Group Therapy - Individual Therapy - What's the Difference?

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The Differences Between Group Therapy and Individual Therapy

Individual and group therapy are both essential components of an addiction treatment plan. The benefits of group therapy and individual therapy vary, but they can work together to create the maximum benefit for a person seeking recovery from a substance use disorder. Treating addiction typically involves taking a multifaceted approach, ensuring you receive the benefits of multiple styles of therapy and treatments.

What Is Group Therapy?

Group therapy has been a staple of addiction recovery services for nearly 100 years. It has several distinct advantages over individual therapy and is an essential component in the addiction recovery toolkit.

The History of Group Therapy

Group therapy was developed in the 1940s by psychologists Carl Rogers and Kurt Lewin. Group therapy started for practical reasons because it allowed therapists to:

  • See more clients
  • Reduce the cost of therapy
  • Make the most of their time

Rogers and Lewin quickly discovered that group therapy had many benefits for clients and that gathering a group of people with a similar problem showed astounding results. People who shared stories and information about their issues received practical advice from others who had been in their exact situations and learned that they were not alone in their challenges.

The power of the group quickly became a valuable tool for therapists, and group therapy soon became standard practice.

Benefits of Group Therapy

In group therapy, participants can:

  • Learn coping skills and strategies from people who can genuinely empathize with their position
  • Come to recognize that they are not alone
  • Find hope through meeting other members of the group who have shown progress
  • Solidify their own recovery by sharing it with others

The true advantage of group therapy stems from the fact that humans are inherently social creatures. By seeing that other people can overcome their challenges and helping others to succeed, in turn, they learn that they themselves are capable and worthy of recovery.

Group Therapy in Addiction Treatment

In addiction treatment, group therapy brings together people suffering from a substance use disorder and encourages them to understand and empathize with each other’s problems. The group can work together to recover.

Group therapy can be beneficial for someone who has struggled in the past to overcome guilt and shame from addiction. Participants can practice empathy toward each other and learn to apply empathy to their own experiences.

It’s no coincidence that organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous prioritize meeting together frequently. These self-help groups are similar to a therapy group and can be immensely beneficial for people trying to overcome their addictions.

Of course, a counselor guides the discussion in professional group therapy and makes sure things don’t get off track. This ensures that group therapy is as effective as possible and that there is expert-level knowledge about recovery from addiction within the group.

Clients in a group therapy session at the chalet at All Points North Lodge.

What Is Individual Therapy?

Despite the effectiveness of group therapy, individual therapy still holds advantages that make it beneficial for anyone seeking recovery from a substance use disorder. While group therapy focuses on a common problem, individual therapy can address the personal nature of these problems in a much more in-depth manner.

In addition, individual therapy can extend to other problems that don’t apply to everyone in a group, such as co-occurring mental health disorders or personal issues that individuals can’t fully explore in group therapy.

Types of Individual Therapy

Several different types of individual therapy exist, and your counselor may practice one or many of these styles.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is the most commonly practiced individual therapy style. Countless studies have shown that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is an evidence-based and effective strategy to help people overcome mental health challenges ranging from depression and anxiety to substance use disorders.

The core belief of CBT is that our thought patterns affect our behaviors and can both through diligent practice and knowledge. In CBT, people learn to identify problematic thought patterns, disrupt them in real-time, and reframe situations that lead to healthier actions.

For instance, if someone is struggling with the belief that they can’t stop using drugs, they may say, “I just can’t resist the temptation. Every time I have a craving, I return to using, so I shouldn’t bother trying to stay sober.”

A therapist using the principles of CBT would help this person identify that this thought pattern plays a role in their substance use, challenge the truth of these thoughts (“You had a craving last week, and you didn’t use”), and help people to reframe thoughts more productively. For instance, they might encourage the person to say, “I’ve relapsed before, but that doesn’t mean I have to now. I don’t need to be so hard on myself.”

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Dialectical Behavior Therapy is an evolution of CBT that adds the critical elements of mindfulness and acceptance. Originally developed to treat borderline personality disorder, therapists now use DBT in mental health and addiction treatment.

DBT helps people regulate their emotions and accept certain things as being out of their control. People can change their behavior by learning strategies that keep them from having intense emotional swings. Simply put, intense emotions can lead us to act out in ways that we never would with a clear mind.

For someone struggling with active addiction, this could mean using drugs or alcohol to deal with intense sadness, anger, or fear. Controlling our emotional responses allows us to better manage our behaviors in the future. DBT is a valuable part of the recovery toolkit.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR is an innovative new treatment that helps people heal from trauma and emotional distress. This treatment incorporates the principles of neuroscience and psychotherapy to help people process negative memories, which can improve the symptoms of post-traumatic stress or substance use disorders.

EMDR works by having a client track movement or sensations across both sides of the body while processing a negative event. This process stimulates both sides of the brain, which can help traumatic memories become “unstuck,” relieving trauma symptoms in a safe environment with professional guidance to help people cope.

EMDR is a profoundly helpful tool for treating all types of mental disorders.

Motivational Interviewing

Motivational interviewing is a therapy style that emphasizes collaboration with the client, helping them build their own goals for recovery and making an actionable plan to achieve those goals. This treatment style is incredibly effective for helping people overcome substance use disorders, especially for people who don’t do well with structured programming and predetermined treatment plans.

Benefits of Individual Therapy

Individual therapy is an essential component of any comprehensive addiction treatment program. Its benefits include:

  • Allowing clients to dig deep into their problems
  • Having the capacity to address a variety of issues outside of substance use alone
  • Being the most personalized and customizable component of addiction treatment
  • Teaching evidence-based strategies for dealing with mental health symptoms

Working with an individual therapist can help a person achieve much more than sobriety alone. It can delve into the root cause of a client’s substance use disorder, teach them to manage their emotions and behaviors, and help them achieve goals outside of recovery.

Group Therapy vs. Individual Therapy

When comparing group and individual therapy, it’s essential to recognize that both treatments can work together as part of a comprehensive addiction treatment plan. Each treatment carries unique benefits that help people overcome mental health challenges and substance use disorders, and they work better together than either therapy does alone.

Group therapy helps treat the cultural and social aspects of addiction and encourages people to learn from and support each other. These lessons can continue far outside of addiction treatment. They make up an essential component of long-term sobriety. Group therapy teaches people the value of accepting help from others, giving back to their community, and leading by example.

In contrast, individual therapy helps you manage the deeply personal aspects of your mental health that you might be hesitant to share in a group setting. It can even enhance group therapy by letting you become more comfortable discussing your problems. It can teach you valuable skills that you can then share with others in group therapy. Ultimately, it all comes together to help you recognize that you are not your addiction.

The Role of Group Therapy and Individual Therapy in Treatment

You shouldn’t have to choose between group therapy and individual therapy when it comes time to accept treatment for a substance use disorder.

At All Points North, we take a synergistic approach and incorporate group therapy, individual therapy, and customized programming for the best possible treatment outcomes. You can work one-on-one with one of our world-class clinicians and apply the skills you learn in group sessions. We’ll work with you to build a treatment plan that includes both group and individual therapy and other healing modalities available to clients at the Lodge.

Recovery from substance use has no single answer. Instead, it takes a comprehensive approach to physical, social, and mental health care that can show you the path to overcoming your substance use disorder for good.

If you’d like to learn more about group and individual therapy at All Points North Lodge, contact our team at (855) 510 4585 or start a .

Jess Johnson

Content Marketing Manager

As a fierce proponent of mental health services, Jess believes in the compassionate care and person-centered approach at All Points North. She works to create content that inspires clients and families to advocate for the support they deserve.