Therapeutic groups via video teleconferencing and the impact on group cohesion

Amy Lopez, Brian Rothberg, Emily Reaser, Sarah Schwenk, Rachel Griffin

Abstract

Background: The use of synchronous telemental health for therapy group is a relatively new area of exploration. While telegroups have demonstrated they can be helpful in providing psychoeducation, there is less known about whether synchronous remote groups can develop group cohesion and whether patients can receive the benefit of a supportive group setting.
Methods: A pilot study was conducted comparing group cohesion between patients who participated in a dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) group via video teleconferencing (VTC) and patients who participated in an in-person group.
Results: Findings indicate that while both groups felt equally connected to the facilitator, there were significant differences between the online and in-person groups on the group cohesion scale. Those in the online group did not feel as connected to other group members as those in the in-person group. Qualitative statements indicate that while an in-person group may have been preferable, the convenience of the online group outweighed any negative effects. Attendance was significantly better in the online group, suggesting that use of this technology may help to overcome barriers preventing treatment participation. The focus of this study was on group cohesion and changes in psychiatric symptoms were not evaluated.
Conclusions: The use of telemental health for group therapy appears to be a viable alternative to traditional in-person groups, especially when no other treatment options are available. However, facilitators may need to take extra steps to build group cohesion when members are participating remotely.