Keeping the Purpose of the Group Course in Perspective

It is essential to keep in mind the primary purpose of a group counseling course, which is teaching students leadership skills and providing an understanding of how group process works. Although the main aim of a group course is not to provide personal therapy for students, participating in such a group is inevitably a therapeutic and growth-enhancing learning experience. Encouraging students to make decisions about what personal concerns they are willing to share and to determine the depth of their personal disclosures leads to a more productive group experience that reinforces the importance of empowering their clients and group members to determine the nature and extent of their own self-disclosures.

A group course is not designed to be a substitute for an intensive self-exploration experience, yet learning about how groups function can be enhanced through active and personal participation in the group process. If students take personal risks, they are bound to be uncomfortable at times. Being willing to explore the meaning of their discomfort rather than seeking comfort at all costs can provide insight into how their future clients may be feeling as they begin counseling. If the leader is capable, professional, and well-acquainted with complex experiential group issues such as dual relationships, the leader will provide a safe group space. The facilitator should keep in mind the main purpose and objective of the training group and the best interests of the participants.

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The focus of a small group for trainees can be on what is happening in the here and now. There is rich material in what takes place among members in a group. For example, some people find dealing with conflict quite difficult and uncomfortable, perhaps due to the way conflict was handled in their family of origin. By encouraging members to directly address the conflict in the group and work toward its resolution, trainees can see the value of working through conflict (rather than avoiding it) and have a corrective experience. Students can profit, both personally and professionally, by learning how to manage conflicts as a group member. Counselors-in-training need to understand their own reactions to conflict and see the conflict resolution process being modeled in a healthy and constructive manner. If members openly and honestly learn to deal with one another, they will make great strides toward learning how to facilitate a group and how to improve their own interpersonal functioning.

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