Those who are new to the therapy process may struggle to decide what type of therapy to pursue based on what they are struggling with. Although this isn’t an exhaustive list of all therapy options and issues that each type serves, it will provide a brief overview of individual therapy, group therapy, couples therapy, and family therapy. Read more to learn more about each type of therapy and the unique benefits that they offer.
Individual therapy is probably what most people imagine when the picture what therapy looks like: one individual involved in the therapy process with one therapist. There are a lot of benefits to individual therapy, including one-on-one attention from the therapist, being able to tailor the work to the unique needs of the client, and fostering a strong relationship and connection between the client and therapist. Individual therapy can also be beneficial if you are wanting to gain more insight into your emotions, reactions, relationship to self, and unique lived experience.
Although individual therapy is the first instinct for many when seeking therapy, there are numerous cases where other types of therapy can actually be more beneficial than one-on-one.
Group therapy defined as having more than one client being treated at the same time with at least one therapist. Depending on the type or size of the group there may be two therapists present, also referred to as the group facilitators. Many people carry the assumption that since there may be less individualized attention in group therapy that it is less effective, when research has actually shown that outcomes of group therapy are actually better than individual therapy outcomes.
Those who attend group therapy typically benefit from the experience of witnessing that they are not alone in their struggles, the opportunity to both receive and offer support to group members, and practice interpersonal communication skills with other group members.
When considering group therapy, it’s also helpful to keep in mind that different types of groups serve different purposes.
Support groups are typically the first thing that comes to mind when people envision what group therapy is. Support groups are usually centered around a specific population or issue, where members can get support and understanding for their shared struggles. Groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, groups for survivors or abuse, and groups for those with a shared medical diagnoses all fall into the category of support group.
Skills groups share some similarities to support groups in that members typically all share a similar struggle and are wanting to foster new skills to support their therapeutic growth. These groups have more of a focus on psychoeducation, skill building, and practice than other types of therapy groups. Skills groups typically have a more structured environment and usually run for a set period of time. Some examples of skills groups are DBT skills groups to gain tools in emotional regulation, and social skills groups for those wanting to practice social and communication skills.
Interpersonal process groups
Interpersonal process groups are less structured, led by a therapist, and focuses on the dynamics between the group members. Process group members do not always share similar issues or experiences, and the group instead utilizes the differences in group members to practice collaboration and emotional expression, and increase self-awareness.
Process groups recreate previous relationship dynamics within a safe environment, offering an opportunity for members to witness their maladaptive relationship patterns play out, understand how their experiences led to the development of these patterns, and create new ways of interacting with others. Interpersonal process groups can be incredibly beneficial for those whose struggles primarily center around interpersonal relationships, rather than their relationship to the self.
Couples therapy is usually the best fit for those who are struggling with communication, conflict, or intimacy in their relationship. Although many go to individual therapy for help navigating struggles in their relationship, couples therapy provides more focus on the dynamic of the couple and how the behavior and reactions of each partner impacts the relationship’s cycles and patterns. Both partners are asked to co-create the space and the therapist will typically focus on not only what happens when the couple is at home, but what they see playing out in the room.
Although many parents may want to put a child who is struggling in individual therapy, many clinicians feel family therapy is a more effective option. Family therapy is rooted in the Systems Theory of the therapeutic process. Systems Theory proposes that each family represents a unique system, and that the patterns, cycles, and behaviors of each family member influence each other. This approach refutes the belief that one member of the family is at the center of or responsible for the conflict. Family therapy focuses on fostering open communication, initiating emotional expression between family members, problem solving recurring issues, increasing connection and bonding, and offering parenting skills to the primary caretakers.
Although this guide is not a full exploration of all types of therapy and their unique benefits, hopefully this provides enough of a base to help you navigate what type of therapy is the best fit for you!
Samantha Waldman (she/her) is a NYC-based psychotherapist and a Bridges Co-Founder. One of her passions in her work and education has been exploring biracial or multiracial identity, multiethnic identity, transracial adoption, and Asian-diaspora identity. Samantha currently works as a member of the Intuitive Healing Psychotherapy team and was trained at Teachers College, Columbia University.