What is a Peer Consultation Group?

Posted on October 3, 2016 by Kristen Moran

The term peer consultation may sound fairly self-explanatory, but many practicing therapists aren’t aware of what a peer consultation group is, what functions it serves and the benefits of joining or forming one. With that in mind, we put together an article to answer these questions.

What is a peer consultation group?

A peer consultation group is a group of professionals that meet on a regular basis to discuss difficult cases, ethical dilemmas and the impact of their work on their health and state of mind. Peer consultation groups are an important means for meeting the needs of private practitioners to improve their therapeutic effectiveness, provide practical help and counter isolation and burnout.

Although members of a peer consultation group receive input and suggestions for dealing with their clients, the individual receiving the consultation advice is solely responsible for their actions and interactions with their clients. Being part of a peer consultation group may be helpful but does not replace all forms of professional support. Thus consultation is distinguished from supervision, where a professional supervisor is legally and ethically responsible for the actions and interactions with clients.

The size, structure and format of peer consultation groups may vary, while certain aspects remain the same. The information shared among any peer consultation group remains confidential, creating a space for trust and openness among members.

Why is peer consultation important?

Research shows that for nearly four decades, the outcome of psychotherapy has remained flat. What’s more, further studies have shown that practicing therapists do not improve with time and experience, but instead the effectiveness of the average practitioner plateaus early on and slowly deteriorates.

In the largest study of its kind, clinical psychologist Simon B. Goldberg and colleagues documented the erosion in performance in a sample of 170 therapists working with more than 6,500 clients, tracked over a five-year period. The decline in performance was not related to initial client severity, number of sessions, early termination, caseload size or various therapist factors such as age, years of experience and therapeutic orientation.

Studies like this point to the need for more consultation among therapists and more opportunities to discuss their craft with other professionals.

Psychotherapy researcher Dr. Bruce Wampold identifies isolation, a lack of coach/consultants and a lack of opportunity to practice as the three major barriers preventing improvement among therapists.

“The literature on expertise emphasizes the importance of having a coach or consultants,” Dr. Wampold explained. “Even the best tennis players in the world have someone who assists them to improve. It is very difficult to improve without colleagues to consult, particularly for difficult clients.”

“Experts in all fields spend time practicing their craft. And this practice must be outside of performance (for example, the expert musician spends time, usually with a coach or consultant, practicing apart from performing concerts),” he added.

What are the benefits of a peer consultation group?

Feelings of isolation and loneliness are common in practicing psychotherapists and because of non-disclosure agreements, they are often left feeling isolated or alone in their work and have no outlet to express their feelings or get feedback about their most challenging clients. Joining or forming a peer consultation group can create a space for emotional support and help members further develop and refine their therapeutic skills.

“In the United States and many other countries (but not all!) once you are licensed or certified, supervision and consultation is no longer required.” Dr. Wampold noted. “Providing psychotherapy is a lonely pursuit—therapists need support and encouragement of colleagues.”

Besides proving a safe, supportive space to talk about difficult clients, peer consultation groups allow members to get feedback and help with client cases. What’s more, peer consultation groups are designed to reinforce and continue the education and training the members received prior to receiving their license.

About the Author

Kristen Moran

Kristen is the editor and community manager at Theravue. Kristen's desire to ask questions and share information with others led her to pursue journalism. While she has pursued various avenues in her field, it was her love of self-improvement and zest for life that made Theravue the perfect fit. Connect with Kristen through Twitter.