Launching Online Group Counseling

By Veder, Barb; Beaudoin, Kelly | The Journal of Employee Assistance, April 2016 | Go to article overview

Launching Online Group Counseling


Veder, Barb, Beaudoin, Kelly, The Journal of Employee Assistance


"While psychological digital services are not for everyone, research continues to cite online programs' positive clinical results, including their ability to reach individuals who otherwise would not seek support."

The digital world touches almost every aspect of people's lives, both at home and in the workplace. As creative minds continue to build technology-driven solutions, once seemingly permanent barriers to information, products, and services are disappearing. Such is the case in Employee and Family Assistance Programs (EFAP), where the scope and accessibility of services have greatly increased with digital technology.

Online Group Counseling, a recently introduced service in EFAP, blends the benefits of group counseling with the accessibility and anonymity possible through digital access. In this type of counseling, participants discuss a similar issue(s) with a counselor in group meetings and benefit from having a shared experience, building relationships, and gaining encouragement from others. Creating groups online means that participants are able to anonymously access support via their smartphone, tablet, or computer, whenever and wherever they like.

The clinical value of therapeutic group solutions has been consistently proven over time. Researchers have discovered that in group counseling:

* Topics of discussion can be quite broad. Group counseling is inclusive. Regardless of the cause, members of a group focused on reducing anxiety, for example, can draw benefits from this form of counseling (Hoffman 2015).

* Group dynamics inspire confidence and validation and encourage learning. Individual members of a group influence each other's behavior and thinking. Research suggests that groups derive their strength from the sharing of experiences. As a result, members benefit from a safe environment where they experience support, self-assurance, understanding, validation, and encouragement from one another. In a group setting, participants learn from similar experiences and internalize new ways of thinking. These dynamics not only influence learning patterns within the group, they also carry over to the relationships that individuals have outside of counseling. The circle of influence of the group is larger than the context in which it exists (DeLucia-Waack 2013).

* An individual's flexibility is developed. Whether participating as a passive observer or an active participant in role-playing exercises and feedback, individuals are exposed to multiple social situations, nurturing their ability to be open to new interactions and helping them develop flexibility in their points of view and situational responses (DeLucia-Waack 2013).

* Following a specific theory ensures that the group functions properly. Group counseling that follows a specific model encourages an atmosphere of engagement, which is unifying. Moreover, in matters of contention, suggested solutions are more readily accepted, and group cohesion is formed. In a best case scenario, an underlying group theory that is "intertwined with group purpose and leader techniques" should be used.

* Cognitive Behavior Therapy continues to prove its effectiveness. Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is one such established base, its efficacy has been proven by rigorous testing and study. CBT focuses on developing new responses to situations by breaking down a person's reaction to stimuli. It then helps the individual create and adopt a positive response, such as goal setting, to replace negative behaviors that inhibit that person's ability to adjust to a particular situation.

* Cognitive Behavior Group Therapy has shown favorable treatment outcomes. Akin to CBT, Cognitive Behavior Group Therapy (CBGT) encourages positive outcomes in treating topic-driven groups. Studies on social anxiety disorder show that in some cases, CBT and CBGT's outcomes are more effective than medication-based treatment. …

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