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Virtual Group Therapy is Convenient, Effective In Treating Mental Health Challenges

Image of Virtual Group Therapy is Convenient, Effective In Treating Mental Health Challenges. Virtual group therapy—gathering regularly online with fellow group members to discuss mental health challenges—is an effective, and convenient, alternative to in-person group therapy or even one-on-one therapy.

[Editor’s note: This article, part two of three dealing with mental health therapies, discusses challenges and treatments. If you or someone you know is having a mental health crisis, call the 988 National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline and press “1”, or text 838255, or chat for the dedicated Veterans Crisis Line and Military Crisis Line. For Spanish, press “2”.]

Virtual group therapy—gathering regularly online with fellow group members to discuss mental health challenges—is an effective, and convenient, alternative to in-person group therapy or even one-on-one therapy.

With virtual therapy, “you can access this support from wherever you are, which is extremely convenient. And it's not just convenient—it's effective. People are benefiting from it and recommending it to their friends,” said Shira Max, a doctorate and licensed clinical psychologist at the Naval Branch Health Clinic Navy Training Center in San Diego.

“For military families, particularly those in remote areas or stationed overseas, accessing mental health care can be challenging,” Max said. “Virtual group therapy eliminates the need for travel to clinics, long waits at base entry points, and time spent in waiting rooms.”

The Naval Medical Center San Diego and Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton have used virtual group therapy for more than four years. The practice has existed since the 1950’s. In 1959, the Nebraska Psychiatric Institute used early videoconferencing to provide group therapy, long-term therapy, consultation-liaison psychiatry, and medical student training at the Nebraska state hospital in Norfolk, Max said.

Patients Say Virtual Therapy Works

Patient surveys conducted after each virtual therapy session “have consistently reported high levels of satisfaction,” Max said. “We've found that participants experience improvement in the symptoms or problems that led them to seek treatment. Additionally, they report feeling a strong sense of connection to their fellow group members and are willing to openly share their thoughts and feelings.”

“These findings demonstrate the effectiveness of virtual group therapy in providing meaningful support and fostering a sense of community, even in a digital environment,” said Max.

“As we continue to refine our assessment of virtual behavioral health groups, we aim to further understand and enhance the patient experience, ensuring that virtual group therapy remains a valuable resource for military families,” Max said.

Making Virtual Group Therapy the Norm

“The group model of care requires a commitment to shift to this format at any given [military hospital] or clinic, and policies to support that commitment and change,” said Ronda Renosky-Vittori, a doctorate in behavioral health, and program area manager of psychological disorders treatment research at the Science and Technology Portfolio Management Branch of the Defense Health Agency Research and Engineering Directorate in Silver Spring, Maryland. Her background includes leading group therapy.

She has this advice on weighing whether in-person or virtual group therapy could be the right choice for mental health treatment.

“Have you ever had a friend or a group of friends you’ve confided in, but after a while you realize that they aren’t giving you the feedback that you need to make real progress on the challenges you’re bringing to them? Because group therapy has a somewhat structured process to the way it flows, it’s like taking that group of friends and calibrating their guidance and support to be just what you need, when you need it,” said Renosky-Vittori.

“If you're facing challenges and could use some support, know that we want to help connect you with the right resources that can guide you through,” Max said. “Virtual group therapy offers a lot of benefits, so if it's offered as a resource—be open to it, because it's likely to help you.”

Group therapy’s success is seen at military hospitals and clinics.

“The increased openness and positive interest in groups that has happened” at the U.S. Army’s Fort Leonard Wood garrison in Missouri “in only the last year bodes really well for the future of groups in behavioral health over the next five to 10 years,” said U.S. Army Maj. Daniel Good, a doctorate in clinical psychology, and the installation’s deputy director of psychological health.

“As culture continues to shift and change, I believe group [therapy] will take hold and become the new expectation and the new accepted norm,” he predicted.

Fort Leonard Wood was part of a six-month pilot program on targeted care for mental health, along with 10 other DHA military hospitals and clinics that lasted from April to October 2023. Targeted Care is being introduced across the Military Health System currently and is expected to be completed in 2025.

Targeted Care standardizes the patient intake and evaluation process and ensures the patient gets the specific care he or she needs in a timely manner, whether it’s an individual appointment, group therapy, nonclinical support, or specialty mental health treatment, such as medications or inpatient services.

Additional Resources

May is the annual Mental Health Awareness Month, and this year’s DHA theme is “Defend Your Mental Health.” For anyone experiencing a mental health crisis, needing immediate assistance, or simply wanting to talk, confidential help is available 24/7/365.




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