Group therapy interventions are suitable for children and young people who present with low-moderate level need and do not require longer term one-to-one therapeutic support.
Group therapy can use various modalities of therapy, such as talking therapies or creative therapies, and is often changed to reflect the needs/ages of the group. Sessions can often hold up to eight young people at a time and can, by nature of the therapeutic space being client-led, be quite fluid in its approach (often working with what the young people themselves bring into the space rather than a set structure). That said, there is often an underlying theme that bring these young people together, for example, social anxiety or bereavement which can be reflected in the sessions.
In comparison to individual therapy, group therapy is different in that it allows (and even encourages) a shared connection between the members of the group themselves that offers them the opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings, whilst also drawing from each other’s experiences thus truly creating an equal and balanced space. Comparatively, individual therapy relies on the natural growth and trust between therapist and young person and is, by nature, one-sided in that a therapist is unlikely to share their personal experiences and would be focused on the young person alone. As mentioned previously, group therapy is best suited to low-mid level complexities due to this factor in which young people are often encouraged to share their own experiences or perspectives on a topic. High level complex cases may be inappropriate for such settings, especially with the risk of one young person’s experiences triggering another young person.
The role of the therapist in these sessions is to offer alternative paths of discussion, challenge/reframe existing views, identify dysfunctional behaviours, and generally mediate the different personality dynamics within the group. The therapist also ensures the safety of the group space, reinforcing group agreements on appropriate behaviours. Whilst it is important that the group be free and unrestricted in the discussion, the therapist should also be aware of potentially triggering discussions, and the effects on group members. Safeguarding is of course a priority, so any disclosure is carefully managed to ensure the wellbeing of a group member. Finally, the therapist needs to manage the safe and effective closure of the group at the end of session, especially after personal and difficult discussions.
On some occasions, a therapist may work with a co-therapist which can slightly alter how a session is run. For example, when working with a co-therapist, the therapists can take one of two types of roles, an active member of the discussion (as a prompter/challenger or using psychoeducation), or as an observer (monitoring group involvement/body language or picking up on underlying/reoccurring elements of the conversation which can be brought up as a later reflection). Between the two therapists, these roles can switch between sessions or even within a session. This can best describe the roles as the ‘active’ therapist holding the flow of conversation within the session, and the ‘observing’ therapist being a holder of the therapeutic space.
In 2022-23 KidsAid worked in several primary and secondary school settings to deliver group therapy and found it to be widely beneficial to support young people developing social skills, confidence, and self-esteem.
Feedback gathered from the groups evidenced the following:
Some members of the group offered additional comments: one young person said “It [sessions] makes me feel safe” and the other shared, “now my feelings feel happy”.
For more information about who we are, how we work and our impact, please see contact: email@example.com.
KidsAid Creative Therapist and Group Therapy Facilitator
MSc Children and Young People Counselling. Member of the BACP