There are distinct differences between family and individual therapy as discussed in this paper.The first difference between family and individual therapy is that while individual therapy involves one client being attended to by a single therapist, family therapist is involves many people (i.e. family members).
In family therapy, there is the existence of long-term relationships and support from the family members. In the end, families are able to resolve problems and enhance cooperation. Individual therapy however helps the individual come to realization about his or her goals thus empowering the person to realize his or her full potential.
Whereas individual therapy lays focus on changing the individual only, family therapy considers the needs of the whole group and actually integrates the whole family in the recovery process of the affected individual. As such, family therapy can be said to have external focus (Coombs, 2005).
Individual therapy usually works well with persons who if treated in a group therapy such as family therapy would end up not focusing on the need to alter their behaviors for a healthier life.
This is unlike family therapy where the client is led to living a healthier life through support from family members. Individual therapy can therefore be said to have concentrated focus accompanied by internalizing individual dynamics (Ellis & Dryden, 1997).
Since a family is viewed as a system, family therapy is conceptualized as achieving the desired change through interactions made in the family. The individual client draws strength and motivation to change from the conversations and support provided by the family as a system that is operating in the individual’s life. As such, family therapy lacks maintenance of confidentiality which is completely maintained in individual therapy.
While addressing the problem of anorexia nervosa among youths, it is more advisable to use family therapy in place of individual therapy. Brauser (2010) reports that current findings indicate that family therapy doubles “the effectiveness of adolescent-focused individual therapy at both…6 months and 12-months follow up” (para. 1) in treatment of anorexia nervosa.
This is according to a randomized clinical trial which proved family based therapy to double the restoration of full weight as compared to the effectiveness of individual therapy. The practical benefits of family therapy in treatment of anorexia nervosa are achieved through the involvement of the family in the treatment process and turning around the patient’s environment whether at home or in school.
Elton (1979) provides that individual therapy is preferred to family therapy in situations where the patient has been through traumatic separations. A good example where individual therapy is recommended is when a child has gone through deprivation due to being under many caretakers or several separations. Through transference, the client is helped to regain trust and warm relationships.
Individual therapy may also be fitful if the patient has emotional deprivation as this may not be effectively resolved through family therapy. It is also better to administer individual therapy if for instance a person suffers from an illness or a serious handicap that is not normal among other family members.
It is important to make a differentiation between individual and family therapy during the assessment stage of therapy. This is because the essence of counseling would not be achieved if the right counseling approach is not used. Based on the nature of the problem that a client presents with, the counselor is able to classify and recommend the client to the most effective therapy.
Brauser, D. (2010). Family therapy more effective than individual treatment for adolescents with anorexia. Medscape Medical News. Retrieved 29, Oct. 2010 from
Coombs, R. H. (2005). Family therapy review: preparing for comprehensive and licensing examinations. New Jersey, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc., Publishers.
Ellis, A. and Dryden, W. (1997). The practice of rational emotive behavior therapy. New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company, LLC.
Elton, A. (1979). Indications for selecting family or individual therapy. Journal of Family Therapy, 1(2): 193-201.