A career as a mental health professional can be highly rewarding, but it’s not entirely free of challenges. At times, your work with a client might stall or seem difficult to continue. You might wonder whether it’s best to refer them to someone else. If you have a private practice, you might feel even more isolated or uncertain when facing tough therapy situations.
A peer consultation group can support you through these challenges. These groups are crucial tools for your success as a therapist. Within the group, you and a few other therapists can share clinical experience and therapy strategies. You might also discuss marketing or business tips or provide emotional and social support to each other.
Peer consultation is sometimes called peer supervision, but consultation and supervision differ in two important ways. Supervision, which involves evaluation of your progress as a therapist, is a mandatory part of your clinical training. Supervisors are also legally and ethically responsible for the specific actions you take in therapy sessions.
Here, we’ll go over some of the more specific benefits of consultation groups and offer guidance for finding a group that meets your needs.
Benefits of Peer Consultation Groups for Therapists
Most therapists seek consultation from other professionals when faced with an ethical issue or challenging case. But peer consultation can be helpful before you experience challenges. It may even help prevent some from coming up in the first place.
That’s one key reason why most mental health experts and seasoned professionals recommend consultation groups. Peer support can have great value at any stage of your career. Research supports the importance of peer consultation for the following reasons:
Consultation helps reduce isolation
Confidentiality requirements can make it tough for therapists to seek support and guidance outside of work. Over time, this can contribute to loneliness and isolation, which can fuel emotional distress.
It’s common for private practice therapists to struggle to find opportunities for social interaction with other professionals in the field. By joining (or forming) a group, you have not one, but multiple people to reach out to on a regular basis.
Knowing you have an opportunity to consult when you need it may help you feel more secure and confident in your work with clients.
Consultation exposes you to new ideas
Continuing education is another essential tool you’ll use to build on your expertise as a therapist. But even when you regularly participate in CE events, you might find yourself sticking to topics or treatments that have direct relevance to your clinical work. This could work against you by limiting you, keeping you from discovering new approaches to treatment or understanding best practices on working with clients experiencing certain concerns.
But when peers who take similar, but slightly different approaches to treatment offer their perspective, you might take away strategies that can benefit your own work.
Consultation provides room for growth
When therapy becomes challenging with a particular client, you may spend a lot of time considering your next steps. You want to keep working with the client, but they don’t seem to be getting much out of therapy, your sessions often go off-course, and you’re no longer sure how to offer the most support. You may even feel unsure you can continue to support that client.
In this situation, peers can suggest approaches you haven’t considered and offer feedback on how to redirect difficult sessions. One of your group members may have even experienced a similar situation and be able to offer more tailored guidance based on that situation. Getting through a challenging few sessions and developing a stronger bond with your client can help you grow as a therapist.
Peer group members can also help you recognize when it might be time to refer a client to someone else or recognize any potential ethical pitfalls or gray areas.
Consultation offers referral opportunities
If you have a full client load and need to refer someone seeking help to another professional, you’ll want to recommend a therapist you know and trust. Members of your peer group can serve as a ready referral source.
Similarly, if a member of your peer group doesn’t specialize in the issue a client needs help with and you do, they can easily refer that person to you.
Choosing the Right Consultation Group
You’ll want to consider a few important things when searching for a consultation group.
It may help to ask yourself the following questions:
- Would I prefer a more relaxed or formal group? Some peer groups have a more informal structure, where members can talk about issues loosely related to therapy and daily practice, as well as distinct consultation concerns. Others may have a strict clinical focus that follows a specific structure in each meeting (for example, one member shares a case while others offer thoughts and feedback).
- Who would I like to work with? Depending on your physical location, you may not have many consultation groups available to choose from. But if you’re in a bigger city, you may have more flexibility in your choice of group. For example, if you’re an atheist, you may prefer to stay away from consultation groups with pastoral or faith-based counselor members, since counseling approaches that differ so starkly from your beliefs may not have value to you. You might also prefer a group that primarily focuses on one or two issues treated in therapy.
- Would I prefer a larger or smaller group? Large and small groups can both have benefits. If your group only has three members, each person will have more space to share. But if your group has five or six members, this broader range of insight may lead to more expansive discussions.
- When can I meet? You should choose a group with a schedule you can commit to. Peer groups tend to be small, so if even one member doesn’t participate, the opportunity for guidance may be somewhat diminished. If you’re interested in more regular discussions, look for a group that meets regularly instead of on a consultation-when-needed basis.
Most consultation groups will spend at least a little time talking about issues that aren’t directly related to clinical consultation, such as personal issues, marketing strategies, or the complex feelings therapy work can bring up. But a group that primarily focuses on providing therapy-like benefits or business help may not be serving your best interests.
It’s also important to make sure all therapists in your group adhere to confidentiality requirements. Unless you have express permission from your client, you can’t share any details that might help another therapist identify them. This standard must be followed even within a small, private group.
For some serious ethical concerns, you may need to seek expert support from an outside professional. It’s important to maintain an awareness of this possibility when ethical issues come up for discussion.
In the end, consider your own comfort level. If something isn’t quite right about the group, you may not get what you need from it, so choose one that feels like a good fit.
Where to Find a Peer Consultation Group
If you’d like to try finding a consultation group, first try talking to therapists in your social network. It’s possible someone you know may have a group with space for a new member. If you use Facebook or Twitter for your private practice, post a brief message about what you’re looking for on your account. There’s a good chance someone in your network might know of an opportunity.
The American Psychological Association also suggests looking into psychological associations at your local or state level. If you attend conferences or other therapist networking events, you’ll most likely find possible group opportunities there.
Joining GoodTherapy is another great way to reach out to peers for possible consultation opportunities. And if you can’t find what you’re looking for, try forming a peer consultation group of your own!
- Benshoff, J. M. (1994). Peer consultation as a form of supervision. ERIC Digest. Retrieved from https://www.counseling.org/resources/library/ERIC%20Digests/94-20.pdf
- Counselman, E. (2013). Escaping the isolation of private practice. Psychotherapy Networker. Retrieved from https://www.psychotherapynetworker.org/blog/details/941/the-power-of-peer-groups
- Not going it alone: Peer consultation groups. (2005, November 17). American Psychological Association. Retrieved from https://www.apaservices.org/practice/ce/self-care/peer-consult