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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.