What about Tele-Group Therapy?

Man pointing at a person on a videocall therapy session. Distance therapy concept.

A Q&A with our very own CEO, Edward Kaftarian MD.

Do you see group therapy sessions on the horizon for telepsychiatry?

Yes, I believe that most forms of mental health treatment can be equally effective as in person care, including group therapy. Remote group therapy has been slower to take hold than one-on-one care given by psychiatrists and mental health clinicians. However, as the world continues to embrace telehealth, I think group therapy will happen more frequently.

What are some of the advantages of remote group therapy?

Remote group therapy is very convenient to all who are involved. Being able to log in for a remote group is easier than fighting traffic to and from where the onsite sessions are located. For this reason, people may be more willing to schedule remote group sessions in their busy lives. Also this mode of healthcare delivery allows greater access to care to remote populations those who have been underserved by onsite care.

Are there certain conditions that benefit more from remote care?

There is insufficient research to determine if group therapy done remotely is more suited for a specific type of patient. However, remote care is often less intimidating than being in person. For example, a patient with an anxiety disorder such as social phobia or agoraphobia may be reluctant to put themselves in front of a group of strangers for the first time. They may be more likely to participate in remote groups instead.

Does remote group therapy allow the participants to develop a bond? How important is that?

One of the main purposes of group therapy is to allow patients to learn from, and be supported by, other members of the group. This happens more easily if there is a sense of solidarity or connection amongst the group members. Can you achieve that same level of connection with remote groups? I think so. Just take care to ensure that all members of the group can see and hear each other clearly at all times. Also, encourage and give space for all members to actively participate in the discussion so that no one is left behind.

What group size do you believe would be ideal?

There is no hard and fast rule- it depends on the topic, instructor, and participants. Nevertheless, the larger the group, the more impersonal it may feel. Having a group size of 4-6 people makes it easier for the group to develop a stronger bond. However, even a group of 15-20 people can develop a bond remotely, it just may take more time and effort to do so. One advantage of a larger group is that an absence of one member may not have as much of an impact on the discussion.

Would you keep the characteristics of the group based on demographics, location, culture, or perhaps topic-focused?

The more group members have in common, the easier it is for them to develop bonds. However, in today’s world, there are so many ways you can categorize people. People of the same race may have vastly different attitudes and values. I think more than anything else, people bond over shared experiences. Also, people with different mental conditions may have great difficulty relating to each other, even if they share the same culture or race. Therefore, I think that a group should be more focused on a specific mental health condition.

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