Life has its difficulties. When you go through tough times and you’re dealing with issues as diverse as grief, substance abuse, trauma, divorce, an eating disorder, depression, marital discord, addiction, anxiety, anger, or abandonment, it’s never a bad idea to reach out for help when you need it.
One avenue for that help is therapy. For many, taking that step to seek out a therapist or counselor to address any number of questions or issues is a bold and necessary one. The idea of self-sufficiency and standing on your own two feet often gets in the way of people finding the help they need when they need it. It takes courage and it is a sign of strength to acknowledge that you are overwhelmed and to be willing to ask for help from others.
In general, therapy helps you to address a variety of issues, and once you’ve decided to find a therapist and begin working on things, you’ll have a few choices to make. One of those choices is whether you’ll go for individual therapy or group therapy. This article will help you to make sense of this choice by outlining the differences between these two, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of each so that you can make an informed decision.
How individual therapy works
Individual therapy is a type of psychotherapy where the client or patient is treated by a trained therapist on a one-to-one basis. This type of therapy enables the therapist to focus exclusively on their client and their concerns, using therapeutic techniques such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
In individual therapy, you will meet with the therapist at least once a week for about an hour or so. Depending on what you’re seeing the therapist for, the sessions may last for a few weeks, months, or years.
If you choose to go to a Christian therapist because you prefer to have a therapeutic approach that integrates faith in the process, that therapist, as other therapists do, will offer you a space where you can find strength, guidance, and support so that you can live a full and fulfilling life.
During your first session, your therapist will listen to your story and work with you to create an approach and treatment plan that suits your personal needs and will meet your stated goals using methods such as evidence-based psychotherapy and faith-based resources like Scripture and prayer to find the wholeness and peace that Jesus Christ can give.
Individual therapy offers you a private space designed to support you and help you to grow spiritually, process your emotions, supplying the tools you need to form healthy relationships and create lasting change in your life.
The advantages of individual therapy are that the full time of the session is dedicated to focusing on you, which can help you get to the root of your questions and issues sooner. You have room to explore things and address questions as they come up.
Additionally, doing individual therapy doesn’t prevent you from doing group therapy, so you can have the benefits of both. One of the main challenges with individual therapy is that it is generally more expensive than group therapy, but that also depends on how many sessions you have, where you have them, and how much your therapist charges.
How group therapy works
Group therapy is a type of psychotherapy where instead of meeting with a therapist one-to-one, you meet with one or two therapists with anywhere from four to fifteen other people in the group. This type of therapy is widely available at a variety of locations which include mental health clinics, private therapeutic practices, hospitals, and community centers.
It addresses a wide variety of issues, but most groups are designed to address one particular issue such as anger, depression, eating disorders, or anxiety. The group meets for an hour or two every week for a variable amount of time depending on the issue at hand and how the group goes.
Some groups are open, which means that other people can continue coming into the group after you’ve begun your session, or they may be closed, meaning all the members sign up at the same time and go through the journey together. In both open and closed groups, there is a period of adjusting to and getting to know the other members, though this process is extended and a bit more complicated in an open group.
In group therapy, the trained therapist(s) will lead the sessions using proper group therapy techniques to guide members towards a better understanding of the issues they face. Group members take part and offer their insights, as part of the process is for group members to contribute within a safe space.
Under the guidance of the therapist(s), this safe group space allows for the members to be honest about themselves and their experiences, and it also supplies opportunities for accountability, practicing vulnerability, and developing vital tools to manage negative emotions and overcome the symptoms related to the focus area of the group.
When we are facing challenges, it’s tempting to feel alone and isolated in the struggle. “I feel alone” is a thought that many of us may have during the hard seasons in our lives.
Facing challenges alone adds another layer of hardship but knowing that other people understand and share your struggle, that others have gone through it and came out the other side, that other people are willing to support you on your journey, makes all the difference in the world and might just be what you need.
This is one of the advantages of group therapy. Instead of feeling isolated in your questions and issues, group therapy provides you with a community and circle of support made up of people who are wrestling with the same issues. The opportunity to say, “Oh, you too?” can be a huge relief. Having other people to connect with and lean on and who will spur you on helps in the healing process.
Not only does group counseling provide us with an opportunity to receive from others, but it also creates an opportunity to give to others. While we may gain new perspectives from others and their experiences (which puts our own problems into perspective), God has given us all wisdom that we can share with others, and group therapy provides opportunities to share with and inspire others in the group.
The group forms a support network and a sounding board where you can share ideas for overcoming the common issue the group is designed to address. Additionally, the group setting also provides an opportunity for accountability when sharing updates each week and through follow-up about what you committed to do last time.
When you’re in group therapy, that doesn’t preclude you from also doing individual therapy. While group therapy tends to be cheaper than individual counseling, the downside is that because you’re in a group with others, the attention of the therapist(s) is split between the group members, and you don’t always have the freedom and flexibility to explore things that don’t relate to the focus area of the group or the contribution of a group member.
Additionally, in group therapy, you must get used to the dynamic of sharing with and coming to understand not only your therapist(s) but the group members too, which may get complicated in an open group.
So, which is better – group therapy or individual?
The choice between group and individual therapy comes down to what sort of experience you want to have in your therapy. Both have distinct advantages, and you’re not precluded from using either because you chose one or the other. Both have disadvantages too. If group solidarity and identifying with others having the same struggle is a priority for you, then group therapy is what will help you most.
If you want the sessions to be focused exclusively on you, then individual therapy is the way to go. Because both forms of therapy are guided by trained specialists, they are effective forms of therapy that will benefit you and help address your concerns. Either choice you make will be a blessing to you and for your emotional, mental, and overall health.
“Prayer”, Courtesy of Rosie Fraser, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Anxious”, Courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Are U Doing Okay?”, Courtesy of Jerome, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Open Bible”, Courtesy of Ben White, Unsplash.com, CC0 License