Written by: Claire Pfarr

September 7, 2023

You’ve probably heard the terms, “group therapy” and “support groups.” A lot of people assume they’re one and the same. But while group therapy and support groups both aim to address mental health in a group setting, there are subtle differences between the two. If you’re considering seeking group therapy or joining a support group, you’ll want to consider which type of group is right for you.

What is group therapy?

According to the American Psychological Association, group therapy involves one or more psychologists who lead a group of roughly 5 to 15 patients in a recurring setting (typically an hour or two per week). These groups are often focused on a particular topic (substance abuse, anxiety, obesity, grief, etc.) Some of these groups are “open,” meaning that new members can join any time. Others are “closed,” which means all members sign up at the same time. This is common, for example, when a group is meant to cover a predefined course (such as a 12-week program). 

What are support groups?

According to the Mayo Clinic, support groups exist to bring together people who are going through or have gone through similar experiences. Much like group therapy, the common bond for members of the group could be anything from certain medical conditions to substance abuse or caring for a loved one who is ill. These groups provide a space for people to share their experiences and tools for coping with others who understand and might benefit from sharing coping tools and advice. 

What are the differences between these types of groups?

Group therapy and support groups might seem incredibly similar at first. But there are some differences. For one thing, whereas group therapy requires a clinician to lead the group, support groups do not. In addition, group therapy focuses on fixing a mental health challenge, but support groups–as their name suggests–provide an environment focused on supporting members through the ups and downs of their shared experiences. Support groups may focus on personal victories more than group therapy. In addition, while costs vary, because group therapy requires clinical leadership, sessions can cost anywhere from around $40 to over $100 per session and may be cost prohibitive for some. Support groups, on the other hand, aren’t as clinical in nature and can therefore be a much lower cost, and in some cases no cost at all. 

Which is right for you?

If you feel like you’d like to seek group support and aren’t sure whether group therapy or support groups are right for you, ask yourself the following:

  1. What do you need from your group experience? If you’re looking for a psychological treatment for a condition, group therapy or perhaps individual therapy may be right for you. However, if you’re feeling isolated or alone and want to share coping strategies, victories, and experiences with people who understand firsthand, you may find a support group to be more beneficial. 
  2. What’s your budget? Because group therapy (and individual therapy) are clinically led, these resources will tend to be more expensive. However, some support groups exist without any fee at all, or a nominal cost to join. If you’re operating on a budget, support groups can offer a great point of entry without a significant financial sacrifice.
  3. What are your available resources? Some employers offer employee assistance programs (EAPs) that may be able to connect you with group therapy, support groups, or both! Similarly, your healthcare provider or insurance company may be able to make a referral or recommendation. 

A great place to start

If you think you’d like to learn more or join a group, Circles is a great place to start! Our caring and experienced group facilitators guide participants through a variety of life’s challenges. We offer groups for just about anything–from grief to divorce to developing inner strength and resilience, you can find a group that’s right for you. Download the app today and find where you belong!