What Are the Differences Between Group Therapy and Individual Therapy?

An Overview of Addiction Therapy

While group therapy involves working with a therapist and other individuals in a shared setting, individual therapy centers around working one-on-one with a therapist to achieve therapeutic goals. Since both options can prove beneficial, it’s essential to understand the key differences as well as some common challenges.

What Is Group Therapy?

Group therapy offers a community environment where members can share common experiences and challenges to connect with like-minded individuals while hearing different perspectives. It utilizes the power of the group to stimulate growth and change.

These groups often focus on specific issues or disorders. However, there is less privacy and attention from the therapist. Progress relies heavily on group dynamics, which can be negatively impacted by dominant members, interpersonal conflicts, or the cessation of the group.

What Is Individual Therapy?

Individual therapy allows for a highly customized, private experience focused exclusively on the participant’s unique situation and goals. The one-on-one setting facilitates the discussion of sensitive topics more fully and at the participant’s own pace.

Treatment plans can be tailored to address specific setbacks, issues, or diagnoses. The therapeutic relationship is central, and the therapist has more control in guiding the process, interventions, and underlying theory.

Process Differences in Group Therapy vs. Individual Therapy

The Structure of Group Therapy Sessions

Group therapy sessions typically follow a consistent framework while allowing flexibility based on members’ needs. Sessions start with a check-in period where members share their feelings and anything significant that has happened since the last session. This allows the therapist and group to understand each person’s current state of mind and life events.

After check-ins, the therapist usually provides psychoeducation or leads the group in a focused discussion on a specific topic relevant to members’ goals. Typical discussion topics include:

  • Managing emotions
  • Building healthy relationships
  • Improving communication and interpersonal skills
  • Changing negative thought patterns
  • Dealing with grief or trauma

The therapist picks discussion topics to stimulate growth and learning for all members.  

Following any psychoeducation or focused discussion, the next section of each session may involve group exercises, activities, and interactions. The therapist chooses structured activities that align with treatment goals, such as role plays, art therapy, or challenging negative self-talk as a group. Activities aim to facilitate support, practice new skills, and gain insight through self-reflection and feedback while connecting members with similar struggles. The therapist maintains a productive focus that cultivates organic conversations between members.

In the final segment of a session, members reflect on insights gained and provide interpersonal feedback to each other. The therapist often assigns homework to practice skills learned in sessions.

The Structure of Individual Therapy Sessions

Individual therapy sessions start with checking in on the participant’s mood, events since the last session, and progress on any homework assigned. This enables the therapist to gauge the participant’s current mindset and tailor the session accordingly. Most private one-on-one discussions revolve around issues the participant wants to focus on and set goals around.

The therapist utilizes active listening skills and asks probing questions to better understand the participant’s situation, emotions, and thought patterns. By mirroring feelings with the participant and making interpretive connections, the therapist aims to provide validation, challenge dysfunctional beliefs, and foster new levels of self-awareness.

The therapist personalizes therapeutic techniques and interventions based on the participant’s difficulties and capabilities. For example, a participant with anxiety may learn relaxation techniques while a participant with relationship problems explores communication strategies. The therapist continually assesses and adapts approaches to match what will help the participant grow at each stage of recovery.

Individual therapy focuses on utilizing helpful psychological tools while building an environment of safety, care, and trust. The strength of the participant/counselor bond is vital for developing the relationship necessary for vulnerability, risk-taking, and change. Each session ends with the therapist assigning personalized homework to practice applying what was learned until the next session.

Front view of a man smiling in group therapy

Choosing Between Group Therapy and Individual Therapy

The Challenges of Group Therapy

Group therapy poses unique demands for members as well. A primary challenge relates to forging positive relationships among a diverse collection of personalities. Interpersonal conflicts can arise that derail progress if not adequately addressed. More vocal or confrontational group members may dominate discussions if the therapist does not mediate effectively. Attending to multiple people’s concerns also limits the personalized attention given to each group member.

Being in a group means sharing vulnerable emotions and private struggles with strangers, which requires letting down defenses. Members must hold each other accountable to the group’s norms, goals, and confidentiality rules. This communal process understandably makes some hesitant to open up right away among relative strangers. Managing all group dynamics requires patience and commitment for members to overcome.

The Challenges of Individual Therapy

The personalized nature of individual therapy also comes with certain limitations. The therapist’s viewpoint, no matter how professional and objective, still reflects their subjective experience and knowledge base. Solely focusing on one’s own issues each session without reprieve may feel emotionally draining at times. Those struggling with loneliness may find one-on-one interactions insufficient for learning social connectivity skills at the same time. When this happens but confidentiality remains paramount, other strategies like the peer-to-peer support of a sober companion can prove instrumental in recovery.

Factors to Consider Before Deciding

When trying to determine whether group therapy or individual therapy would be a better fit, it’s essential to assess specific mental health needs and personal preferences carefully. One primary consideration is the individual’s comfort with self-disclosing and opening up about struggles or vulnerabilities. Those who feel shy or embarrassed often benefit more from the one-on-one privacy of individual therapy rather than sharing deeply in a group setting.

You also want to factor in the main issues you hope to address or your goals for seeking counseling. For example, those coping with trauma, anxiety, or self-esteem issues may prefer individual therapy to establish trust with a therapist. Assess whether the areas you aim to improve are better suited to the confidentiality and customization of individual therapy or the social connections of group formats.

Practical considerations like the availability of each therapy type, wait lists in your area, insurance coverage, and total costs are also crucial determinants. Individual sessions tend to cost more out-of-pocket per session, while group therapy splits expenses across members to lower fees. In terms of confidentiality, both formats require keeping what is shared private, though there is significantly more control over this in individual settings.

Still trying to decide between group therapy and individual therapy? ALYST is here to help you explore your options with a confidential consultation.

Group Therapy Is Always Necessary for Addiction Recovery: True or False?

While it can be an effective treatment option for some, it’s important to note that group therapy is not always necessary for successful treatment and, in certain cases, can prove detrimental to recovery. For some with trauma histories or social anxiety issues, too much immediate group vulnerability can prove counterproductive. Relying too heavily on the connections forged in the group may also backfire down the road.

During meetings, idealizing the group as your primary source of motivation, accountability, and comfort is easy. You might credit the non-judgmental atmosphere and hard truths from members as the driving force behind staying sober. Over time, though, this dependence on the group dynamic to sustain recovery can become a crutch.

What happens when group therapy ends, key members relapse or move away, or meetings are scheduled less frequently? The loss of constant support from the group can leave a significant void. When addiction recovery hinges too tightly on the group itself, this dependence can lead to significant setbacks later on.

The problem arises when the group, rather than the individual’s internal resilience and growth, carries the weight of staying sober. You can’t always do it alone, but relying too heavily on any one person or system rather than developing practical coping skills increases the likelihood of relapse as soon as the context changes. Depending on an impermanent group to stay sober rarely ends well.

One-on-One Therapy With the Power of Peer Support From ALYST Health

ALYST Health stands apart by offering an integrated at-home rehab model combining the best of clinical therapy and real-world peer support. Too often, addiction treatment centers separate these two components. We bridge this gap with at-home treatment guided by our team of licensed therapists and trained sober companions. Participants benefit from deep personal work tailored to their needs while still receiving 24/7 peer-to-peer support from a Certified Recovery Agent—all while at home.

During individual therapy sessions, our clinical team connects with participants using evidence-based modalities like CBT, DBT, and motivational interviewing to process underlying issues and build healthy coping mechanisms. Therapists work one-on-one with participants on setting goals, managing triggers and emotions, framing relapse productively, and more based on personalized treatment plans.

Alongside individual therapy sessions, participants have the 24/7 support of their own CRA. These are peers who have faced similar addiction journeys and provide practical tips for navigating cravings or high-risk situations in real time while helping participants stick to their daily routines. Their daily support fills in potential gaps between one-on-one clinical sessions.

Having open access to both therapists addressing root causes and a CRA assisting in everyday recovery solidifies the continuum of care. Participants gain skills via individual therapy to implement in daily life with a sober companion affirming progress and offering relatable wisdom when obstacles pop up. When you’re ready to start discussing your options, contact our concierge team for a confidential addiction consultation.

More Like This

How to Live a Sober Life

 If you’re ready to start taking steps to live a sober life, we put together this guide to help you get started on the path to sustainable sobriety.