This fact sheet will provide some tips for leaders who have transitioned their support groups to a virtual platform, or for those looking to start a virtual group. Keep in mind that each group is different and these tips may not always apply.
- Pick a virtual platform: There are plenty of great options for virtual platforms, like Zoom, Google Hangout, Webex, Uberconference, Microsoft Teams, GoToMeeting, Zoho Meeting, and Ringcentral. Whichever platform you choose, be sure to research pricing, security/privacy settings, recording, and integrated calendar options, etc.
- Informed consent: In addition to filling out contact information (name, emergency contact, email etc.), consider creating informed consent forms including rules regarding confidentiality, recording, or taking pictures of the group, along with any other set of rules that might be important.
- Pre-group screening: Try to meet individually with group members or new prospects before transitioning to virtual meetings. Discuss technical issues like the individual’s camera, sound, and whether they will be using headphones. Do they have a space to quietly join the meeting? If they have technical issues, can they log back on? Also discuss why they want to join the group and how they think this group will be helpful to them.
- Virtual aid: If possible, try having an assistant during your meetings, one that can keep up with the chat section of the virtual platform. This person can post resources, answer quick questions, let people into the meeting, mute everyone if needed, etc.
- Group leaders: Think of ways to involve everyone and make the meeting fun. Be an active leader: call out names, ask questions you would normally ask during face-to-face meetings, conduct one-on-one breakout sessions, and have structured activities. Remember to figure out a good size for your group, one that is conducive to interaction, will not cause many interruptions, and will not let others remain unnoticed.
- Be flexible: Keep in mind that not many people have access to the internet or may not be technologically savvy. Allow people to join in through the phone if it does not mess up the group’s dynamic or interrupt the flow of activities.
- Young audience: It’s important to stress confidentiality and collaborate with a parent or guardian if you have teens or children participating in the meeting.
- Guide to Starting a Support Group (IOCDF)
- Support Group Planning Sheet (IOCDF)
- G.O.A.L. Group Handbook. (IOCDF)
- A Guide to Running a Mental Health Support Group for Teens (Josh Steinberg)
- Quick Guide to Teletherapy Platforms American Group Psychotherapy Association (AGPA)
- Informed Consent for Group Therapy by Telehealth APA’s Society of Group Psychology and Group Psychotherapy
- Practice Guidelines for Group Psychotherapy APA
- How to Do Group Therapy Using Telehealth APA
- Cohesion in group therapy: A meta-analysis (Scholarly Article)