In a time when many clients feel isolated and in need of human connection, virtual group therapy offers a solution. Virtual group therapy allows clients to feel less alone and more supported — all from the comfort and safety of their own homes. As a therapist, you still get to lead your clients in the right direction and facilitate empowering conversations as you would during in-person sessions. You can also enjoy the potential to grow your practice and enhance your services by offering virtual group therapy.
If you’re ready to take group therapy sessions into the virtual world, we’re here to help. This post explores the current benefits, trends and importance of virtual group therapy and provides tips for making the switch.
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Table of Contents
- The Importance of Virtual Group Therapy in a Time of Social Distancing
- Making the Switch to Virtual Group Therapy
- The Benefits of Virtual Group Therapy
- How Virtual Group Therapy Is Helping Front-Line Healthcare Workers
- Transition to Telehealth Smoothly With ICANotes
The Importance of Virtual Group Therapy in a Time of Social Distancing
Most therapists now hold online therapy sessions to protect themselves and clients from exposure to the coronavirus. According to a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA), 76% of clinicians solely provide virtual counseling services due to the pandemic. In general, telehealth has grown substantially and has become more accessible, so healthcare professionals can treat patients without needing to leave their homes.
According to market research, telehealth visits grew 50% in March 2020, and analysts predict virtual visits could reach a billion by the end of the year. In particular, group therapy is ideal for telehealth because it eliminates the risk of spreading illnesses among a group of people sharing a small space. It’s crucial clients still have access to group settings despite the current circumstances to get the support they need.
A survey conducted by the University of Southern California found that 1 in 3 people feels lonely during the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing from 1 in 5 before the pandemic. Many people presently feel anxious, depressed and afraid of getting sick or losing their job. Individuals who are already prone to depression or anxiety are even more at risk of psychological harm resulting from pandemic life and social distancing.
Virtual group therapy can reassure clients that they are not alone with their feelings and that everything they’re experiencing is expected with a public health emergency. It also helps them combat loneliness and fulfill their need to connect with others who struggle with the same problems. Lastly, virtual group therapy can address the uncertainties everyone feels in a non-judgmental setting, ease symptoms of depression and anxiety, and spread hope. Thanks to the internet and modern technology, counselors can still provide this much-needed service to their clients through a telehealth platform.
Making the Switch to Virtual Group Therapy
If you’ve never conducted virtual group therapy sessions before, it may be hard to envision. You might wonder how you’ll still comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), or how you can make it easy for clients to participate. In practice, the process is simpler than you might think.
First, telehealth software is designed to help you through the transition. For example, with ICANotes electronic health record (EHR) software, you can add an integrated telehealth feature to your account. The telehealth feature is an easy-to-use, HIPAA-compliant video conferencing platform that launches directly from your EHR interface.
ICANotes also makes it easy to take notes for multiple individuals in a virtual group therapy session. You can simply drag the group therapy session onto a second monitor while you take notes simultaneously. When you’re ready to take notes, you can click on template content to quickly record remarks for each individual or add your own observations. Other tools included with ICANotes simplify practice management. For example, you can automate appointment reminders to save time and reduce no-shows.
Besides using a reliable and intuitive telehealth platform, follow these tips to make the switch as seamless as possible:
- Set guidelines: Before you start online therapy, consider sending clients emails with tips to help them prepare. You might include advice for setting up their computer and making their space comfortable. Encourage them to test their Wi-Fi so they know they can participate in a video conference. It’s also a good idea to set aside time during the first session to answer questions, address concerns and discuss a plan if a group member gets disconnected.
- Show clients around: In the real world, you might show a new client around your office, so they know where to go when it’s time to leave or if they need to use the bathroom. A physical tour also helps them see that your office is private when they are sitting in the room with you. Treat the virtual world the same way, and help clients feel comfortable. Show them the room where you are holding the sessions and reassure them it is a private setting. Try to have virtual group sessions in the same location each week, so clients know what to expect.
- Give it a test run: Before you start virtual group therapy sessions, turn on your camera to see what clients will see. Consider the space behind you, and adjust it if you prefer that it’s free of distractions or want to feature a soothing element like a plant. Also, test the lighting and audio before you start, and consider holding a video call with a friend, colleague or family member to ensure you’re set up well.
- Have a backup plan: Make sure you have a backup plan in case you experience technical issues. First, check your internet speed and make sure it’s fast enough for video conferencing. You can run an internet speed test through Google. You’ll need at least four megabits per second (Mbps) if you are the only internet user in your home, but it’s recommended to have 10 Mbps for the highest quality. If your internet fails, be ready to tether your computer to your phone.
The Benefits of Virtual Group Therapy
Through virtual group therapy, you can help clients receive greater emotional support as they work on achieving treatment goals. You might hold virtual therapy groups to address recent concerns relating to the pandemic or work on topics such as addiction, grief or divorce. No matter what you choose to focus on in your group, you can help clients feel less alone, build positive connections and overcome unique challenges. Here are the benefits of virtual group therapy for your clients:
- Provides a network of support: Considering the current circumstances, clients might hesitate to turn to friends or family for support and not want to add more to their burdens. During group therapy sessions, clients will get a chance to build a strong support network they can turn to outside of therapy. This can help clients stick to their treatment plans and feel less alone with their everyday lives.
- Addresses self-care: As a result of the pandemic, clients’ self-care routines may have come to a halt. For example, clients who used to relieve anxiety by going to the gym may no longer have that option. Others who used to feel less depressed after meeting with friends for dinner also have to think of new ways to fill their social needs. During virtual group therapy sessions, clients can share their ideas and creative ways to prioritize self-care, despite what’s going on in the world.
- Offers various resolutions: Group therapy isn’t just about clients taking turns talking and getting advice from the counselor. During a session, clients can share feedback, experiences, insights and hope with each other to overcome problems like loneliness. They might share new ways to cope with issues or provide ideas for overcoming a unique and challenging situation. Clients also get to hear thoughts from a range of personalities and backgrounds and may discover something that can help them view their problems in a new way.
- Puts problems into perspective: Clients might feel that they are the only ones experiencing mental health issues. During group therapy, they’ll hear others talk about similar struggles. They may quickly realize they are not alone, and there is no need to remain silent about their concerns.
- Increases accessibility and safety: In general, online therapy offers numerous benefits for clients because it’s convenient and minimizes exposure to illnesses. For example, clients can meet with the group from the comfort of their home, and they don’t have to worry about driving or finding a ride. This means if a client lives an hour away from any therapy office, they can still attend a group session and get the support they need.
Virtual group therapy can also help your practice because it allows you to expand your services and offer something clients need — connecting with others. If you’re concerned about the value of group therapy for clients, know that group therapy sessions have been found to be just as effective and sometimes more effective than individual therapy. As a counselor, you can use telehealth to:
- Increase revenue: Group therapy can be an excellent way to increase revenue for your practice without adding too much time to your schedule. It also allows you to provide services for more clients at once. For example, you might hold a virtual group therapy session once a week for an hour, and invite 15 clients to join.
- Attract clients: Clients in your area may be looking for extra support and searching specifically for therapists who offer virtual group therapy. By providing something people currently want and need, you can attract new clients to your practice and help your business grow.
- Take care of yourself: By offering group therapy sessions virtually, you get to support and treat clients without increasing your risk of exposure to illnesses. This can help you keep your own fears and pandemic-related concerns in check so you can be your best self for your clients.
How Virtual Group Therapy Is Helping Front-Line Healthcare Workers
Virtual group therapy trends aim to help clients cope with uncertainties and negative emotions relating to the current pandemic. Although virtual group therapy can help anyone, front-line healthcare workers may find it especially beneficial.
Front-line healthcare workers, such as nurses, doctors, caregivers, emergency responders and anyone who interacts with patients, are at the highest risk of becoming infected with SARS-CoV-2. This adds tremendous stress to their lives as they try to protect themselves and their families from exposure, while at the same time caring for their patients.
Some healthcare professionals may isolate themselves from their families to prevent them from getting sick, so they may also face loneliness alongside fear. Other factors such as excessive workloads, lack of personal protective equipment or feeling unsupported can worsen the psychological impact of COVID-19. For example, according to one study, 50% of healthcare workers report depression symptoms, and 34% experience insomnia due to the pandemic.
Front-line healthcare workers who need emotional support or are worried about the psychological effects of the pandemic can participate in virtual group therapy sessions to share their concerns, experiences and coping strategies in a safe, supportive environment. It’s critical that front-line healthcare workers address any mental health issues they may be experiencing for their own well-being, so they can continue providing care to their patients. According to a review from April 2020, social support causes a reduction in stress and anxiety in medical staff.
If you run a private practice, you might consider offering virtual group therapy sessions intended for front-line healthcare workers to help them cope with the stress and pressure they face on the job and in their lives. By doing so, you can show your appreciation for the healthcare workers in your community, and group members may think of you first if they need to refer a patient to a mental health counselor. You may even decide to adjust your prices for these sessions by implementing a discount or simply asking for donations as a token of gratitude for the workers’ contributions.
Transition to Telehealth Smoothly With ICANotes
If you’ve decided to move group therapy sessions online, ICANotes can help. ICANotes EHR was designed for behavioral health professionals and offers time-saving features, such as customizable note-taking templates, a patient portal, billing solutions and an integrated telehealth platform. With the telehealth feature, you can easily launch virtual group therapy sessions and take accurate notes at the same time. If you’d like to reduce documentation time and offer greater convenience for your clients, sign up for your free trial of ICANotes today.
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Clinical Director October has been a Registered Nurse for over 15 years. She is board certified in Mental Health and Psychiatric Nursing. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She also graduated with bachelor and master degrees in Nursing from Western Governors University.