Jan 21, 2019 in Analysis

Introduction

When choosing between group and individual counseling, there often are many factors to consider. Individual counseling refers to the kind of therapy where the patient sits alone with a therapist whereas group counseling is where there are five or more patients sharing and dealing with their challenges. The significant difference between these two types of therapy is the way in which the group therapy offers a support system where people learn from each other, and the therapist simply moderates the sharing and provides guidance as the patients learn from each other’s experiences. In individual therapy, the conversation is only between the patient and the therapist. The group setting is considerably where one is expected to get comfortable enough over time, and it should provide a great experience for the patients and the therapists. Although individual counseling affords the required privacy to the patient, group counseling must be encouraged in the profession because it gives people a unique opportunity to share their challenges, enabling them to heal through the power of motivation. 

Ethical issues

When choosing between group and individual therapy, it is important to establish the ethical issues that must be considered on either case. In group therapy, for example, the main ethical issues include equal treatment of the patients, bringing together patients with similar challenges, confidentiality, and the formation of dual relationships. In a group setting, there are different patients, and the way they are treated by the therapist affects their well-being and recovery (Jacobs & Masson, 2011). It implies a need to apply caution when interacting with the group members since if they are not treated equally they are likely to be discouraged or affected negatively. Therapists who do not treat their group members equally often fail to achieve their main goal. The therapists may notice that the patients do not get any better and even develop new challenges. 

Another ethical issue lies in terms of selecting the members of the group. Ordinarily, group therapy is about sharing experiences that are related to the problem that is being dealt with (Yalom & Leszcz, 2005). It means that the members of the group must be able to share and support each other through their different experiences. A patient often seeks the services of a therapist because they trust in their ability to help them. As such, putting people with unrelated challenges into one group is like wasting their time simply because they are unlikely to learn anything from the sharing. It is thus important to always ensure that, when forming a group for therapy, the patients must have similar challenges and can thus share and learn from each other.  

Confidentiality implies keeping the information within the group setting and not discussing it with outsiders, or even outside the group setting. Patients within the group need to be aware of the expectation of confidentiality so that they can share freely and keep the issues of their fellow group members within the group. As such, the therapist must be able to explain to the members that they have to be confidential about their group counseling discussions or else they may have to risk being terminated from the group. Exposing the experiences of the group members may hurt their social and psychological wellbeing thus must be avoided. 

On dual relationships, people within the group should have a social relationship since it is likely to hamper their participation and confidence in the group (Gory, 2011). The therapist here is also expected to ensure that they do not form social relationships with the group members as this may affect their objectivity and equitable treatment of the group members. Another ethical issue on the relationships here is that the level of closeness between the members and their therapist, as well as among themselves, should be limited to a healthy zone where they can share and support each other freely without becoming uncomfortable around each other.  

In individual therapy, on the other hand, the main ethical challenge is in dual relationships. The therapist cannot develop a friendship with the patient as this is also likely to impede objectivity in the therapy. The relationship here is that of a therapist and their patient and must thus be maintained as such. It is important to note that since there are not any other people involved in this setting, the likelihood of a compromising situation is always high, and it is up to the therapist to draw the line and keep the relationship strictly professional both during and after the therapy. This implies that group therapy is slightly more sensitive to ethical considerations than the individual therapy where the goals are straight forward and the methods depend on the needs of the patient.  

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Why a Therapist Would Choose Group Counseling over Individual Counseling

Group therapy has a number of advantages but so does individual therapy. First, an individual counseling session is relatively more expensive for the therapist and the patient because the time taken here can be used with a larger number of people for lower fees with respect to the patient and more revenue for the therapist. When choosing between the two types of therapy, the group therapy is thus more economical than the individual therapy for both the therapist and the patient. Another advantage is that during group therapy, there is a lot of sharing that goes on thus enabling the patients to learn from each other. In individual therapy, the patient shares their experiences without getting feedback or references from the therapist since the therapist’s work is not to share with the patient but rather to guide them through their recovery. Working with a group enables the therapist to relax and play the role of a moderator, while the patients help each other by sharing their experiences and giving each other feedback on what should or should not have been done.  

A therapist may only be able to help in reducing the patient’s stress levels by pinpointing their strengths and advising a focus on the positive things in life. However, in a group setting, listening to other people’s problems and simply realizing that there are other people who share the same challenges is effective in stress reduction. The group setting is thus beneficial to the therapist in that it enhances the results of the therapy by allowing for a new perspective and support system for the patients in the group unlike in individual counseling. Group therapy also gives more to the patient than just getting them to listen to other people’s experiences. By expecting the patient to share their experiences as well, the group therapy helps to build the patient’s social skills and confidence. These groups are often relatively small with five people or more, but the patient needs to be able to communicate with them effectively and consistently through the sessions. Initially, this environment can be threatening and insecure for the patients, but with enough exercises that help in breaking the ice and fostering familiarity amongst the members, they are bound to start interacting comfortably. Once this happens, they develop a sense of belonging as the group setting’s philosophies ensure that there is no judging but only sharing and supporting one another while also offering opinions and feedback on the progress of the patients.   

According to Klein et al. (2013), group therapy sessions are often more generalized because they involve many people at a time. It means that all the topics that need to be covered when dealing with a given challenge will be discussed whether the patient is willing to share or not. In individual therapy, it would be difficult to discuss a topic that the patient is unwilling to share, and thus the fact that other group members are willing to, ensures that everything is covered (Senn, 2006). In the end, the group members are all enabled to learn everything that they need in order to confront their problems. In the individual sessions, the patient may have had to stay without that information as it could only be covered if they are willing to share about it. It is also important to note that the group therapy sessions allow the therapist to interest with the patients at a non-personal level. They may understand their problems very well, help them through the difficult times and even be there to just talk about the various challenges that they face, but they do not have to deal with them at a personal level, which could get uncomfortable like in the individual therapy sessions. Thus, there is a sense of safety from the formation of blurred boundaries in the relationship between the therapist and the patients.    

Conclusion

Therapy is often a lucrative way of overcoming life’s challenges, and as a therapist, it is important to be able to offer the right type of therapy to a patient depending on their needs. Some patients are simply shy and would rather have individual therapy while others feel more comfortable and thus thrive in a group setting. There are many ethical issues that the therapist must consider among them dual relationships, confidentiality and equal treatment of the patients in the group. Moreover, in comparing the two types of therapy, it can be seen that group therapy is by far more effective, economical and even more indulging given how many areas of the patient’s life can be tackled from just listening and sharing experiences with people who have similar challenges. 

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