For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. – Matthew 18:20

Individual Counseling Vs. Group Counseling

Let’s first look at the difference between individual counseling versus group counseling. For some people, individual therapy may be something with which they are more comfortable.

A lot of times the first time you are talking about something it can be easier in a private office setting with a therapist one-on-one. Individual counseling can also be beneficial for people who have a lot to talk about. In an hour-long group counseling appointment, each participant may only speak for a few minutes each.

Therapists are also more attentive to your needs and progress during one-on-one sessions and may be able to give more personalized advice than they could in a group counseling appointment. Patients may also decide to do group therapy sessions and individual therapy sessions with their doctor.

Individual counseling is a safe way to talk privately about what you got out of group therapy or how you were feeling in that setting. Group counseling activities help patients with vulnerability while individual therapy can help with sorting through and organizing their feelings.

Group Counseling Activities

Group counseling or therapy is a specific form of counseling that is used to treat psychological disorders including substance abuse and addiction. It typically involves regular sessions where one or more therapists work with several individuals who are being treated for the same health issue. Many people benefit from peer support in group counseling.

Group counseling is a wonderful way to give support and receive support. Therapists who lead group counseling encourages the participants to learn to lean on each other, share things they are struggling with, and help each other find ways to overcome.

Participants can give each other advice and feedback in a way that is positive and uplifting. Support groups are especially helpful for people who are experiencing grief, domestic violence, or trauma.

Some people struggle with social situations and conversations. People who suffer from anxiety, depression, or other mental disorders may find it especially difficult to exhibit socially acceptable behavior at times.

Group counseling activities teach social conversation skills and help patients to develop crucial listening and understanding skills. Some patients who have anti-social disorders or phobias can slowly integrate into group therapy as their progress in individual therapy goes on.

Not only do participants in group counseling learn social skills, but they also develop good, healthy friendships that tend to last and extend outside of therapy. Meeting people that you can communicate well with, who may have experienced the same things you have, means that you can build bonds with people you can relate to.

Friends participants make in group therapy are also great listeners, keep private matters private, and will let you know when you are making a bad choice or behaving in a way that might be destructive to your progress.

Group counseling activities help participants have trust in their counselor or therapists. When patients in group counseling can see that the therapist is giving other people the same strategies, telling the same thing to everyone, it makes the therapist or group leader seem more credible. Some participants may have been in therapy longer and be able to testify to their own experiences with the therapist.

Group counseling activities can help people in several ways:

  • Being able to interact with other people who are learning how to cope with and overcome a drug or alcohol addiction can be quite helpful for those who are beginning the process.
  • This type of setting also helps members realize that they are not alone and allows them to share information and experiences, which can help boost confidence and self-esteem. Overall, sharing experiences and feelings has been shown to reduce stress, guilt, and pain among group therapy members.
  • Group counseling becomes a setting in which members can learn how to avoid engaging in destructive behaviors such as actively seeking out drugs, and instead begin to practice new, healthy behaviors.

The therapist is there to provide a structured platform that controls the discussions and offers feedback and additional advice that helps each member gain a better understanding of themselves as well as ways to make continuous progress.

In addition, group counseling is significantly cheaper than individual counseling or therapy. Although costs will vary from office to office, most mental health care practices can bill for much less during group counseling. This is because more participants’ insurance can reduce the individual cost of the session.

Addictions Treated by Group Counseling

  • Alcohol addiction
  • Tobacco or nicotine
  • Prescription pain medication
  • Opiate addiction
  • Stimulants (e.g., methamphetamine, ecstasy)
  • Depressants
  • Antidepressants
  • Hallucinogens (e.g., LSD)
  • Illegal (e.g., cocaine, heroin) or recreational drugs (e.g., marijuana)
  • Overeating
  • Gambling

6 Stages of Changes

The basis for group counseling or therapy is helping members progress through the 6 stages of recovery:

  1. Pre-contemplation: Clients are not actively considering changing their substance abuse behavior because they do not believe they have a serious problem. Other factors (e.g., family, counselors) led them to attend group therapy.
  2. Contemplation: The therapist’s guidance and group sessions begin to cause clients to think about decreasing their drug use or quitting altogether.
  3. Preparation: The client is still using the substance but plans on stopping due to understanding the harmful consequences of substance abuse and recognizing the advantages of quitting.
  4. Action: This involves choosing a strategy to stop the substance abuse and beginning to make the necessary changes to carry out the plan with the help of the therapist and other group members.
  5. Maintenance: The client works hard to remain abstinent and avoid relapsing. Some clients achieve complete recovery at this stage.
  6. Recurrence: A client relapses and returns to one of the previous stages. They can quickly progress back to the maintenance stage and may have gained a better understanding of the problems that led to the relapse.

Types of Addiction Treatment Groups

A 5-group therapy model is a common and effective form of treatment for substance abuse. It is led by a team of licensed therapists and entails the following 5 types of groups:

  • Psychoeducational groups focus on feelings and anger management, conflict resolution, prevention, trauma (e.g., abuse or violence), health and wellness, culture, and family roles.
  • Cognitive-behavioral groups focus on building new skills, conflict resolution, anger/feelings management, relapse prevention, and early recovery.
  • Skills development groups focus on the same factors as the cognitive-behavioral group, as well as relaxation training, meditation, and life skills training.
  • Support groups focus on relapse prevention, trauma, spirituality, culture, ceremonial healing practices, and gender-specific topics.
  • Interpersonal Process Group psychotherapy focuses on trauma and different forms of abuse, psychodynamics, and humanistic/existential topics.
  • Specialized groups in substance abuse treatment typically in the form of 12-step programs, but may also entail ceremonial healing practices, expressive therapy, gender-specific topics, adventure-based activities, marathons, and psychodrama.
  • Relapse prevention treatment groups focus on providing continuous support, psychological education about the consequences of addiction, cognitive behavioral therapy, and skills development.
  • Communal and culturally specific groups offer community support as well as culturally based topics and activities.
  • Expressive groups focus on different forms of therapy including art, dance, and drama.

Typical Group Session

Room setup: The actual sessions may involve meeting in a room where chairs are arranged in a circle for small groups. But the chairs may be in rows facing a platform for larger groups.

Introduction: Sessions often begin with members introducing themselves and briefly stating why they are attending group therapy.

Updates: Regular members may share their progress and experiences since the last session.

Group discussion: The therapist then decides how the meeting will proceed, whether it be through member dialogue or more of an educational session.

Learning aids: Different types of learning material such as memory improvement techniques, visual aids, written projects, audiotapes, role-playing, homework, and review sessions may be used as well.

General Characteristics of a Group Counseling or Therapy

  • May consist of as few as 3 to 4 members, or as many as more than 12 members depending on the setting in which the sessions are held.
  • Generally meet once or twice weekly for 1–2 hours.
  • It may be structured in an open manner, which would allow new members to join at any time. Or they may have a closed structure in which only the main members are allowed to participate to the end of the program.
  • May also be group-focused, therapist-focused, or a combination of both.

Just knowing there are other people in your community that suffer from the same disorder as you do, who are grieving like you are, who have been through trauma, etc. can be a very powerful tool in recovery and overcoming life’s obstacles. Knowing that you are not the only one, that you are part of a collective can be very therapeutic for many patients.

“Informal Meeting”, Courtesy of Jopwell,, CC0 License; “Seminar”, Courtesy of Christina Morillo,, CC0 License; “Toast”, Courtesy of Fauxels,, CC0 License; “Team”, Courtesy of Fauxels,, CC0 License


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