What advantage does group therapy have over only individual therapy? Using an analogy, let’s say therapy is akin to going clothes shopping. Often, when one goes clothes shopping they have only a single mirror in front of them, reflecting back what they look like. You might turn to one side or the other, trying to see if your belly is protruding, or gauging whether how tight or ill-fitting a garment might be on your posterior. However, if you’re lucky, you’ll come across a dressing room that comes well equipped with a three-sided mirror that gives you multiple vantage points from all sides. Following those shopping excursions, you may tend to get a more accurate view of your outfit, which also may translate into better eating habits and more exercise (should your clothes not fit so well, etc.) Sticking with the analogy, the reasons for making some lifestyle choices seem obvious: multiple perspectives allow you to see all your profiles at once.
Hopefully, the clothes shopping metaphor puts into focus what advantages group therapy can have over only individual therapy. No person can really see how they look, behave and interact with others unless multiple mirrors are held up for viewing. With several angles provided simultaneously, there is the opportunity to have accurate reflections of how we interact, behave and respond, all in ways that we can’t see by ourselves.
But a therapeutic group has other advantages over an individual setting as well. The group setting is a closer match to real life. Ideally, the group is a healthy mix of people: young and old, men and women, varied ethic/racial groups, differing economic and educational backgrounds, etc.
Group involvement is not a perfect system, of course. We don’t have the luxury of choosing participants that are all pre-vetted to raise just the right issues in everyone else, but when does that happen in real life, either?
Still, the odds that troubling or hindering behavior patterns will show in a group are much more likely than in a one-on-one session. Both individual and groups sessions, combined, are useful, but the group setting, for most people, is indispensible.
Besides, when trying to change lifelong behavior patterns, a key therapeutic goal, it’s reassuring to have comrades by your side. Walking together helps when the path to better living gets rough.