Group Therapy vs. Support Groups: Which One is Right for You?

Group Therapy vs. Support Groups:
Which One is Right for You?

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Support groups can offer valuable connections and benefits. They help you connect with other people who are dealing with similar challenges, concerns, losses, health issues, or addictions.

Support groups come in a variety of shapes and sizes; even more so since the start of the pandemic. Thus, it could be helpful to understand the differences and benefits, and why some types of groups might be better for some, vs others.

This article will cover the types of groups in various fields, no matter what the struggles are; it will not focus only on grief groups.

Group Therapy Vs Support Groups

It might be hard to discern the differences between Group Therapy and Support Groups. While both offer support in a group setting, the main difference is that group therapy includes a concrete treatment plan that is always led by a licensed therapist, such as a psychologist. The licensed therapist will ensure that the sessions are structured in a way of improving specific skills or for change.

On the other hand, support groups can be lead by a variety of individuals and their main objective is helping the members’ overall well-being, which typically include healing and coping.


Types of Support Groups

There are tens of thousands of support groups nationally and globally, in-person and online. 1 This can be overwhelming for anyone who is looking for a support group. The following definitions and examples should help clarify which type of group is best for the individual, and therefore what to look for.

Professionally Operated Support Group vs. Self-Help Group

Professionally operated: Groups that are usually facilitated by mental health practitioners or social workers.

Concrete example

Self-help support group: Groups that are facilitated (or co-facilitated) by an individuals who have experienced similar stuggles. They are also called peer support groups. Most self-help groups are in the format of drop-in groups.

Concrete examples

Support Groups Formats

Drop-in Groups

With a drop-in group, the participant can sign up to whichever session they are the most interested. During the session, a facilitator will guide group members in a healthy and purposeful discussion. Drop-ins are not meant to be treatment, but rather a safe space for participants to talk with others who share similar experiences. They can be professionally operated or held as self-help groups.

In addition, drop-ins can be general (open forum), topic-focused or can even include guest speakers.

Benefits of drop-in groups:

  • Variety: they are many available, especially online
  • Flexibility: sign up to the preferred session
  • Quick turn-around: The registrations are quick (no interview required) and participants can sign up last minute (usually one day notice)
  • Diversity: they tend to offer more choices of topic-specific sessions (e.g., Exploring Spirituality in Grief Recovery) than any other kind of support groups. Drop-in groups can also be general (e.g, Monthly Grief Drop-in).
  • Low cost: they are usually at no cost or very low cost
  • Non-contingent: usually do not limit the number of registrations (more open)
  • Anonymity: easier to keep anonymity and distance

Concrete examples of drop-in groups

Drop-in Addiction Support Group
Virtual Drop In Support Group Ottawa Grief BFO

Closed Groups

Closed groups are multi-sessions support programs with specific start-date and end-date, wherein no new members can be added once the program has started. Usually well-structured, closed groups operate according to a pre-planned sequence of modules. In most closed groups, partipants must commit in advance to the entire group sequence (e.g., 10-week sessions) before being accepted to the group.

It is not always possible to sign up to a closed group once one or two sessions have already occured. Because they are based on demand within the community and are extensive to manage, they tend to be more sparse than drop-ins.

Unlike drop-ins, closed groups have a greater risk of being postponed if not enough participants have signed sign up. On the other hand, if a group is popular, participants must act quick to sign up as spaces are limited.

Closed groups are generally professionally operated, but some might be peer-support based. They are often offered by non-profit organizations.

Benefits of closed groups :

  • Valuable content: they usually present concepts and strategies related to progress, coping or treatment.
  • Weekly progress: each week, new information is presented and discussed.
  • Group cohesion: as it is the same members each week, strong connections are easier to establish, which makes for a healthy group dynamic.
  • Effective: since they are more structured, they can be more effective for some people.

Concrete examples of closed support groups :

Support Group-addiction-OTR-Session-2023-Virtual-session-closed group
Bereavement-Groups-Montreal-Kirkland-Residence-de-soins-palliatifs - Groupe Deuil - Grief Group

Social Media Groups (Facebook Groups)

Social media groups are peer-support groups that have rapidly became popular in the last decade. With a social media account (i.e., Facebook), the user can request to join numerous groups. These groups, which are usually private, include members who share similar struggles. They are generally open so new members can join if they meet certain criteria.

Once accepted, a member can post at anytime, as long as the posts are within the rules of the group.

Benefits of Facebook Support Groups :

  • Variety: There are many available, moreso than any other type of support group.
  • Online Chat: The chatting experience might help the member to feel more at east to talk about their struggles, instead of speaking in front of a group.
  • Flexibility: Can go at own pace, log on at any time and scroll past if not ready to deal with something.
  • Constant Accessibility: Free and easy to join. Member can get emotional support at any time of the day, no matter where they live.
  • Lasting community: There is no end time to the group (unless the admin deletes the group).
  • Visual content: Members can easily post their own photos or other content.
  • Social connection: The high amount of members within a group makes it easier to find others who share the closest experience or location, and even contact them individually.

Concrete example of a Facebook Support Group

Facebook group for bereaved parents

Therapeutic Workshops

A therapeutic workshop is a form of expressive therapy that is carried out through an activity to improve a person’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being. The participants learn how to use skills (e.g. art, mindfullness) to develop healthy coping skills. Their therapeutic approach promotes self-expression and help them manage the difficult thoughts and feelings.

Workshops are normally drop-ins, but they can also be closed groups. They can be in-person or online.

Benefits of workshops

  • Conviviality: Suitable for individuals who are not ready to talk about their struggles.
  • Activity-based: The activity makes it more interesting than just talking (enjoyable).
  • Self-care focus : The participant does not have to hear the other people’s stories and struggles (which can be overwhelming for some); focus is on themselves only.
  • New interests : Activities could turn into healthy coping strategies or hobbies at home.

Concrete example of workshops

Group Therapy

Group therapy is a form of psychological treatment, led by a licensed therapist, where patients meet to work on their struggles. All the patients share similar challenges and are expected to participate in each session. Their participation not only helps with treatment, but it also allows them to acquire new skills.

There is usually a cost for group therapy, which might be covered by health insurance. Group therapy is offered in-person or online.

Benefits of Group Therapy:

  • Cost: Although more expensive than support groups, group therapy has a lower cost than individual therapy and might be covered by health insurance.
  • Accessibility: If online, therapy is usually open to people of all regions (as opposed to support groups which may be restricted to “locals”).
  • Effective: Is usually led by professional therapists who have extensive knowledge about the subject, including psychotherapy.
  • Group dynamic: Since it is the same members each week, there is generally a healthy group cohesion.

Concrete examples of Group Therapy :


The next post will provide helpful tips to find the best group for you! The pros and cons of online groups vs in-person groups will also be discussed, as well as an example from personal experience. To not miss the next post, simply add your email under the section “subscribe by email” (no spam)! If you liked this article and you would like to support this blog, please share this post.

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