Building a Tight-Knit Community through Group Therapy for Young Girls

Girls at Asheville Academy are assigned to separate “Tree Groups,” named after local trees, consisting of 8 girls. These small groups eat meals together, take academic classes together, and bond with the same caring mentors. As these girls share a living space in the same “tree house” dormitory with two mentors available around-the-clock, they form a tight-knit community in a home-like setting. Group therapy for young girls is especially beneficial for students who have struggled to find their voice in their own family and to form healthy relationships with their peers. A large component of our group therapy process is milieu therapy, the structure of our supportive community.

Origin of the Tree Group Model

Tree groups are assigned upon enrollment based on sharing similar struggles by matching girls with “tree group” therapists. These groups are designed intentionally to help establish close connections with a specific group of peers and mentors within the larger Asheville Academy community.  The tree group mentors assigned to each group stay the same throughout a student’s time at Asheville Academy. This provides a sense of stability and belonging for girls with attachment issues. 

Some reasons we follow a “tree group” model include:

  • Encourages, positive relationships with other young women
  • Provides productive frameworks for resolving conflict and dealing with negative emotions
  • Establishes a stable, long-term atmosphere that helps her feel at home
  • Builds sensible physical and emotional boundaries that encourage trust and sharing  

Why choose small groups?

Many of our students struggle with larger group settings. They either feel isolated or withdrawn or act out to draw attention to themselves to help get their needs met. A lot of the girls we work with have a history of social rejection, being bullied, and low-self esteem that have contributed to few close or positive relationships. With smaller class sizes and groups, students cannot slip under the radar and staff is better able to get to know their individual needs.

In a classroom setting, teachers are able to work more closely with students and provide additional academic support. In a group therapy setting, students feel more comfortable sharing with others as there is less pressure and more time for their voice to be heard. Based on shared struggles, Asheville Academy offers rotating personalized groups focused on specific topics where girls discuss their experiences and learn new skills to help them overcome challenges they’ve faced. Through group therapy, girls realize that they are not alone and that others are there to help.

Role of Mentors in Group Therapy For Young Girls

Our experienced, compassionate mentors use age-appropriate techniques to support and build trust with younger girls struggling with depression and other issues. In smaller groups, mentors are able to develop deeper relationships with each student by having time to give them individualized attention. They build relationships by listening to students’ struggles and interests, providing advice, and being available around-the-clock to offer guidance and support. As young girls struggling with depression build trust and respect in relationships with authority figures, they are better able to find hope and face their doubts and fears. Instead of viewing mentors as authoritarian figures, they develop friendships with healthy boundaries and are reassured that staff have their best interests in mind. It also helps them learn to respond to adults in an appropriate, constructive way.

Finding their Community Role

In order to create a positive peer culture, students take on roles within the campus community in order to learn new life skills such as respect, accountability, and leadership. These roles change every couple of weeks in order to create new learning opportunities and help girls discover their individual strengths and a sense of purpose. Guided by mentors, they are essentially running their own groups. 
Some examples of community roles include:

  • Team leader
  • Job coordinator
  • Big sister
  • Downy
  • Thumper
  • Goalie

Building Lifelong Relationships

While they interact with every student on campus, it is important for students to learn to navigate relationships with the seven other girls in their tree group. As they spend a lot of time together and realize that the overall group dynamic depends on individual relationships within each group, students begin to understand that the community is there to support them and how they play a role in shaping the dynamic. 

Tree groups encourage therapeutic work around building healthy relationships, conflict resolution, navigating personalities, and learning how to find similarities with people they would not usually be drawn to. These tree groups can also be where students find their best friend at the program.

After graduation, many students leave with a strong support network of peers and mentors that they will keep in touch with for years to come.

Asheville Academy can Help

Asheville Academy is a therapeutic boarding school for girls ages 10-14. Our students commonly struggle with anxiety, depression, ADHD, learning differences, and attachment issues. Many of our students have struggled with making positive friends in school and are working on building appropriate social skills and communication skills. We are a relationship-based program that focuses on building meaningful face-to-face connections through teamwork, group therapy, experiential activities, and small classrooms. We aim to help students that have dealt with bullying, abandonment, and rejection in relationships change the narratives they’ve internalized about their self-worth and potential for success.  

For more information about group therapy for young girls, call 800-264-8709. We can help your family today!