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Individual therapy is for just one person and focuses solely on his or her therapy needs. Family therapy is focused on an entire family or several of its members. Both types of therapy may prove beneficial, and sometimes a person may be involved in both individual and family therapy. For example, a person may meet with a therapist for individual therapy on a weekly basis and then meet with a family therapist later in the same week, biweekly, or on some other schedule.
Individual and family therapy differ in terms of the focus of the therapy. With individual therapy, there is one patient and the therapy is focused solely on him. For example, if an individual is in therapy for anxiety, the sessions will focus on dealing with his anxiety and the problems it may cause in other areas of his life. Family therapy, on the other hand, involves several people at one time. For instance, a whole family may be in therapy together or multiple members of a family may attend a therapy session at one time.
The difference between individual and family therapy often involves the focus of the sessions, but some sessions are still initiated because of the problems of one family member. For example, if an individual is working through a problem, family therapy may help his family members better understand his problem, develop new ways of coping with them, and learn how they can help him. Sometimes family therapy sessions may also help family members learn how they are contributing to an individual’s problems or impeding his progress toward getting better.
There are also many cases in which family therapy isn’t focused on the problems or needs of one person. Sometimes, this type of therapy is focused on overcoming the issues an entire family faces or the problems of a few of its members. For example, if family members have dysfunctional habits when it comes to dealing with each other, family therapy may help them to overcome the habits. Likewise, family therapy may also help families who are struggling with mutual grief or dealing with such issues as divorce and remarriage.
Interestingly, an individual may engage in individual and family therapy at the same time. For example, an individual may use individual therapy to focus only on his problems. He may then participate in family therapy as well, in order to deal with his problems from a family perspective.
What Is Individual Therapy?
Individual therapy consists of talking to a licensed mental health professional one-on-one to discuss a variety of issues and ways to deal with those issues. People of all age ranges can see a therapist, from young children to older adults. Some things that people go to individual therapy for include:
- For dealing with high amounts of stress, anxiety, or depression
- For learning better coping skills
- For learning better communication skills
- For dealing with grief or the aftermath of a traumatic event
- For navigating a significant change in their life
As you can see, there are a number of reasons why someone may seek individual therapy. Sometimes, people simply need to talk through things with someone who is objective and non-judgemental. While a spouse, family members, and friends can be a great resource to talk with, they often are unable to deal with the larger issues that someone may have and give objective advice. There are several types of therapy, and one type of therapy may not work as well for someone as it does for someone else.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy focuses on assisting people with irrational thoughts or perceptions that can cause a variety of problems. These thoughts and perceptions, otherwise known as cognitive distortions, can include:
- Black and white thinking, or the belief that everything has to be at one extreme or the other
- Overgeneralizing, for example thinking that you are a complete failure in life just because you messed up something small
- Negative mental filtering, or not paying attention to the positive outcomes in your life
- Catastrophizing, or expecting the worst possible outcome to happen
- Jumping to conclusions, or assuming that someone is thinking something about you when they are not
A therapist who specializes in CBT can help give you the tools to avoid these negative patterns of thinking which can lead to anxiety, depression, and other conditions. CBT tends to be very goal-oriented, and patients may get homework to do each week in between therapy sessions.
Psychoanalytic therapy, or talk therapy, is a form of individual therapy where the patient talks about their life and especially their childhood in the hopes that the therapist finds patterns. In this form of therapy, repressed feelings from the past can come to light, which may be quite uncomfortable for the patient at first. However, the therapist works with the patient to identify how these repressed feelings may be causing problems today.
Why Is Family Therapy Better Than Individual Therapy?
While individual therapy can be extremely beneficial, there are instances where family therapy might be a better option. This includes cases where something within the family dynamic is causing issues. Some cases where people might seek family therapy include:
- When one parent is more of a disciplinarian than the other, leading the child or children to favor the other parent
- When both parents argue and cause other people in the household large amounts of stress
- When there are cases of physical or sexual abuse to work through
Family therapy often involves young children, but can also occur between significant others or parents and adult children.