As you recover, you may wonder whether you might benefit from the regular support of people who really get what you’re going through.

The idea of sharing your story with those who won’t judge you may seem safe and comforting.

The promise of hearing from people with experiences and goals like yours may feel more and more important.

Those are good indicators that it’s time for group work.

So, now what?

Do you seek out a support group? Or do you talk to your therapist regarding group therapy? What’s the difference anyway? Are they basically the same?

If not, which option is best for you?

hands on top of handsBoth groups are helpful…but not the same

Most people think support groups and group therapy are the same or interchangeable options during recovery but, despite some basic similarities, that’s not the case at all.

Let’s clear up the confusion:

Differences in Group Assessment and Intake

To embark on either type of group work, you must first determine whether the group is the right place for you. This is usually accomplished through an interview, assessment, or intake process.

For a support group, assessing whether you will take part centers on how appropriately your needs and issues match the support offered. In other words, if you’re grieving the loss of a spouse, you are likely a good fit for a bereavement support group.

For a therapy group, assessment is a more in-depth and structured process. Your state of mind is important to know as the purposes of this group are to help you address and manage deeper psychological issues. You’ll likely find the preliminary interview is comprehensive.

Differences in the Way Group Attendees Come and Go

Of course, regular attendance in either group is helpful for any benefit to be gained. The relationships you build over time are a foundation for feeling included and supported. However, the level of expectation and commitment to the group attendance differs for key reasons.

In a support group, attendees can go to group, or not, as they deem fit. The group remains “open”, and fairly fluid. The membership may not be the same from week to week. Nothing is mandatory or required. This group provides support as you feel you need it. You may choose to go every week or once a month if it suits you.

Group therapy sessions, on the other hand, are “closed” groups, focused on creating change and personal growth. Therefore, it’s crucial that members are committed and attend regularly. Typically, group therapy members sign up for three months or more to start.

This gives members time to settle in, gel as a group, and feel comfortable. Such a comfort level produces the most effective sharing and therapeutic work. Leaving the group is a process as well. Usually, exiting members will close out of the group in a healthy, gradual manner, saying goodbyes over several sessions.

Differences in Group Size

Generally, there isn’t much difference in size for either group type. 6 to 12 people work well for either group to be optimally effective.

Still, a support group may swell at times, in order to accommodate anyone who needs to participate at the time. A therapy group generally tends to keep its numbers as low as possible to ensure the group maximizes connection, cohesion, and communication.

Differences in Facilitator Support

Both kinds of groups benefit from some level of facilitation or direction for the sake of organization and meaningful sharing.

Support group facilitators are available to keep things moving along in an orderly fashion. The facilitator may even change from one meeting to the next. Their job is to simply steer the group, highlight common themes and ensure a safe space for all to share. Generally, these facilitators and they don’t need special training or licensing.

In therapy groups, a licensed and experienced therapist acts as a facilitator. Guidance is thereby provided much the way it is provided in individual therapy. Discussion, education, and appropriate interventions factor in as part of group work.

Differences in Group Purpose

Overall, both groups are dedicated to helping members cope more effectively. Yet, they differ significantly in depth and expected outcomes.

The basic purpose of a support group is to help identify healthy, effective coping techniques, skills in a loosely structured way. The groups function often is to relieve persistent feelings of anguish, pain, anxiety, and loss. The group provides a like-minded support network for unedited, unjudged sharing. Validation, normalization, and encouragement are the primary goals.

Conversely, a therapy group highlights a more process-oriented approach. The whole group often works on a specific theme to foster individual change. Specific outcomes are expected as the group work progresses. Such structure, depth of engagement, and therapeutic guidance are more intense and educational than the work of a support group.


Group work offers key opportunities to shed the sense of isolation, confusion, and overwhelm that can take over during dark times.

Moving forward often means coping and growing with the support and compassion of other persistent overcomers like yourself.

If you aren’t sure which group best fits your needs, I am happy to help you consider your options. Please contact me soon for a consultation.

For more information on group therapy, click here.