What’s the Difference Between Group Therapy and Individual Therapy?
Group therapy and individual therapy are actually equally effective; it's just a matter of deciding which approach better meets your preferences and needs.
Clinically Reviewed By: Don Gasparini Ph.D., M.A., CASAC
Updated: January 24, 2024
Table of Contents
Most people think of therapy as one-on-one sessions between a therapist and a client, but that’s not always the case—some therapy happens in groups, a practice aptly known as group therapy (sometimes known as group counseling or group psychotherapy). Though less common in private practice than individual therapy, group therapy is equally effective for treating various mental health conditions, experts report. In fact, research shows that group therapy can be more effective than individual therapy in some situations, thanks to the solidarity that people get from their peers.
With that said, the group process isn’t for everyone, and you’ll need to consider your preferences and mental well-being to choose the best form of therapy for you. Whether you’re searching for emotional support or looking to supplement individual treatment, here’s how to choose between group and individual therapy so you can start healing today.
What’s the difference between group therapy and individual therapy?
The main difference between group therapy and individual therapy is the format and setting: group therapy involves multiple participants working together with the guidance of a mental health professional (or two), while individual therapy is a private session between a therapist and a single client. Family therapy and couples counseling are forms of group therapy. Here are some other key differences between group and individual therapy.
- Often has a specific focus (e.g., chronic pain, trauma, etc.)
- Includes support and feedback from peers and a therapist
- Involves sharing with others
- May include group-focused techniques
- The therapist facilitates a session based on the group’s needs
- Focuses solely on a person’s concerns, emotions, and experiences
- Only includes support and feedback from a therapist
- Involves only sharing with a therapist
- Therapeutic techniques are tailored to a person’s needs
- The therapist guides the session based on a person’s needs
Group therapy sessions are more likely to have a specific focus than individual sessions. Many support groups focus on a single topic that unites group members, such as chronic pain, substance abuse, or gender identity. During a group session, people can learn from others’ experiences and perspectives.
Individual therapy, on the other hand, concentrates solely on a person’s concerns, emotions, and experiences. It offers a focused space for deep exploration and understanding of wide-ranging personal issues.
Support and feedback
In a group therapy session, participants offer support and feedback to each other under the guidance of the therapist. In individual therapy, a person gets personalized feedback and support from their therapist.
While people in a group agree to maintain each others’ privacy, group therapy sessions involve sharing experiences with others, so they are inherently less private than individual sessions. By contrast, individual therapy sessions offer complete privacy between a person and their therapist. Barring certain life-threatening situations, therapists are bound by confidentiality laws.
Group therapy may involve specific group psychotherapy-focused therapeutic techniques such as role-playing, experiential exercises, and group discussions to facilitate interpersonal growth. Individual therapy allows for the use of a wide range of therapeutic techniques tailored to the individual client’s needs, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), psychodynamic therapy, mindfulness-based approaches, and more.
In a group therapy session, the therapist acts as a facilitator, guiding the group process, fostering cohesion, and ensuring a safe and supportive environment. In individual therapy, the therapist takes on a more directive role, providing personalized guidance, insight, and interventions tailored to the client’s unique needs and goals.
What should you expect during group therapy?
In group therapy, people can expect structured, collaborative sessions with a handful of others led by a skilled mental health professional. These sessions involve interactive discussions where each group member gets to share their experiences, thoughts, and emotions related to the group’s focus.
Sharing with others in group therapy allows people to improve social skills, find healthy ways to express themselves, and build solidarity with others dealing with similar issues. Realizing that others have experienced similar difficulties can feel incredibly empowering, and sharing different ways of coping with similar problems can help members develop new skills to manage difficult situations. As a support group progresses, people can build connections, develop healthier communication skills, and ultimately heal together.
Most importantly, group counseling (like all therapy) is a chance to discuss mental health without judgment. Although it’s with others, confidentiality is strictly maintained, creating a safe space for open dialogue. In fact, many people find they are more comfortable discussing their mental health in groups with others who can relate to their experiences.
What should you expect during individual therapy?
In individual therapy, clients meet with a skilled mental health professional for personalized, one-on-one sessions. These sessions offer a confidential environment to explore mental health experiences, thoughts, and emotions without fear of judgment.
In an individual therapy session, people can deeply explore personal issues—including past experiences, current struggles, and future goals—receiving customized support to meet their specific needs along the way. The relationship between client and therapist fosters trust and collaboration, helping clients navigate challenges, gain insights, and learn coping skills.
Through individual therapy, clients can experience personal growth, emotional healing, and positive change. Ultimately, individual therapy provides a space for clients to embark on a journey of self-discovery, healing, and empowerment, guided by a compassionate and skilled therapist.
What are the key considerations when choosing between group therapy and individual therapy?
Deciding whether group therapy or individual therapy is right for you will depend on multiple factors, including your comfort level, personal preferences, and mental health concerns. It’s important to remember that neither form of therapy is “better” than the other. Instead, group therapy and individual therapy are different approaches to improving mental health. In fact, research shows that treatment outcomes for those in group therapy and individual therapy are generally comparable.
Here are questions to ask yourself when choosing between group therapy and individual therapy.
Are you comfortable sharing your experiences with others?
Consider your comfort level with sharing personal experiences in a group setting versus discussing them one-on-one with a therapist. Some people may prefer the support and camaraderie of a group, while others may feel more comfortable in a private setting.
How do you feel about social support?
Consider whether you would benefit more from the social support and camaraderie of group therapy or the personalized attention and tailored interventions of individual therapy. How might you feel about getting support from another group member? Group therapy provides opportunities for peer support and learning from others, while individual therapy offers focused attention to your unique needs and concerns.
What are your therapy goals?
Evaluate your specific therapeutic goals and needs. Group therapy may center on one particular topic or benefit individuals seeking interpersonal support, while individual therapy may be more suitable for addressing deeply personal issues or specific concerns.
What is the availability of therapy options in your area?
Consider the accessibility and availability of group therapy and individual therapy options in your area. Determine whether there are any specific entry criteria or waiting lists for support groups or individual providers near you.
Get group and individual therapy with Charlie Health
If you’re looking for comprehensive mental health support, Charlie Health is here to help. Charlie Health’s virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) provides more than once-weekly mental health treatment for young people dealing with complex mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, co-occurring substance abuse, and more. With Charlie Health, you don’t have to choose between a group session and an individual therapy session—you get both! Our expert clinicians incorporate a variety of evidence-based therapies into individual counseling, family therapy, and group sessions. Fill out the form below or give us a call to start your healing journey today.