You may have found yourself thinking about taking advantage of counseling. You may have also discovered that places offer the option of group therapy and/or individual counseling. So, what is there to know about choosing between the two options? I want to walk through some different scenarios and ideas to consider before entering into either.
Weigh Your Options
The first thing to consider is what are your expectations and ideas of therapy? The number of different variations and philosophies of counseling are immense. If you would like to lay in a chaise lounge and talk about dreams and memories, there is a therapist that can offer that. If you want to sit face to face and have the counselor give you applicable tools to remediate your current dilemma there is also someone for that.
It is important for everyone choosing to attend counseling to take the time to evaluate the options they are considering. I have many people in my office say “Well, my last therapist didn’t talk that much” or “She always answered my questions with questions” or “My last counselor gave me a bunch of really good tools but I never felt like we got to the root of the issue.”
Like doctors, lawyers, or flight attendants, no two are the same. However, there is a reasonable assumption that we should expect a certain level of care based on the training and education they received. Just like there many different kinds of doctors, there are also many types of therapists and while some perform general mental health counseling, others are specific in their work. So, do yourself a tremendous favor by vetting your future counselor based on their approach and most importantly your needs.
How to Choose the Right Therapist
This can be done by looking at the field of counseling from a broad view and choosing the counselor based on how you would like to problem solve and explore areas of frustration or confusion in your life. For example, if you evaluate yourself as a pragmatic person who lives in the here and now and does not relatively enjoy navigating through the experiences of the past then this is important information.
A Cognitive-Behavioral therapist may be just the right fit. Predominantly, this approach looks at what is happening in your life now and evaluates the positive and negative patterns to find effective and sustainable solutions. For some, this is exactly what they want. They want to use therapy as a tool to overcome something and not spend a great amount of time exploring.
Conversely, there may be someone who readily enjoys exploring the minutia of their inner world, but they don’t necessarily enjoy being directed in the areas of exploration. They enjoy a soft voice to listen and validate their stories without the agenda of keeping them on a linear path.
A Rogerian therapist may be a wonderful fit for this client. From Narrative to Gestalt therapists, there are a lot of professionals who work with their clients towards their goals in several radically different presenting ways – from directive to non-directive and future-focused to past-orientated.
In frank terms, consumers have a great many options to choose from. The business of counseling is diverse and robust. It is up to you, the consumer, to begin the process of taking a small moment out of your time to investigate the type of counselor you need based on the type of journey you want to embark on. This is the difference between having a successful or frustrating experience.
So, let’s say that you are experiencing a high amount of distress due to a non-compliant child whose behavior is causing a high amount of stress in your marriage and tension between other children. You have narrowed down possible candidates for counseling based on the research you did online and on the recommendations of trusted friends and family.
Group Therapy or Individual Counseling?
Let’s say you have narrowed it down to two options. Both counselors are well respected and have fantastic reviews based on their approach to working with families and children. However, one of the counselors offers individual counseling while the other offers group counseling.
Your first thought may be to forgo the group therapy because you would prefer the counselor’s full attention on your current problem. Rightfully so. When you seek individual counseling, and you find the right one that can meet your expectations and they help you achieve your goal–mission accomplished.
Individual counseling is primarily what I do. Under almost any and every circumstance, individual counseling can be extremely beneficial and help people move towards greater satisfaction and contentment in their lives. What is accomplished between chairs is the reason I love going to work every morning.
Individual counseling is normally the first option people are looking for when they are pursuing counseling. If you have never been to counseling, you probably have a general idea of what to expect. While in group therapy there are certainly some details about the process that might shy you away. Let’s shed some light on those.
Early in my career, I thought of group therapy as an inferior form of counseling; it appeared to me as informal, nerve-racking for clients, and left people with softer voices feeling unheard. Some of those opinions are still true today, but what is gained from group counseling is much more profound than the obvious cliches seen from a bystander.
Group therapy is a space where the way you operate in your private life is put on display for you to put eyes on the mirror of your life. What I mean by this is, is that what happens in a counseling group is a microcosm of what is happening in your life outside the office walls.
In individual counseling, the client and therapist walk on a path together both exploring and navigating elements of the life to find insights and tools to help the client achieve their goals. Where in group counseling the client has other members to help cultivate a more robust wraparound view of your struggles.
Let’s take the aforementioned example of the noncompliant child who is causing distress in the household. This client may be in a specific group where the members are also mothers and/or fathers struggling with the same obstacles.
The group can become a beacon of information that can be freely shared and explored by the use of storytelling, encouragement, and inference. The group can become a foundation that a client can grow by bringing complex and vulnerable issues for exploration.
I have been a part of group counseling that has had profound and monumental effects on the participants. I have found that the most effective groups are closed and interpersonal. A closed group is established by the counselor by vetting members to create a cohesive group that can work towards common goals in a linear path.
The interpersonal side is a philosophy that how you act amongst group members reflects how you behave in the real world. The group is encouraged to express their here and now thoughts on members.
This sounds scary, but under the supervision of a good counselor and an open heart and mind, the person can look deep within their blind spots to illuminate elements of themselves that need tinkering and adjusting. In a good interpersonal group, the counselor will gently lead members to a place where they can express genuine honesty and trust.
The results are a deeper and fuller understanding of yourself in the world around you. From things that irritate you, conversations that garner jealousy, why you feel shy under pressure, the group can work through complex interpersonal dynamics that help people grow and adapt in ways they never thought possible.
When it comes to group and individual counseling the most important element is finding the right fit that reflects the type of help you need and the way you would like to receive said help. I hope that you can pursue the counselor and counseling experience you deserve and walk away with a new sense of satisfaction and contentment.
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