Wondering whether to start offering group therapy at your practice? You have several important factors to consider. From provider training to administrative processes, group therapy is different from individual treatment. It may require new skills and new systems at your practice. However, many practitioners find that the benefits of group treatment outweigh the effort of getting started.
If you’re considering whether to offer group therapy, set yourself up for success by asking the right questions and making sure you have the right resources in place.
Benefits of Group Therapy
Group therapy and individual therapy are both effective treatment modalities backed by strong research. Neither is “better” than the other, but they have distinct features and distinct patient benefits.
Group therapy can provide the following:
- Social support. Patients facing mental illness or challenging circumstances often feel alone in their struggles. Meeting others in similar situations can relieve this feeling of isolation and reassure patients that their pain is a normal part of the human condition. In addition to the support received from the therapist or other behavioral health provider leading the group, patients gain the support of several others who are on the same journey.
- Social skills. Patients who seek therapy to address social anxiety, depression-induced isolation, and other issues that affect socialization need a safe space to practice interpersonal skills without fearing ridicule or rejection. A therapy group can be that space.
- Additional insight. The old cliché is true: sometimes, you really can’t see the forest for the trees. Members of group therapy may see aspects of a patient’s behavior or situation that the patient cannot see on their own. Group members who share similar diagnoses and patterns of behavior may be especially good at holding one another accountable to change, due to their own familiarity with the problem.
- Inspiration for success. When group members observe one another overcoming challenges, it inspires hope. They can share techniques for managing symptoms and solving problems. Six or 10 patients working together will create a broader range of ideas and strategies than one patient and one therapist alone.
- Lower cost. In many cases, group therapy costs less than individual therapy. This makes it invaluable to patients who face financial constraints but need mental health services.
- Insight for the therapist. In one-on-one treatment, a provider’s knowledge of a patient is limited by how the patient chooses to describe their problems and symptoms. Conversely, a group setting allows the provider to observe the patient’s responses, attitude, and interpersonal skills in real-time. This can shed light on aspects of the patient’s struggles that wouldn’t have been apparent in private.
How to Know if Group Therapy is a Good Fit for My Practice
Not every provider needs or wants to offer group therapy. Under the right circumstances, however, it can enhance your practice and greatly benefit your patients.
And that’s where you should start: by asking whether group therapy would benefit your particular clientele.
Consider what portion of your patients would utilize this type of treatment. Do you treat patients for issues that traditionally work well for group therapy, such as addiction, depression, social anxiety, grief and loss, etc.? Does your geographic region include a target population that struggles to afford mental health care? Would your referral sources send patients to group therapy programs? If the answer to these questions is yes, group therapy may be a good fit for your practice.
Second, do you have the resources to make it work? If you will lead groups in-person, your office location should offer space for meetings of 6 to 10 people plus the therapist. This space must be private so participants feel safe sharing personal information. If you will lead groups online, you need a telehealth solution capable of handling multiple meeting participants (more on that below).
Don’t forget personnel. Do you have a colleague with appropriate training who can step in and lead a group meeting if you have to miss? Rescheduling groups can be extremely challenging, so having a backup plan when you aren’t available is important.
If you have the demand and resources for group therapy, the last thing you need is the technology in place to support it. Make sure that your scheduling, documenting, and billing processes can accommodate groups and not just individuals.
More Things to Consider Before Beginning a Group Therapy Practice
Before you dive in to group therapy at your practice, make a plan. Prepare for the logistics it will take to manage this new care model.
Group therapy presents different challenges than individual therapy, and not all therapists are trained in this type of treatment. You must know how to:
- Diffuse group conflict
- Facilitate equal participation between members
- Promote group cohesion
- Manage the flow of a group session
Look into specialized training for group therapy if you haven’t led groups before.
Decide What Type of Group to Offer
Different types of treatment require different levels of input from the provider. Support groups, for example, may be primarily patient-led with a behavioral health professional offering guidance for the discussion. Psychoeducational groups, on the other hand, may require therapist-led discussion, with predetermined questions and activities. Some types of groups, such as encounter groups, yield intense interactions. Get a clear picture of how you prefer to lead groups and what type of dynamic(s) you’re trained for, as well as what type of group would benefit your clientele.
Anticipate Scheduling Needs
Finding a meeting time that works for everyone is tough, and scheduling needs can change depending on patient demographics. For example, group members who work traditional weekday schedules may need afternoon, evening, or weekend appointments. A support group for adults providing eldercare, on the other hand, may schedule according to when respite care is available. You may need to be flexible on meeting options.
Establish a Screening Process
Therapy groups are more likely to succeed if patients are screened for their readiness to participate. Do you have the bandwidth to carry out this screening process? Some providers choose to meet with potential participants one-on-one first. Others offer taster sessions, where a potential client visits a group meeting (with members’ permission) to understand how it works.
Systems You Need to Offer Group Therapy
Groups can introduce complications to the systems you already use to manage individual therapy. You will need software solutions that anticipate these complications. Search for software that supports group therapy management in the following areas.
- Scheduling. You’ll need to set appointments for all members of a group simultaneously rather than setting up multiple appointments individually for each one. Find a scheduling software that allows for this option.
- Documentation. Unless you want to copy/paste your group notes into each and every progress note for every participant, you need a note-taking software that will auto-populate one group note into the progress notes of each member. Of course, you’ll also need the ability to edit the individual progress notes as needed.
- Billing. Even billing for individual therapy can be difficult to manage, so billing for groups requires strong organization. Make sure all providers have a clear process for how and when to submit bills for every group member, and seek billing software that provides notifications for unfinished bills, or submitted bills that lack documentation. Know the billing codes needed to get paid for group sessions.
- Group telehealth support. If you will run group sessions online, your telehealth solution should allow more than one person to join the call and should give the therapist strong controls over all participants’ mics, cameras, chat features, and other permissions. It should also feature strong encryption and, ideally, access only through patient portal sign-in.
Plan Ahead for Success
The right resources and processes can help your group therapy program hit the ground running. One of these resources is an EHR that supports group therapy management.
Valant software simplifies the administrative side of group therapy with easy scheduling, seamless documentation, flexible reports, auto-billing, and group telehealth capabilities.
Contact Valant today to see how we can support your group therapy needs.