March 21, 2024

How To Successfully Run a Group Mental Health Therapy Session

How To Successfully Run a Group Mental Health Therapy Session

Group sessions are an important element in a behavioral health treatment plan. They allow clients a clinical space to work through challenges alongside others.

Group therapy can be an incredibly helpful practice for a client — especially if the facility has the right tools in place to manage it well.

In this article, we aim to help you understand how to facilitate a group therapy session that is safe, organized, data-informed, and easy to document. Continue reading for a list of tips and practices that can help ensure your group sessions are successful.

Table of Contents

How To Run a Group Therapy Session Using These 6 Practices

#1: Understand the Rules and Regulations 

Clinicians can become familiar with mental health group therapy best practices. This helps to create a treatment environment that is effective and safe. 

Here are four ground rules to help get you started:


#2: Have Effective Group Therapy Session Software in Place

Working with multiple clients at the same time requires efficiency. Ensure your management software is intuitive and supports the needs of group therapy sessions.  

What your group session software should do for you: 

Ritten offers modern and streamlined software for group therapy sessions that provides everything your group session software should without the complications that can come with most EMRs. 

Book a demo today and learn how Ritten can help you deliver personalized, data-informed care for group therapy sessions.

#3: Set Realistic Expectations and Explain Them to the Group

During your first group session, lay out your expectations and policies for your clients. This can help the group as a whole share responsibility for creating a positive environment. 

These expectations can include:

#4: Set Specific Goals and Objectives

Each session should focus on a goal and objectives for working toward achieving that goal.  

A goal is a general statement of what the client hopes to accomplish. An objective is a specific task or skill a client must learn to reach a goal. Objectives can offer measurable data.

Goals will reflect the type of therapy you’re providing. A support group for the loss of a loved one might exist to provide support and encouragement during the grieving process. A goal for a client in this group could be to feel less sad when they see pictures of their loved one. 

On the other hand, a psychoeducational group might aim to teach management techniques for a certain disorder or specific symptoms. A goal for a client of this group could be to make it through two days without having anger outbursts when talking to a family member. 

Objectives for group therapy could be to make behavioral changes, challenge unhelpful beliefs, practice new skills, learn coping mechanisms, gain self-insight, or learn more about a diagnosis. The objectives will be based on the goals of the group. 

#5: Build and Encourage Group Cohesion 

Group cohesion can offer: 

  • A sense of belonging
  • Mutual support; and 
  • A way to Identify with other group members

Group cohesion has been associated with better outcomes, more interpersonal support, and better participation in therapy sessions. 

Some therapy groups more naturally become cohesive than others. However, many groups need help from the facilitator to build cohesion. 

One idea that works for some groups is to include experienced clients in the group who have already had positive outcomes with group therapy. 

Another idea that is commonly used in many group settings is to incorporate icebreakers. Begin your first few sessions with an icebreaker to help jump-start conversation. Icebreakers can help diffuse awkward silences early on. This can help create an atmosphere that group members will want to return to.

#6: Identify and Address Group Disruptors 

Disagreements can be inevitable in any group therapy session. It’s important that clinicians spot and work through any concerns of disruptions as soon as they arise. 

Disruptors may exhibit behavior such as:

  • Challenging the intervention
  • Openly challenging what the facilitator is saying 
  • Constantly interrupting 
  • Having erratic attendance (late, no-shows, leaves early, etc.) 

Having detailed notes from a session will allow you to recognize a pattern of disrupting behavior and address it. The group note workflow included with Ritten was made for situations like this. 

Ritten makes it easy to follow client progress in real-time. Clinicians can leverage client data from session notes within your facility — helping to work together for better support and outcomes.

4 Tips for How to Facilitate a Group Therapy Session

#1: Enforce a Strict No-Violence Policy 

Any threatening behavior such as …

  • Violence
  • Intimidation
  • Threats; or
  • Manipulation

… toward clients or facilitators should not be tolerated. Creating a safe and welcoming environment for participants is a priority.

#2: Make the Sessions Fun

Behavioral health group therapy sessions can engage painful emotions and involve serious conversations. Finding appropriate ways to lighten things up could encourage clients to engage and help build group cohesion. 

In addition to icebreakers, other ideas to make sessions fun include:

  • Offering snacks
  • Incentives for attendance and participation 
  • Showing a movie clip that addresses issues in a positive light 
  • Group therapy games 
  • Show-and-tell to give clients a chance to talk about hobbies and passions 
  • Collaborative activities 

#3: Don’t Force Participation 

Clients will be more likely to benefit from group therapy the more they are willing to share and participate. 

However, clients shouldn’t be pressured by other group members or the facilitator to participate in any activity, discussion, or sharing session. Clients need to feel safe to decide when and what to share with the group. 

#4: Preparation Is Key

Group therapy can be as effective as individual therapy for many mental health conditions. Because of this, there has been a rise in the demand for group therapy in facilities. 

Techniques and documentation look different for group sessions vs. individual sessions. Preparing for group therapy sessions with proper training and having simple, reliable software in place can help ensure your group sessions are data-driven and as effective as your individual client sessions. 

Prepare for Challenges With Proper Training 

Successful group therapy requires training and experience from the clinician. Learning how to run a group therapy session properly is considered an evidence-based specialty and requires special skill 

Group therapy requires techniques, processes, and strategies that differ from individual therapy. Group therapy training courses can provide essential background on group development and conflict. 

Training can offer tangible ideas of how to foster group cohesion and identity. It can help you understand group diversity or how to handle disruptors. Training can also offer support in how to provide screening to potential group members. 

Prepare by Reviewing Your Clinic’s Management Software for a Seamless Group Therapy Session

Your group therapy preparation should include a review of your management software. It’s the glue that holds your facility and therapy sessions together. 

Your software solution should be able to do more than just handle individual treatment. It should be able to manage group therapy sessions with ease. 

This may include:

  • Scheduling 
  • Documenting goals or objectives 
  • Client progress 
  • Attendance; and
  • Supervisor tasks 

Choose a behavior health group session software that makes management simplewhether you’re seeing one client or a room of 10. 

Ritten: Simplifying Your Group Therapy Workflow

When you’re deciding how to run a group therapy session for your practice, your choice of software should be a top priority. Most EMRs are outdated and complicated. 

Ritten is different. We believe your behavioral health EMR shouldn’t be complicated. 

Ritten offers intuitive group note software that:

  • Allows you to customize everything to your clinical, accreditation, or billing requirements
  • Customizes group session note structure to align with your group’s needs
  • Keeps individual client attendance with just a couple of clicks
  • Lets you take notes on each client without leaving the Group Encounter screen
  • Sends group notes to client charts after a session with just one click 
  • Saves staff members time by allowing one signature to sign every individual chart with bulk signing

If you’re frustrated with your current EMR or looking to implement your first EMR system, book a demo with Ritten. We have a dedicated onboarding team and engineers to help your facility get started today. We will guide you through an EMR migration, configuration, or answer any questions that may arise. 

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