Counseling can serve a wide range of individuals looking for ways to better themselves, curb dependencies, or find the necessary support to live a productive and healthy life. 

The counseling process is a unique and relatively misunderstood practice that is oftentimes used interchangeably with therapy or psychiatric work. However, these fields are all unique and encompass their own practices and strategies. 

Counseling is most often times conducted by a trained professional who helps others with correcting very specific problems, issues, or dependencies that may be negatively impacting their lives. 

The American Counseling Association defines the practices as: 

“A professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education, and career goals.”

Before we dive too deep into the individual vs. group counseling discussion, let’s explore some of the core principles and approaches to counseling. 

The 3 Approaches to Counseling 

Just like with any school of thought, counseling has had its fair share of dynamics and varieties that have continued to shape its progress. As counseling became more and more common, and the practice became cemented as a productive and successful endeavor, three forms emerged. 

  1. The psychodynamic method emerged from the work of Freud. Although much of Freudian philosophy has lost its footing, there was much to be understood about his concepts. One of which is the psychodynamic understanding that past experiences may affect behavioral issues.
  2. The humanistic approach that Carl Rogers created empowered patients by encouraging them to discover their own thoughts and feelings and work out their problems with the counselor as a guide. 
  3. The behavioral understanding of counseling is Pavlonian by nature. It stems from the idea that all behavior is learned, and that unhealthy or problematic behavior can be corrected with new understandings and learnings. 

While many of these approaches have undergone drastic changes, pivots, and evolutions over the years — the guiding principles have been established. Many counselors implement a combination or an amalgam of these approaches to understand the unique situation every patient is in.

The Benefits of Counseling

Whether you’re embarking on an individual or group counseling path, there are many benefits that can assist you in various areas of your life. 

  • Develop a sense of confidence
  • Manage anxiety 
  • Learn coping strategies for depression 
  • Clarify an issue you’ve been having
  • Better decision-making skills 
  • Discover possibilities for change 
  • Cope with addictive or dependency issues

No problem is too small for counseling. Whether you’re dealing with relationship problems, adjustment issues, mental illness, sexual concerns, and even addictions — counseling is a sound solution and a great outlet for betterment. 

It should be noted that counseling isn’t a quick fix, and doesn’t work to resolve issues instantly. It’s also not an environment where a professional will tell you what to do or judge your behavior or problems. It’s a conversation, one that will hopefully uncover some potential solutions and ways in which you can approach your issues for the better. 

Here in the modern age, we’re extremely lucky to have technological tools at our disposal to help with health and wellness. Telehealth services, for example, allow counseling services to be conducted online and remotely. This can be a great service for individuals that live in more rural areas or have extremely busy schedules that don’t fit a counselor’s office hours. 

Individual Counseling 

As the name suggests, individual counseling focuses on the individual. It’s a one-on-one interaction and discussion between the counselor and the client, one that hopefully sparks a trusted relationship. Individual counseling relies on the alliance between the professional and the patient. 

There are several advantages to the individual counseling route. For one, you’re receiving the full attention of the counseling professional. Some patients find this to be the biggest benefactor to choosing individual counseling. However, others may feel isolated in their problems and therefore struggle to open up about what’s been bothering them. 

Here are some of the most common reasons why clients prefer individual counseling. 

  • Receiving focused and attentive feedback for their individual problems
  • A stronger bond with the counselor through one-on-one sessions 
  • Confidentiality 
  • Increased control over the pace of progress, which is solely directed toward the individual 
  • More freedom with meeting times 

Now, individual counseling isn’t for everyone, and there are certainly those out there that can benefit from alternative counseling environments. As mentioned, being the sole focus of a counselor’s attention may be jarring or intimidating for some — and blending in with a group to adjust may be beneficial. 

Another potential setback of individual counseling is the lack of perspective. Group counseling sessions open up the floor to multiple vantage points and experiences, which can be a huge positive for certain individuals. 

Group Counseling 

Group counseling can be made up of small or large groups, depending on the type of counseling and severity of the issue. Technically speaking, even two individuals partaking in a counseling session can be considered group counseling. Relationship or marriage counseling is most often comprised of two spouses or partners. However, substance disorder groups may even be in the double digits.

Typically, the recommended group size is between 6-12 participants for non-relationship type counseling. This size of group counseling could be for anger management, substance disorders, or even symptom management counseling. 
Let’s explore some popular motivators for joining group counseling sessions. 

  • A sense of comradery around a shared issue 
  • Developing a feeling of belonging to a group 
  • Understanding that you’re not alone in your struggles 
  • Gaining support from all angles, as fellow group members can act as a broader support system 
  • Feeling confidence opening up about an issue that others are also discussing
  • Gaining multiple perspectives around an issue for better self-awareness 
  • Improving communication skills 
  • Potential lifelong connections

However, just like with individual counseling, group environments may not be suitable for everyone. Compared to individual settings, group counseling lacks focused attention and treatment. There may be situations where an individual doesn’t feel they receive the care they need because other members are taking up the group’s time. 

Confidentiality is also a huge turnoff for those that may be considering counseling sessions. Obviously, group counseling sessions are confidential by nature, and there is an immense emphasis placed on the sentiment that “what is discussed in the group stays in the group.” However, individuals may feel off-put by the idea of other people hearing their stories or issues. 

Another potential downside to group counseling is that the sessions aren’t focused on just one person’s schedule. Instead, group counseling needs to be fit into each individual’s daily life, and this may not work for some due to work, children, or other obligations. 

What’s Right for You?

Figuring out if individual or group counseling is right for you is truthfully a matter of preference. However, there are certainly some stipulations that may limit which choice works. Your schedule, budget, comfortability, and even the issues you’re dealing with themselves may all play a part in which type of counseling is ideal. 

Finding a reliable counseling service near your location is often the best step. The staff will be more than happy to answer questions or steer you toward the counseling environment that’s right for you. 

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