Small group counseling is one of my favorite parts of being a School Counselor. Starting small group counseling can feel like a daunting task in the beginning. The hardest part is the prep before you even start meeting with kids. It can often deter Counselors from doing group counseling, and instead, seeing students individually. However, when you are in a big school and/or have a large caseload, group counseling can actually make your life so much easier. It is the best way to reach kids on the topics that they need the most and it still is more direct attention than class lessons provide. I will break down the steps that I use to start my groups, hopefully, it will help others to see that groups are within their reach and totally possible. It is worth it, start prepping your groups today!
Step 1: Needs Assessment
The first step to starting small group counseling is figuring out what topic of groups is most needed in your school. The best way to do this is to survey the teachers and staff with a needs assessment. This can be done electronically such as google forms or using a form like this FREE one:
I would use whichever format you feel the teachers and staff are more likely to actually do. Here are some common topics for the group: Social Skills, Anger Management, Stress Management, Self Esteem, Divorce, Grief, Friendship, and Success Skills.
Once you have them returned to you, tally up which groups are the most requested and determine how many you can get in with your own schedule.
Step 2: Recommendations for group
This can be from parents, teachers, staff, etc. Often if I have a student that requests to see me often or a parent that requests for me to talk to their child often, I try to fit them into a group so that they can have the guaranteed time with me each week through the group.
Send out a teacher recommendation form for students they would like to be considered for group. Make sure to list the groups you are offering (that you determined in step 1).
Here is one you can use for FREE:
Once you receive forms back, write down all students in each small group topic recommended. Consider the age levels of the group members, for example, you may want to have two separate groups 2nd and 3rd graders in one group and 4th and 5th graders in a different group, even if they are both on the same topic.
Step 3: Talk to Parents and Students
Now that you have your groups by topic and appropriate age level, you need to call their parents and explain what the group entails. You want to discuss the positive aspects of the group but also be clear about how long your group will be and that it may be that you are pulling them from class during this time. You may have some parents who are hesitant, allow them to ask any questions they have. Let them know you will be sending home a consent form that you need back for the child to be in the group.
The next thing to do would be to talk to the students you are considering for the group. Make sure they know what the group is about, that everyone in the group will be there for a similar reason, and that you will be learning things but also having fun. Give them the consent form, and let them know you need it back from their parents signed to be in the group. It helps to do this, that way you actually get the papers back signed.
Step 4: Scheduling
The next step in starting small group counseling is scheduling. This is going to take you some time, especially if you are at a large school with many different schedules in place. You need to consider when lunch is, specials/electives, recess, if any students are pulled for Speech or ESE services. You may want to do lunch bunches so that you are not pulling from academic time, however, keep in mind it does limit what activities you can do because the kids are eating at the same time. This would be good for friendship or conflict groups that are going to mostly involve talking.
I would not advise pulling from their recess time because the students will feel that the group is a punishment if they lose out on their fun time. Teachers and parents may suggest that you use their recess, I would remind them that academics are very important but so are social-emotional skills as well. If your group meets once a week for 30 minutes, the child is not missing that much from the class. Teacher input for the best time to pull from the group is helpful because you want them to be pro-group, however, you can not make everyone happy. Try to stay away from the days/times they typically give a test or introduce a new chapter. Never pull the students during their special education service times.
Step 5: Reminders
Your groups are almost ready to start, this is a great time to send out reminders. Teachers have A LOT to remember, they will appreciate a friendly reminder that they have a student who is starting group (make sure to state the day the group starts, how long you will be meeting for, and what time). Depending on how your school is run, you may have to go around and pick up each student from class. In my school, they all meet me in my office and walk with a buddy. I usually have to call into the class to remind the teacher to send them down for the group.
I like to give students reminders to put on their desk (somewhere that it can be seen) with the day and time of when the group is. That way students can be responsible for reminding teachers they need to go to group.
Here is a FREE template of a desk reminder for the group:
It is also a good idea to inform admin about your groups and when they are occurring. It is ideal (although not always possible) for you to not be interrupted at this time as it can send a message to the students that their time is not valued. Ask for support from your coworkers, admin, and front office staff to help reduce any interruptions during this time. I usually give admin and the front office a copy of my group days/times and post a copy of it on the outside of my door.
Step 6: Organize materials
The next step in starting small group counseling is getting organized. Every counselor has a different approach to group sessions. I am the counselor with an activity to teach each skill or guide each discussion. This involves planning a bit in advance because I may need to make copies, cut and paste things together, etc. I like to have a goal in mind for each session and a way I am going to creatively get that across to my students. Make sure to allow yourself enough time to prep. Working in schools, you never know what will come your way one minute to the next so leaving the prep to be done an hour before the group starts may leave you stressed and scrounging. This has happened to me many times!
Here are some of my Small Group Counseling Curriculums that I use with my groups. Once they are prepped, I laminate the materials so I can use them over and over again. They each have 9 lessons (for 9 weeks of the group if you meet once a week) that include lesson plans, scripts, a fun activity, and a list of the ASCA and SEL standards that are met.
You can also use books to help facilitate your group sessions, there are so many amazing counseling-themed books out there. Here are a few recommendations:
Step 7: Start the group
The day is here, the group is starting! Your first session is all about discussing what you are all meeting for, determining goals, setting group rules (together), and getting to know each other. I recommend using some type of Icebreaker for the kids to get to know each other and you. I usually encourage participation with little prizes or candy during the icebreaker. Your goal is to get them comfortable and get them to want to come to the group. Do not expect anyone to open up right away, it takes time and has a lot to do with feeling comfortable enough to open up in the safe space you are creating. That is why the first session is so important. Let the learning begin!
Here are FREE Icebreakers you can use:
Here is a FREE group rules template:
I hope this helps you when starting small group counseling, it’s the best part of counseling!