How to Determine Individual vs. Group Counseling in Schools

If you have a caseload of counseling students that is beginning to making your head spin, then it’s probably time to start making groups. Providing counseling services in a small group counseling setting is an ideal way to support the majority of students in schools.

Children require pull-out counseling for a variety of reasons. Pull-out counseling provides a more personalized approach to helping children learn social and emotional skills that they may be lacking. These skills may include social skills, coping skills, emotional regulation, building executive functioning, and behavior management.

School-based counseling in an individualized or small group setting can provide the instruction and practice in these areas that children need to function in their school environment. The goal is to help them learn tools and strategies that can improve their relationships, learning, and emotional health. This will help them not only as students, but will help them to grow up to have good mental health habits and social skills. After all, these children will one day be adults who have to function in society.

Like anything, there are pros and cons to group and individual counseling. Here are some reasons why you may want to provide one over the other, as well as tips on how to group children when creating groups.

Reasons to Provide Individual Counseling

Depressed Student

The Pros of providing individual counseling may include:

  • It is easier to talk about individual concerns
  • Some students may require a higher level of confidentiality
  • It requires less planning
  • It requires less group management skills
  • It can be brief, such as a check-in
  • It is quieter
  • It can be more specific to the student’s individual situation or needs

One of the main ways that I determine if a student requires individual counseling is that they require a higher level of care, such as a student with significant depression or behaviors. Currently , the students that I provide individual counseling for have issues, such as cutting, suicidal thoughts, frequent eloping from class, and school refusal.

Some students who have more significant emotional concerns will generally require a more individualized therapy approach. This is where your training and professional opinion will come into play when deciding if a student should receive individual or group counseling services.

Here is a list of other reasons to see students on an individual basis:

  • Your student has current or past trauma in their home.
  • Your student is experiencing recent loss, grief, such as loss of a parent or sibling.
  • Your student is highly aggressive with other peers and adults.
  • Your student does not pair well with any other students.
  • Your student is experiencing current suicidal ideations.
  • Your student has significant behaviors that require a one-to-one aide. In these instances I have the aide join the counseling sessions to better address improving behavioral concerns.
  • You do not have any peers of similar age or schedule to pair a student with.

Pros of Small Group Counseling

I mostly prefer group school-based counseling for many reasons. The first is that it really saves me precious time. That’s not a very student-focused reason, but with counselors and psychologists being spread thin, it is a valid reason. Do more with less, right?

I really do like group counseling, however, because it also benefits most students just as well as individual counseling, if not better. Group counseling provides increased opportunities for discussions, peer modeling, and fun that individual counseling does not quiet provide. I mean, aren’t games more fun with 3 people than with 2? This is true for children, especially if the other person is an adult. Kids like to be with other kids.

Especially when kids feel a little weird about being pulled out of their classroom. When they are in a group, they can see that they are not alone in having social or emotional difficulties.

Group counseling is really great also because of the modeling opportunities to learn from other peers that individual counseling is not able to provide. In many of my counseling games, I use discussion prompts to engage students in sharing their thoughts and opinions, as well as practicing skills with their group peers.

Creating your Small Groups for Counseling

Small Group Counseling

Providing your services does involve a bit more planning and creativity than individual counseling. It involves figuring our a time that all of your students can be pulled from their classrooms. It’s always easiest when you can create a group from one classroom, but it is not often the case. Usually, it takes a bit of coordination between two or three teachers to figure out a good time slot.

This is why I will grade-level as one factor when creating my groups. Grade level is also important because of maturity differences amongst children. I will often try to group students within 2-3 grade levels if I am not able to keep make a group all in the same grade or teacher.

Other Factors in Creating Small Groups

Other factors for creating groups is the topic that the group is focused on. I will try to have a “social skills” group, and a separate group for “anger management” as general themes. Grouping students by both theme and age can be hard to do if you do not have a large number of students on your case load. If you are trying to achieve a group for certain students, it is better to have a group of 2, then no group of all.

When looking at my current groups this school year, I would generally say that I group my students based on age over their specific area of need. This is because I cover many topics when running a group because most students that require my services have social and emotional deficits in more than one area. For example, my students with poor emotional regulation also have deficits in social skills, poor empathy, and poor anger management.

Running Your Groups

Running small groups also requires quite a bit more behavior management than individual counseling. While students can benefit greatly from receiving counseling with their peers, having another peer to interact with can bring about behaviors. These behaviors can range from talkativeness to aggression.

Having a small-group setting, however, provides opportunities to correct behaviors and observe behavioral patterns seen in the classroom. It also provides you with opportunities to use peer modeling to help children understand behavioral expectations better. Peer modeling is a great tool because children learn best from their peers. As counselors, we can talk about what to do until our face turns blue. But, seeing a peer model it, even if in a video, can often teach children better than we can. As their counselor, however, we can facilitate the opportunities for learning what we are trying to teach, even if it their small group peers that finally cement it into their growing brains.

So, now that you know more about individual vs. small group counseling, what other questions do you have? Do you have activities, worksheets, and games to help promote your students with building social and emotional skills? If not, please check out my workbook that can support you for the entire school year, School-Based Counseling MADE EASY!

School Based Counseling Made EASY

Here is a description of the book!

Level up your Counseling with tons of fun and engaging Games, Activities, and Worksheets to help you address your students’ Social and Emotional needs! This comprehensive handbook is for any School Mental Health Provider, including School Psychologists, School Social Workers, and School Counselors, to help them with having an amazing school year of counseling students in grades K-8.

There are a total of 10 Topics/Lessons, 6 Counseling Forms23 Counseling Games, and 32 other therapy activities (i.e. worksheets, social stories, & Art Activities) for over $125 in value from my store if purchased individually.

Counseling Topics and Materials/Activities Included:

  • Rapport Building Activities
  • Executive Functioning
  • Social Skills
  • Manners
  • Empathy
  • Coping Skills
  • Anger Management
  • Sleep

This book is a downloadable PDF, is organized by topic, and can be printed (in color or black &white) as needed. It is recommended that all games and game boards be printed in color and then laminated for multiple uses throughout your school year. This book, plus my Videos List of over 190 Counseling Videos will make your life as a School Psychologist or School Based Counselor smooth sailing all school year.

****In addition!!!!!****

I am currently creating a YouTube channel specifically for this Book and all of my TpT products, so that anyone who purchases it can feel confident in how to use each game and activity with their students during their counseling sessions, so that they can facilitate discussions and foster amazing social and emotional growth in their students!

If you have a caseload of counseling students that is beginning to making your head spin, then it’s probably time to start making groups. Providing counseling services in a small group counseling setting is an ideal way to support the majority of students in schools. Children require pull-out counseling for a variety of reasons. Pull-out…

If you have a caseload of counseling students that is beginning to making your head spin, then it’s probably time to start making groups. Providing counseling services in a small group counseling setting is an ideal way to support the majority of students in schools. Children require pull-out counseling for a variety of reasons. Pull-out…