Group counseling skills are pretty much the same as the skills one brings to an individual session, except multiplied by the number of folks in a group, and your groups purpose, and perhaps your theoretical orientation. My experience in group is with men who are court ordered to a domestic violence psychoeducational group and my orientation would be broadly to the solution oriented philosophy. You can be prepared to hear a host of incredibly painful life histories, mixed with moments of transcendant growth.
Group counseling can be an incredibly energizing and flowing process so managing your perceptions and the flow of information and the style of communication is very important, understanding the non-verbal cues, drawing out, summarizing, recognizing growth, change, courage, participation, ect. is very important.
I teach about mythology, initiation, FLOW, and I teach a great deal about the brain, and how fast we need to make choices, so I use lots of tools.
The most important group counseling skill is to set your intention in your head and to keep it.
Why are you here? If you are curious about people, do you want to offer some tools which your group members can then choose or not choose to use, or are you leading the group to get people "fixed"?
"Fixing" people, teaching them what you know as the one true path, will cost you your groups participation, and make the group process very tedious.
I believe that change from the most intractable kinds of conditions or issues is possible, since I have done it, (actually I prayed for change and it happened) so that is the expectation I bring to my groups.
I also believe that my clients already have all the skills they need to make their relationships successful, although some of those skills are very raw. (Our motto-"Plenty of room for imperfection, no room for bull shit!")
(Although my clients are court ordered, the ones who show up are looking for tools).
So once my intention or mission is set in my head, I begin the process of teaching the core concept of a domestic violence group, which is the difference between power and control and offering choice.
In this particular mileau, I will model offering my clients choice over and over again, which teaches experientially that they are responsible for their choices and consequences.
Once they experience consistency on my part, or they see the more senior members of the group participating, then there is a level of trust which makes the group possible.
I will draw on many different tools, from many different models, in order to offer ideas to my clients which they can incorporate or not, but it sure takes the pressure of me to be "right".
The tools I believe to be most important to teach and model are reflective listening and offering choice.
Reflective listening allows me to respond non-judgmentally to any kind of comment made, and then to teach about choices and consequences.
In the role of group co-leader, I am often spoken to contemptuously or emotionally and if I am committed to reflective listening, all I need to do is reflect and ask about choices and consequences.
We do require that all new clients become familiar with the contractual side of their group counseling process by reading and signing many pages of an intake, which includes a behavioral check list, releases of information, payment and attendance rules and regulations, ect.
It is then on record to provide documentation when they have questions or forget that they have made a committment.
Then we get on to the experiential side of the process, which is very important I believe, for the effectiveness of the entire group, which is introductions, including the staff introductions.
We all reveal something about who we are, and for the members of the group, they will discuss what happened the night of the arrest.
A new member will talk last, and after getting a feel for how the senior members of the group handle that, begin the process of revelation.
Any refusal to participate is simply met by questions about which consequences the client wishes to generate.
Once the contract is signed, we can point to committments agreed to and necessary consequences flowing from noncompliance.
Once again, we are modeling the choice and consequence process, rather than power and control.
My favorite question in this kind of circumstance is to ask, "How does it work in your life to make a committment, and then refuse to keep it?"
We will eventually get to a place where the client admits the rules do not apply to him, or he is special, which will be pointed out to other group members who usually offer feedback about trustworthiness to the newer client.
Hopefully you get a sense of a very simple feedback loop set in place by the facilitator which continually helps the client see they are always making choices for which they are responsible, even if the choice is not to make a choice.
We also say goodbye to graduates, where members get to offer congratulations, and to remind the senior member how he has impacted their life.
It is a blessing and often men who come to this circumstance have never been blessed, certainly not by another man.
It is a successful conclusion, and then we begin all over.
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