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What is the difference between individual and group therapy?

Is group therapy the way to go?

In individual therapy the issues are brought forth with one therapist listening and responding to the concerns. The type of feedback that is given, or if feedback is given, is dependent on the therapist's training. The highly personal nature of the exchange between the therapist and the client allows for specific focus on the issues presented. While the dynamics of the relationship between the therapist and client are typically considered important, they can often take a while to emerge before they can have a therapeutic effect.

But some short-term therapies, like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), do not rely on the therapeutic relationship or the dynamics between the therapist and client. These therapies are usually very brief, and treat symptom specific problems. The therapist is more of a technical expert, and the relationship between the therapist and client is usually not part of the therapeutic equation.

In psychodynamically oriented therapy the work revolves around understanding the forces, such as those in the family of origin and other intimate relationships, as a way of determining how to approach the need for change. This is when the therapist-client relationship can be used to understand some of the issues present. Transference, the shift of feelings from a previous relationship onto the therapist, is an example of this approach.

Group therapy, on the other hand, involves simultaneous interaction with people typically outside the client's social and familial network: relative strangers. Sometimes the groups are homogeneous, with people in the group having similar issues, and other times they are heterogeneous, with the members having diverse background and concerns. The facilitator often has specialized training in group therapy, but this may not always be the case. While there are various types of certification programs for facilitators there are no state or national licensing boards specifically for group therapists. The facilitators of groups are looking for the dynamics typically within the moment—the here and now—which reflect the current issues in the members' lives. In other words, the interaction between the members reveals the dynamics that have emerged from the family of origin, other intimate relationships, and less intimate interpersonal settings (such as the workplace).

The facilitators are trained to understand the emerging interactions, elicit feedback from the members about these behaviors, and help to initiate a correction in the interaction through these insights.

Support groups often do not analyze or employ the interaction features between the members, but rather talk about the themes and insights brought forward by the membership.

The cost for group therapy is usually less and research shows it can be just as effective as individual. For more information about group therapy and trained therapists near you click here.

More from Dan J. Tomasulo PhD., TEP, MFA, MAPP
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