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What to Expect in Group Counseling

Advantages of a Group Counseling Approach

A group counseling format provides a challenging and supportive environment in which members can explore and discuss their concerns with peers and professionals. It offers more than an individual perspective on issues and challenges its members to see things from multiple vantage points.

Within the group setting, members have the opportunity to practice new ways of interacting with others, as well as be challenged to think about the way they currently interact. The trust and support received from the group make it easier to try out these new behaviors. Group counseling also provides members with the opportunity to receive and give help or feedback to their peers.

Another advantage of group therapy is that it helps people recognize that they are not alone in their concerns. Realizing that others have experienced similar difficulties can be an encouraging and empowering experience. Hearing and sharing different ways of coping with similar problems may help members to develop new ways of managing their life.

Group can create an environment that mirrors one's experience outside of group. However, the difference of having a controlled and safe environment often helps members to find the confidence it takes to try new things. Once the change occurs inside group, making changes outside becomes easier. Most groups offered by the Counseling Center will have between 4 and 10 students.

Group Counseling Information
Frequency of Group Sessions

Groups typically meet once a week for one and a half hours on the same day and time every week. This format may vary slightly depending upon the group. Consistent group attendance is important to get the most from the group experience.

Group Counselors: Credentials and Role

Group counselors provide guidelines to help build a trusting environment in which members can work together supportively and safely. They also help members better understand themselves and their interactions with others.


In group counseling, both counselors and group members are responsible for confidentiality. Your group counselors abide by professional standards and will not release any information to outside sources without your written permission. The only exceptions are in cases of imminent danger to self or others, child/dependent abuse and/or neglect, court order, or where otherwise required by law.

As a group member, you share the responsibility to keep confidential the identity of each group member as well as the information shared during the sessions. If you have any questions about confidentiality, feel free to discuss them with your counselor.

Expectations for Group Members

As you begin your group therapy experience, there are a few expectations for you to consider.

  1. Attendance: Regular attendance at group meetings and commitment to the work of the group are very important. Some groups ask for an initial 8 week commitment.  Others ask for commitment to the group for the entire semester. If for any reason a member needs to miss a meeting, they should communicate this to the group counselor by calling (757) 221-3620.
  2. Confidentiality: It is also expected that all group members will promise to maintain confidentiality.
  3. Expression of Feelings: Group therapy often invokes strong feelings. It is expected that these feelings will be expressed verbally rather than physically.
  4. Responsibility: Each group member must take responsibility for working on their therapeutic goals and reasons for being in the group. No one is going to force members to talk or reveal difficult material. It is up to each member to do so on their own.
  5. Saying Goodbye: Members who feel they are finished with their group work are expected to inform the group and return to say goodbye to the other members.

Please keep in mind that it is natural to feel some anxiety about starting in a group for the first time. With time, most members find that they become comfortable with the group process and with other group members. Additional group rules and pre-group meetings are usually a part of the group process, and may vary slightly according to the leaders and type of group. See our available groups, to explore what types of groups are offered this semester.

Further Information

The Counseling Center staff hopes that this page answers most of your questions regarding group work. We also hope that this information will reduce any anxiety you might experience about a group counseling approach.  If you are interested in participating in or learning more about group, please call the Counseling Center at (757) 221-3620 and ask to schedule a triage appointment.  Be sure to request group when you meet with a clinician!  For more information check out our available groups, what W&M students say they experience in our groups and our information about online groups.