Group Session or Group Counseling – Why It’s Effective but How? By Dr. Tony Astro, PhD

In the past few months since I opened my home for some type of faith-based group sessions every Friday then also every Monday joining in another bigger more intense public group – I found some comfort and so is many members of the group.  I think it is not only therapeutic (even as a counselor or listener) to know that you are not alone BUT more importantly with someone who has shoddier experience or situation than I am makes me appreciate the level of comfort of what I’m going through (and vice versa) and be able to contribute our experience to others to give them some insight or comfort.
Here are some observations and ways we can progress in a group session as a participant or if you are a counselor in a group counseling or leader in a group session.


Many studies confirm that optimism or positive anticipation are therapeutic and results to positive outcomes. When a client or participant sees a group member who is a fellow alcoholic or have been through bankruptcy or divorce or family casualties (or other life-altering transitions) and has moved on or not drink for months and has better their life – group members or clients associates themselves to their fellow group mate instilling hope.

The inspiration provided to participants by their peers results in substantial improvements in medical outcomes, reduces health care costs, promotes the individual’s sense of self-efficacy, and often makes group intercessions superior to individual therapies (Fawzy, Fawzy and Wheeler, 1996).


Kindness or willingness to help gives a sense of satisfaction in many normal individuals. The gratification of being part of a team and sharing the ability to help or giving out aid based on experience - like prior drug addiction, attempted suicides, career transitions and whatever helps will be satisfying to the client or group members.

In a group setting there are many opportunities for the participants or clients with similar experience to share each other similar experiences and with pride gives information to fellow, for instance, one who has the same career transition or addiction with someone who was going through or has gone through may contribute some insight. On the other hand, being called selfish because of not sharing your experience is not healthy for an individual and this kind of self-sacrifice of being transparent helps in a group setting.  Some people may take some time to really speak up and share, let them be quiet for as they need to and not force them to speak.

Group sessions (or therapy) is unique in being the only reconciling remedy that offers clients the opportunity to be of benefit to and from others (Yalom, 2005). It also encourages role versatility, requiring members or clients to shift between roles of help receivers and help providers (Holmes and Kivlighan, 2000).


Everyone needs a connection with someone at any point of life. In my experience as 23-year veteran & Navy counselor, during military deployment, many Sailors suffer from some type of stress because of lack of interaction with others, particularly with family and even fellow personnel due to high stress environment. The feeling of isolation does not help a client if there is a need arise.

The theory of interpersonal relationships has become so much an integral part of the fabric of mental health thought that needs no further underscoring; people need people – for initial and continued survival, for socialization, for the pursuit of satisfaction (Yalom, 2005).

On a group therapy, there is 100% opportunity to interact with someone no matter what personality or issues of the client. A diverse group or a set of people with the same background or issues will set the tone of how the group will get along and interpersonal relationship will play a big role in having a successful group therapy.


If there is lack of confidence in a group and especially with the leader, the interaction and dynamics to get a therapy will not be successful. To be a thriving group, here are 3 Beneficial or Therapeutic Forces (see complete 15 Therapeutic Forces on inserted image) that should be present:
1. Clarity of purpose for the leader and the members.
2. The leader’s attitude.
3. Level of trust among members.

Without a clear goal and rationale of why the group exists – there will be no direction and majority of these Beneficial (Therapeutic) Forces will not be possible. For instance, a leader might say the group is educational but spend most of the time doing therapy, or the leader might say the group is for support but spend most of the time focusing on one person or on one topic that is not relevant for most of the members (Jacobs, Masson & Harvill, 2008).

There should be a clear objective and presented to the group members or clients step by step until it is comprehended.


The leader (it is also important that the counselor designate a 2nd leader) who facilitates the group has direct key to the success of the group because he or she has the capacity to implement any or all the therapeutic forces that may influence the outcome of the therapy. No matter how small or big the group or how long the session is or even how high the level of trust among the members are – the leader has the full control of the group.

If the group contains hostile, nonvoluntary members, the leader should try to find a way to get these members involved; however, if the members are completely resistant and negative, the leader may need to remove them from the group (Jacobs, Masson & Harvill, 2008).


Once trust is lost, there is no looking back. There is always at the back of a person's mind that the issues or something else may not be resolve because an expectation or confidence was no longer there, and leader must resolve this fast.

Problems of trust often occur when members have very different points of view and if the group consists of members who do not like each other, the leader can try to change this by bringing it up in the group or by meeting with some members privately to see if their differences can be resolved (Jacobs, Masson & Harvill, 2008).

Each Factor theory from Yalom's Therapeutic Forces, also from Jacob, Masson and Harvill has an important key to all group therapy and can be be applied on a case by case and the importance of one does not mean that one factor is not important.

In any case, Group sessions or therapy or meeting - needs strong accountability and more importantly a binding rule of confidentiality. Everything that happens behind those four walls must stay within the group and everyone's dignity should be protected and gossips should never be tolerated.

Dr. Tony Astro is co-owner of Mvoss Creation Promotional & Consulting located in Town Center Virginia Beach.  His expertise is cultural intelligence, career development and promotional branding. He has 2 decades of experience as human resources supervisor with Department of the Navy as Chief Counselor providing administrative support and training to all hierarchy and equipping organizations and their teams with skills to effectively work, advance in their career and education within and across multicultural diverse environment of military and civilian environment.  He has over 10 years extensive entrepreneurial practice as marketing director of two Asian Business association and owner of Mvoss Creation Promotional & Marketing. Tony has traveled in over 50 major cities around the world during his 23 years in the Navy as Human Resources Chief and still travelling every summer for leisure with his family. He conducts keynote speaking to diverse community of professional associations, university students, entrepreneurs and military organizations.  He was born to a Spanish mother and Filipino father and raised in the city of Manila, Philippines. He attended all his 12 years of education in an all-exclusive Chinese school. He joined the Navy and lived in Japan for 4 years and in the span of 23 years have been assigned and deployed in Europe, Middle East, Australia, Asia.  He resides in his home in Virginia Beach with his teenager son, wife Myla and a four-legged daughter corgi-mix Daisy.


Holmes, S. & Kivlighan, D. (2000). Comparison of Therapeutic Factors in group and Individual Treatment Processes,” Journal of Counseling Psychology: pages 447-48.
Jacobs, E., Masson, R. L., & Harvill, R. L. (2008). Group Counseling: Strategies and Skills. New York: Brooks Cole.

Yalom, I. D. & Leszcz, M. (2005). The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy. New York: Basic Books.



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