When you think of counseling, you may automatically think of it as being a one-on-one affair, speaking to a counselor alone in a cozy office environment.
But not all counseling needs are identical, and in some cases, group counseling can be just as useful and effective — or maybe even more.
In fact, you may already be familiar with certain forms of group counseling, such as couples counseling, marriage counseling, or family counseling.
Group counseling has some unique benefits that set it apart from other kinds.
What to Expect From Group Counseling
So what are you getting into when you decide on group therapy? Here is a quick primer.
A group therapy session usually involves one (or more) counselors, leading a group of five to fifteen patients, give or take. The group might meet for an hour or two every week.
These groups are usually aimed at addressing a specific problem, such as substance abuse, chronic pain, anxiety, depression, or a number of other issues.
Other group counseling might focus more on dealing with less urgent (but still important!) issues, such as loneliness, shyness, or low self-esteem.
Group therapy for those dealing with some sort of loss (the death of a loved one, for example). Some individuals who attend group therapy might also attend one-on-one sessions in addition to group sessions.
Differences Between Individual and Group Counseling
Individual and group counseling differ in other ways besides the number of participants involved. Here are some of the advantages (and disadvantages) of each type of therapy
- Client confidentiality and privacy is easier to secure
- One-on-one attention means detailed and thorough work into issues
- Analysis and treatment can be much more comprehensive
- Counselors and patients can work at their own pace, allowing time for development and the opportunity for feedback
- Individual therapy can be more costly on the whole.
- Individual therapy lacks the ability to share directly with other people facing the same issues
- The patient undergoing counseling must be willing to do the work and able to withstand being the center of attention from the therapist. This may be too intense for some patients.
- Group therapy gives the space to share experiences with others, as a reminder they’re not alone in their struggles.
- Being able to support others and be supported by them can make a major difference in the effectiveness of therapy.
- Group therapy also allows for hearing and giving different points of view about the same problems.
- Because individual attention is de-emphasized, patients who are not particularly outgoing may not have as much opportunity to speak.
- Confidentiality and privacy are much more difficult to maintain and are not as secure.
- Some individuals who struggle with issues such as being shy, anxious, impulsive, or antisocial may not be well-suited to a group therapy situation.
- Not every patient will be equally invested in the process, and some individuals prefer to show up and not make changes in themselves.
- There is less flexibility in group therapy when it comes to scheduling sessions.
How Should You Approach Group Therapy?
Let’s look at some of the ways in which you can maximize the benefits of your group therapy sessions.
First, you should approach the process with an open mind, just as you would with individual counseling. You should also take steps to look at your options and consider them carefully before you decide to join a group.
Finding the group that best matches your needs and temperament is going to be important, and you should consider your own comfort and safety as well — even if you are getting a bit out of your comfort zone by trying a new thing.
When you join up with a group, you’re essentially taking a pledge to not only set goals for yourself in the group context but also help others meet their goals.
It may take some time to see results, but taking a pledge can help you focus and motivate you to attend sessions when you may not necessarily feel like it.
While you’re in group therapy, it’s important to respect the rules of confidentiality. Don’t divulge any information shared during the meetings.
Even if someone else may not necessarily uphold the agreement of trust within the group, you definitely should. This is part of helping others with their own healing process.
Finally, when participating in group therapy, feedback will be crucial to success — both yours and the others in the group.
Feedback is one of the cornerstones of group therapy and the heart of its strengths: being able to relate, share, learn from one another, and develop connections with the other group members.
Productive feedback might include:
- Being honest but considerate with your feedback, and being specific in your responses and remarks.
- Don’t be afraid to offer negative feedback, while making sure you’re careful and respectful as you do so.
- Acknowledge others when they give you feedback and thank them for their participation.