Group Therapy vs. Individual Counseling: Differences and Benefits

Different Therapies for Different Types of People

Group Therapy vs. Individual Counseling: Differences and Benefits

In the United States, we have a clear and considerable need for mental health services. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 50 percent of all Americans are diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point during their lifetime. During any given year, approximately 26 percent of Americans over the age of 18 (or roughly one in four adults) struggle with a diagnosable mental health issue.

In California alone, one in six adults has a mental health need, with one in 20 suffering from a serious mental illness, that limits their ability to carry out daily activities. Even more notable is the fact that suicide is the eighth leading cause of death among San Francisco residents.

But the tragedy is that a huge portion of people who suffer from mental health conditions never receive help. In 2017, one survey found that 37 percent of adults failed to seek mental health treatment due to high costs, while 26 percent neglected to receive treatment, due to a lack of knowledge about where or how to obtain it. The US Department of Human and Health Services’ National Institute of Mental Health also estimates that at least half of those with mental health conditions ever receive treatment.

Those who do take the important step to learn more about treatment options may quickly become overwhelmed with the sheer amount of choices that are available to them. There are all kinds of therapeutic disciplines to consider, some of which are better suited for certain conditions than others. Some types of therapy may even be appropriate for people who are struggling to forge or maintain important relationships, or navigate transitional periods in their lives. But choosing the right type of therapy situation can be a real challenge, particularly if you know very little about the differences between them, and the benefits each can provide.

If you don’t have a lot of experience with counseling, you might think that individual therapy is your only option. But for many people, a group therapy setting may be even more beneficial. Here’s some information about the main differences between these two types of therapeutic situations, and how each can provide necessary help in specific situations.

The Difference Between Group and Individual Therapy

As the name suggests, individual therapy only involves the client and the mental health professional. Group therapy, on the other hand, involves typically from three to 12 people participating in a formal therapeutic environment with a counselor, psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist. In either scenario, there can be a variety of treatment paradigms used.

The biggest difference between individual and group therapy is that in group, participants are typically encouraged to share their personal experiences to drive discussions within the group and to provide interpersonal feedback and support to others. The relationships that develop, and members’ ability to share their thoughts and feelings about one another in the moment within the group is the greatest source of learning and healing in group therapy. The therapist will facilitate these discussions between group members, and in individual therapy, sessions are one-on-one with your mental health provider. Many participants note that each of the two scenarios has a different “feel” to it, and may also have a slightly different focus. In addition, issues such as wanting to improve your interpersonal relationships, and gain insight into how you are perceived by and impact others lend themselves more readily to group therapy, while wanting to explore the details of your family history and dynamics and how those are impacting you today are typically treated in an individual setting.

How can group therapy or individual counseling help patients?

Group therapy actually began as a way to treat individuals with tuberculosis and later rose to popularity after World War II. After groups of soldiers were treated in these settings, the benefits of these kinds of therapy sessions were revealed. For those struggling to make connections to others, group therapy can be a revelatory experience. From family counseling to treatment for drug addiction and trauma, participants will come to realize that others share their same struggles. This can provide a sense of belonging, as well as stress relief and reduction of isolation. You can learn how to accept support from others, come to accept constructive feedback, build trust, and develop communication skills when you partake in group therapy in San Francisco or your local town. Group is ideal for individuals who want to feel more connected to themselves and others, and improve their personal and professional relationships. (This sentence you’ve ended with just doesn’t make sense. Couples and families aren’t typically in group therapy together, and if this in part is an article to drive people to my site, none of these are ideal for my group so I’d like to cut it. It can be ideal for couples, family units, those struggling with substance abuse issues, and individuals who suffer from social anxiety or certain kinds of trauma.)

That said, group therapy is not always the correct choice in every situation. Given the private setting, individual therapy is good for clients who initially feel more comfortable disclosing personal details one-on-one. Individual therapy allows for a deeper connection to develop between the client and therapist, while group therapy provides opportunities to develop deeper connections with peers, which can be important for taking what you’ve learned in individual therapy out into the real world. Individual therapy provides more opportunities to explore in detail the issues the client faces. In turn, this gives the opportunity to develop a more personalized approach to treatment, and ensures that session time is spent in meaningful and relevant ways. It’s also typically much easier to coordinate an individual therapy session than it is to schedule a group therapy session that works for every participant. For those dealing with phobias, personality disorders, or virtually any mental health issue, individualized therapy can be extremely beneficial.

For people who have difficulty communicating their feelings, individual therapy may be difficult at first. But it’s often the best option for clients who require complete confidentiality, or who will benefit most from one-on-one attention. On the other end of the spectrum, group therapy can be transformative for people who need more practice communicating their feelings within their relationships and who feel the need to connect with others, either personally or professionally, but who have been unable to do so without assistance.

In most cases, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to therapy. Many experts feel that both options are equally effective in treating many mental health issues. Ultimately, your choice will likely come down to your comfort level and to what you really want to get out of your therapy. Providing you choose a qualified therapist and do your research, you should find either scenario to be beneficial.

Read next: Never In the Cover of Night
Carlos Fox
See all posts by Carlos Fox