Starting a Counseling Group


Starting a counseling group can help you reach new clients, serve a greater number of clients, and gain an additional stream of income.  If you decide to facilitate your group with another therapist, it also creates opportunities for collegial connection and learning. 

Some suggestions for getting started:

Describe who your counseling group will serve, and the benefits those group members can expect from participating. Get specific about each.  What are your prospective members trying to achieve in their lives?  In what ways are they struggling, and how will your group help them go beyond those struggles?  What would compel them to choose your group over someone else’s?

Determine what type of counseling group you’re competent to lead and the theoretical format from which you’ll work. Will this be a psychoeducational or support group?  An experiential process group?  Psychodynamic or expressive?

Establish the basic features of the group, including:

Do you want to lead the group on your own, or co-facilitate with a colleague? Having two facilitators broadens the range of possible observations and interventions, and invites valuable feedback in post-session debriefs about how each of you are showing up.  I do think it’s important that both facilitators have some overlap in their theoretical orientations and generally gel with one another.  Listen to my interview with Pearl Waldorf, Certified Group Psychotherapist (CGP), for more about the challenges that come with co-facilitating.

Size of the group; location, time, duration and frequency of meetings; fees.

Whether the group itself will be short-term or ongoing, and whether the group will be closed or open to new members; if it’s an open group, at which points will new members be allowed to join? Closed groups tend to be shorter-term than open groups.

Screening criteria: will you require a minimum commitment from new members? Or that they see an individual therapist while enrolled in your group?  New members should be likely to benefit by way of their motivation, clear goals related to the purpose of the group, and fit with the composition of the group at the time of entry; be careful about bringing on members whose participation might make for a less effective experience for other group members or who might drop out prematurely.

Finalize all paperwork, including an orientation to group / informed consent document to help prospective members learn more about who you are, what you’re offering, and whether your group right for them.  Think through the issues that you want to establish policies for now (and therefore include in these documents), and which can be co-constructed with group members later on.  For example, do you want to set up a policy related to members’ contact outside of group meetings?

Create a marketing strategy and plan. Create print and digital materials and distribute to colleagues and prospective clients through in-person, web, e-mail, and social media channels.  Create listings in therapist directories that allow for inclusion of group offerings.  Educate your referral sources about the realities of your group and who would make a truly suitable member.  You could also present your group as an option to current, individual clients, though this can come with both advantages and complications.  Log all of your outreach activities.

Log all of your calls and meetings with prospective members. These are important opportunities to establish an alliance with the prospective member, assess for mutual fit, and establish informed consent.  Recruitment itself can be awkward when you have members ready to join, but not enough members to launch the group, or when you have a full group once the group is running.  Stay in communication with those interested about how long they can tolerate waiting for the group to launch or for an opening to occur.  Provide referrals if their waiting would not be clinically appropriate.

Keep learning. Participate in a group yourself, consult with specialists in group work, and attend trainings and workshops to continually hone your understanding of best practices.  Carve out a significant amount of time to reflect on (with your co-facilitator, if applicable) the effectiveness of what you’re offering and how to strengthen your process and outcomes.

You can download an infographic of this article here.

You can find research, professional standards, professional development opportunities, events, and membership options related to group work on the following sites:

American Group Psychotherapy Association
Association for Specialists in Group Work

You can also listen to my interview with Pearl Waldorf, Certified Group Psychotherapist (CGP), here.