Working With Teenagers In Therapy Group


One of the most common techniques in therapy group is the role-playing game and it’s particularly effective with adolescents. Through dramatization, the teenagers are able to develop more insight about the critical situations arising in the group.

This kind of technique is also very useful when you have a situation in which verbal communication is difficult, it helps to get over the feelings of shame or the fear of shaming themselves in front of, or within a group, quite common among teenagers.

Group Function

In a non-therapeutic situation, an adolescent usually joins a group in order to experiment and unlink or unchain himself from his family (his original group), finding a new one which will act as his auxiliary ego. The same happens in the therapeutic group and the therapist should pay attention to all of these interactions and help the group along in forming a collective insight.

If you are a therapist you should pay special attention to the affective charge within a teenage group. This age group is specially overwhelmed by it, so it has a much greater impact than in an adult group.

Main Problems You May Find

As I said in a previous post, this kind of intervention is very efficient in adolescence, however, it also has some issues that you should be aware of:

– it can cause more anguish – communicating is not easy and, while doing it, you can often face some conflicts, which some of the group members may not react too well to

– maturity – even with the same age, the group members will have very different levels of maturity, which could cause quite a number of conflicts and make it hard for the members to identify with one another

– abstraction ability – this isn’t yet fully developed in most of the teenagers, which can potentially make it that much more difficult for them to accept our interpretative work

– body language – it’s quite common among teenagers, and the therapist need to learn to read it, be able to recognize it and even make use of it himself.

The truth is that the level of maturity is very important for group therapy to work, so the older or more mature teenagers show a better chance of evolving positively within a group, since they already show a more well-defined identity and a stronger ability to deal with conflicts inside the group.

Group Therapy With Teenagers – Selection of Patients

When you are trying to create a therapy group with teenagers, the selection is made, actually, on a intuition basis. Usually you take into account the initial contact with the patient, his motive and why he would prefer a group therapy and the receptivity of the parents to this kind of treatment.

Despite that, you also need to separate them by ages or the group may not work. Usually, we provide this separation into three age groups: 13 to 15, 16 to 18 and within the last one we find the late teenagers, with 19 years old and more (you can form a group with early twenties here, the only concern is the maturity of all the members, so that the group can work).

The gender is also an important point and question. When you are talking about teenagers, the group should be, definitely, mixed. However, it’s hard to find the exact number of both sexes when creating a group. In fact, the distribution is:
– 13 to 15 years old: majority of patients are boys
– 16 to 18 years old: It’s in this age group that you find more balance, and both genres look for group therapy.
– 19 and above:there is a major difference with more women looking for that kind of therapy.

Finally, you should to be careful when trying to put together a group, it’s very counterproductive to reunite patients with the same defensive techniques. Intellectualization, for example, is quite common in adolescence and you should pay attention to it.

Group Therapy With Teenagers. Why?

This question is often posed when you try to get one of your teenager clients into a therapy group. Some parents seem not be sure of the advantages in doing so. But, in fact, this is the ideal method for teenagers, due to their natural tendency to look for support within a group, making it a place to voice their fears and anguishes.

For a teenager, the group has an important container function and for us, therapists, it makes it easy to get through to them, since as they are talking with each other, they feel supported and understood by the others and begin to feel as though they can speak more freely.

This is especially true with neurotic issues and when the normal teenage crisis evolves to pathologic levels.

However, as with any other kind of therapy, it has some delicate situations as well. First of all, you need to be very careful so the teenagers in question don’t “over-identify” with each other, or you will find trouble trying to evolve the group. It may also prove difficult to close or end the group itself as they may not react so well due to feeling some sort of dependency on it.

Patients with paranoid issues and psychotic features are not adequate for this kind of therapy and you may find some counter-productive results.

It’s also very important to note that sometimes it’s exceptionally hard to determine what is normal and what is pathological during adolescence, so, more than therapeutic, these groups also have an important diagnostic function.