Therapists bring group counseling to community - Bonner County Daily Bee: Business And Financial

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Therapists bring group counseling to community

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Posted: Wednesday, December 7, 2011 10:00 am | Updated: 2:22 pm, Thu Dec 8, 2011.

SANDPOINT — Like many things in life, even psychological healing can be enhanced by a group setting.

Licensed professional counselors Larry Alford and Christina Baker hope to bring mental healing on a larger scale by using that dynamic. With their new group therapy practice, they intend to guide a group of diverse individuals with similar troubles toward better mental health.

After all, “the best helpers can often be those who share the same struggles,” according to the pair of counselors.

The advantages of group counseling have been well-established by years of practical scholarship, Alford and Baker said. Group counseling sessions involve bringing together eight or fewer individuals who want to make similar changes or improvements in their lives. Each group member makes a commitment to attend one 90-minute minute session a week.

“We really want to invite people to come in and see if the process is right for them,” Baker said.

The first step for any newly formed group is to build a sense of rapport and solidarity. Alford and Baker’s initial job is to establish connections and dialogue between the participants, laying the foundation for sessions to come. According to the professional partners, that takes less time than many people might think.

“I’ve found the individual comfort level comes very quickly,” Baker said.

In a group environment, each participant is as key to mutual improvement as Baker and Alford. The two essentially serve as guides for the group, moderating conversations and offering suggestions. According to Alford, people often have a lot more in common than they might realize.

“Fundamentally, there are two issues that bring people into group counseling,” he said. “They are relationships and transitions.”

Regardless of an individual’s personal background, most people’s dissatisfaction in life stems from one of those sources. A person without a financial care in the world could still be vexed by an inability to maintain meaningful relationships. Similarly, people trying to find themselves adjusting to a major change in life — either positive or negative — can find the transition stressful.

Baker and Alford’s goal is to create a group counseling session that defies the preconceived notions individuals might bring to it.

“I think when people hear group counseling, the first thing they think of is ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,’” Baker said. “That’s not the case here.”

Instead of dealing with mental illness, Baker and Alford’s group will include fully-functioning and independent individuals that simply want to better themselves and improve their quality of life.

Fortunately, the counselors themselves are well equipped to handle that task. Alford holds a PhD in counseling psychology from the University of Utah and has accumulated a wide range of experience in adolescent, adult, couples and family therapy in both individual and group settings. Baker holds a Master’s Degree in counseling from the College of Idaho and has work eight years as a counselor, covering issues like relationships, life transitions, planning, personal growth, independent living, aging, grief, trauma, abuse and mood issues in both individual and group formats.

“We are both passion about group work, and we are excited about bringing more group counseling opportunities to our community,” Baker and Alford said.

Baker and Alford’s practice is located at 606 North Third Avenue, Suite 102. To learn more about group counseling, call Baker at 265-1700 or Alford at 304-2303 and schedule a free introductory interview.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Alford and Baker as clincal psychologists. The error has since been corrected.

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