasn’t sure I would be ready to take over this well-running, working stage group that had been together for longer than I had even been a licensed counselor.  I was sort of right; I couldn’t have been prepared for that experience.  But in many ways I was prepared to be a group leader, thanks to my counseling education and orientation. Graduate level group counseling courses, along with my program’s strong emphasis on person-centered approaches helped me develop the spontaneity and mindset I needed to be effective.  And I respected my group clients as collaborators who held the keys to their healing and growth.  I felt comfortable as clients showed me how their group ran, what they wanted and needed from me. I also bought The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy by Irvin D. Yalom and read a few chapters of it anxiously after every group session. That inspired me to continue encouraging group members to take risks in order to connect.

After much reading, supervision, and deodorant (I sweat a lot during group!?!), I’m now more confident in my skills and realize how those skills are enhanced by my professional identity as a counselor. I would encourage anyone who is thinking about becoming more skilled in group to view Counseling Today, ACA Podcasts, and other valuable resources through the lens of group, from applying specific techniques to instilling values such as compassion, care and social justice. Today in an interpersonal group I facilitate with college students, I reflect on my counselor education and how much gratitude I have for the ACA community. How have you appreciated your counseling background and identity as a group therapist?  

References mentioned in this post:

Harold Bernard, Gary Burlingame, Phillip Flores, Les Greene, Anthony Joyce, Joseph C. Kobos, Molyn Leszcz, Rebecca R. MacNair-Semands, William E. Piper, Anne M. Slocum McEneaney, and Diane Feirman (2008). Clinical Practice Guidelines for Group Psychotherapy. International Journal of Group Psychotherapy: Vol. 58, No. 4, pp. 455-542.

Yalom, I. & Leszcz, M. (2005). The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy (5th ed.) New York: Basic Books.

Amy Rosechandler, MS, LMHC is a counselor in Rochester, NY working with teens and adults at a local university counseling center and in her own private practice, Clarity Mental Health Counseling.  Amy adores group counseling, youth development, and strengths based approaches to therapy. 
Read more about Amy at

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