What is group counseling?(and its stages) 

The stages of group counselling according to Corey and  Corey (1997) range from: The initial stage, The transition stage, The working stage and The final stage.  

In this article, we will look into what group counseling is, what it is used for and the 4 stages of group counseling developed by Corey and Corey in 1997. 

What is group counseling? 

Group counseling is a form of counseling that’s given to patient groups, typically close peers. The people participating understand that it’s safe and comfortable for them to speak about their problems with each other so they can work through them together as well as input from the group leader as needed. Being able to deal with your feelings in this way makes it easier for people to enjoy life, by helping them overcome their fears and worries.

In addition, people who have a difficult time with interpersonal relationships can benefit  from the social interactions that are a basic part of the group counseling experience.

Most groups are composed of students of differing ages, backgrounds and ex­periences. This helps to provide additional perspectives.

What happens during group therapy sessions?

Before attending the group counseling sessions, trained professional counselors will meet their clients individually to conduct a pre-group evaluation and gather information about the types of problems they are experiencing. 

Once both parties agree that group counseling is a good match, the clinician should provide information about the time, date and location of the sessions. 

The focus may vary depending on which type of group activity is being worked on, but it’s common for members to meet in a private room sitting in a circle with other like-minded people who want to share with one another specifically regarding substance abuse or eating disorders etc. It’s important to understand how each session goes down so you know whether you fit in with this particular crowd!

Within an atmosphere of trust, group therapy sessions involve members speaking freely about their feelings and talking directly to one another about all of their personal problems. 

Although no one will ever be forced to divulge their deepest secrets, counselors expect group members to feel free to relate openly and be honest with others for the sake of relieving any pent-up emotional stress in order that they may discover that they aren’t alone in their problems. 

Along with allowing other members to observe the growth of one another’s emotional health, counselors also model healthy behaviors by thoroughly resolving the problems at a deeper level. Most groups meet on a weekly or biweekly basis for a predetermined number of weeks for optimal consistency.

In other words, group therapy is a means for struggling individuals to find camaraderie amongst each other and work towards resolving their personal issues together. 

Most, if not all people are hesitant in going to therapy because some believe it will be similar to the past: being alone in a room and speaking endlessly without knowing what the results would yield. 

Group sessions break those barriers of apprehension by providing a more community-driven environment, built upon cooperation and collaboration rather than competition and individual dominance.

Like all groups, therapeutic groups change and evolve over time. Knowledge of group development can help the group therapist distinguish if members reflect personal and individual or group developmental issues. 

Furthermore, knowledge of how members cope in the face of group developmental issues can aid the therapist in formulating specific interventions at those times (Bernard, Burlingame, Flores, Greene et al., 2008).

Group leaders must understand the strength and potency of groups in order to be effective. They must plan ahead of time and be aware of the group’s current level of development. With this information, they may use suitable techniques to assist their groups in completely developing (Gladding, 1994). 

The likelihood of operating a counseling group efficiently and effectively increases with proper planning and strategic intervention.

Stages of group counseling 

Making decisions in advance is an important part of forming counseling groups. The initial phase in the process is pregroup planning. Leaders create groups with the goal of producing useful and practical outcomes for participants. Those linked with aims, membership, regulations, time, place, and dynamics are among the most essential concerns.

Corey and  Corey (1997) developed  the following stages:  initial, transition, working and final.  

Stage 1

The  initial stage of group counseling involves screening, orientation, and  determining  the structure of  the group. 

The  major functions  of  the group leader during  this stage are establishing ground rules and norms for the  group, helping members express their fears and expectations, assisting group members in identifying concrete personal goals, and sharing expectations and hopes for  the group. 

The members during this stage attempt to create trust, become involved in establishing group norms, establish personal goals and learn about the dynamics of the group process.  

Stage 2

The transition stage. Members initiate a disclosure of information that goes beyond personal history. 

The major functions of the leader during this phase are encouraging members to express their anxiety, dealing openly with conflicts that  occur  in  the  group,  and  helping  members  become  autonomous  and independent.  

During  this  stage,  group  members  are  concerned  about  being accepted by the group. The successful management of this stage will mature into action or working stage.  

Stage 3

The working or action stage. This is when the main work begins. During this stage, group members feel free to explore their thoughts and feelings and work on their concerns. 

The major functions of the group leader are encouraging members to  translate insight into action and assisting them  make the  necessary changes  to  achieve their  goals.  

This stage is  characterized by group  members introducing  personal  issues  that  they  are  willing  to  work  on,  providing  and receiving feedback, applying what they learn in the group to their daily lives, and offering support and encouragement to other group members.   

Stage 4

The final or termination stage. The final stage is characterized by stock taking, sadness and anxiety regarding the termination of the group. 

Members may begin to decrease their intensity of participation  to prepare for termination, and they may also evaluate how they experienced the group. 

The major functions of the  leader  during this  stage  are  to assist  group  members  in working  towards termination,  provide  opportunities  for  them  to  receive  further  counseling  if necessary, and help them gain a useful understanding of what they have learned.

Just like every other intervention, group counseling also has its obstacles. 

  • During the beginning and transition periods, resistance is frequent. During the early stages of a group, individuals are often afraid to participate. Members communicate their anxieties and hesitations, as well as their aspirations and expectations, throughout this stage. In certain circumstances, the participants are wary of the leader, believing that they may be deceived.
  • Even if individuals are ready to participate, some initial resistance is to be expected, regardless of the sort of organization. What members do talk about is likely to be secondary to what they keep buried inside. 
  • Because resistance is sometimes the result of unmet expectations, addressing and discussing these anxieties early on will benefit the entire group. The degree of trust that may be created in the group is determined by how the group counselor or leader handles these emotions.


Counseling groups work best when the rules are simple and straightforward. Many members will forget parts of the regulations if there are more than a dozen. Similarly, if the rules are ambiguous, some members will invariably break them, whether in text or spirit. 

Rules in counseling groups should adhere to professional organizations’ ethical standards, such as the Association for Specialists in Group Work. 

Members should pledge to respect each other’s privacy, refrain from verbally or physically attacking one another, actively engage in the group process, and speak one at a time.

The ability of group leaders to design and execute groups is critical to conducting effective group counseling. Extra preparation time is critical to the group’s survival. Screening members, choosing a realistic number of group participants, establishing a regular meeting site and time, and creating rules are all part of this procedure. 

Leaders of groups must then understand and use group phases, as well as use proper counseling skills in a timely manner. Many factors influence the success of group counseling. Finally, studying how groups work and then personally investing in them are the keys to running good counseling groups.


  • Ajufo, Beatrice. (2019). Group Counselling.
  • Corey, Marianne Schneider, Gerald Corey, and Cindy Corey. Groups: Process and Practice. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole, 2010.

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