Ethics in Group Therapy


Group counseling entails a small group of individuals who collectively receive counseling from a qualified therapist. His/her task is to assist, as well as encourage members of the group to help one another in addressing the common problem they face. Under group counseling, members often deal with the same problem and use common goals. Group counseling has been in use since the mid-20th century and has yielded positive outcomes for group members. According to Brabender, group therapy members learn from the individual experiences of their peers, gaining diverse ideas and viewpoints regarding the problems they are experiencing. Group counseling is equally effective as individual therapy in influencing change and growth of personality and increasing self-awareness. Current paper focuses on the ethical issues associated with group therapy and the reasons for choosing group counseling, which include time-saving, effective on young people and in addressing problems associated with social misbehavior whereas individual counseling is preferred in instances whereby confidentiality is crucial to the success of the therapy and when the counselor seeks to build trust with the client.

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Ethical Issues Unique to Group Therapy

A therapist using group therapy must set clear group counseling boundaries that can allow him/her to uphold professionalism while helping patients. Patients violating the boundaries may pose a significant challenge for the group counselor. As a result, it is recommended for counselors in group therapy to be able to identify such situations and deal with them by responding appropriately, e.g. referring such patients to individual counseling. Professionalism is an important ethical issue that should be taken into consideration in group therapy in order to avoid malpractice lawsuits filed by members of the group. Therefore, it is imperative for the group counselor to be knowledgeable of the standard practice and code of conduct, including other laws applicable to group counseling.

The second ethical issue in group counseling relates to confidentiality, which group counselors must uphold. Therapists have the ethical obligation of guaranteeing the confidentiality of patient information. People have the right to privacy (confidentiality), which extends to patient-psychotherapist privileges. It means that therapists are not supposed to disclose any information shared by patients in the course of therapy. In addition, the confidentiality of patient records must be guaranteed. However, guaranteeing confidentiality in group counseling is a challenging task owing to the fact that several people are involved in therapy. Addressing such issue requires the group counselor to inform members that confidentiality is both a legal and ethical obligation and emphasize on its importance during the first meeting and every time a new member joins the group.

Voluntary participation is also an important ethical concern in group counseling. In this respect, members should decide to take part in group counseling on a voluntary basis rather than being coerced. In addition, it is imperative for potential members to be provided with sufficient information regarding the responsibilities and rights of the members, confidentiality and privacy any pertinent fees, the rules of the group and its therapy goals. It is also imperative for new members joining the group to have an understanding of the consequences associated with violating the group’s rules. Due to the nature of individuals involved in therapy, it is crucial for the group counselor to emphasize on the importance of members respecting others and avoiding conflicts. The group counselor must also emphasize the need and importance of maintaining the privacy and confidentiality of information shared during the counseling sessions. Apart from voluntary participation, autonomy of the members is also a crucial ethical concern of group counseling. With respect to this, therapy group members should be treated respectfully and given the liberty to choose the degree to which they want to take part in the therapy discussions. No member should be coerced into conveying their stories to other members if they are unwilling to do so. The principle of group members’ autonomy is applicable even to members participating on an involuntary basis. The autonomy of the therapy group members is crucial, since it helps in creating and developing group cohesion in the course of therapy.

Contrary to individual counseling, therapy group members may be mistreated by other members. A challenge with respect to this relates to lack of legal protection for the group members from other participants of the sessions. A potential solution to such issue for the group counselor is to practice due diligence and make use of the principle of competent care, as well as clinical judgment when addressing the needs of each of the group members. In addition, group members must be informed of the boundaries when interacting with other members. In instances where a group member fails to end his abusive behavior, he/she can be sent to individual therapy. Group counselors must also hold wide consultations with ethical committees, legal advisors and other therapists when some members are problematic and can hinder the achievement of the group counseling goals. Group counselors have the ethical obligation of protecting members from experiencing psychological, emotional or physical trauma due to the group counseling sessions. It can be achieved by providing encouragement and support to group members. In addition, the group counselor can establish measures aimed at preventing physical confrontations during the group therapy sessions. When needed, the group counselor can embark on private sessions for support purposes for members causing problems in the group.

Another ethical issue relates to making sure that the needs of each group member is satisfied. Despite the fact that the group members receive the same therapy, there is a possibility that various members will respond to the therapy differently. Therefore, it is imperative for the group counselor to guide the members effectively and create an open environment where members are free to discuss their problems. The underlying inference is that the group counselor ought to provide all group members with equal treatment and offer unbiased support. However, it is imperative for the group counselor to appreciate diversity among the group members, avoiding discrimination of members based on their personal or social attributes.

In group counseling, it is imperative for the counselor to show commitments towards improving the well-being of the therapy group members. It requires the group counselor to analyze each potential member before joining the group in order to determine their personal needs. According to Mangione, Forti, and Iacuzzi, the group counselor is supposed to allow a potential member to join the group only if he/she is in a position to address the needs of individual. In addition, counselors must make sure that after therapy sessions, clients have gained new skills to help them in dealing with their challenges. Mangione, et al. further recommends that group counselors must strive to achieve the patients’ interests in growing to a better individual in society. Adequate training is required for group counselors to deal with the challenges facing members of the therapy group. In order to promote the well-being of therapy group members, counselors should have a detailed understanding of various intervention strategies and make the appropriate selection in dealing with the problems of the group members. It requires group counselors to utilize the appropriate techniques for each group member regardless of sessions being conducted collectively. It requires the counselor to understand all the therapy group members at an individual level and subsequently follow them, using suitable remedial methods.

Group counselors should also refrain from instilling their values on the therapy group. According to Fallon, it is an ethical issue if a group therapists utilizes the group to satisfy his/her personal interests, needs and advances his/her own agenda at the cost of the well-being of the therapy group members. Fallon considers it disrespectful to the integrity of the group members when group counselors impose their personal values on therapy group members. In some occasions, however, it is imperative for the group counselor to show his/her values as the leader of the group. It is crucial because group members must feel that the group counselor relates to their circumstances and understands them. In addition, the group therapist must be in a position to handle problematic members who may challenge the group norms, as well as his/her authority. In such situations, the group counselor must not embark on punishing the errant member but instead focus on providing guidance to enable him/her accept the group. As a leader of the therapy group, the group counselor must be in a position to control potential damage caused by an errant member and ensure group cohesion.

Another ethical issue in group counseling relates to counselors forming dual relationships with the group member(s), which may hamper full participation in the group therapy sessions. Some of the dual relationships that can compromise the effectiveness of the therapy and professionalism include friendships and romantic relations. Dual relationships occur when a counselor is in a relationship with the client, while providing therapy services to him/her. Dual relationships increase the probability that the counselor will not uphold the confidentiality agreement owing to the fact that the counselor is unlikely to differentiate confidential information provided during therapy sessions and information shared outside therapy. In addition, Fallon recommends that group counselors should refrain from conducting concurrent individual and group therapy; instead, sequential counseling is recommended.

Lastly, group counselors should refrain from using group therapies to address their personal conflicts and issues. The personal problems and life of a group therapist should not be incorporated into group counseling sessions. It requires counselors to exercise absolute professionalism when practicing. It means that the counselor should desist from using his/her personal experiences during the group discussions. Moreover, it is an ethical issue when a group counselor offers his/her therapy services to individuals he/she is closely related to at a personal level. It is resulted from the fact that personal relationships may interfere with the therapeutic relationship. In instances, whereby the therapy group comprises of family members, the group counselor must be in a position to define his/her clients in the group, since others may be involved in the therapy due to the relationship they have with the client. Although the scope of the counselor’s responsibility is mostly connected with the client, other parties related to the client must be accorded respect and provided with an opportunity to express themselves.

Overall, it is evident that the ethical issues in group counseling are the same as the ethical issues in individual counseling, since counseling, whether individual or group, requires client autonomy, respectful treatment and guaranteed confidentiality. The only difference is that in group counselling, the scope of ethical concerns extends to other clients in the therapy group instead of the counselor only, which is the case with individual counseling.

Reasons for Choosing Group Therapy over Individual Counselling

The preference for group therapy over individual therapy can be attributed to a number of factors. First, group therapy is preferred because it saves time and allows therapists to provide their counseling services to a larger number of people when compared to individual counseling. From the perspective of clients, it is relatively easier for a person to secure an appointment with the therapist when he/she is a member of a therapy group than on an individual basis. In addition, the preference for group counseling stems from the fact that it provides counselors with greater sense of responsibility because they are answerable to several people rather than one person. Group counseling has been established to be effective in enhancing the support available to the individuals, since they learn both from the guidance of the counselor, as well as the experiences of other members in the therapy group. Furthermore, group counseling enriches the ability of the patient to interact with other group members and conform to societal norms. It is contrasted to individual counseling, whereby the client is not in a position to share his/her experiences with others except the counselor.

Group therapy is also preferred when working with teenagers. It results form the fact that young people finding it more appealing when working with others in a group rather than as an individual. Teenagers tend to be more open with their fellow teenagers than with an adult. It is important for patients to receive the understanding and support from other clients, which helps them see that their challenges are not unique. Most therapists tend to recommend group therapy based on the client’s circumstances and the specific problem to be dealt with. Counselors prefer group therapy when the problem to be dealt with relates to social misbehavior. In addition, group counseling is recommended for problems associated with lack of acculturation. In this respect, group counseling provides patients with a society they can relate to and identify themselves with. When the members of the group show positive results, an individual adapts to the new improvement and adopts new experiences, ideas and perspectives from other group members. Group therapy has also been found effective in eliminating feelings associated with isolation, depression and anxiety. Coming in contact with other people having the same problem makes the client perceive that the problem is not unique to him/her.

In contrast, counselors may prefer individual therapy to group therapy in instances whereby confidentiality is crucial to the success of the therapy. For instance, when the counselor seeks to acquire more information regarding the patient in order to facilitate therapy, individual therapy is recommended. Furthermore, individual therapy is recommended when counselors seek to develop personal relationship and trust with the client in order to help in strengthening the working environment. Individual counseling provides counselors with a favorable environment to address the personal problems of clients with minimal interference. Individual counseling is also preferred in family therapy, in order to improve the individual behaviors of each family member prior to addressing the problems faced by the family as a whole. It is especially crucial for marriage therapy, since relationship problems are primarily personal.


Current paper has discussed the ethical issues associated with group counseling, which include uphold professionalism, guaranteeing confidentiality and privacy of therapy group members; ensuring voluntary participation of the group members; protecting members from experiencing psychological, emotional or physical trauma due to the group counseling sessions; satisfying the needs of each therapy group member; showing commitments towards improving the well-being of the therapy group members; desisting from instilling their values on the therapy group; refraining from dual relationships with the group member(s). In addition, group counselors must not utilize group therapies to address their personal conflicts and issues. There is no doubt that group and individual counseling have similar ethical issues. Nevertheless, the only difference relates to the scope of ethical responsibility in the sense that in group counseling it extends to other members of the therapy group. Group therapies are preferred because they are time-saving, effective on young people and in addressing problems associated with social misbehavior. In contrast, individual counseling is preferred in instances whereby confidentiality is crucial to the success of the therapy and when the counselor seeks to build trust with the client.


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