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We all are involved in groups of some kind. In this lesson, you will learn about the purpose of counseling groups, their history, and the types of groups with which you might be working.


In this lesson, we will be learning the purpose of groups, the history of groups, and types of groups. A group is a collection of two or more individuals, who have face-to-face interaction, interdependently, with the awareness that each belongs to the group and for the purpose of achieving mutually agreed-upon goals. Many people join therapy groups in order to work on their relationships. It usually consists of four to ten clients and one or two therapists.

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The group usually lasts for one or two hours, once a week. Group therapy is a way for group members to discuss their concerns, and group members offer support and feedback.

Purpose of Groups

People often join groups because they are dealing with interpersonal concerns. Clients may come to a group for many reasons. Often, the client is referred by the counselor who feels the group experience can be beneficial for the client. The group experience allows the client to share with a group of people rather than just one counselor.

The client has a broader experience as they learn to function as a member of the group as well as hoping the group will help them. As the client comes to understand the importance of confidentiality to the group, they learn to develop a trust in the group and the group leader, which enables them to take the risk of sharing with the group and accepting positive and negative feedback from them.As the client shares their problem, the group can suggest alternative ways to handle the problem. It can also be a safe place to try out new behaviors. Groups can also make clients aware that others are facing similar issues.

Many times, people feel isolated with their problems. It is encouraging to hear that other people have similar feelings or difficulties, or have even worked through a problem that deeply disturbs another group member.

Themed Groups

Many groups have a theme or are geared toward a certain behavioral problem. There are groups specifically for drug or alcohol addiction, eating disorders, survivors of abuse, loss of mates, divorce, and many other topics. Some groups are open and designed for self-growth. The timeframe for a group may be set to a number of weeks or may remain open ended, like Alcoholics Anonymous, which is continuous, and people can move in and out. Some groups have open membership and others have closed membership – once the number for the group is met, the group closes.

Finally, some groups are structured and have activities planned, while some are unstructured, with the group setting the pace.

History of Groups

Group counseling has had a history since the early 1900s and has quickly developed since.

  • In 1905, Joseph Hersey Pratt is credited with the first group experience when he worked with tuberculosis patients.
  • In 1907, Jesse B. Davis, who was principal of Grand Rapids High School in Michigan, decided that one English class a day be devoted to vocational and moral guidance. It is the first record of a group therapy experience.
  • In the 1920s, The Theatre of Spontaneity by J.

    L. Moreno was a forerunner of psychodrama. His ideas influenced later theorists and began the study of small group phenomenon by social scientists.

    In the 1930s, he introduced the terminology ‘group therapy’ and ‘group psychotherapy’ into the group vocabulary.

  • By the 1930s, there was an increase in group guidance and psychoeducational publications and practices. Self-help groups were created, including the beginning of Alcoholics Anonymous, by founders who stated that ‘the potency of individuals meeting together and interacting in a supportive way produces change.’
  • During the 1940s, Kurt Lewin is recognized as the founder and promoter of group dynamics. He developed field theory, which emphasizes the interaction between individuals and their environment.

    It is based on the ideas of Gestalt psychology.

  • In the 1950s, group procedures were used in the practice of family counseling led by Rudolf Dreikurs, who also worked with parent groups. In 1958, the first textbook in group work was published.
  • The 1960s began the Human Potential Movement, which was founded on the belief that we only use a small part of our capabilities but the group experience can help us reach our full potential. Carl Rogers developed the term encounter group to describe his approach to group work.

    It was designed to help normal individuals remove blocks that inhibit their functioning so they can live more fulfilled lives. Because these groups focus on personal growth, they are known as personal growth groups or sensitivity groups.

  • Marathon groups, which meet for extended periods of time (24-48 hours), became popular for self-growth. As group counseling became more popular, several new theorists emerged, including Fritz Perls’ Gestalt therapy and Eric Berne’s transactional analysis.
  • In 1973, the Association for Specialists in Group Work was formed as a division of the American Personnel and Guidance Association.

  • In the 1980s, the popularity of group work continued to increase until present day. The different types of groups continue to grow and the amount of research done on group work continues to increase.

Types of Groups

Group counseling works well with individuals of all ages. We will look at some of the more popular types of groups.

Guidance/psychoeducational groups were developed for prevention of personal or societal disorders through providing information and examining values. Guidance/psychoeducational groups are common in schools. It uses a preventive approach. There may be a variety of group types at the school level: crisis-centered groups, which are in response to a crisis; problem-centered groups, such as parental divorce groups or grief groups; friendship groups may help students learn to make friends; and growth groups allow children to learn appropriate behaviors. Groups for children may also be seen in private practice and community mental health situations.

Psychoeducational groups have worked so well that they are seen in many other settings, such as hospitals and clinics, and with clients of all ages.Self-help groups assume that people who are having similar problems can help each other by coming together as a group and sharing, disclosing, listening, and learning with each other. Alcoholics Anonymous is a good example of a self-help group. It assumes that there are a large number of individual difficulties.

Homogeneous membership in a group is most helpful in promoting change. There are therapeutic benefits within the group. There are many benefits of self-help groups, for instance, members mutually assist one another, self-help groups have non-directive leaders, the participants have similar situations and problems, members both receive and provide help through the group setting, and the members usually advocate a certain ideology that unites them.Problem solving groups emphasize group dynamics and interpersonal problem solving through each person’s behavior and growth within the group.

Each individual works on their own problems, but others in the group may share the same problem. This type of group tends to be short term. This type of group is more directive than psychoeducational groups. The advantage of the group is interactions, feedback from others, and group experiences. The groups may be dealing with stress, loss, or career decisions.Group psychotherapy is more remedial.

It is designed to help people with serious psychological problems over a longer period of time. This group is more often seen in a mental health facility. The purpose of the group is the reconstruction of the personalities of group members.

Lesson Summary

Group counseling can be an effective way of working with individuals who need therapy. Group counseling allows the individual to receive feedback from more than one individual.

The person may also find others who are going through the same experiences.Group counseling has developed substantially since it first began in the early 1900s. As time progressed, more theorists became interested in the possibility of meeting with individuals as a group.

Since Joseph Hersey Pratt, who is credited with having the first formal group experience with tuberculosis patients in 1905, and Jesse B. Davis, finding large group as an effective way to teach moral values in 1907, counselors have found the group offers experiences that individual counseling cannot. Other theorists, such as J.L. Moreno and Carl Rogers, found ways to use group therapy that fit their style and worked with their clients. In the 1960s, advances in group counseling matched what was happening with society, including encounter groups and marathon groups. Interest in group theory has continued to grow, and publications and research into group counseling are more prevalent.

Guidance/psychoeducational groups, seen most often in schools, are informational and preventive. They usually center on activities. They have become more popular with all ages, and in many settings.

Self-help groups are some of the most popular groups. Alcoholic Anonymous, Weight Watchers, and other popular self-help groups have been quite effective. The group centers on a particular problem, and everyone is there for that reason.Problem solving groups allows each individual to work on their own problems, and the individual can help others in the group.Finally, Group psychotherapy is for more severe problems and is designed for changing behaviors and reconstructing personalities.

Learning Outcomes

When you finish watching the video, you should be able to:

  • Summarize the purpose of group counseling
  • List some of the themed counseling groups
  • Describe the history of group counseling
  • Explain some of the popular counseling groups

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