Reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
If you’ve been diagnosed with a mental health issue such as depression or anxiety, taking part in therapy is one of the most effective things you can do to treat your symptoms and gain more control over your thoughts and feelings.
Therapy can also be hugely beneficial for dealing with common issues, such as stress, fears or worries about your daily life.
Two of the most common forms of therapy are group therapy and individual therapy. Both types of therapy offer proven, science-based benefits. However, each has its own unique advantages and disadvantages that may affect your experience and results.
Below, we’ve explained how group therapy and individual therapy differ, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of each type of therapy.
We’ve also touched on why there’s no “best” form of therapy for everyone, as well as why it’s so important to choose a type of therapy that matches your objectives, preferences and needs.
Group therapy is a form of psychotherapy in which one healthcare provider works with multiple patients in each session. Group-based treatment is used to treat a variety of different mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and emotional trauma.
The goal of group therapy is to help people develop new skills, change certain aspects of their behavior and learn how to cope with situations that prevent them from functioning normally.
A typical group therapy session will involve between five and 15 people and last for one to two hours. Sessions with larger groups may involve more than one mental health provider.
Group therapy isn’t for everyone, but it can offer real benefits for people with the right personal traits, needs and goals from therapy.
One of the biggest benefits of group therapy is that it provides a support network of people with similar issues that you can talk to. These people can provide valuable feedback and help you to stay focused and accountable as you work on making progress.
In larger groups, you may have the opportunity to talk to people from diverse backgrounds who can provide unique feedback on your situation and how you can overcome your problems.
Another major benefit of group therapy is that it can provide you with inspiring, real-life success stories. Research suggests that people benefit from witnessing others successfully dealing with difficulties and making progress in life.
Group therapy also offers numerous other benefits. By taking part in group therapy, you can:
Improve your self-esteem by helping others. Group therapy isn’t just about learning -- it’s also about helping. By listening to other people and participating in a group, you may assist other people to overcome their difficulties.
Learn how to socialize with other people. Taking part in therapy in a group setting can give you an opportunity to interact with others and develop your social skills without fear of failure or judgment.
Put your own problems and difficulties in perspective. People can be hesitant to talk about their mental health issues. Listening to other people can make it easier to put your own problems in perspective and view them through a new lens.
Understand that you’re not alone. From depression to substance abuse, many mental health problems are far more common than you think. Participating in therapy as part of a group can provide reassurance that you’re not alone in the challenges you face.
Recreate family and relationship dynamics. Since problems can involve other people, a group setting offers the opportunity to recreate the dynamics of a relationship, family or other group in a safe, controlled setting.
Finally, since it involves one to two mental health providers and a large group of participants, an additional advantage of group therapy is that it’s generally a cost effective form of therapy. You can expect to pay significantly less for group therapy than for individual, one-on-one therapy.
Group therapy’s advantages can make it a great form of therapy for certain people. However, it also has its own set of unique disadvantages, including some that may reduce its effectiveness if you have certain needs or priorities:
Group therapy isn’t for everyone. Research suggests that people who score highly on personality traits such as extraversion and conscientiousness are highly suited for group therapy.However, people who score highly on neuroticism (emotional reactivity) might not benefit as much from taking part in therapy in a group setting.
Direct feedback isn’t always possible. In a group setting, the mental health provider’s attention is divided across the entire group. This means that there’s less of an individual focus and a reduced ability for the therapy provider to provide direct feedback.
Your privacy may not be fully respected. All forms of therapy emphasize the value of privacy and importance of keeping information confidential. However, in a group setting, there’s no guarantee that all members will keep your information to themselves.
Fitting group therapy into your schedule isn’t always easy. Group therapy sessions tend to last for longer than individual therapy sessions, meaning you’ll need to set aside extra time for therapy each week.
Individual therapy is a form of one-on-one therapy that’s carried out between you and a mental health provider, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist or licensed therapist.
Like group therapy, individual therapy is used to treat numerous mental health conditions, from anxiety and depression to substance use disorders and other issues. It’s usually performed in a provider’s office, but can also take place online or over the phone.
A range of therapeutic techniques are used in individual therapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy (IPT) and others. A typical session lasts for approximately one hour, although some forms of therapy may involve longer sessions.
Individual therapy offers several advantages, arguably the biggest of which is that you have the full attention of your therapist at all times. This means that you can get direct, actionable advice and help throughout the entire session, without your provider’s attention being divided.
This can lead to a more effective therapeutic alliance, or working relationship, between you and your mental health provider. It also allows you to take part in more comprehensive and involved therapy sessions.
By taking part in individual counseling, you can also:
Speak privately without fear or being judged by others. Because individual therapy is completely private, there’s no need to worry about other group members judging you or making assumptions based on the information you share.
Perform exercises with your therapist. Because of the individual focus of this form of therapy, you can take part in more focused exercises with your therapist, such as using mental imagery and visualization to overcome certain symptoms.
Enjoy complete privacy. Mental health providers are subject to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which stops them from sharing your private information with others. They’re also bound by professional codes of ethics.Because your discussion is kept between you and your mental health provider, you can talk openly without any fear of group members sharing your information with others.
Fit therapy into your schedule more easily. Because individual sessions are typically shorter in length and you’re the only participant, it may be easier to fit individual therapy into your schedule.
Many people appreciate the personalized focus and privacy of individual therapy. However, like group therapy, individual psychotherapy also has its own unique disadvantages that may make it less appropriate for you:
Individual therapy is generally more expensive. In group therapy, prices are usually lower because several people take part in each session. With individual therapy, you’re responsible for the entire cost of each treatment session yourself. Individual therapy can cost $100 or more per session. The total amount that you pay for therapy may vary based on your location, your choice of psychotherapist and your level of insurance coverage.
There are no opportunities to talk with others. One of the main advantages of group therapy is that it allows you to talk to and hear from other participants, whether it’s in the form of group feedback or inspiration from another group member. Because individual therapy only involves you and your mental health provider, this type of group feedback and motivation isn’t available.
Sometimes, individual therapy may feel too intense. Individual therapy only involves you and your therapist, meaning the focus is kept entirely on your thoughts, feelings and mental illness symptoms.For some people, this therapy format can feel overly intense, as it doesn’t offer the same opportunity to “blend in” as group therapy.
No two people’s mental health needs are precisely the same, meaning there’s no “best” form of treatment for everyone.
Research findings on the comparative effectiveness of group and individual therapy are largely mixed. One study published in 2017 of military personnel taking part in therapy for PTSD found that individual therapy was more effective at reducing the severity of symptoms.
However, a different study published in the Journal of American College Health in 2020 failed to show any significant differences in outcome measures between group and individual therapy for people with anxiety or depression symptoms.
Put simply, it depends. Both forms of therapy are effective for most people, with each offering a range of advantages and disadvantages:
Group therapy offers the benefits of a group setting, including the ability to talk to others and avoid being the center of attention. However, it has far less of a personal focus than individual therapy, as well as privacy and scheduling disadvantages.
Individual therapy offers the complete attention of your mental health provider and total privacy. However, it lacks the multi-person feedback and socialization of group therapy and is significantly more expensive.
The best form of therapy for you depends on your needs, preferences, budget and lifestyle. It’s common and very normal to try both forms of therapy before choosing the one that you think is most likely to help you achieve your mental health goals.
Therapy is one of the most effective forms of psychological treatments for many common mental health issues, including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Using our online mental health services, you can connect with a licensed therapy provider from home and get help remotely. We offer several services, including individual therapy and online, anonymous support groups.
For more severe mental health issues, you can also take part in a psychiatric evaluation and, if appropriate, receive a prescription for evidence-based medication.
Maintaining good mental health is essential for a happy, high quality life. If you’re feeling unwell, don’t hesitate to reach out for help through therapy, whether it’s one on one in a private session with your therapist or in a group with others.