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Imagine you are joining a therapy group. What would your concerns be? In this lesson, we will be discussing the ethics that must be followed in group counseling. Ethical guidelines protect group members and are the responsibility of the group leader.

Issues and Ethics

All of us have participated in a group at some point in our life, whether we were part of a committee, therapy group, or social group. Group counseling can be very beneficial. The client will not only learn from the therapist but also learn from group members and benefit from the experience of participating in a group. For the therapist, it allows helping several clients at once rather than one at a time.

The group experience is only a good one, however, when the group has a strong leader who protects group members, ensures the ethics of the group, and serves as an effective role model. In this lesson, we will look at some of the issues and ethics surrounding the practice of group counseling.

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In beginning a new group, the leader of the group will first be selected.

The leader needs to be someone who has the education and experience in being part of and leading groups and who continues their education through organizations, such as the American Counseling Association and the Association for Specialists in Group Work. The leader of the group has a lot of responsibilities and needs to be someone who can handle the pressure. The Association for Specialists in Group Work published its Professional Standards in 1990, which details the knowledge and skill competencies and group experience for group leaders.The group leader’s first responsibility is determining group size, frequency, and duration. The typical group is from 8-12 members and a group leader and/or co-leader. Groups larger than this may lack the intimacy of this size group, and some members may be intimidated by the size.

Typically, the larger the group, the less effective it will be. The typical group meets from 12-16 sessions and usually meets for an hour and a half each session. This allows time for everyone to participate in the group.

The group leader also has to decide whether to have an open or closed group. Most groups are closed, which means that once the group begins, others cannot join the group. The same members begin and end the group, unless someone decides to withdraw from the group. An open group allows members to join the group at any time and leave the group at any time. Alcoholics Anonymous, for example, has open and closed meetings. Anyone can come to the open meetings, but only regular members can come to the closed meetings.Some groups that are mandated by the courts are open groups.

A mandated group has members who are required to attend the group for a number of sessions mandated by the courts. Members come and go from the mandated group based on completing their number of meetings. Open groups are typically larger than closed groups.


Having a group leader with a strong ethical compass is important for a group to have a good experience, learn, and have members who challenge themselves. The ethics we will be covering include confidentiality, group persuasion, and controlling the pressure or trauma in the group.

Confidentiality is a right of group members to feel that what is said in group stays in group. Members should be aware of the importance of confidentiality, not just for themselves but for others, too. If a group is going to be productive, group members must trust each other to keep their confidences. The group leader should also inform group members of when he cannot maintain confidences, like if the client is dangerous to themselves or others. When a group member breaks confidentiality, the group should address it immediately.In addition to encouraging confidentiality, the group leader must maintain a positive interchange among group members.

The leader should control the flow of the group, draw out silent members, and protect members from other members. Especially as the group goes into the storming stage, an early stage when group members vie for power of the group, group members may use persuasion to get members on their side. Without good leadership, cliques may form, and the group may begin scapegoating, or choosing a group member to take the blame for group difficulties.

The strong leader will help the group experience this stage of unrest and then move on as a group.As the group moves from stage to stage, members will experience a lot of emotion. The group members should be informed before participating in the group that the group experience could cause trauma in their lives.For instance, Bill, who is participating in a substance abuse group, may find that he has to change his hangouts, find different friends, and even give up family members who were participants in his substance use. He finds this very difficult to do and has to decide whether he wants to continue with his life as it has been or change and give up these relationships.

Anne joined a group for women with low self-esteem. She realizes as she continues in the group that changing her concept of herself may mean she may have to divorce her husband. She realizes this may disrupt her life for a while, but in the long run, it will be better for her.

Lesson Summary

So, let’s review. In this lesson, we discuss issues and ethics in group counseling. It is very important that the leader of the group is qualified through education and experience. The group leader chooses and screens group members, plans the group, decides whether it will be an open or closed group, and how many meetings there will be.Ethical issues that should be controlled by the group leader included stressing the importance of confidentiality within the group, helping the group get through the rough patches, like the storming stage – which may result in scapegoating, or when someone in the group is blamed for issues within the group – and protecting members from the group when necessary. The group leader should have prepared group members that the group experience can cause personal trauma, which is necessary for growth, but difficult at the time. The group leader should serve as a role model for the group.

Learning Outcomes

Your focus when you finish the video should be to:

  • Examine the ethics and issues involved in group counseling
  • Describe the importance and characteristics of a qualified group leader
  • Explain how big a group should be and how often it should meet
  • Differentiate between open and closed groups and provide examples of each
  • List the ethical issues that may come up in group counseling
  • Understand what the storming stage is
  • Recall what might occur within a group without good leadership

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