Why Group Therapy Is Important

emily courtney Emily Courtney, PsyD

Have you ever considered group therapy as an option to assist your child’s self-management development? Why wouldn’t you?! Kids run in packs! They are grouped at school, grouped in play, grouped in sports…rarely does a parent hear a child complain, “I was picked to play with a group of friends today and it was so horrible to be included like that!” School is where children are expected to learn how to be good group members as working together is an essential tool to be able to function at full potential. We are social animals and that is part of the magic that makes groups for children and adolescents so powerful.

Group work is an effective intervention for children and teens for many of the same reasons they are effective with adults, plus some additional reasons that are specific to childrens' levels of cognitive, emotional, behavior, and social development. Research has shown that the ability to be a good group member is one of the best predictors of being successful as an adult. Groups enable children to form bonds with peers in a structured environment that helps them in discussing feelings and ideas openly, with reduced risk of inappropriate negative interactions (e.g., teasing, ridicule). They can also safely discuss their individual differences that may be affecting their ability to foster strong relationships outside of group. Group feedback is tremendously helpful in this regard because they are hearing it from other kids, not the stodgy parental figure. Through structured activities or discussion topics, children and adolescents are often able to talk about their personal feelings as well as providing and receiving interpersonal feedback among their group peers that they would have difficulty verbalizing to adults. Groups enable to children to understand that their concerns are not unique to them and that there is not something wrong with them, and they are certainly not alone in their worries. Group discussions may assist children in discussing and coming to appreciate that others share their problems, fears, worries, and the like. Additionally, groups enable counselors to reach more children more quickly and, in mental health contexts, at lower cost to families relative to individual counseling.

Groups at the Tarnow Center are designed to meet children and adolescents where they are developmentally and emotionally. Children's emotional development is closely linked to their cognitive and psychosocial development. Our Groups teach children the Self-Management skills they are expected to have at each developmental stage.

Children from kindergarten to fifth grade are continuing to learn what feelings are and are acquiring increasing levels of impulse control. The development of impulse control is what helps children of this age reduce their reactivity and those big emotions we see from the pre-school age children. By this age, kids really begin to get a handle on the skill of empathy which helps them to think about how their behavior impacts the reaction of peers and adults. However, since children at these ages have not fully acquired the skill of abstract thought they will continue to exhibit some pretty big emotional peaks and dips. Groups for this age are geared toward self-awareness, impulse control, and looking to their environment for clues as to how their behaviors and actions might be affecting others, thus interaction with group peers in both structured and unstructured activities is essential to continued emotional maturity.

By the time they reach middle school, children have acquired a fairly strong understanding of what emotions are. They have acquired the ability to distinguish subtle differences in feelings, but now they must struggle with their budding ambivalence, or having buckets of big, and often conflicting, feelings. Feelings at this age can still be quite intense and confusing which accounts in part for why middle school kids tend to still come across as emotional, reactive, and self-centered as their preschool selves. Typical young teens are able to engage in at least a rudimentary reasoning process, despite the scientific fact that the parts of the brain responsible for such reasoning will still be developing well into their 20’s. Groups for this age are structured in ways that communicate the normality and universality of their feelings so that they are able to learn more about themselves, the impact of their behavior on others' response to them, and the ways they can manage their feelings through the use of reasoning and problem-solving. 

Teenagers are typically more invested in being validated by their peers that anyone else which makes group therapy at this age an ideal choice. Group benefits for this age range are endless! Think about it, from here until their 18th birthday is all we have left to teach our mini-mes what they need to know before we launch them out into the world. We want them to have as many skills as possible to be able to navigate life on their own, and hopefully be kind, compassionate, contributing members of society to boot. Let’s face it that we also kinda hope they don’t come back after college so we can convert their bedroom into that Zen sanctuary we saw on HGN the other week. They need skills to be able to do that, and groups are a wonderful option to shore them up before they head out the door.

If you think your child would benefit from a particular group, ask us if we are offering one. If we aren’t currently running one that is a good fit, we have the benefit of having many skilled therapists, all of whom have strengths and specialties, and all of whom will have at least a child or three who could benefit from a group just like your child would. In other words, at the Tarnow Center we have the ability to create a group to fit your child’s needs. Please call us to find out how we can help you today (713) 621-9515.

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