Overcome barriers to Small Group Counseling

overcome barriers to group counseling

There are so many benefits to Small Group Counseling, but there can be some barriers that prevent Counselors from being able to provide this service. The list is long...state testing, RTI, managing crisis, I could go on and on. Although there is so much on counselors' plates, it is important to overcome barriers to small group counseling and reach those students through this method. Let's look at possible barriers that come up and how to overcome them and get your Group Counseling on!

The student does not want to be in the group.

Your group is so awesome how could anyone not want to be a part of it? Well, it happens. I find it's usually the older boys who think they are just too cool to talk about feelings that are reluctant to be in the group. It is important to address this right away because it can be contagious and other group members may be sucked into this student’s negativity. I like to speak to the students one on one and talk to them about the group and get their opinions on it. Then I try to get them invested in it, I ask them to be my special helper and help the group follow the group rules, keep track of time (alert me to when there is 5 min left of the group so I can wrap it up), help me prep materials. I find that when a kid feels like he/she is more involved and has a special role in the group, they will have more positive feelings towards the group.

The parent does not want the student to be in group.

After a student is referred to group counseling by a teacher, staff member, or myself I always contact the parent. I send home a parent consent form that explains the purpose of the group and the benefits. If I think a parent is going to be reluctant to agree, I call them and explain it in more detail. Usually, once a parent hears the benefits and I answer any of their questions about it, they typically agree to group counseling. Some benefits you can mention are being able to consistently meet with you, hearing other students going through similar issues, and learning important social-emotional skills.

The teacher does not want the student to miss class.

All teachers want services for their students, but it can be difficult schedule-wise for the student to miss a class lesson. I try my hardest to consider this when making the schedule of when the group will be but it is impossible to please everyone. I explain to the teacher the benefits of group and how it will help the student with valuable social-emotional skills, but it will also help them academically. For example, a student who is struggling in school may need to work on their self-esteem and coping skills. Once a student feels more confident in themselves, it will reflect in their work.

Lack of time in your schedule

There is not one counselor that will ever say they have a lot of available time. It is the nature of our job, we are busy. Even on days where it looks like you will have some time, a crisis will come up and your available time goes out the window. Know and accept that and then decide that even though it will be difficult, it is worth making the time for. I find that small groups are great for my frequent fliers {students who request to see me a lot) because it is a guaranteed way for them to see me once a week and that helps reduce their requests which helps free up some time. There are many tasks that take up counselors' time that is not counseling-related, it is important not to cut the important things, like group counseling, to make time for something like testing. Keep your schedule busy with the important stuff so adding non-counseling-related tasks is less of an option to admin.

Too many referrals for counseling

I send out referral forms to all teachers, when I get them back I usually have way more students referred than I can fit into my groups. I will then break the groups down by age group. For example, I usually have 2 groups for social skills. One is 2nd-3rd grade and one is 4th-5th grade. I find these age groups work better together, that way you don’t have a group with a 2nd grader and a 5th grader. I look at their schedule and fill the group with usually max 6 kids. There may be one or two kids that did not fit into the group without the group becoming too large (its SMALL group counseling after all) I will then look at the kids and see if they can fit into a different group, maybe one of them is also struggling with self-esteem and would be able to fit into that group instead. If you really can not fit all the kids, you can always try to see that child more one-on-one instead of the group. I also like to have one set of groups running in fall and another in spring, that way you can spread out services and include more students.

Admin do not think its important

This is where data is so important. If you have the data to show how group counseling positively impacted students, you can sit down with your admin and plead your case with evidence. Admin love data! If you have never done groups and therefore have no data yet, then give teachers a needs assessment asking what areas they think their students need help with and what will help support teachers. It will be helpful to inform admin of the specific requested needs of the school. You can also use this awesome infographic to show the value of group counseling.

Here is a FREE needs assessment:

Too many interruptions

Let me get on my soapbox for a minute...when my door is closed, it's closed for a reason! It is so disruptive to the counseling environment to have someone walk-in in the middle of a session. It throws the group completely off and also loses that safe space feeling. Imagine finally getting a child to open up about an issue and someone randomly comes into your office. UGH! It is the worst. It has taken me many many conversations with staff to reduce this from happening and usually, the conversations are informative about why it's important not to be interrupted for the child's sake. The main concept to get across is that it is critical to the counseling relationship for the student to feel heard, and they will never feel that way if 3 people come in to tell me something. Instead, they will feel devalued, like they were not important enough and that is not something that you ever want to make a child feel. When an interruption does happen, I like to validate the child by apologizing to them for the interruption and that the conversation is important to me. I often tell the person who is interrupting, that I am in the middle of an important talk. That way the student can see that they are a priority to me. I used to make the mistake of saying “I will get to that as soon as I can" because then the student will think I am rushing to get to that issue instead of giving them the time they need to open up.

Not enough referrals

Before you send out your teacher referrals, communicate to teachers as much as you can about the benefits of the group. What their students can get from it (coping skills) and what they can get (teaching coping skills can reduce behavior issues in the classroom and improve academic performance). I usually talk about this at a faculty meeting during pre-planning and reiterate it closer to when referrals are going out. I also send an informative email.

Lack of engaging Curriculum

Planning for the group can be time-consuming, check out this blog post about how I plan my groups: 7 steps to starting Small Group Counseling

You can overcome barriers to Small Group Counseling, it does not have to be difficult. There is a magnitude of easy ready-to-go Small group counseling curriculums that you can use. Here are a few of the ones I created and use year after year.

I hope this helps you to overcome barriers to Small Group Counseling, it's truly one of the best parts of being a counselor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *