University Counseling Services (UCS) offers a wide variety of free group treatment, including wellness workshops, support groups, and therapy groups and psycho-educational workshops, to currently enrolled students. Therapists facilitate a wide variety of groups and workshops in order to meet both the personal and academic needs of our students. Groups and workshops can offer solutions to challenges you are facing in a different way than individual counseling.
Below are some common questions about group counseling and workshops.
What is Group Therapy?
Group therapy provides a place where you come together with others to learn skills, share problems or concerns, better understand your own situation, and learn from and with each other. Research tells us that group therapy is just as effective as individual therapy and that for some, group therapy may be the preferred treatment. This makes sense because we live and interact in group environments our entire lives including family, friends, schools, organized activities, or work. In these group environments, we learn from the people we interact with. This is what group therapy is all about. Depending on the type and goals of the group, group therapy helps people learn about themselves and improve their interpersonal relationships, it helps to address feelings of isolation, depression or anxiety, teaches people coping skills for managing stressors, it helps people build community and provides space to make significant changes so they feel better about the quality of their lives. In group therapy, you learn that perhaps you’re not as different as you think or that you’re not alone. Whether you want to overcome challenges, improve relationships, connect with others, or learn coping skills, there is a place for you.
What Are Groups Like?
What Are UCS Groups Like?
Currently, all UCS groups and workshops are offered via telehealth. UCS groups come in many shapes, sizes, and approaches, but in general, groups vary between 4-10 members, with one or two facilitators present to help lead the group. Most groups meet weekly at the same time, with the same people. Some groups are primarily educational in nature and teach coping skills for various concerns, some serve primarily as a supportive function, and others are "process groups" or insight-oriented. Some groups are time-limited and do not allow in new members after a certain point in group, while others are open-ended and allow new members to enter as other members leave. Most groups require a one-on-one pre-group meeting with the group facilitator so that the person interested in group can learn more about it and determine if it the right fit for their goals.
What Is The Difference Between a Wellness Workshop and a Group?
Wellness Workshops are time-limited, fast-paced, structured, skill-building workshops in which there is no expectation or requirement that students talk or share anything about themselves. The workshops can have between 1 to 10 students and are led by a UCS facilitator. Students work from a workbook. These workshops are like mental health classes that teach about a certain topic and provide skills to navigate concerns. Because of the fast-paced, structured nature and the lack of expectation that students talk, there is less of an opportunity to get to know and build relationships with other students in the workshop. Some students, who are unsure if they are ready to commit to a group or anxious about talking in front of other CSUN students, appreciate the opportunity to gain knowledge and skills from these Wellness Workshops.
UCS groups tend to be longer in nature, have an expectation that group members share and talk to each other and provide an opportunity to connect and build community.
Depending on your comfort level and goals, both options can be invaluable in your growth and healing.
Types of Groups
There are several types of groups at UCS. The way the group works, the interactions between members and the role of the facilitator vary with each type of group.
Skills-based groups are for people who want the opportunity to be educated, to increase knowledge of resources, and to build coping skills in certain areas of their lives. The focus of this type of group is mainly on psychoeducation and building skills. They are structured or semi-structured groups which means that there is a set topic for each session and members are encouraged to practice the skills learned between sessions. They are a little bit like a class but with more interaction among members and facilitators. The facilitator shares information with the group members, while members speak about their own experiences related to the topic and practice new skills during the session. While the focus on in building skills, group members may still benefit from connecting with others who are struggling with similar issues. These groups are more likely to be time-limited and relatively short-term.
Support Groups are for people who would like to give and receive support with others who are dealing with similar issues/common experiences. Support groups are also for people who want a sense of community and connection with other CSUN students. The focus of this type of group is on creating and holding a safe and supportive space for members to connect with others who share common experiences, identities and concerns. Members work to express their own problems, feelings, ideas and reactions as freely and honestly as possible and give and receive feedback, advice and support. Members learn not only to understand themselves and their own issues but also become helpers for other members.
At UCS, support groups are either semi-structured with set weekly topics in which group facilitators provide information and create space for dialogue or unstructured and organic in nature with members deciding what to share and focus on. These groups tend to run for a full semester and some offer the option to continue for as long as it would be beneficial.
Process Groups are for people who want to better understand and change how they relate to others so that they can experience deeper connections. People typically have a pattern of relating to others in their everyday lives and that pattern will play out in group interactions. For example, if someone is shy and tends to hold back with others, they will likely feel shy and want to hold back in group.
Unlike with skills or support groups, the focus of the process group is on what you are experiencing in the group as you interact with other members. The learning and growth come from becoming more aware of your own thoughts, feelings, assumptions, reactions and behaviors as they occur while interacting with other group members. Additionally, growth comes from giving and receiving interpersonal feedback about how you experience other group members and how they experience you. As a result, you learn about your personality and your impact on other people and can actively practice changing behaviors that may interfere with healthy relationships.
At UCS, process groups are unstructured and organic in nature with members deciding what to share and focus on. The facilitators guide the discussion towards here-and-now experiences in the room and make observations about interactions to facilitate connection. These groups tend to run for a full semester and some offer the option to continue for as long as it would be beneficial.
Benefits of Participating in a UCS Group
Joining a group of strangers may sound intimidating at first, but group therapy provides benefits that individual therapy may not. Anyone can benefit from group therapy as long as the group is the right fit at the right time. Here is a list of potential benefits you may experience from actively participating in a UCS group.
Groups provide relief:
It can be a relief to hear others discuss what they're going through, and realize you're not alone and that other people “get it.” A sense of relief also comes from being heard and accepted by others.
Groups offer a sense of belonging and connection:
Group members will start out as strangers, but in a short amount of time, you'll most likely view them as a valuable and trusted source of support and a “secure base” at CSUN.
Groups promote self-exploration:
Regularly talking and listening to others also helps you think about yourself and put your own problems in perspective. You can benefit from the group even during sessions when you say little but listen carefully to others. Most people find that they have important things in common with other group members, and as others work on concerns, you can learn much about yourself. In the group environment, others serve as mirrors that reflect aspects of yourself that you can recognize and explicitly choose if you want to modify or change.
Groups offer diverse perspectives:
Diversity is another important benefit of group therapy. People have different personalities, backgrounds and experiences, and they look at situations in different ways. By participating in a UCS group, you will see how other people tackle problems and make positive changes and thus discover a whole range of strategies for facing your own concerns.
Groups bring hope and propel you forward:
Hearing how other members successfully overcame their challenges can be empowering and motivating. Group provides a space to learn from other CSUN students.
Groups promote social skills. Group provide the opportunity to practice social skills and engage with people.
Groups provide a sense of purpose:
Helping other members of the group, providing a safe space for people to share and supporting others brings a sense of purpose and meaning. It feels good to know that what you say, what you bring to the group, your support, your advice and your attention, matters and helps others.
What to Expect and How to Get the Most out of Group
It is completely normal to have mixed feelings about joining a group. You may feel hopeful and excited to connect with new people or learn a skill but also nervous about meeting new people or learning a skill. It is common for people to worry that they may talk too much, not talk enough or may not “say the right thing.” Sometimes people worry that they may not fit in or that group will not be helpful. Here are some recommendations for participating in group so that you have an idea of what to expect and how you can get the most out of group.
- Attendance & Presence: It is very important that you are able to be here every week. Understand that your presence in the group is essential for you, for the other members who depend on you for support and feedback, and for the cohesiveness of the group as a whole. It is likely to disappoint and discourage other members if you are absent. Facilitators may inquire about group members’ feelings about your absence or lateness. To the extent possible, if you must miss a meeting, inform the group the previous week. If you must cancel due to illness or an emergency, please call UCS before the session begins. The group will begin and end on time.
- Be Yourself: Being as genuine as you can be will allow others to get to know you and support the real you. Start from where you are, not how you think others want you to be. This might mean asking questions, expressing emotion, or sharing your stories. This will allow others to get to know you and support you more directly.
- Set Goals: Think about what you would like to work on in group and work actively towards that goal. Slow down, check in with yourself and see if you are working on your goal. If you aren’t, consider asking the group for help.
- Taking Risks: Boundaries are so important. Respect your safety needs and don’t press yourself to reveal more than you are comfortable revealing. When you are ready, gently challenge yourself to take more risks with self-disclosure so that your other needs are met as well.
- Recognize and respect your pace for getting involved in the group. Some group members will always be ready to disclose their thoughts and feelings; others need more time to gain feelings of trust and security. By respecting your needs, you are learning self-acceptance. If you are having a difficult time with how to discuss your problems with the group, then ask the group to help you.
- Take up space to talk about yourself and your concerns. Many people struggle with whether or not it is OK to use group time. They worry that their concerns are not important enough or they believe that others need the time more than they do. No one’s struggle is more or less important than anyone else’s struggle. Group will be most helpful to you if you can find a way to talk about yourself.
- Express your thoughts and feelings. Notice if you are holding back from doing this and talk about your fears of sharing in the group.
- Be aware of censored thoughts and feelings. Learning to express thoughts and feelings, without censorship, enables exploration and resolution of interpersonal conflicts and self-affirmation and assertion. Try and take the risk to let yourself be emotionally available to and vulnerable with others.
- Ask questions. If you are wondering about or confused about something that has just been said or has just occurred in the group, then seek clarification from group members or group facilitators. It is likely others may have the same questions that you have.
- Actively listen: Respect the space for other members by paying attention when other people are sharing. Everyone is still included even if they are not directly involved in a discussion. Your attention matters and you may gain something from listening to the experience of others.
- Allow for Conflict: Each group member’s perspective is valid and adds to our enriched understanding of relationships. Everyone in the group has the right to speak and to be heard. Disagreement must be expressed respectfully. It is certainly appropriate to express anger, but it must be expressed in a way that does not threaten or intimidate others.
- Give the group time to develop. It can take a number of sessions before members of a group begin to have sufficient trust and security to be open and honest, to disclose their concerns and feelings. Thus, we encourage you to make a commitment to attend at least three sessions. If you are not getting what you want out of the group, then talk about that with the group members and/or the group facilitator.
Frequently Asked Questions
Isn’t individual therapy better?
While individual and group therapy are different, both are effective in different ways. Research tells us that group therapy is just as effective as individual therapy and that for some, group therapy may be the treatment of choice. There are so many things that you can get from a group that you can’t get from individual therapy. For example, connection with peers, interpersonal feedback from peers and opportunities to try new ways of interacting. Your UCS provider can discuss with you how group therapy could be helpful for you.
Do I have to talk? I do not feel comfortable talking in a group or sharing my problems with people I don’t know.
It is normal to feel some anxiety when meeting new people and especially when talking about yourself. This is especially true if we are not used to sharing our thoughts, feelings and experiences with others. You will never be forced to share in group. In fact, you may benefit simply from observing others in group as they work through difficult issues and considering how their situation might apply to you. In group we foster a supportive environment so that most people find that they eventually feel safe enough to share what is troubling them. Depending on your comfort level of talking in groups, some groups will be more appropriate than others. Talk to your UCS provider about appropriate referrals.
Will the stuff I share be kept private?
Confidentiality is extremely important in group therapy. In order to make the group as safe and confidential as possible, all group members must agree that they will not disclose to anyone outside the group either the identity of other members or what is discussed by other group members within the group. The first session of every group begins with a group conversation about confidentiality and the importance of keeping disclosures in the group. As therapists we have a legal obligation to maintain confidentiality, because group members do not have the same legal obligation, we cannot guarantee confidentiality in a group setting but we do expect it. If a member breaks confidentiality, they will be invited to leave the group.
What do I talk about in group therapy?
Talk about whatever is would be most helpful for you. Often people talk about school, family, friends, romantic partners, work, reactions to current events and mental health concerns or whatever is going on in their lives at that time. Depending on the group, group can be a place to get support, feedback and advice and it is also a place to celebrate triumphs and successes. If you need support, let the group know. If you want specific feedback or advice, let them know that also. If you are excited about something, share it with the group. Ultimately, how much you talk about yourself is your decision; it will depend in part on your own comfort level. If you have questions about what might or might not be helpful, you can always ask the group.
Will I be judged in the group?
People who have felt judged or harmed in group settings before may find a UCS group to be a great opportunity to heal from these experiences. Group leaders focus on creating a safe and affirming environment in group. Many students have used group as a way to create more positive experiences and have benefited from the opportunity to feel valued, accepted, and validated by others.
What if there are too many people and I do not get enough attention or my needs met?
Most therapy groups only have up to 8 members and it is typical for the amount of attention on you to vary from week to week. It’s important to let the group know at the start of group if you need some time for support. Also, group members are often surprised by the material they can cover in group or how their concerns are being addressed even when others are speaking. Recognizing how your own experiences may be related or how you can connect with another member can also help you to learn from others and to facilitate personal growth.
What if my problems are not as bad as others or are worse than others and I don’t fit in?
Comparing your experiences with others does not help you or the other group members. Group may provide a place for you to experience compassion for yourself and others, without having to decide who went through the worst experience. It provides an opportunity to learn how to both give and receive support Relief can come when we recognize that we are not alone in our struggles.
What if another member of the group is my friend or classmate?
You are not expected to participate in a group with someone that you already know or are not comfortable with. Please inform the group if you know someone else in the group. We will work with you to find the best solution for your level of safety and comfort.
Can I just try out a session or two and then decide?
Making the choice to join a group that runs 6 – 8 weeks or the full semester is a big time and energy commitment and it is understandable that you would want to do a “test drive.” Attending a pre-group meeting and talking about your concerns is one way to help you decide whether you want to make that commitment. Groups tend to build upon each other with each session so that you are either developing new skills or developing closer bonds with the members. Knowing that all members have committed to the full group helps build connections. Also, you will likely find that as group progresses, you will feel more and more comfortable in the group. Of course, all groups are voluntary. We ask that if you decide after a few sessions that the group really is not a good fit, you let the group leader know before you stop attending.
Does group therapy count towards the individual therapy session limit?
No, you may attend as many sessions of as many groups as you would like.
Can I do more than one group?
Yes! You can do as many groups as is helpful and that fits in your schedule.
How to Get More Information About UCS Groups
How to get more information about specific groups at UCS:
- Take some time to review group options on the UCS website and consider the following:
- Does your schedule have availability for you to commit to a weekly group?
- What are your goals for joining a group?
- Are you looking for structure or open discussion?
- Attend counseling session and discuss group options with a provider who can then refer you to speak with the group facilitator or submit an online interest form and the group facilitator will follow-up with you about your interest.
- If required by the group facilitator, schedule a pre-group meeting to discuss if the group is the right option for you this semester
What happens in a pre-group meeting
Anyone can benefit from group therapy as long as the group is the right fit at the right time. The pre-group meeting is a 15 to 30-minute, one-on-one meeting with the group facilitator/s. It is an opportunity for you to ask questions and learn more specific details about the group, for the group facilitator to learn more about you and together decide if the group if the right fit for you right now. Especially now during the pandemic and online classes, we know that it is a big commitment to enroll in a 60 to 90-minute online group. The pre-group meeting will help you to decide if a group worth your time commitment.