We have all heard about support and therapy groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or grief survivors. But what about kids, can they benefit from group therapy? And what kinds of groups are available?
First, though we should talk about what exactly is group therapy? Group therapy involves a therapist working with a small select group of clients. Groups are often designed to target specific problems such as anxiety, depression, or eating disorders. Other groups focus on improving social skills, or helping clients cope with a range of challenges such as low self-esteem, emotional regulation, shyness or a recent loss.
Group therapy gives therapists an opportunity to see how kids relate to one another in a group setting. For kids struggling with social anxiety, poor social skills, or inattentiveness, the group setting offers the therapist a chance to help kids work through their obstacles with other kids as they occur.
Groups can be limited with a fixed number of sessions, or ongoing. There are open groups where people come in and out, or closed groups where the participants do not change. In addition to providing support, groups are designed to teach and instill proven strategies for coping with specific problems. Drop me a comment and let me know your favorite way to play with your child.
Research indicates that group therapy is very effective for children. Children this age have a limited understanding of emotions and can often be very reactive. Guided interactions with peers can increase emotional intelligence and develop social skills that are critical developmental goals for this age. Studies show kids treated with group therapy were better off at the end of treatment than 73% of those who were not.
Since children have a natural ability to express themselves through play, groups for children involve various forms of play into the session. This may include spontaneous play or structured play activities such as role-playing, drawing, or board games.
- Kids may feel shy or awkward when joining a group, but group therapy has benefits individual counseling does not. Children often feel their problems are unique to them and this can lead to feelings of loneliness. Being a part of a group where the kids have similar problems help children feel validated, supported, and understood. Groups help kids feel heard and known. I like to start my groups off with get-to-know-you activities, so members can begin to trust each other.
- Groups also help kids learn to talk openly about their struggles and learn from peer modeling. Kids often feel overwhelmed by their emotional responses to stressors. Groups offer kids a place to vent their emotions, connect with other kids, and empathize with one another, decreasing their stress level.
While participating in the group activities, children will be able to appropriately express feelings that they would have difficulty expressing to adults. Group therapy provides an opportunity for kids to practice verbalizing and exploring their emotions with their peers. This helps kids build effective communication tools to use when they are in distress. I have role-played how to express emotions appropriately in groups and taught skills such as I statements.
One of my former child clients, now a teenager, recently told me how much he enjoyed our weekly group meetings. He described how we would be talking while doing activities and it didn’t feel like therapy. He explained how he received help with his emotions and felt like he could be an open book.
- Groups provide a safe and structured environment that allows kids to have positive social interactions with peers that create supportive relationships. Groups provide a setting in which children are able to learn through social interactions. The therapist models active listening, providing constructive feedback, and offering support. Group members also provide feedback on social behaviors. Kids don’t have a ton of opportunities to get meaningful feedback on social skills in the moment. Through group work, kids learn to empathize with, support, and care for their peers. This translates to positive friendship skills in their own communities. Over time group members pick up on these behaviors and implement them both in the group setting and in their everyday lives.
- Group therapy provides a platform for children to help others. The power of helping others is therapeutic and enhances self-esteem and self-worth. Working through complex emotional issues with a peer group helps kids learn new ways of relating to others. Through group work, kids find their voices and practice new skills in a safe environment with feedback from a therapist.
- Through the use of structured activities, the therapist teaches proven strategies to cope with specific problems. Group members will have the opportunity to practice these skills and receive feedback. With time group members begin incorporating these strategies into their daily lives. I encourage members of my groups to teach these skills to parents or siblings, so the whole family can practice together.
Group therapy is an effective form of treatment for children. It can be done alone or in combination with individual therapy. While individual therapy helps kids explore their emotions, responses to stress, and steps they can take to improve their emotional wellbeing, it doesn’t address the specific difficulties kids face in the classroom, on the playing field, or in small groups.
As a school-based therapist, I received feedback from multiple teachers that after participating in group therapy, the participants’ behavioral issues in class decreased. Parents reported improvements in communication around emotional expression and less fights with siblings. While, the kids seemed happier and formed more meaningful relationships.
Butterfly Beginnings Counseling is currently accepting enrollments for groups beginning in 2021. For more information click HERE.