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Group member attachment and online group therapy

Begging you to help us collect data.

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Society of Group Psychology and Group Psychotherapy. (2022, March 1). Group member attachment and online group therapy.

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Telehealth has gained significant popularity in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and public health guidelines (Burgoyne & Cohn, 2020). In order to continue therapeutic services with as little disruption, mental health professionals have adjusted their practice by providing online options to patients (Burgoyne & Cohn, 2020). Group therapy has also transitioned online albeit little research on the evaluation and effectiveness of this new modality (Weinberg, 2020, 2021). Current surveys have been developed and used to assess group leaders’ perspectives on transitions to online group therapy and patients’ perspectives on transitions (Morel at al. 2021). No study to date has incorporated the effect of individual differences on attitudes of online group treatment. The present study aims to include one individual difference that has received much attention in the literature as it relates to group climate, group cohesion, group behavior, and comfort with interpersonal closeness, group member attachment style (Marmarosh, Markin, Spiegle, 2013). The current study is on-going, and the authors are writing this column for the newsletter to recruit group therapists to give the survey to their group members who have participated in-online group.

Teletherapy has been imperative to providing mental health care during COVID-19, and group therapy addresses many of the issues people have been struggling with (Marmarosh, Forsyth, Strauss, and Burlingame, 2020). Research can help us understand how members experience the transition to on-line group treatment, what has been helpful, and what has hindered the treatment. We need to ask group members what works and what does not. The implications for training, clinical intervention, and research will be explored.

Currently, 26 group members have participated in the study and we expect approximately 80 group members to complete the survey by the conference with your help. Each member completed a survey assessing group members’ perceptions of online group therapy. Questions asked about group cohesion, engagement during online therapy sessions, and the impact of an online platform on the discussion of diversity. Members also completed Experience in Close Relationships Scale (ECR-S, Brennan, Clark, & Shaver, 1998) to assess adult romantic attachment.

Preliminary results suggest that most online group members did not attend group therapy until COVID-19 and rated it equally effective as face-to-face treatment. Specifically, members rated online group cohesion and alliance less than face-to-face groups; however, 40% of the sample rated cohesion and alliance as equivalent for both modalities. In addition, observation of nonverbal communication was rated more difficult by 62% of the group members. Based on our preliminary findings, the benefits of tele-group therapy include convenience, effectiveness, and access to people who otherwise do not have access. Group members stated, “Online group is challenging because of “Disruptions, connectivity issues, privacy issues,” and “Zoom fatigue...I was Zoomed-out by the end.” Other members said, “I prefer online group therapy,” and “Meeting on zoom makes it easier to observe other members at the same time.” Another said, “If it were not online, I would not be able to meet with this group since I live so far away.” As you can see, members had different experiences of tele-group therapy.

At the current time, we have not examined how attachment anxiety/avoidance relate to ratings of group cohesion and alliance because of the small sample size. With your help when the data is collected, we will examine the relationship between attachment anxiety and avoidance and group cohesion, alliance, empathy, and overall satisfaction with online group therapy.

We need your help. Please send this link to members of your online therapy groups and to colleagues running online groups. If a group member clicks the link, they will receive the informed consent and the survey. The study is confidential and does not require the disclosure of any identifiable information. This research has the potential to help many people during COVID-19. 

Take the Survey


Burgoyne, N., and Cohn, A. S. (2020). Teletherapy during COVID-19. Fam. Process 59, 974–988. doi: 10.1111/famp.12589

Brennan, K.A., Clark, C.L., & Shaver, P.R. (1998). Self-report measurement of adult attachment: An integrated overview. In J.A. Simpson & W.S. Rholes (Eds.), Attachment theory and close relationships (pp. 46-76). New York: Guilford Press.

Marmarosh, C. L., Forsyth, D. R., Strauss, B., & Burlingame, G. M. (2020). The psychology of the COVID-19 pandemic: A group-level perspective. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 24(3), 122-134.

Marmarosh, C. L., Markin, R. D., & Spiegel, E. G. (2013b). Diversity in group psychotherapy: Attachment, ethnicity, and race. In C. L. Marmarosh, R. D. Markin, & E. B. Spiegel (Eds.), Attachment in group psychotherapy (pp. 189-209). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association Press. doi: 10.1037/14186-005

Morel, M., Robelo, A., Solorio, A., Koroma, M.Z., Xing, F., & Marmarosh, C. (August 2021). Online Group Psychotherapy During COVID-19: The Group Member Perspective. 2021. American Psychological Association – Annual Conference

Weinberg, H. (2019). Online Group Therapy: In Search of a New Theory?. In Theory and practice of online therapy (pp. 174-187). Routledge.

Weinberg, H. (2020). Online group psychotherapy: Challenges and possibilities during COVID-19—A practice review. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 24(3), 201.