Conversation is the backbone of therapeutic treatment. Talk therapy helps clients understand and work through the issues they are facing, and provides a space for them to feel safe, heard, and understood. Although communication is, at its essence, a two-way street, it is largely up to the clinician to foster an environment where the client feels safe to open up. For this reason, it’s very important for therapists to ask appropriate and meaningful questions. These considerations are just as, if not more, important when the treatment is group therapy. With more than one client involved, it is necessary that there is a discussion happening between the group members, and that everyone feels comfortable and confident sharing. There are conversation topics that can target specific treatment focuses, including CBT and substance abuse, but in this guide, we’re going to cover some of the most effective discussion questions for a more generalized client demographic.
What is group therapy?
To begin: let’s quickly take a look at what group therapy is. Essentially, group therapy refers to therapeutic treatment involving a therapist (it can be more than one) who is treating three or more clients at the same time. Open group therapy allows new clients to join at any time, whereas closed groups treat the same clients for a specified period of time. Group therapy is highly effective for a couple of reasons. It shows people that they are not alone in the challenges they face, and provides a safe space to come together and share experiences. It also facilitates healing and guides clients toward achievable goals. Group therapy can be diverse in what it specifically aims to treat. It is a common form of treatment for substance addiction but is also used for a range of other issues, including grief, anxiety, and depression. Although there will be similarities, therapists typically have specific methods and tools to make group therapy as effective as possible – including the discussion questions we’ll cover in a moment!
What are the key characteristics of group therapy?
Although the group therapy activities, ideas, treatment methods, and interventions that are used will vary, there are certain key characteristics that can be identified in most, if not all, group therapy sessions. These are:
Group therapy brings together a collective of individuals who have all had somewhat similar experiences. Because it is likely that clients attending group therapy sessions are all at different stages of their treatment, new attendees will be able to visually see the improvement that can be made, thus giving them hope for their own progress.
Group therapy typically focuses on a specific issue, topic, or mental health disorder. The universality of these sessions helps to show clients that they are not alone in their experiences, reducing feelings of alienation and helplessness.
In addition to more specific treatment methods, group therapy imparts on clients useful information and resources. Therapists are highly trained professionals who are equipped with an abundance of tools that can greatly assist clients. Equipped with this information, clients will be empowered to continue working toward their goals.
Individuals experiencing serious mental health issues may find themselves isolated from their social support network, which can exacerbate the challenges they are facing. Attending group therapy ensures that clients are exposed to a support system, enabling socialization, even if it is still related to treatment.
Imitates positive behavior
As I’m sure you know, exposing clients to positive behavior and encouraging modeling can be a highly effective method of treatment. By bringing together a group of people for therapy, clients can imitate positive behavior that they observe in other clients.
The feeling of belonging is a powerful experience for all humans. Group therapy can provide clients with a space where they belong and are deeply valued. Together, clients will develop a sense of cohesiveness as they all work toward their goals.
10 discussion questions for group therapy
So what questions should be asked during group therapy? We’ve compiled a list of 10 questions that we think are effective in eliciting meaningful conversation and guiding clients toward positive discussion. Using your professional experience and understanding of each client’s needs and wants, you should use these discussion questions to guide your group therapy session in a meaningful and cohesive way. Keep in mind that some clients will be reserved in how they communicate, whereas others will be fairly talkative and open.
- What brings you here today?
This is a good starting question, as it allows everyone to share their answer and provides a little bit of background information for new clients.
- What does everyone expect (or want) to get out of this group?
Another introductory question, asking this will encourage everyone to express their personal goals for group therapy. Some clients may have the same answers, and this can be a good unifying point, allowing them to begin their own connections with each other.
- What is your favorite thing about yourself?
Speaking positively about oneself is often an area that individuals with mental health challenges struggle with. You may find that some clients have difficulty answering this question, and when this happens, you can either prompt them or allow the conversation to move to the next person.
- What would a loved one say is their favorite thing about you?
Following up the previous question with this can help clients recognize the role they play in their loved ones’ lives. It may be the case that clients who couldn’t answer the previous question find it easier to answer this, and the parallels between their answers can lead to an interesting and meaningful discussion about how we perceive ourselves versus how others perceive us.
- What are some things in your life that make you feel stressed? Why?
Although it is important to spend time reflecting on the positive aspects of your clients’ lives, they should also be encouraged to open up about the challenges they face.
- How do you cope when you are feeling stressed?
One of the best aspects of group therapy is how it allows clients to share their experiences with each other. In addition to relating to each other’s challenges, clients will be able to offer up valuable insight into how they cope with these obstacles.
- What are some of the goals you’ve so far achieved during therapy?
In addition to considering what their goals are, it’s important for clients to reflect on the progress that they have made. This question allows clients to acknowledge their own improvements, as well as provides insight for the therapist to assess the trajectory of each client’s progress.
- What are some of the goals you’re still working towards?
Framing this question in a positive way is important to ensure that clients don’t feel like they have failed in certain areas. Goals fluctuate significantly, as does progress, and it’s important for clients to continue thinking about what they want to work toward in the future.
- What are 2 things you’re grateful for, and why?
There is a lot of research correlating gratitude with more positive mental states. Although this isn’t in itself a ‘cure’, it is a helpful and meaningful way to elicit positive reflection among group therapy patients.
- What do you like best about coming to group therapy?
Finally, it’s important for the therapist to obtain honest reflections about what their clients are enjoying during group therapy. This will allow them to alter their sessions if necessary, and ensure their clients are obtaining value from the therapy.
While these questions are not a comprehensive list of everything you can ask during a group therapy session, they should hopefully provide an overview of the types of discussions you want to enable. In addition to asking meaningful questions, there is a range of different treatment methods you can incorporate, including group therapy activities, tasks, and even games.
Take home message
Although the foundations of group therapy sessions are similar to one-on-one therapy sessions, there are certain differences between how these appointments are structured. Similarly, you should keep in mind that the questions you ask and the activities you incorporate may differ depending on whether you are running a teen group therapy session or an adult group therapy session. Hopefully, however, these questions have provided you with some useful insight into how a successful group therapy session can operate, and the types of discussions you should be aiming to elicit. Equipped with the right conversational tools, you will be able to create an open environment where every client feels welcome and safe.