Most people think of therapy as one-on-one encounters between a psychologist and a client, but that's not always the case. In fact, group settings are just as common as individual therapy sessions. Group therapy sessions provide an entirely different experience than individual therapy, with unique mental health benefits for group members.
Group therapy isn't just individual treatment in a group setting—it has its own techniques, processes, and strategies. 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 the right treatment approach so you can start the healing process on your own terms.
What's the difference between group therapy and individual therapy?
The main difference between group therapy and individual therapy is the number of participants in a therapy session. Individual talk therapy occurs when one or more therapists work with a single individual in the same therapy session.
Meanwhile, group therapy is when one or more individuals participate in the same session. Group therapy typically includes at least five group members, but group therapy meetings can reach as high as 15 participants. In larger groups, multiple mental health professionals may direct the session. Family therapy and couples counseling are forms of group therapy.
The type of psychotherapy will determine how the sessions unfold, the content of group conversations, and how the alliances between clients and counselors are formed. For example, during individual therapy sessions, you might dive into more sensitive topics and personal feelings. In contrast, during group therapy sessions, every participant will have the opportunity to talk about their specific struggles. This impacts the session, how it progresses, and what insights are reached.
In many cases, group therapy sessions are more likely to have specific purposes than individual sessions. While individual sessions might touch on wide-ranging issues, group therapy typically focuses on a single topic that unites group members, such as chronic pain, substance use issues, or gender identity.
What should you expect during group therapy?
For many people, the group process provides a supportive environment where members can explore their concerns with peers and mental health professionals. Group therapy offers key insights into your challenges, helping you gain new perspectives and vantage points on your issues. During group therapy meetings, members have the opportunity to interact with other people, improve their social skills, and find healthy ways to express themselves. At the same time, group therapy challenges members to rethink the ways they interact.
Group therapy can help you realize that you're not alone, and other people face similar issues. By sharing your personal story with other group members, you can strengthen your sense of identity and belongingness.
Realizing that other people 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 therapy progresses, you'll be able to build connections, develop healthier communication skills, and ultimately heal together.
For many people, group therapy can be a valuable source of social support. It also gives members the opportunity to receive feedback or give emotional support to their peers. After a few sessions, you'll develop a shared sense of goals, and you can start holding each other accountable for progress. In many cases, group members make lifelong connections with other members of their therapy group.
Most importantly, group therapy provides a safe space to express yourself without judgment. Many people in group therapy have fewer reservations about discussing their mental health issues with fellow group members, especially when they can relate to other members of the group. Although group therapy can treat a wide variety of mental health issues, some common topics include substance use, grief and loss, trauma, relationship conflicts, and diagnosable mental health conditions.
What should you expect during individual therapy?
Many people seek individual therapy when they're having trouble coping with stressful situations or solving personal problems. Just like group therapy, individual psychotherapy offers emotional support, new perspectives, and a safe environment to navigate your mental wellness. Whether you're dealing with a stressful situation, feeling overwhelmed, or keep making the same mistakes, psychotherapy can help you make a positive change in your life.
During individual sessions, you'll receive the full attention of your therapist. Instead of dividing your therapy session between multiple group members, you can work one-on-one with your therapist in a confidential setting. The content of your therapy session is up to you, whether you want to dive into relationship issues, talk about social anxiety, or explore issues at work.
While the success of group therapy depends on group cohesiveness, individual therapy requires a strong therapeutic alliance. As a result, you'll need to spend some time finding the right therapist for your mental health needs. You'll receive more intense and comprehensive treatment during individual therapy, and your therapist will be able to paint a better picture of your mental health. In addition, you'll receive direct feedback from your therapist throughout the therapeutic process.
If you're living with a diagnosed mental health condition, therapy can help you develop new skills to manage your symptoms. The length of your mental health treatment will depend on your specific problems and goals. Often, situational problems with close friends or family members may only require a few sessions. Meanwhile, more serious issues, such as trauma, usually require more time. Your therapist will help you make progress and move forward with issues on your own. This way, you can become your own therapist after treatment ends.
In many cases, individual psychotherapy offers more flexibility than group therapy. While group sessions typically happen at the same time each week (i.e., 4 p.m. on Thursdays), you can arrange your psychotherapy appointments to fit into your schedule. Many online therapists offer weekend and evening appointments, so you won't have to disrupt your schedule to access quality mental health support.
What type of therapy is right for you?
Whether you're starting therapy for the first time or joining a virtual intensive outpatient treatment program, choosing the right type of therapy is the first step to making positive changes in your mental health. The right type of therapy 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 your mental well-being. In fact, research shows that treatment outcomes for individuals in group therapy and individual therapy are generally comparable.
If you're searching for extra mental health support, talk to your mental health professional about combining both treatment approaches. If you're dealing with specific concerns, your psychologist might recommend a specific therapy group, such as a therapy group for substance use or PTSD, so you can talk to people experiencing similar difficulties. When you use both types of therapy together, you'll reap more mental health benefits than only participating in one or the other.
How can you find the right therapy group?
If you're considering group therapy, finding the right therapy group can make all the difference in your treatment outcome. The best therapy groups are cohesive, with group leaders uniting members through similar experiences. Ideally, they also connect you with people who have similar lived experiences. Studies consistently show that group cohesion creates a sense of belonging and acceptance between group members, leading to lower drop-out rates, better support, and improved outcomes.
When you feel seen, heard, and validated in your group, you're more likely to succeed. Group therapy offers peer support, along with expert support from a licensed therapist, so you can kick start the healing process. You should always feel supported in a group setting, and therapy should never make you feel ashamed or judged.
If you're not sure where to start your search, we're here to help. At Charlie Health, group therapy is an essential component of our virtual intensive outpatient program (IOP). We match each client into personalized groups based on your needs, background, and preferences—not just your geographic location.
Our teen and young adult programs utilize skills-based, experiential, and psychoeducational groups to connect peers who have common concerns. Our personalized, trauma-informed group sessions help our clients heal together in a safe, supportive environment. All of our group sessions are led by compassionate mental health professionals.
At Charlie Health, our virtual intensive outpatient program (IOP) is designed for adolescents, teenagers, and young adults who need extra support beyond traditional once-per-week therapy. We believe that a comprehensive treatment plan is the most effective way to meet your goals—and that's why group therapy is a critical component of our IOP.
Our innovative IOP combines individual psychotherapy, group therapy, and family therapy to create a customized treatment plan for every client. We work with clients and families to understand their specific needs, and our supportive mental health professionals will help you find the most effective treatment modalities for you. Reach out to our team today to start your journey toward sustainable healing