Effective group counselling requires using the group consciously and professionally as a positive working resource (Nummenmaa & Lautamatti 2004). It is important to offer the group a supportive and emotionally safe environment in which the participants can safely reconstruct their identity. The main emphasis of the group activity should be on supporting different options and learning new things, not on the past or on pointing out the weaknesses of the participants’ lives.
Group counselling should provide the participants two things:
1) exercises that strengthen their sense of self and their constructive identity and
2) democratic discussions that support planning, decision making and problem solving of everyday life. (Peavy 1999.)
The group participants figuratively build each others ladders and supplement each others’ competencies. These ladders can be conceptual, functional, social or emotional. (Nummenmaa & Lautamatti 2004.) The group offers peer support and a chance to mirror one’s experiences with the experiences of others, as well as a safe environment for testing one’s professional and job-searching skills. Likewise, this particular group showed that peers play a significant role in group counselling. Many international students arriving in Finland have been very surprised to discover that finding work here is difficult. However, just the feeling that one is not alone with the problem helps in many cases. The group offered a safe environment to practice one’s small talk and job interview situations.
Group meetings focus on a variety of discussion situations. Yet in addition to verbal expression, it is important to encourage the participants to express themselves also visually and actively, so that they can make the most of their creativity and innovation in the career planning process. Consequently, it is recommendable to supplement discussions with exercises that involve writing, use of metaphors, drawing etc. (Amundson 2006). It is also recommendable to give home exercises that increase the participant’s activity between the meetings. These can include different reflection assignments and exercises, writing a diary, independent information search (e.g. on the Internet), conducting interviews, and building contacts.
The following career group model has been developed in the VALOA programme in Oulu and piloted once. In point of fact, the career group model received its final shape only after it had been carried out once all the way from the beginning to the end. The experiences about the career group model were encouraging, and the University of Oulu has subsequently used the model for purposes such as the international students’ couching for practical training.