Group and Individual Therapy: What Are the Benefits?
Group therapy is broadly defined as psychotherapy that is delivered to two or more people at the same time by one or more therapists. The members of the group are often working through similar issues, such as mental health disorders or addiction.
Group therapy provides a number of benefits to both the therapist facilitating the group, as well as the members in group therapy. Many of these advantages are the result of group processes that allow individuals and groups to benefit from working together.
Benefits of Group Therapy
- Universality: A major advantage of therapy groups is that participants realize that there are other individuals who share similar struggles, similar issues, and have similar problems. This principle of universality helps to foster a set of belongingness and identity, and to relieve tension and stress. It also has positive effects on the issues the group works to address.
- Broadened therapeutic alliance: A therapeutic alliance is a working bond and sense of unity between the therapist and client. In a group setting, this alliance is broader as it includes not just the therapist, but the members of the group as well. The therapeutic alliance has been identified in numerous research studies as a major factor contributing to the successful outcome of the therapeutic process, and can be an important factor in successful treatment.
- Broader perspective: Because groups often have members with similar but diverse experiences, group therapy offers a broader perspective regarding the issues being addressed. Most therapy groups include members at different levels of progress, and newcomers can benefit from the experiences of senior members, and senior members can benefit from discussing their issues with newcomers.
- Broader support system: Having positive perceived social support is an important aspect in addressing one’s issues in a constructive manner. Group members can receive support from one another and provide support to others.
- Group identification: When individuals can identify with other people who have similar problems, they are often more open to discussing their own issues and are more forthcoming. Many individuals and groups find that they are more willing to discuss their issues openly as a result of the interactions that occur in the group
- A chance to develop greater insight into one’s issues: As a result of sharing and listening to others, group members often find that they can develop greater insight into their own problems.
- Modeling: Individuals often learn from others in the group by simply trying to replicate the actions of others — a form of learning called modeling. This can be beneficial in learning new coping skills.
- Group processes: The very nature of the group process assists individuals in developing their social skills, ability to communicate, and inability to accept criticism from others.
- Community: It is not uncommon for individuals in therapy groups to develop strong and lasting relationships with some of the group members. This community of peers can provide help, support, and other benefits even beyond the therapeutic environment.
- Cost: Group therapy sessions are typically less expensive than individual sessions.
Disadvantages of Group Therapy
Even though there are numerous advantages associated with group therapy, there are also some potential disadvantages. Some of these disadvantages include:
- Less direct intervention: The therapist has less time to devote to each individual member of the group. This can be a disadvantage for some individuals.
- The squeaky wheel gets the grease: A few of the members of the group may take up most of the time in the session. This can be disadvantageous for individuals who are shy or hesitant about discussing their issues.
- Potential breaches of confidentiality: In individual therapy, the therapist has an ethical responsibility to not reveal information to outside sources. There are a few identified situations where it is necessary for the therapist to breach confidentiality, but in general. Even though individuals who attend group therapy sessions are always advised to keep the discussions confidential, the fact that more individuals are exposed to a person’s issues in groups results in an increased risk that confidentiality will be breached.
- Scheduling issues: Group therapy sessions must be accessible to multiple individuals. This means that the times are relatively set and cannot be adjusted to fit individual schedules.
- Group size: When groups are too large, the advantages of group processes are significantly weakened. Extremely large groups are often not advantageous to helping individuals reach their goals.
- Not right for everyone: Group therapy may not be a good fit for everyone. Some individuals may not be ready to participate in group therapy sessions or may not have the skills that are needed to benefit from group interactions.
Benefits of Individual Therapy
There are some important advantages of individual therapy, such as:
- One-on-one attention: In individual sessions, the client gets the sole attention of the therapist. This results in very focused and intense treatment. In individual therapy, the therapist has a more focused and complete understanding of the client’s issues, and the therapist and client develop a very strong and focused therapeutic alliance that may not be possible in group therapy.
- High level of confidentiality: Individuals can be assured that their confidentiality will be best protected when they only participate in individual therapy sessions.
- Focused treatment: The treatment that occurs in individual therapy sessions is much more personalized, focused, and articulated toward the needs of the individual.
- More comfortable pace: Because the therapist and individual work together in one-on-one sessions, the pace can be adjusted for the person without worrying about moving too fast or too slow.
- Easier scheduling: People can schedule therapy sessions around their schedule, so there are fewer issues with fitting therapy into their day-to-day life.
Disadvantages of Individual Therapy
There are some disadvantages associated with individual therapy sessions, such as:
- Expense: Individual therapy sessions are typically more expensive than group sessions.
- Increased transparency. Because the individual is the sole focus of the therapist, they must participate throughout the entire session and are responsible for doing the work on their own.
- One viewpoint: Even though therapists are the “experts” in their chosen field, participating only in individual sessions does not allow the person to get multiple viewpoints from others who share similar issues.
- Motivation: Some individuals may suffer from motivation issues and not want to reveal aspects of themselves they may find embarrassing to a single therapist. Sometimes, the group process allows individuals to feel more comfortable reviewing these issues.
Which Is Better: Group Therapy or Individual Therapy?
Research findings indicate that both types of therapy are effective in the treatment of numerous issues and neither is necessarily better than the other. There are advantages to participating in group therapy that may make it more suitable for some people. Likewise, there are advantages to individual therapy that may make it more suitable for others. The the size of the group, if one wants to share their problems with others, and how much personal attention one feels they need from the therapist in order for them to improve are important things to consider when deciding between group and individual therapy.
The choice between individual and group therapy often occurs once an individual has had an initial session with a counselor or therapist to discuss their particular issues, and the therapist has assessed their situation. The therapist and individual can decide together on which approach would be best for the person. In many cases, individuals can participate in both group and individual therapy sessions. This allows for the client to reap the benefits of both types of therapy.
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