Group and Family Therapies: Similarities and Differences

Subject: Psychology
Pages: 8
Words: 2425
Reading time:
10 min
Study level: Master


Group and family therapies are an important and effective way to deal with various psychological or mental illnesses. One applies it while dealing with depression, anxiety, paranoia, and mostly under multiple types of addiction, including drug, alcohol, and gambling addiction. These therapies are effective since the patient acts as a part of the group. Moreover, people with similar disorders can give each other useful advice on how to alleviate the condition or to cure the disease.

These two types of therapy are similar: in both cases, the patient is in a group of several people with a similar disorder. However, they have some differences: in group therapy, people who do not know each other participating, and one practices such methods as listening, empathy, and consulting. Accordingly, in family therapy, several people are also participating, though they have familial relationships. This type is helpful as family members can share important information about the patient and provide support. The aim is to examine the differences and similarities between these two therapies and consider the development of the therapies, the different theoretical approaches, and the effectiveness of each therapy.

Group Therapy: The Theoretical Basis

Nowadays, people often suffer from different psychological and mental disorders of a varied nature. One of the most effective methods of its treatment is group therapy, the development of which is of high priority due to its effectiveness. Thus, one of the main strategies for the development of group therapy is group analysis. Unlike the strategies of therapeutic schools that offer bound and unified theory, group analysis gathers data from various areas to make development more effective (Barwick & Weegmann, 2017). It contributes to developing the theoretical basis of group therapy strategies and therefore makes it more operative.

The main feature of group therapy’s working mechanism is communication. Usually, there are from eight to twelve participants, although the number can be either more or less. As a rule, patients are located in a circle so that they can observe each other and feel the atmosphere of the company. Sharing problems and experiences with the group is vital since it facilitates the strengthening of the community and a sense of belonging (Sandahl et al., 2020). Accordingly, these factors are central in the context of the effectiveness of group therapy since it is widely known that one should not keep the problem in oneself. In addition, it formulates similarities and differences from family therapy in the context of psychotherapy practice: although patients share the data with each other, they have no related connection.

Group therapy is also an essential mechanism while working with adolescents. Since young people are often prone to depression, lack of attention, or feelings of loneliness, a group of people to talk with can improve their psychological condition. Various studies show that psychological and mental disorders are an integral part of the life of adolescents, with a proportion of diagnosed diseases of about one to five (Haen & Webb, 2019). In the youth, such problems are especially acute as they can be exacerbated by the transition period. Such periods are usually characterized by an overreaction to certain situations. It illustrates the importance of group therapy not only for adults but also for youths. Moreover, it differentiates group treatment from family one in psychotherapy practice by sharing the experiences with peers, not with parents.

Family Therapy: Similarities and Differences from Group Therapy

One of the main differences between family and group therapies is that people have filiation. Treating may be performed for one patient, with support from the family members, or it can be applied to a married couple, a group of relatives, or for parents/children. Reunification is one of the prevalent strategies in dealing with the relationships between parents and children. Reunification therapy improves parent-child relationships by restoring emotional, social, and interpersonal connections (Faust, 2017). Thus, it is based on improving the existing ties between relatives, or between a married couple, and a group of people also involved, similar to group therapy. It formulates the similarity/difference in psychotherapy practice between family and group therapy, making the first part of the second.

Furthermore, the distinguishing feature of family therapy lies in the very approach of therapists in the treatment of psychological or mental disorders. Considering the family ties of a group of people in family therapy, it is necessary to have specific information for effective treatment. Thus, Rivett and Buchmuller (2017) argued that family therapists are interested in working with a multi-generational group of people. In other words, information about relationships, mutual understanding, interests of people related by family ties is a priority. Moreover, treatment and relationship-building strategies are based on this information.

Family therapy is also effective when it is necessary to restore normal relationships with the parents. As already indicated, during adolescence, there may be some controversies between parents and children. In this case, one needs to conduct a conversation in the presence of the parents and children since it becomes possible to discuss a more effective response (Merritts & Christenson, 2017). Therefore, family therapy in the context of parent/child relationships does more than serve as a basis for developing improved relationship strategies. It can also become a place for constructive conversation, which can sometimes be problematic at home. Consequently, one may notice that family therapy and group therapy are similar therapies in the context of dealing with a group of people, although having different approaches.

Similaritiesdifferences in Mental Health and Aims

In respect that group and family therapies are similar, although they have different principles, one may also observe distinctions in patients’ mental health. While addiction is a common disorder in group therapy, there are usually problems concerning relationships in family treatment. It can be formulated by a mental problem like adolescent maximalism; moreover, the younger the patient’s age is, the more likely one is to abandon group treatment (Young et al., 2020). In other words, mental disorders in group therapy are usually associated with external social issues.

In addition, the difference in the patients’ mental health of the two types of therapies is the presence of psychosis in group therapy patients who has an addiction. All therapeutic interventions for psychotic patients are synergic and should formulate a treatment program suitable for each patient (Urlic & Chavez, 2018). It determines the difference in treatment approaches, although applicable to groups of people in both cases. In different mental health systems throughout the world, the term “recovery” has become widespread (Slade et al., 2017). Moreover, it is applicable both for family and group therapies; however, in family treatment, one has a possibility to contribute better recovery by supporting at home.

Similar to any healthcare delivery, group and family therapy have their own goals. They are different for both types of therapy, as approaches and strategies are various. Generally, assessment is the main foundation in the provision of treatment. One would not be able to provide sufficient support and treatment without assessing the needs and characteristics of the patient (Trenoweth & Moone, 2017). However, the goals of the assessment in family and group therapy are different; in the first case, it is necessary to have information related to the peculiarities of the relationship between relatives. It includes the degree of mutual understanding, shared interests, and causes of irritation. In group therapy, it is crucial to learn about social behaviors, psychological traumas, or addiction.

The development of the Group and Family therapies

Nowadays, people often suffer from different psychological and mental disorders of a varied nature. One of the most effective methods of its treatment is group therapy, the development of which is of high priority due to its effectiveness. Thus, one of the main strategies for the development of group therapy is group analysis. Unlike the strategies of therapeutic schools that offer bound and unified theory, group analysis gathers data from various areas to make development more effective (Barwick & Weegmann, 2017). It contributes to developing the theoretical basis of group therapy strategies and therefore makes it more operative.

In the context of group and family therapy development, one should consider them from a historical perspective. Family therapy, in a sense, is part of group therapy as a general concept. The origins of group therapy remain unknown, although one may suggest that the first analogs appeared from the time of the hominid when primitive people gathered and discussed problems (Fehr, 2018). However, this concept began to gain popularity recently, namely in the 20th century. Group therapy became widespread after the Second World War when there were not enough professionals to help all people with war neurosis (Fehr, 2018). Thereby, in order to help all the people who suffered after the war, they had to gather them, and it turned out that some of them were even more comfortable being accompanied by other people.

The future development of group and family therapy is one of the main challenges for medicine in general. It is formulated by the high demand and efficiency of this type of treatment. The development of group programs is a complex mission and will be successful only with careful preparation and phased implementation (Ribeiro et al., 2017). One has to perform extensive studies and test the effectiveness of various group therapy techniques through interviews with clients and physicians. Further, one needs to identify the most effective ones and work towards their development by analyzing the results of surveys. Thus, group and family therapy can evolve into a mechanism that works for the most complex disorders.

Theoretical Approaches

Undoubtedly, everyone seems to know about group therapy nowadays, and many have tried it on themselves. In the modern world, the perception of human life is based on slightly different foundations than it was earlier. Previously, human life was similar to an animal’s life: people were engaged in hunting, gathering, and building houses. Today, priorities have changed, the civilized world implies more active mental activity. In this regard, various mental disorders appear, sometimes due to excessive stress on the psyche. Along with the growth of these factors, methods of influencing them are also developing: today, group therapy is rapidly evolving along with technological progress (Kaklauskas & Greene, 2019). Accordingly, with the development of group therapy, its theoretical approaches are also changing, and one may distinguish two main models: process-sensitive approach and directive one.

The process-sensitive approach is based on analytical theory, and it is mainly aimed at analyzing the subconscious mechanisms of the group. It helps the group member to better understand oneself, as a result of which one is aboveboard and more susceptible to positive changes (Center for Substance Abuse Treatment [CSAT], 2021). By this approach, the emphasis is on focusing on how the individual affects the group and how the group affects the individual. It enhances the person’s sense of belonging to the bunch, contributing to more responsible behavior and sincerity. At the same time, it is not often used in family therapy since contact between relatives is already established. In this case, the emphasis is on improving the already existing patterns of relationships between members of family therapy.

The directive approach is the second standing out the theoretical model of group therapy. With such a model, the concentration of efforts is manifested on the individual result of a group member, namely, on the positive changes. It presupposes structural goals and therapeutic interventions aimed at substantial change (CSAT, 2021). Sometimes, the therapist is a “central” and responsible figure, and the success depends less on the group members and their ability to create a cohesive sense of belonging. A brief directed group may be used to manage the underlying issues of concern for clients with substance abuse disorders (CSAT, 2021). In addition, the result is achieved through carefully selected classes individually for each member of the group.

Effectiveness of Each Therapy

Today, many studies show the effectiveness of both group and family therapy. Such studies are essential in the context of the future development of treatment, as they clearly show the effectiveness of certain methods. According to a recent survey of 23 high-quality randomized outcome studies about group therapies, treated patients were doing significantly better than 78 to 82% of control patients who did not receive active treatment (Moffett & Kharrazi, 2016). It formulates the necessity for further research in this area since there is a high rating of the effectiveness of such treatment. It is also necessary to take into account the increasing trend of adolescent treatment associated with mental disorders.

There are also studies, which show the effectiveness of family therapy. This is especially visible in cases of difficulties in relationships in a married couple. Thus, a study demonstrated that marital therapy ranging from 0.54 to 1.04, meaning that the average couples treated obtain better outcomes than between 70% and 84% of the non-treatment control groups (Crane & Morgan, 2021). In addition, family therapy is effective in cases of depression in a married couple’s members. It applies to both post-marriage and post-natal depression, which may lead to serious consequences up to divorce. For example, the London Intervention Depression Trial study demonstrated the effectiveness of systemic couple therapy for severe or moderate depression (Leroux et al., 2018). All of this provides statistical and factual evidence for the efficacy of group and family therapy. Moreover, this leads to the necessity for further research and development of new strategies to improve current performance.


As a result, one may conclude that group and family therapies are similar by their basic principle of operation: in both cases, groups of people are involved. At the same time, these types have some differences in more narrowly focused aspects such as goals and patients’ mental health. Analysis of group and family therapy development showed that they became widespread after the Second World War when it turned out that patients felt comfortable being in a group of people. Additionally, it was identified that group analysis is one of the main strategies for developing therapy in a theoretical aspect.

Furthermore, the study of theoretical approaches has shown that one may distinguish two main models: process-sensitive and directive. The effectiveness of group and family therapy has been established through the analysis of factual and statistical data. The overall result of the work is the setting of a fact that implies the following conclusion. Group and family therapy are similar in the context of a group of people, but at the same time, the goals and methods of group therapy are aimed at the client’s external social issues. In turn, the goals and strategies of family therapy emphasize working on pre-existing bonds.


Barwick, N., & Weegmann, M. (2017). Group therapy: A group analytic approach. Routledge.

Crane, D. R., & Morgan, T. B. (2021). The efficacy and effectiveness of family therapy.

Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2021). Brief Interventions and Brief Therapies for Substance Abuse.

Faust, J. (2017). Reunification family therapy: A treatment manual. Hogrefe Publishing.

Fehr, S. S. (2018). Introduction to group therapy: A practical guide. (3rd ed.). Routledge.

Haen, C., & Webb, N. B. (2019). Creative arts-based group therapy with adolescents: Theory and practice. Routledge.

Merritts, A. N., Christenson, J. D. (2017). Family therapy with adolescents in residential treatment: Intervention and research. Springer.

Kaklauskas, F. J., & Greene, L. R. (2019). Core principles of group psychotherapy: An integrated theory, research, and practice training manual. Routledge.

Leroux, P., McPherson, S., & Richardson, P. (2018). Clinical effectiveness in psychotherapy and mental health: Strategies and resources for the effective clinical governance. Routledge.

Moffett, L. A., & Kharrazi, N. (2016). Group psychotherapy. Encyclopedia of Mental Health, (2), 281-284.

Slade, M., Oades, L., & Jarden, A. (2017). Wellbeing, recovery and mental health. Cambridge University Press.

Riberio, M. D., Joshua, M. Gross., & Marcee, M. Turner. (2017). The college counselor’s guide to group psychotherapy. Routledge.

Rivett, M., Buchmuller, J. (2017). Family therapy skills and techniques in action. Routledge.

Sandahl, C., Ahlin, N. H., Westerdahl, C. A., Bjorling, M., Saracino, A. M., Wennlund, L., Akerstrom, U., & Orhammar, A. (2020). Why group therapy works and how to do it: A guide for health and social care professionals. Routledge.

Trenoweth, S., & Moone, N. (2017). Psychosocial assessment in mental health. Sage.

Ulric, I., & Chavez, M. G. (2018). Group therapy for psychoses. Routledge.

Young, N. D., Mumby, M. A., & Smolinski, J. A. (2020). Maximizing mental health services: Proven practices that promote emotional well-being. Vernon Press.