Comparing Individual and Family Therapy

Comparing Individual and Family Therapy

ComparingIndividual and Family Therapy


Familytherapy address problems affecting relationships among family memberswhile individual therapy seeks to resolve psychological challengesthat affect an individual client. An individual therapist deals withone client while a family therapist assist a group of clients from agiven family. This implies that an individual therapist empowers anindividual client to deal with personal challenges while a familytherapist empower a group of family members to deal issues affectingeach of them. The effectiveness of a family and an individual therapyis highly influenced by the level of collaboration between the clientand the therapist. Similar techniques (such as cognitive therapy andpsychoanalysis) may be used in family therapy and in individualtherapy. Although a family therapy may take a longer period and moresessions, both family and individual therapy follow the same process,whether a professional therapist and the client build rapport and settherapeutic goals.

Keywords: family therapy, individual therapy, client-therapistrelationship, therapeutic process, empowerment.

ComparingIndividual and Family Therapy

Counselorsor psychologists use different types of therapeutic approachesdepending on the type of problem that they need to address. Familytherapy and individual therapy are common types of treatment processthat are used to address relational and psychological issues thataffect families and individual clients respectively. According toEvans, Turner, &amp Trotter (2012) family therapy is a type oftreatment method that attract a group of family members who intend torestore their broken relationships and address common challenges thataffect their relationships as a family unit. Individual therapy, onthe other hand, is a process in which the both the client and thetherapist work hand-in-hand to explore beliefs and behaviors of theclient with the objective of identifying issues that the client wouldwant to change (Rea, Miklowitz, Topson, Goldstein, Mintz, 2003). Thispaper will compare family therapy and individual therapy, with afocus on their differences and similarities.

Differencesbetween family therapy and individual therapy


Thefirst and the major difference between individual therapy and familytherapy is the number of clients involved in the therapeutic process.The two types of therapies, as their names suggest, are mainlydetermined by the number of clients the therapists focuses on. In thecase of individual therapy, the therapist deals with one individualfrom the start of the therapy sessions to the end (Boundy, 2015). Afamily therapist, on the other hand, deals with the entire family orseveral members of a given family who need psychological assistance.In addition, an individual therapist organizes a one-on-one meetingwith the client, which is usually held in a safe, caring, andconfidential setting. This is unlike the family therapy sessions thatare held in an open setting, where all members of the family in needof counseling meet and take part in the therapeutic process.

Focusof the therapy

Thefamily therapy and individual therapy differ in terms of the focus ofthe therapeutic process. The main focus of an individual therapist isthe psychological challenges of an individual client and does notgive any room for the problems affecting a third party irrespectiveof the relationship of that party with the client in question (Rea etal.,2003). For example, an individual therapist who chooses to focus onthe anxiety of an individual client may design the therapy in a waythat will lead to the identification of specific causes of anxietyand possible effects that it has on other aspects of life of thatparticular client. An individual therapist in such a scenario willnot focus on the effect of clients` anxiety on people surrounding orliving with them.

Themain focus of a family therapist, on the other hand, is the keyfactors that affect relationships among the family members. Thisimplies that a family therapist seeks to address the challenges thatfamilies present in the context of their day-to-day relationshipswith significant (relatives) in their social networks and lives(Boundy, 2015). This requires the family therapist to focus on thefamily system and social unit that define relationships among membersof a given family with the objective of understanding and identifyingfactors that affect their relationships. Although a family therapistdesigns the counseling packages depending on the current type ofproblem that the family is facing, the ultimate focus of the familytherapy is to equip the members with the skills that will help themdeal with a wide range of social challenges.


Themain goal of a family therapist is to empower members of a givenfamily to deal with factors that affect their relationships. A familytherapist helps the affected family members in developingconstructive approaches that they can use to help each other andimprove relationship among themselves (Boundy, 2015). This helps thefamily therapist in enhancing the functioning of the family atdifferent levels, improves the mutual understanding of differentmembers of a given family, and creates an environment in which eachof the family members can provide emotional support to each other. Anindividual therapist, on the other hand, aims at empowering theindividual client to help them deal with personal issues that seemsto interfere their psychological functioning. An individual therapistachieves this by exploring beliefs, feelings, and behavior of clientsin order to determine what needs to be changed. In essence, the twotypes of therapy differ in terms of the objective of the therapistswhere a family therapist aims at resolving relational problems amongthe family members while the objective of an individual therapist isto help an in individual client deal with internal and psychologicalissues.


Althoughthe therapists may use similar techniques in the family and inindividual therapy, there are situations in which family therapistsare required to use different techniques that can rarely used inindividual therapy. According to Mannino (2015) Individual therapyfocuses on the treatment of mental and emotional problems usingpsychological approaches rather than biological or physical means.Family therapy, on the other hand, requires the use of some physicaltechniques depending on the type of the problem that the therapistseeks to address. Some of the physical techniques used by familytherapists include exercise therapy and play therapy. Although thesephysical techniques may be used in individual therapy, they are morecommon in family therapy because they create a platform for membersof the family to interact and learn how to social even in the absenceof the therapist.


Principlesof collaboration and empowerment

Theeffectiveness of the two types of therapy, family therapy andindividual therapy is based on similar principles, some of themincluding the empowerment of the target clients and collaboration. Inboth types of therapy, the therapist collaborates with the clients inorder to identify the underlying psychological challenge. Forexample, an individual therapist works collaboratively with theclient by taking them through their beliefs, feelings, and behaviorsand helps them identify aspects that they do not like and they wouldlike to change (Chicago School of Professional Psychology, 2009).Similarly, family therapist work together with the members of thefamily in order to help them understand their relationships better,determine aspects of the relationships that they do not like, and setgoals that will help them resolve those relationship differences. Inother words, both the family and individual therapists seek toempower clients in order to help them solve their own problems withthe guidance of a professional. The therapists do not solve theclients of their clients, but facilitate the process of psychologicalhealing, which is the basis of the principle of empowerment.

Thetherapist-client relationship

Thetherapists using either of the approaches (family or individualapproaches) appreciate the fact that the success of the therapeuticsessions depends on the type as well as the warmth of therelationship that exists between them and their clients. In bothtypes of therapy, the therapists seek to establish a stable and astrong relationship with their clients (Mannino, 2015). A warmrelationship between the client and the therapists builds trustbetween them, which in turn creates an environment for the client toopen up and disclose all the psychological challenges without fear.Some of the qualities that help both the individual and the familytherapists in building a strong relationship and trust with theirclients include empathy, genuineness, patience, and honesty. Thesequalities help clients being attended by family and individualtherapists achieve the objective of self-efficacy (Mannino, 2015).Clients who achieve self-efficacy are able to believe in themselves,their psychologists, and the entire therapeutic process, which inturn increases the effectiveness of the therapy.

Moreover,both the family therapists and individual therapist are guided byprofessional codes of ethics in the entire therapeutic process. Forexample, the code of ethics designed by the American CounselingAssociation defines how all counselors and therapists should maintaina professional relationship with their clients (American CounselingAssociation, 2014). Both the family and individual therapist areexpected to avoid romantic relationship with their clients orrelatives of the clients for at least a specified period of time.Avoiding romantic relationship protect the trust between the clientand the therapist. The professional code of ethics creates a room forthe therapists to collaborate and relate with other professionalswhenever a give psychological problem is beyond their scope.Therefore, a family therapist and an individual therapist can consulta fellow professional or work in a team to help a single clientwithout being considered as professionals who have violated theprinciple of privacy.

Similarityof therapeutic techniques

Boththe family therapy and individual therapy require the use of similarpsychological approaches in addressing the underlying challenges.Respective psychologists can decide to use one or a combination ofstrategies depending on the type of problem. Some of the common typesof therapeutic techniques that are applicable in both family therapyand individual therapy include behavioral therapy, psychodynamic,psychoanalysis, and cognitive techniques (Mannino, 2015). Thesimilarity of techniques used implies that individuals and familiescan be faced with similar problems or different problems that can besuccessfully addressing using similar therapeutic approaches.Although family therapy focuses on relational problems in the family,it should be noted that some of these relationship problems can becaused by psychological challenges among individual members. Thiscalls for the use of strategies that will address psychologicalproblems affecting individual members of the family, leading to asuccessful resolution of the underlying relationship challenges. Thetherapist may also combine individual and family therapy in order toenhance the effectiveness of the treatment process.


Boththe family therapist and an individual therapist follow more or lesssimilar processes. They both start with an evaluation session thatmay last for about two hours where the therapist tries to make arapport with the client while negotiating the price and informing theclient how the sessions will take place (Mannino, 2015). Thetherapists then organize subsequent sessions, where each of themtakes between 60 minutes and 90 minutes for a family therapy andbetween 45 minutes and 60 minutes for an individual therapy(Skorunka, 2009). Although the number of clients is different for thetwo types of therapy, sessions take approximately equal amount oftime. The number of sessions may vary depending on client’srecovery process, but the client should be able to see results withinan average of ten sessions. Both the family and an individualtherapist allow their clients to set their therapeutic goals byadvising them instead of setting the goals for them.

Typeof client

Boththe family and an individual therapy are similar in terms of the typeof clients who can be treated using these approaches. A familytherapist and an individual therapist can treat clients of all agegroups, including children and old adults (Mannino, 2015). This isbecause both types of therapeutic approaches are designed to addresspsychological challenges irrespective of the client characteristics.However, a family therapist may organize separate sessions forchildren and parents, depending on the nature of the problem beingaddressed, but the most important aspect is that both parents andchildren can be treated.

Typeof issue addresses

Althoughfamily therapy focuses more on relationship issues, both the familyand individual therapy can be used to address similar types ofproblems. For example, a family therapist and an individual therapistmay be called upon to assist clients suffering from substance abuse,depression, anxiety, anger management, and grief and loss (Mannino,2015). However, a family therapy is broader because it can be used toaddress more problems (such as communication problems, parent-childconflict, the effects of an illness in family, and marital problems)affecting the family.


Boththe family and individual therapy are important approaches that areused to address relational and psychological problems. The two typesof therapy differ in terms of number of clients who can be assistedat a time, the main focus of the therapy, objective of the therapist,and the type of therapeutic techniques that can be applied in thefamily and in individual therapy. However, both the family andindividual therapy uphold the principle of collaboration andempowerment of clients in order to help them address challenges ontheir own even after the recommended therapeutic sessions. Inaddition, a family therapist and an individual therapist are requiredto maintain a professional client-therapist relationship, use similartherapeutic strategies to address psychological challenges, and adoptmore or less the same therapeutic processes. Both the family andindividual types of therapy can be used to assist all categories ofclients irrespective of their social characteristics, such as age.


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