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The Power of Group Therapy for Teens (Especially in a Post-Pandemic Era)

Updated: Apr 26

By: Jenna Cook, M.Ed., LPC, NCC Pre-pandemic, teens’ in-person peer interactions were already on the decline. Their social lives and connectivity with their friends were centered around group texts, video calls, and social media.

Group of young teenagers having fun, smiling, laughing at a bowling alley holding bowling balls.

Most teenagers—especially introverted teens—were not phased at all by pandemic protocols. In fact, some completely thrived with the time at home alone or ways of connecting with friends online on their own terms. Teens’ already-atrophying social comfort zones have now shrunk down even more—making interactions like ordering at a restaurant, leaving a voicemail, or talking with a teacher extra anxiety-inducing.

If it were left up to them, teens may choose to NOT interact in-person, as they likely view it is unnecessary or uncomfortable. We must help them determine for themselves that connecting in-person is important and can be purposeful and successful. Thankfully, there are ways we can help them become more comfortable and confident by providing opportunities to stretch and strengthen their social muscles again. Groups in general, such as sports teams, clubs, hobby groups, etc. – those that have a set purpose, goal, or designated activity -- can help mitigate some of the anxiety and uncertainty associated with social interaction “in the wild,” as I call it. For many teens, socialization that takes place out in the world is unscheduled, organic, and rule-free and, therefore, anxiety-inducing. With that in mind, group therapy might be helpful for some teens as it provides a setting for re-entering the social world that it is designed to facilitate conversation, individual and communal reflection and processing, and connection in a controlled, incremental way.

Group therapy can be an incredibly powerful tool and supportive resource for teens for several reasons:

Panic Zone Infographic

  1. It encourages teens out of their comfort zones and into their “stretch zones.” The graphic above depicts our comfort, stretch, and panic zones. Group therapy requires some appropriately challenging but do-able opportunities for group members to practice social skills. Over time, the more we do something that was originally difficult, the stronger and more confident we become. Group therapy provides a respectful, empowering nudge out of the comfort zone and into the stretch zone. If a panic zone moment occurs, the group facilitator is trained to assist.

  2. It provides evidence that in-person interaction is possible, meaningful, and fun. Group therapy can provide teens the opportunity to learn or be reminded that in-person social connection is worth it. Of course, it will require them to face some discomfort and knock some rust off, but the goal is for them to be able to see the return on their investment—that they can feel successful, supported, and can have fun connecting with their peers “the old fashioned way.”

  3. It teaches and helps them practice necessary social skills that—despite being in an online-centric world—will likely not go away any time soon or maybe even in their lifetime. In a world where we don’t have to exit our cars to pick up grocery orders or speak to a human to place an online food order, teens are sort of correct when they think that in-person human interaction is “pointless.” It is likely that society is heading in the direction of less and less in-person interaction. However, certain social obligations are likely sticking around for a while, such as those needed for traveling, meeting teachers, having a roommate, job interviews, professional connections, and presentations, etc.

  4. It demonstrates what it means to connect without anonymity, curation, and filters. Group members and facilitators agree to uphold confidentiality and protect privacy, encouraging members to explore what it feels like to show up as their authentic self. While teens can explore their identity with privacy, there is not the same type of anonymity that exists online. Group members get the opportunity to show their faces, make fashion choices, use the name that feels right to them, and “try on” different ways of interacting in an unfiltered way.

The teenage years have historically been and will continue to be a treacherous, emotional, and monumental chapter—for the young person and for their families. It is important that teens have a safe space: their parent or extended family member, a teacher, a coach, a therapist, etc. who meets them where they are. Group therapy is just one of the options for supporting teens as they navigate some tough stuff.

If you are the loved one of a teen who might benefit from group therapy, do an online search to see what exists near you. Sites like MentalHealthMatch and PsychologyToday can help you locate groups. At The Conative Group, our team offers several groups for teens, as well as for children, young adults, and parents. The groups I personally facilitate for middle and high schoolers—called The Guild—focus on helping bright, yet socially “struggle-y” young folks gain confidence and explore what it means to be themselves. To learn more about the groups we offer, please visit


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