I wish I could go back in time to 2012 and give myself some tips on school counseling groups because I made a lot of mistakes. But mistakes are for learning, right? So I’m sharing five of my group counseling mistakes with you – so you can learn from them, too!
1. Not Enough Group Counseling Sessions
When I first started as a school counselor, I thought every group was supposed to be six sessions long. It’s what I read online and it’s what I found in the books left in my office from the previous counselor. Turns out, that wasn’t enough for most of my students. Just like with medicine when we talk about the “dose” someone should take, “doseage” is something to consider in social or emotional or behavioral interventions like group counseling.
Nearly all evidence-based group counseling curriculums for elementary aged children have 8+ sessions. Most have 10+. That doesn’t mean every group needs that many, but it does mean we should think more critically about how many sessions our students will need in order to truly learn and grow – especially when there are multiple skills they struggle with, or if these concerns have existed for awhile.
2. Covering Too Many Skills or Ideas
A huge mistake that I made was covering way too wide of a range of skills within my groups. Just because students would benefit from practice on a wide range of skills, doesn’t mean that we should try to tackle all of them.
Kids who are candidates for group counseling often have a long list of skills and attitudes that they need help with. This can make us want to tackle all of these things in our sessions, which in order to do and the little amount of time we have, means focusing on a different skill idea in each group session. The problem with this is that students who are referred to or need group counseling, are also students that need repetition. They are students who have had these struggles for a significant amount of time and or the struggles themselves are pretty significant – they’re going to need more than one 30 minute session on a skill in order to master and start using it everywhere else in the building.
It’s usually better to narrow in on just a handful of skills to teach, model, practice, and reinforce throughout the group – you also can reinforce and coach some of the other skills less directly throughout your time together.
3. Skipping Group Counseling Termination Sessions
I used to think that kids didn’t need to intentionally process the ending of a group and that I didn’t need to have a “termination session” when I was at the end of my groups. I was wrong! Without an intentional closing or termination session, the students were sometimes confused that we weren’t meeting anymore – and it seemed they were less likely to recall what we learned together. I realize that it didn’t have to be like the deep termination processing I learned about in grad school, it could just be making the last session different from the others (and hyping it up a little) – like with an extra fun game or craft and a tasty snack.
4. Scheduling Sessions Back to Back
This was my most recent mistake. I was running a lot of groups crammed into two days each week (as a part-timer) in addition to class lessons and a handful of individuals. I thought “I’m experienced, no break, no biggie!” Turns out, I was quite wrong.
Without 5-10 minutes between scheduled things, I didn’t have the opportunity for individual check-ins (or restorative conferences) after group check-ins. Or a chance to regulate myself after a challenging class lesson or a heavy individual session. It meant I couldn’t always ensure my own head space was where it needed to be to effectively lead a group.
If I could travel back even to just the start of this school year, I would make sure I had a time gap between my direct services whenever possible.
5. Not Doing Them
Groups come with a lot of challenges and limitations BUT they are still absolutely a crucial service we should provide kiddos. They are an evidence-based practice and a way to serve more students. And at the same time, a common mistake we make is not doing them. Sometimes it’s because we (and/or the school) don’t prioritize them so it’s incredibly hard to schedule them. Or it’s because we haven’t seen success from previous groups and so we don’t want to do more. Sometimes it’s because groups can feel super overwhelming.
These are of course not the only group counseling mistakes elementary school counselors make (or the only ones I’ve personally made) – we occasionally include too many students, kids who aren’t a great fit, use too many worksheets, etc. What else would you add to the list of mistakes we make?
Did any of these resonate with you? Are there things you plan to change with your own group counseling practices? Do you want to do a fun, simple, and powerful training to get yourself ready for running the best groups you can?
Click here or the image above to learn more about the training!