Unlike in the past, going to therapy is much more normalized in today’s society. It carries less of a stigma and is a part of many people’s lives. This is the same for a person seeking treatment for addiction or a substance abuse disorder. During recovery, most people will likely experience a combination of individual therapy and group therapy. While both kinds of therapy have similar qualities, they also have significant differences.
Individual Therapy vs. Group Therapy
Individual therapy is defined as one person in therapy with one psychologist, counselor, therapist, or psychiatrist. The primary feature is one-on-one attention. On the other hand, group therapy is more loosely defined as more than one person being treated together in a formal therapeutic setting. Any number of people, with at least two participants, can be a part of group therapy.
Both group and individual therapies can follow a number of treatment modalities. For example, cognitive-behavioral therapy, psycho-education, art therapy, and equine therapy can function as in group and individual settings. The difference between group and individual therapies are not necessarily their modalities but rather how many people are participating in the session.
The Advantages of Group Therapy
The primary benefit of group therapy often cited by participants is being able to work with others as a cohesive unit. In group therapy, each person has the opportunity to share, as well as listen to others. Because those in addiction recovery are often facing similar issues, it’s important to be able to share both the struggles and how to overcome them.
The shared experience helps each person realize that they are not alone in their struggles—other people have gone (and are still going) through similar experiences. This sense of belonging and support allows them to bond with others and work through issues collectively. Having a cohesive approach can be very beneficial to people recovering from addiction and substance abuse, since many addicts perceive that their struggles are unique to only them.
Other advantages of group therapy include:
- Learning how to listen and communicate with others in a healthy way
- Practicing modeling, a therapeutic technique where an individual copies, or “models,” how others are practicing recovery
- Seeing what works and doesn’t work for others
- Learning to take responsibility for your actions in a group setting
- Accepting the consequences of words and actions in a community
- Having accountability and a support network
- Having more than one therapist can enrich the recovery process through multiple approaches and experiences
The Disadvantages of Group Therapy
Less research has been performed regarding the effectiveness of group therapy. Because of the difficulties in acquiring and analyzing group therapy data over time, it is harder to show how exactly group therapy works and what doesn’t work. For some, this lack of evidence-based research can be a downside to group therapy approaches. The loosely defined boundaries of group therapy also make it harder to pin down what exactly counts as formal group therapy.
In general, however, some disadvantages of group therapy may include:
- Less of an opportunity for personal attention
- Less specific to a person’s own combination of issues, especially if they have co-occurring disorders or trauma
- Some of the issues brought up may not be relevant to everyone
- Less confidentiality in group therapy as in individual therapy
- Possibility of other group members who don’t fully participate in the process
The Advantages of Individual Therapy
In the process of addiction recovery, there are many advantages of individual therapy. One of the most significant benefits of one-on-one therapy is confidentiality. A person may feel more comfortable divulging personal information in a private setting rather than a group. Only the therapist will know all the details of a person’s recovery unless they are legally required to break confidentiality. A breach of privacy can occur if a person is actively suicidal, involved in actions that threaten the safety of others, or involved in some form of abuse.
Another primary benefit of individual therapy is that it creates a closer therapist-client relationship. When a therapist’s attention is solely focused on one client in a session, they can better understand their specific issues. As a result, a therapist can more readily uncover underlying issues and even co-occurring disorders that hinder your recovery. Finally, the one-on-one relationship makes it easier to develop an individualized recovery plan that suits your particular needs.
The Disadvantages of Individual Therapy
In general, individual therapy is a very important and beneficial part of the recovery process. But if a person participates exclusively in individual therapy and not group therapy, they can run into some issues that may result in long-term disadvantages. Limiting oneself to individual therapy provides less of an opportunity to learn about others, bond with them, and build a support network. The individualized focus of solo therapy may also reinforce the issues a person has with communicating their feelings or trusting others.
Conclusion: Using Individual Therapy and Group Therapy Together
All in all, both individual and group therapies are important to the recovery process. If used together, they can facilitate more advantages than if a person only participates in one or the other. When the two therapeutic models are combined, a person reaps the benefits of both approaches and gives themselves the best of all of the tools available.
In group therapy, it’s important to be able to identify with other people in a group, which can help a person learn more about themselves and become more self-aware. As others share their experiences and how specific feelings and thoughts are formed, participants in the group may recognize or become aware of themselves in new and beneficial ways..
In treatment for substance abuse and addiction, most centers integrate both individual therapy and group therapy into their programs. This balance is highly beneficial in preventing relapse in early recovery because of the range of treatments provided.