Group Formation In Children Group Therapy

Putting together a therapy group is never easy, there are many concerns that need to be addressed and situations that need to be taken into account, and with children these are in even larger numbers.

This kind of group should never have more than 4 to 6 children and we must separate them by ages (usually, 6 to 9 and 9 to 12 years old, taking into account the maturity of some 9 year old children). Some authors recommend to separate the children by gender, due to the fact that some issues about sexuality may arise and they wouldn’t discuss it in front of one another.

The diagnosis is another important thing to keep in mind. It’s easier to deal with an homogeneous group, however, you should avoid a group of children who are excessively aggressive, who have some intellectual or social handicaps which wouldn’t allow them to interact with or follow along with their companions or those with hyperactivity caused by some organic issue and intense depressive symptoms. Group therapy just doesn’t really work on those children and they tend to bring down the rest of the group with them and harm or impede their development and progress.

For children younger than 6 years old, it’s recommendable, at least initially, to be inserted into family therapy instead, which also works as a source of information and understanding of many of the important dynamics in the child’s life.

Therapeutic Contract

This is a fundamental point when you’re working with children. There are two contracts that need to be done and neither of them can be forgotten or ignored.

The first one is the contract that you must do with the child’s parents. It’s important to give the parents some notions about therapeutic work, or they might boycott our action (some times, a couple’s therapy is very useful). And of course, all the practical matter, like honoraries, number of sessions, etc…

The next step is the contract with the children themselves. We should explain to them, the group dynamic, such as we do with an adult, but with appropriate language, according to their ages.

Working With Children In Group Therapy

Working with children, in general, isn’t easy, and in psychology this isn’t any different, due to the fact that they aren’t able to objectively communicate what they think or feel, so you need to be very patient and work at it every day, so you can reach through to them.

The first record of this kind of work goes back to the 19th century with a group of children with emotional problems, but it wasn’t until after World War II, and mostly due to the work of Anna Freud, that group therapy with children became more credible in the world of psychology.

As I said before, working with children is not easy, so if you want to do it, it’s important to keep in mind some specific characteristics that a children’s therapist should have. It’s important that you really enjoy working with and in a group. A group of children in a room can be very exhaustive and the presence of a second therapist is a very common step to address this. And, obviously, you really must like children, playing with them and always take an interest in their problems.

To become a children group therapist, is a long path to follow, since, the education is extensive, the work is physically demanding and exhausting and you must be really tolerant to frustration.

The environment is quite important to success. The space shouldn’t be too wide, so the children do not scatter too much, and it definitely needs to be easy to clean and have some furniture to allow you to keep any needed materials. These are also very important since each child must get some materials of his/her own (pencil, eraser, coloring material of many kinds and some dolls representative of family and animals) and some board games and molding material for the group.

The children should see the therapist as a container for their anguishes and the therapist must be mindful of own his analytic abilities, even when playing with the children, as to keep himself from forgetting that they are not small adults and can’t elaborate on their feelings in such a direct or objective manner as we, adults, are able to and often do.