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Group counseling theories vary according to the philosophy behind them.

We will look at four of the most popular group counseling theories, and how they are alike and unalike in this lesson.

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Group Counseling

In this lesson, we will be looking at some of the more popular group theories. We will look at Adlerian group counseling, person-centered counseling (humanistic), psychodrama, and cognitive-behavioral counseling. We will look at the basic premises, roles of the leaders, stages, and desired outcomes of counseling.

Adlerian Groups

Alfred Adler used groups as early as 1922 to counsel parents. Though, as much as he used groups in therapy, he never came up with a theory specifically concerning groups. However, his theory has always been group-related.

Other theorists, such as Dreikurs and Dinkmeyer, developed Adler’s concepts for Adlerian group work. Its emphasis is on social development, cooperation, and education.One of the main ideas of Adler’s theory is social interest.

Social interest is not only an interest in others, but an interest in the interest of others. He believed that people perceive the world based on their experiences and are not objective. People do not act randomly, but have a purposefulness in all their behaviors, which controls our fate and goals. Movement toward our goals is more important than what happened in the past.Adler was concerned with the present. He stressed a healthy style of life, which for him is the way one prefers to live and relates to others. He felt that people are creative enough to choose from a wide variety of behaviors.

Behavioral disorders occur when one chooses unwisely. Common aspects of all Adlerian groups are:

  1. An emphasis is placed on an interpretation of a person’s early history.
  2. There is a practice of stressing individual, interpersonal, and group process goals during the duration of the group.
  3. Goals may include individual, interpersonal, or group goals.

The Adlerian group leader should possess certain characteristics, including serving as a role model for group members. The leader helps establish structure by helping members define their goals, offers interpretations, guides group assessment, builds a feeling of community within the group, and is aware of basic conditions needed for growth.Desired outcomes of the group primarily focus on the growth and actions of the individual within the group, rather than the group itself.

Members of the group should be more socially-oriented, personally-integrated, and goal-directed.

Person-Centered Group Counseling

Person-centered group counseling is influenced by Carl Roger’s belief in nondirective counseling. He believed that if he created the environment and feeling of acceptance and warmth, the client would grow. Person-centered groups are built on certain premises.The first of these is trust in the inner resources of people, then trust in the group to help members develop their potential. He believed that certain conditions can be created within the group to maximize its full potential, such as communication, active listening, and confrontation as important elements of the group. He also felt that the group should be led by a qualified person who has training and experience to facilitate the group.

The leader of person-centered groups is directed by the members. The leadership style is more passive than in other types of counseling. Leaders of person-centered groups serve as role models of openness, congruence, warmth, genuineness, and acceptance when creating a nonthreatening climate where clients can grow. Person-centered therapists participate as members of the group and will share their struggles with the group. Group leaders are seen as facilitators. Group leaders carry out the following functions:

  1. Conveying warmth and empathy
  2. Attending to others
  3. Understanding meaning and content
  4. Conveying acceptance
  5. Linking

The desired outcomes of the person-centered group are for members to develop awareness of themselves and others, to find self-actualization (being all that one can be), to have an openness to experience, to feel less alienated, and, ultimately, to change one’s behavior.


Psychodrama, which was one of the earliest group theories, was originated as J. L. Moreno began his Theatre of Spontaneity. He observed that those who played in non-scripted and unrehearsed roles experienced an emotional catharsis. His theory is centered around the acting out of events that have happened, concerns about the future, and other things that are causing problems in the client’s life. Psychodrama may be used in a variety of clinical and community settings.

In a session of psychodrama, a client becomes the protagonist and focuses on a particular situation in their past or future. Moreno believed that the best way for an individual to respond creatively to a situation is through spontaneity, a readiness to improvise and respond to the moment. By acting the situation out, the client may come up with new ways of responding.During the drama, the single participant is known as a protagonist.

The leader is known as the director. The group acts out several scenarios, which prove beneficial for the protagonist and other members of the group, too. The focus of the session is to act out the scenarios, rather than talk through them. The three sections of a typical session are the warm-up, the action, and the sharing:

  1. Warm-up: the actors are to enter a present state of mind where they can be present and in the moment.
  2. Action section: the time in which the scenes take place.
  3. The sharing: the actors discuss the action and share their feelings with the protagonist.

Cognitive-Behavioral Group Counseling

Cognitive-behavioral group counseling (CBGT) addresses dysfunctional emotions, maladaptive behaviors, and cognitive processes through a series of procedures. It is a combination of behavioral and cognitive therapy and is viewed as problem-focused and action-oriented.CBGT is effective for the treatment of mood, anxiety, personality, eating, substance abuse, and psychotic disorders.

Common features between the cognitive and behavioral theories are the emphasis on the here and now, the directive role of the counselor, the structuring of the sessions, a limited timeframe, the collaborative nature, and the desire to relieve client’s symptoms and vulnerabilities.The techniques are designed to change beliefs that blow events out of proportion. These errors in thinking are called cognitive distortions. The therapy is designed to replace maladaptive thinking with more adaptive thinking by challenging discrepancies in thinking and reality. CBGT views the interactions between the group members as the vehicle of change. For a CBGT group to work there should be group cohesiveness and task focus. Cognitive-behavioral group therapy has six phases:

  1. Assessment
  2. Re-conceptualization, or learning to think about events more rationally
  3. Skills acquisition
  4. Skills consolidation, or integrating new skills
  5. Generalization and maintenance
  6. Post-treatment follow-up

Lesson Summary

The Adlerian group is based on the theory of Alfred Adler.

Adler emphasized growth and social interest. He thought people wanted to be the best they can be, but have made wrong choices. The group and group leader gently encourage the individual to look at their poor choices. We can control our destiny and change if we choose. The group helps use figure out how.

In the person-centered group, Carl Rogers believed that if you (or the group) create a warm and accepting environment, people will choose to work toward self-actualization, or being the best you can be. The leader plays a passive role in the group.Psychodrama, developed by J. L. Moreno, is based on his ideas that when we act out our problems as a role play we will be able to come up with new solutions and that other group members will also learn from the experience.

In the cognitive-behavioral group, dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors are addressed. It focuses on the problem and is action-oriented. The goal of the therapy is to change maladaptive thinking to the more rational.

Learning Outcomes

When you complete the video on group counseling theories, you should be able to:

  • Explain what Alderian group work is and what it emphasizes
  • Describe person-centered group counseling and what the desired outcomes are
  • Define psychodrama and list the sections of a typical session
  • Recall what cognitive-behavioral group counseling is and what kinds of conditions it treats

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