Individual Therapy Vs Group Therapy for Teens

Many parents who find out that their teen is experiencing mental health challenges may experience confusion around what mental health services are best for their adolescent. This may be especially true for those parents whose teens are resistant to therapy. Parents in those circumstances might worry about how to support their teen if their teen is unwilling to engage in treatment.

However, fortunately, there are different types of mental health services to choose from. For instance, some teens may experience an awkward social stage and feel uncomfortable talking to a stranger about their personal problems in individual therapy. In these cases, individual therapy may not be the right choice for them. Instead, adolescents may be more receptive to the idea of meeting with other teens struggling with the same issue, such as in group therapy or a support group. As this article will discuss, there are advantages and disadvantages to individual versus group therapy for teens.


Teen Mental Health Services Makes a Difference

Before comparing the pros and cons of individual and group therapy, it’s important to point out that some kind of mental health service for teens can make a big difference in a their life. A recent study (January 2017) found that 14-year olds who had participated in mental health services were less likely to report depression when they reached late adolescence, compared to students of the same age who did not engage in any mental health services at all throughout their adolescence.

This study was conducted by researchers at University of Cambridge, Department of Psychiatry and was published in the Lancet Psychiatry. The study recruited 1,238  teen participants age 14, along with their parents and caregivers. The teen participants were monitored over a three year period, until they reached age 17, and were assessed for their emotional, behavioral, and psychological well being. The study found that teens who were 17 years old and who had no contact with mental health services were 7 times more likely to experience depressive symptoms.


Individual Therapy for Teens

Individual therapy is what most people think of when they hear the word “therapy”. Essentially, your teen works one-on-one with a therapist or psychologist who is trained to help your teen work through the challenges in their life. Some therapists have specialties that may address the specific needs of your teen, such as:

  • grief and loss
  • trauma
  • ADHD
  • depression
  • anxiety

Furthermore, some mental health providers specialize in adolescence, specifically working with teens.

In individual therapy, teens may experience the following benefits:

  • customized attention and support
  • may be able to support a teen on a topic they don’t want to talk publicly about
  • support with an area of life they don’t want to talk to their parents about
  • provide mentorship in a way that parents can’t
  • experience of an adult relationship that may be different than other adult relationships they’ve had

At first, there may be some resistance from your teen about individual therapy. However, it might be worthwhile to discuss the above benefits with them. And if you continue to experience resistance after discussing these benefits, suggest a limited time in which your teen participate. For instance, encourage your teen to participate in therapy for two months, and if there are still no benefits than they can find an alternative. For instance, instead of individual therapy, teens may benefit more from group therapy or a support group in which teens are all struggling with the same issue. Types of group therapy are discussed below.


Types of Group Mental Health Services

When parents or caregivers think of mental health services for their teen, individual therapy might immediately come to mind. However, there are a range of services that can support a teen’s psychological health, including:

Group Therapy – This is a unique form of therapy where the benefits come from not only the relationship with the therapist (like in individual therapy), but also from the other participants in the group. There is one or more mental health professional facilitating the group experience who is professionally trained to facilitate therapeutic experience.

Support Groups – These groups are non-clinical, meaning that there is not a trained mental health professional leading the experience. Instead, it is the support of the members of the group that make the experience worthwhile. There may still be an adult facilitating, but he or she isn’t professionally trained.

Psycho-educational Group – These are groups that provide teens with information so that they might better choices or take care of themselves in a more healthy way. For instance, there may be a group that provides education on addiction, eating disorders, or depression and how to manage those illnesses. The point of these groups is to provide support by empowering a teen with useful information about an illness they may be struggling with.


Advantages of Group Therapy

Parents and caregivers might seek out group mental health services as a means to find support for their teen, especially those adolescents who tend to resist treatment. The advantages to being in a group experience include:

  • Groups ensure that teens are not alone when discussing their struggles and challenges.
  • Groups offer the opportunity to not only receive support but teens can also give support to other teens. This in turn facilitates bonding and stronger relationships in a teen’s life, which can also be supportive.
  • Group therapy can facilitate a teen’s socialization and communication skills,.
  • Being in a group and listening to others with the same struggle can facilitate self-awareness.
  • Being in a group versus individual therapy can sometimes make it easier for a teen to discuss their struggle.
  • Group therapy can be less expensive than individual therapy.


Seeking out Mental Health Services for Your Teen

Based upon the information above and the needs of your teen, you might already have an idea of which mental health service is best for your teen. At the same time, if your teen’s psychological needs are more severe, you might also schedule an assessment for your teen so that a mental health provider can then provide suggestions for treatment. Keep in mind that some teens might benefit from both individual and group therapy.

If your teen is not participating in any type of mental health service and is experiencing hardship, remember that the earlier you intervene the better as evidenced by the study mentioned above. If you have concerns about your teen’s ¬†psychological and emotional well being, contact a mental health provider today.