Differences Between Individual and Group Therapy

group therapyTherapy has long been used in the treatment of mental health disorders. As substance use disorder became recognized as its own form of mental health issue, professionals found that according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), behavioral therapy has become the most common and widely used method of treating substance use disorders of all types. In treatment or recovery, people with substance use disorder may attend individual or group therapy or attend both in many programs. Advantages and disadvantages exist for both, and individuals respond differently to each type of treatment.

Individual Therapy for Substance Use Disorders

The most apparent advantage to individual therapy is the person’s complete one-on-one attention from the therapist. Many forms of therapy work as individual and group treatment, but some people respond better to individual sessions. Other advantages of individual therapy include:

  • Easier to fit into a person’s schedule
  • Stronger bond built between person and therapist
  • Therapy can go at an individualized pace
  • Direct feedback from the therapist during sessions
  • Fewer interruptions or distractions
  • More individualized treatment planning
  • Confidentiality issues not usually a problem

Individual therapy comes in many forms. Cognitive-behavioral therapy has become the therapy method of choice for many substance use disorder treatments because of its demonstrated efficacy, as reported by the NIDA. Other therapy methods, like dialectical behavioral therapy, show more promise for people who have a significant mental health diagnosis and substance use disorder. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) notes that motivational interviewing, a technique for asking open-ended questions during therapy, improves the effectiveness of general behavioral therapies.

A few disadvantages to individual therapy include:

  • Less efficient use of available therapists
  • Lack of peer feedback or support
  • People feeling put on the spot or intimidated

Most people in substance use recovery will receive individual therapy at some point, either in residential treatment or as an outpatient program. Individual therapy gives the therapist a chance to assess the person, understand their unique needs and issues, and develop a one-on-one plan for treatment.

Group Therapy for Substance Use Disorders

Group therapy might intimidate some people who feel uncomfortable speaking in front of others, but most people become more comfortable as they participate and listen to others. One main benefit of group therapy is the chance for people to learn from each other instead of only from the therapist. SAMHSA reports the effectiveness of group therapy as a treatment for substance use disorder in its Treatment Improvement Protocol 41 dedicated to group therapy. Advantages of group therapy include:

  • Lets people see that others deal with similar issues
  • Reduces feelings of isolation
  • Participation teaches listening and communication skills
  • Group support and encouragement
  • One therapist able to treat more people

Group therapy has some issues with confidentiality, as people will be revealing private personal information in group sessions. A facility must have the necessary protocols to limit information leaving the group’s security. Not everyone can participate well in group therapy. Some people have significant mental health or interpersonal issues that prevent them from working with the group in a productive way or getting the full benefit. Groups may also require a longer time commitment and more scheduling difficulties.

Per SAMHSA’s guide, five group models show effectiveness in treating mental health and substance use disorders. Many substance use disorder therapy programs will use multiple methods, especially since skill-building and interpersonal communication have value no matter what model the organization follows most closely.

The five therapeutic group models are as follows:

  • Psychoeducational Group Therapy

These groups focus on providing education about substance use and treatment, relapse prevention, and other knowledge people will need in recovery. People also learn skills like interpersonal communication.

  • Skill Development

Often combined with psychoeducation, skill development groups teach necessary specific skills for functioning in recovery and managing substance use and mental health disorders. Therapists may review many different skills depending on the group’s needs.

  • Cognitive-Behavioral

These groups use principles of cognitive-behavioral therapy, also commonly used in individual treatment for substance use and mental health disorders. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can be used flexibly and adapted to treat a specific substance use or dual diagnosis.

  • Interpersonal Process

In this structured model of group therapy, the therapist monitors the interactions between group members and the whole group dynamic as well as each person’s individual progress. Group interactions become teaching tools for building interpersonal skills.

  • Support Group Therapy

These groups function for people to share support and encouragement and feel less alone and isolated. They do not have a specific therapy function and may include 12-Steps and SMART Recovery programs that hold groups or meetings.

Substance use disorder treatment uses therapy to help people move past their substance use issues and develop coping skills and tools. Many programs use group and individual therapies to make sure people receive the benefits of both types of treatment. Individual therapy offers privacy, one-on-one attention, and the opportunity for an individualized plan of treatment. Group therapy, however, provides the support, feedback, and skill-building that come from interacting with a group. For substance use disorders, behavioral therapies have considerable scientific backing and often form the basis of other modes of treatment. However, psychoeducational and skill-building therapies also play a crucial role in preparing people for recovery. After formal treatment, support groups offer a non-judgmental setting for people to continue sharing their recovery experiences. At Lakehouse Recovery Center, individual and group therapies are provided online through our digital platform. This gives us increased flexibility of scheduling and treatment options to serve you best. To see how we can help, call (877) 762-3707 to learn about our therapeutic programming.