Therapy is a great way to improve our mental and even physical well-being, whether it’s with a group or individually. Taking the step to begin therapy in general can be scary. It can seem overwhelming deciding on a therapist, let alone the type of therapy.
First, what is the difference between both? Group therapy involves more than one person and is led by one or two therapists. Individual therapy is one-on-one with a therapist. Typically, a group of 5 to 8 is recommended for the most effective therapeutic alliance and outcome.
There are multiple types of group therapy. These include: psychoeducational, skills development, support, interpersonal process, and cognitive behavioral groups. Group therapy topics range from grief, substance abuse, identity development, motherhood, and so much more.
So, if you’re wondering whether or not group therapy is for you, let’s start with the pros.
Pros Of Group Therapy
One of the biggest benefits of group therapy is knowing that you are not alone in what you are experiencing. Hearing others’ experiences and feelings that are close to your own can put things in perspective. It can create a “welcome to being human” kind of experience in which you find yourself being in “the same boat” as strangers.
Being a part of a group with people who have similar experiences to your own can help you see that what you are going through is universal and you are in fact, not alone. It creates a sense of belonging.
It is nice to have a group of people you see on a frequent basis to discuss similar things and to be in each other’s company.
#2 Instillation of hope
Group therapy is a great way to create hope. Imagine each member is placed on a line based on their skill levels and improvement in the topic of the group. All members will not be at the same spot.
Some members may be at the higher end of the line as they have improved as a result of therapy. Some members may be at the lower end as they may have just recently joined or it may be their first time in any kind of therapy. Think of this as a Rookie and a Veteran or even a mentor and a mentee.
It can be beneficial for group members to see other group members reach milestones. Watching others who are going through something similar improve can be so important to your own improvement. It instills confidence and hope that you can one day be there too.
An example of this can be seen in substance abuse treatment programs using recovering drug addicts as group leaders. Members are inspired by their journey and can apply it to themselves.
#3 Having support
Group therapy is a fantastic way to receive support. This support means even more when it comes from people going through the same thing (again universality is so important!).
Being in a group allows you and other members to share feelings and experiences to relieve pain, guilt, or stress. It also allows members to share information that can be helpful.
An example of this is a member of a new mom group informing another member about a technique she uses to get her infant to sleep longer. It can also look like a mom sharing her stressful experiences as a new mom.
#4 Social skills
The nature of group helps you learn how to navigate social situations and social relationships. Its the perfect opportunity to practice socializing in various situations.
Group therapy can be beneficial in building confidence and learning more about yourself. It is the perfect opportunity to practice setting and maintaining boundaries and building healthy relationships.
With so many different perspectives and opinions while being in a safe space, it is the best way to build social skills.
#5 Less expensive
Most of the time, group therapy costs less than individual therapy. For someone who has never been in therapy before or for someone who is hesitant to commit to the price of individual therapy, group therapy is a great starting point.
Group therapy can be the perfect form of therapy for certain people. There are definitely many pros. However, with those pros come cons.
Cons Of Group Therapy
#1 Less of a personal focus
In a group setting, everyone’s attention is divided. There is less of a personal focus because the group itself is the focus.
Depending how many people are in the group, you may have a certain amount of time to speak. Because of this, you might not have the time to be as detailed as you want and to receive others’ input.
You also won’t have the sole attention of the therapist leading the group. Most group therapists take a back seat approach where they let the group lead themselves and make inputs when necessary.
Although all members of the group are instructed to maintain confidentiality (keeping things private), some may not follow these rules.
Confidentiality cannot be promised in a group setting.
#3 Speaking in a group
For those who have a serious social phobia or may be introverted, speaking in a group may be difficult. Along with this, those who have experienced traumatic events may be triggered or can become overwhelmed when certain topics come up.
Sharing personal experiences to multiple strangers can be very difficult for some. Group therapy is not for everyone, and that is okay!
#4 Less Flexibility
Because there are multiple members plus a therapist or two, there are multiple schedules to keep in mind.
Group sessions typically take place on a specific day at whatever frequency the therapists decide. Some sessions are every two weeks whereas others are every month.
With this, it can make it difficult to fit sessions into one’s personal schedule.
#5 Personality Clashes
The more members in a group, the more personalities. Sometimes personality types can clash in a group setting.
There may be a person that you find to be egotistical and self absorbent or there may be someone that just rubs you the wrong way for some reason.
Either way, there is a chance that there will be someone in the group that you may not like for whatever reason.
Pros Of Individual Therapy
You can be assured that anything you say in session will be kept between you and your therapist.
Confidentiality is a given in individual therapy and will always be maintained.
#2 One-on-one attention
Since you are the only person in session (and paying) the time is yours. Individual therapy allows a one-on-one focus that group therapy doesn’t.
You will have consistent individual attention on any problems or experiences unique to you. Your therapist will be completely focused on you and your treatment.
Your sessions will be completely personalized based on your skills and needs.
#3 Strong therapeutic alliance
A strong therapeutic alliance is the working relationship between the therapist and the individual. Therapeutic alliance is the biggest component of successful therapy interventions.
Being just you and the therapist allows a strong alliance to merge more easily than being in a group with multiple members.
#4 More comfortable pace
Since you’re the only member, sessions will be taken at your pace. Some people are able to handle things differently and at larger capacities and may benefit from a quicker therapy pace.
Others need more time to adjust and get used to things. You get to set the pace as your therapist has already personalized their treatment plan for you.
As you are the only participant, flexibility is essentially guaranteed. It is easier to schedule sessions that work with your schedule rather than have a specific date that may not work for you.
You are also able to reschedule sessions or cancel sessions ahead of time without fear of missing out on anything.
Cons Of Individual Therapy
Compared to group therapy, the cost of individual therapy is more expensive. This is because in a group, the therapists time is being split by multiple people.
Whether using insurance or paying out of pocket, the cost can add up.
#2 Motivation requirement
Some people may lack motivation in a one-on-one setting. Since you are the only participant, you have to follow through with doing your own work. There is no opportunity to blend into the group.
There is a certain amount of motivation needed to get the full benefit of individual sessions.
#3 One perspective
The down side of individual therapy is that there is only one other perspective in the room. With a group, you are able to talk to and hear from other people.
In an individual setting, you only get the viewpoint of your therapist.
Because it’s just you and a therapist, there are no opportunities for you to model any behaviors of those who are successfully navigating a similar issue.
There is a missed opportunity to learn how others with similar problems are dealing with them.
The focus is entirely on you and that can sometimes seem intimidating.
#5 Testing skills
In a group setting, you would be able to test new skills in a safe environment with multiple people.
Although you can still practice new skills one-on-one, it is nicer to do so in a group setting where you can get more feedback and more practice with different personalities and situations
Which is right for me?
To sum it up, both individual and group therapy are fantastic options. It just depends on the individual and what goals they have for themselves.
Some might be better suited for individual therapy whereas others may thrive in a group environment.
Studies also show that participating in individual therapy AND group therapy are very effective.
At the end of the day, your treatment is a priority in both types of therapy settings.
Which setting would you choose between group therapy vs individual therapy?