Group therapy can use many of the same psychological approaches as individual mental health care and is often done in combination with some form of one-on-one therapy. Connecting patients through telehealth creates a group dynamic that can build community, reduce feelings of isolation, and offer new perspectives.
Here are a few considerations to keep in mind:
- Pre-screen group members: Group members may have various needs, experiences, or personalities. It is helpful to screen each potential patient to make sure every member can benefit from group therapy and that their needs match the goals of the group.
- Create detailed consent forms: Group telebehavioral or telemental health sessions involve multiple people and are conducted outside of a controlled setting like an office. Patient consent forms should be available online. The consent forms should outline any associated risks, benefits, and limits to confidentiality.
- Develop group guidelines: Make clear ground rules covering what is acceptable and what is not. Some common ground rules include requiring all participants to have their camera on, attend from a room where they can be alone during the session, and use the digital “raise hand” feature (or raise their hand) when they want to speak. Address housekeeping and logistical topics too, like how many missed sessions are allowed and how to contact the group leader(s).
- Select your settings and technology: Choose the telehealth video platform that best suits your needs for encryption and privacy, user controls, and more. Go through all of the settings ahead of time to select the options that provide the highest level of privacy. Think about what will help you and the group communicate effectively such as screen sharing options or a virtual whiteboard.
- Be engaging: When you are on screen instead of in person, it is even more important to be conscious of the group dynamic and take steps to keep group members interested, energized, and engaged. Start with introductions and greetings using first names only for privacy. Make eye contact with group members by looking into the camera, and use body language and hand gestures to help express your ideas. Build in moments for patients to interact and contribute to the conversation, such as break out rooms or pair discussions.
Group teletherapy benefits
- Improve coping strategies with advice and tips from other patients
- Create a sense of belonging and build a trusted support system outside of group sessions
SpotlightUniversity of California, Davis Center for Health and Technology
University of California, Davis Center for Health and Technology researchers, in partnership with five rural Indian Health Services clinics, are studying the impact of telebehavioral health consultations on both adults and children within tribal communities. The study, called Tele-Behavioral Health for American Indians Affected by Mental Illness, also examines the financial side of tele-behavioral health care and potential funding sources to bring more telebehavioral services to these communities. Read more about the UC Davis Center for Health and Technology .