By Wesley H. Gallagher
Let’s face the facts: therapy is expensive. Even with insurance, the cost of individual therapy can be enough to keep people from seeking the help they need.
While it’s easy to say money shouldn’t be an issue when it comes to mental health, the fact of the matter is that therapy costs money, often more than the average person can afford. With the uncertainty of the future of healthcare and insurance, money is becoming more of a concern for all of us.
There’s no question, however, that therapy is beneficial in the treatment of a wide range of mental health issues and for helping people weather significant life events. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than a quarter of American adults experience mental disorders such as depression and anxiety in any given year, and still more are coping with significant events like loss, divorce, serious illness, stress and substance abuse.1 Therapy can help individuals cope with ongoing as well as short-term issues, giving them the tools they need to improve their emotional, mental and physical wellbeing.
Fortunately, for people struggling with mental or behavioral health issues, individual therapy isn’t the only option. Group therapy has gained popularity in recent years due to its affordability and numerous studies showing its effectiveness as an alternative or supplement to individual therapy. In fact, more than 50 clinical trials comparing patients randomly assigned to individual or group therapy overwhelmingly support the equivalence of both forms of treatment in terms of improvement for several disorders.2
Group therapy typically costs around 1/2 to 1/3 of the price of individual psychotherapy. While individual sessions can cost upwards of $150 an hour, group therapy can cost as little as $40 to $50 an hour, and most insurances accept it as a form of therapy.3
What Is Group Therapy?
In its essence, group therapy is a gathering of people, often dealing with similar issues, who meet together regularly under the leadership of trained therapists. While you might think group therapy is only for issues like alcoholism, in fact it is used to treat virtually all mental health issues that individual therapy treats.
Groups typically consist of anywhere from five to 15 people led by one or two therapists and meet for an hour or two each week. Many groups are geared toward specific issues, such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse or obesity, while others focus on helping people deal with a variety of issues like anger or low self-esteem. Still others consist of individuals who are all going through a similar experience like loss of a loved one or divorce.
Groups might meet for several months or several years. A group can be open, where new members can join at any time, or closed, where all members start at the same time.
Numerous Benefits Associated With Group Therapy
Whatever the form group therapy takes, it offers a wide range of benefits. Whereas individual therapy is dependent upon the relationship between patient and therapist, group therapy relies on the input of therapists as well as the support of the group.
Studies show that peer interaction is a key therapeutic factor in groups.2 Groups provide much needed social support, improve social networks and reduce the isolation and stigma that often comes with mental or behavioral health issues. Peers identify with one another in the group, and seeing progress in other members can help people realize their own potential for change or healing.
Groups help people learn how to relate to themselves and others in healthier ways—often people don’t recognize unhealthy habits in their relationships, and the group setting provides the opportunity to correct these habits. Groups can also act as a safety net that allows members to go out and practice what they’ve learned, knowing they can come back the following week to the support of their peers.
Leaders of group therapy sessions usually have specialized training that allows them to observe group dynamics. Whereas individual therapy relies on the information a patient relays to the therapist, the group setting gives therapists the opportunity to observe patients in action as they interact with other group members. Leaders can use these insights to elicit feedback about certain behaviors and initiate correction within the group interaction. Therapists also teach group members proven strategies for managing specific problems.
Do What’s Best For You
Group therapy might not always be the best option for someone struggling with mental health issues or traumatic life experiences. For instance, certain trauma-related disorders may be better served by individual therapy, and patients diagnosed as severely narcissistic, borderline or schizoid might have trouble in a group setting.4
Schedule is also an important factor when considering therapy options. While group therapy is more affordable, individual therapy allows for more flexibility in scheduling.
Often people find that participating in group and individual therapy in tandem is beneficial. Issues that come up in group can be discussed more deeply in individual sessions, and insights from individual therapy can be put into practice in group.
It’s important to be fully informed before making any decisions on mental health care. Talk to your psychotherapist or physician about whether group therapy could be the right option for you.
1 “Understanding psychotherapy and how it works.” American Psychology Association.
2 Paturel, Amy. “Power In Numbers.” American Psychological Association, November 2012, Volume 43, No. 10.
3 “Practitioners tout cost effectiveness of group therapy.” Mental Health Weekly,
April 26, 2010.
4 Roback, Howard B. “Adverse Outcomes In Group Therapy.” The Journal of Psychotherapy Practice and Research, 2000.