Individual vs. Group Therapy

In addiction treatment programs, usually patients will get to undergo both individual and group therapy to help them overcome their addiction. But what are the differences? Is one better than the other? Do you really need to do both? In order to understand what you can get from these therapies, we have narrowed everything down so you can get a better view of these two. Here’s what you need to know:

What is individual therapy?

Individual therapy is when an individual attends sessions one-on-one between just them and the licensed therapist. A therapist can be anyone who is professionally trained and licensed in the use of therapy. This could be a psychologist, counselor, social workers, psychiatrist, and marriage and family counselors. Because the therapy is one-on-one, you will be able to dig deeper into the root cause of your addiction. Since the focus of these sessions is entirely on you, it’s an amazing opportunity for deep self reflection and growth, without influence from your peers or other external sources.

Advantages of Individual Therapy

  • The patient feels more comfortable talking about personal information that may be embarrassing if they tell others. Only the therapist will know about it except in rare situations where they must break confidentiality. This usually happens when the patient is suicidal or has suicidal thoughts and their actions are considered a threat to their own safety or the safety of other people. If the case also involves elder or child abuse, the therapist can also divulge the information that they know to other health care workers and sometimes the authorities if it is troubling enough. 
  • The pace of the sessions can be tailored according to the needs of the patient. If the patient is uncomfortable discussing something, the therapist can slow down the pace at which the discussion unfolds over time, or speed it up to make more progress if the patient is willing.
  • The therapist only has to focus on a single patient at that given moment, and does not need to divide his or her attention to others. 
  • Other underlying mental health issues may be uncovered due to the intimate nature of the therapy session. For example, there might be hidden co-occurring disorders that the patient would like to disclose or that the therapist may be able to diagnose. 
  • Since the therapist only focuses on one client, it easier to build cooperation in working out the client’s issues.
  • While there is a time and place for listening to shared stories and issues from their peers, not having that external noise in an individual therapy session can ensure that the session remains relevant to the patient.
  • Individual therapy sessions allow for much more flexibility in scheduling. Clients don’t have to worry about trying to build their day around a strictly scheduled time slot, but rather can pencil in that time slot into their existing plans/schedule.

Disadvantages of Individual Therapy

While the advantages are great, there are also downsides to working alone with the therapist as compared to being in a group therapy:

  • Individual therapy is more costly compared to group sessions. 
  • The patient may actually feel more comfortable in a group setting where not all of the focus is on them. They may struggle with being the center of attention.
  • Individual therapy works well for many psychological disorders, but may not be the best option for others.

Group Therapy

Another good way to see a therapist is through group therapy. There are two types of group therapy that you should know of. One is Open Group, which allows new members to join any time. In this group, the members come and go, and for this reason, are usually at varying levels of achievements. The second type is Closed Group. In this type of group, the members must have a membership, and are encouraged to continue attending until they reach their goal. Unlike the Open Group, this one does not allow new members. They are usually designed for one specific goal where all members work together to complete it at the same pace. 

Advantages of Group Therapy

  • It’s less expensive than individual therapy.
  • Members of group therapy share a sense of belonging. This allows them to come together and address issues as one and as individuals in the group.
  • They communicate the sense of universality within the members. This means that the members will feel that they are not alone and that they have people who will support them and the issues they are facing. 
  • Group members sense that they can give something to others. This is called group altruism. 
  • Members learn from each other by sharing their experiences. 
  • Individuals are more aware of themselves in a group. They learn new things about themselves as they identify with others who are sharing their own issues. 
  • A group usually instills hope to its members as they encourage one another. 
  • Groups often foster modeling which means that they learn from one another by copying their behaviors
  • They express themselves in an appropriate manner, listen, and share an honest opinion about their members without feeling ashamed or guilty. 
  • Sharing experiences to members they trust often results in cathartic feelings and relief from the guilt or shame of their past lives. 
  • They can identify with the therapist and members of the group which make them understand themselves even better. 
  • The members take responsibility for the actions of their members and accept the consequences of it. Their responses also determine the progress of the group. 
  • They have more than one therapist which allows them to experience the different skills and experiences of each therapist. 

Disadvantages of Group Therapy

  • Members of a group have a lower chance of getting individual attention, which also means that the interventions may be less intense compared to individual therapy. 
  • Confidentiality of the group may not be as secure compared to individual therapy. Generally, the group is instructed not to talk about the information they acquired from the group during therapy but sometimes, some members cannot do that. This is where conflicts often happen. 
  • Group therapy is not as focused compared to individual therapy even though there is some form of alliance among its members. 
  • Some members don’t actually make changes but simply ride on the success of other members. This is called social loafing and is a problem among group therapies. 
  • Meeting is fixed and at specific times so there’s less opportunity to rearrange schedules. 
  • This is not the best group to be if you are antisocial, shy or have psychotic disorders. 

Which One is Better?

Both therapies have their own pros and cons that you can consider if you are in a position where you must choose between one or the other. If you are in a treatment program, you probably have access to both types of therapy, whereas if you are an individual not in a structured program, you might be looking to choose to save time or money. The good thing is, you can try both and see which one works best for you. If you prefer being with other people who have the same issues as you do, then group therapy might be the answer. However, if you are someone who prefers being the focus of the therapy, then you can choose individual therapy. Either way, both offer a lot of benefits and it is best to try out both before making a decision. Make sure to work with a registered, experienced and professional health care provider so you can truly reap the benefits of the therapy.