What Do You Do When Students Don’t Want To Be In Group?

Read Time:  min |  Group Counseling

Have you had students who do not want to come to small group counseling? They seem resistant immediately. Sometimes it takes some flexibility, creativity, and perspective taking on our parts. Check out tips from these five Confident Counselors.

Make Adjustments

Sometimes group members are resistant to participating in the group sessions. It is important to address this issue right away. If they are resistant to a specific activity such as goal work or role playing, you might tell them that, for this session only, they may just observe the activity.

If the resistance continues into the next session or if they just refuse to attend group, try meeting with the resistant member individually to explore the problem and develop a more comprehensive solution.

In this individual session, spend 5–10 minutes discussing what is causing their discomfort. If necessary, guide them to the idea that practicing their strategies in a safe, group situation is necessary in order to achieve what they want for themselves (such as improving their grades, getting along with friends or teachers, etc.).

Sometimes the best solution is to remove a resistant member from group and work one-on-one until they are ready for the group experience. You can find more ideas on addressing resistant group members in my group guide, The Calm Downers.

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Stephanie, School Counselor Stephanie

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Find The Reason Why

This is going to happen and it’s okay. When thinking about how to address this, try to get to the bottom of why the student is resistant. This will inform how you respond. You can:

  • re-adjust expectations (carefully), 
  • make modifications or accommodations,
  • provide transition support,
  • use engagement strategies, or
  • adjust your services.

Is the student embarrassed to go to counseling? Try to provide discreet ways for the student to come and go from group. Give them some frequently asked questions that other students ask. 

Does the student not know what is expected in counseling? Review with the student the structure of the group and what kinds of activities you will do. This is your chance to sell it.

Does the student not know what they can get out of counseling? Focus on what the students wants to accomplish or change. They are likely referred to counseling by adults in their lives. Make a case to them about why this will help them using their language and motivations..

Laura, Social Emotional Workshop

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Let Them Take a Test Run

At the elementary level, it doesn't happen very often. Students are so excited to come work with Mrs. KC. When it does happen, I sit down with the student to see what their concerns are. It is typically that they don't want to be singled out or they are worried about how it will look when I come and get them.

It is almost always a student that is new to our building. About 1/3 of our population is new to our school each year. We have a transient population. During this conversation, I ask them to take part in the first session and see what they think. I explain that if they are not interested after the first session, no problem. This usually does the trick. They are sold on group time and how much fun and learning takes place during this time. But if they are still hesitant, I will ask a student that has been at the school to talk to the student. Once they talk to them, they realize it is a wonderful time to connect.

Group time should be fun and it is about the relationship that you have with your student(s). I really believe that is why it is a student that is new to the school that might have hesitancies. They have not had a chance to get to know me and see how much I genuinely care about them. Once they see how much I care about them, group time becomes a time for connection. They end up loving the time together. You just have to get them sold on giving it a try. Relationship is key!

Katie, Counselor Katie

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Make Them a Co-Leader

When parents give me a heads up that their child will not want to be in the group or I can sense it by their demeanor, I always meet with them privately and talk in depth about what the group is about. We discuss what we will be talking about in the group, the purpose and goals, and different activities we will be doing. Some of the activities I use are from this Small Group Counseling Curriculum.

I then ask for their help to co-lead the group, and I explain to them how much I truly need their help to make the group successful. What does that look like? They keep time and give us a 5 minute warning that group is almost over, they spend their lunch break (if they want to) once a week helping me prep the activity, they remind group members of the group rules, they come 5 minutes early and stay 5 minutes late to help me prepare/clean up, and sometimes they even come up with their own ideas to help lead. They love taking on a leadership role and really come to embrace the group, plus it helps me out which is a win-win.

Ashley, Heart and Mind Teaching

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Flexible Services

The main thing I do NOT do is leave it alone! Sometimes, students don't want to share personal information in a group setting and I totally respect that. If they have been referred by a teacher or a parent it makes it a priority for me to start seeing them somehow, because there are concerns which warranted the referral.

So, if the student is uncomfortable with a group setting, I would pull the student out individually and work that way for a while. If the need is for social skills and working with others, I would create a more relaxed group setting where we play games (maybe even outside) and develop the skills they need in a non-threatening environment.

Simply Imperfect Counselor
Jessica, Simply Imperfect Counselor

Visit my TPT store and get counseling ideas on my blog. Let's connect on Instagram!

Check out these other posts on making group counseling work!

Students who refuse small group counseling can be a challenge. 5 Confident Counselors give tips for how to get students on board and still provide effective services.