Group Therapy for Adolescents: Clinical Paper

A group of teenagers posing on the beach during sunset.

Adolescents are social creatures, in the midst of learning their social skills, and are often more trusting of others their own age than of adults. This makes the group therapy setting an ideal choice when counseling becomes necessary for this age group. They are excellent at being able to learn from one another while observing and teaching appropriate skills as they grow.

However, adolescents cannot be treated as merely young adults in the group therapy setting. They come with their own dynamics which must be acknowledged and understood in order to work effectively with them.

Group Development

Group Appropriateness

The group is a natural setting for adolescents. They are taught in groups, live in groups, and often play in groups. Group therapy adolescents is an ideal choice, as social interaction is a key aspect of the developmental process, and as suggested by Bandura (1989) most social learning takes place by observing others and the results of their actions. Leader (1991) states that group therapy for adolescence provides the therapeutic environment where they can work through interpersonal problems and examine the four basic identity questions: Who am I? With whom do I identify? What do I believe in? and Where am I going? The activities in group therapy that adolescents can be exposed to that they don’t have the opportunity to in individual therapy include the chances to learn cooperation and deal with issues such as cooperation, envy and aggression, while comparing how their thoughts and behaviors compare to those of their peers. Most adolescents are referred to treatment because of problems they are having in relationships with others in their lives such as parents, teachers and peers (Kymissis, 1996, p. 30). Adolescence is a time of rising psychosocial vulnerability where either psychopathology or self-actualization can occur (Gunther & Crandles, 1998) and thus social learning may be the best treatment for them.

Adolescent Participation

Adolescents are often reluctant to attend group therapy, though, for a number of reasons. They often are suspicious of anything recommended by their parents or other adults. They are also often fearful that if they enter a therapy group it means that they are crazy. Some fear that the therapist will interrogate them and tell them what to do. Others are frightened that they will encounter someone they know, and that they will be stigmatized (Gunther & Crandles, 1998). The younger the participant, the more likely they are to show less fear, and the greater likelihood that they will be more willing to enter group therapy with less reservations.

Group Membership

In the organization of therapy groups, the developmental characteristics, needs and abilities must be kept in mind. The major criteria the selection of the members of the groups include the ages, the diagnosis, the intelligence levels and the stage of development. Group of adolescents who are appropriately matched with respect to development form cohesion early and become therapy groups faster than groups organized only on the basis of biological age (Kymissis, 1996, p. 30). This is due to the fact that these adolescents share common goals and tasks, which are important in forming cohesive bonds.

Group Process Theories

Dies’ Group Process Theory

There are 4 different levels of group therapy that may be utilized, as outlined by Maclennan and Dies (1992, p. 70). These different levels may be applied to, or adapted for, any population of adolescents from those who are healthy, those that are at risk for a social problem or mental illness, or those with serious long-term problems. These are:

  • Groups set up primarily for prevention, including behavioral health and mental health education and for program information and member diagnosis.
  • Groups concerned with specific problems and their resolution.
  • Groups related to general life adjustments demanding changes in a member’s self-concept, self-management, and life-style.
  • Indirect counseling that arises out of other activities, such as playing, clubs, skills and craft groups, teaching and training settings, and work groups, and that emphasizes not only problem-solving but also the actual life experiences provided in the program.

They also define a number of different groups for us.

Groups for prevention may be held in many settings, including schools, youth service centers, and family agencies. They may be strictly informational, concerned with providing information on subjects timely to adolescents such at drug abuse, sex and sexually transmitted diseases. Or, they may be designed to help the youth improve their coping skills though such techniques as problem-solving, learning to say no, or the reframing of situations.

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Derek Wood is a Nationally Board Certified Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse, and holds a Master's degree in Psychology. His experience in the online arena of mental health can be traced back to 1997, when he was a host for Online Psych on AOL. He joined Get Mental Help, Inc. as Clinical Content Director for Mental Health Matters. Derek, with his wife Lisa, developed the original version of psychTracker (then called A Mood Journal), after his diagnosis with Schizo-Affective Bipolar, when they could not find a system available that was robust enough to help him effectively manage his symptoms and accurately interpret his charting. Derek has worked in the field of mental health since 2001, as a Unit Manager of an adult long-term treatment facility, a charge nurse in an adolescent short-term inpatient facility and long-term residential facility, and as a School Psychologist. He has also written several articles which are being used as CEU for nurses and educators.


  1. samantha

    October 29, 2014 at 9:23 am

    im 14 years old suffering from depression and self harming. I was wondering if you had a support group for people like me?

  2. Sean Bennick

    October 29, 2014 at 3:50 pm


    There are a number of websites that could help you find local support groups. I’m a big fan of NAMI, MHA, and DBSA because of their consistency and training.

    I’ve been a NAMI Member for a few years now. MHA isn’t in my area and DBSA doesn’t fit my diagnosis. But I’ve had dealings with all three organizations and support them all.

    You might also want to check out the following websites:

    If you’re interested in joining something online, c heck out the forums on or over at – both sites have active and supportive communities.

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