Challenges that mental health providers continue to face as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic are numerous. Although there is high demand for mental health services, many populations continue to face obstacles that limit their access to psychotherapy—one such obstacle including the number of available mental health service providers. One important and effective way to meet the surge in demand for mental health services is by means of group therapy. As such, training in group therapy must be prioritized and strengthened to ensure that clinicians, and especially clinicians-in-training can offer care that meets growing communal mental health service needs and expectations.
While each nation continues to confront the pandemic in different ways, individuals worldwide report increased rates of anxiety, depression, grief, substance use disorders (SUD), and obsessive-compulsive behaviors (Mayo Clinic, n.d.). COVID-19 continues to be a common denominator, affecting populations across different ethnicities, races, and both socio-economic and disability statuses. Moreover, studies show that those who had the virus are at higher risk of developing psychiatric and psychological conditions (Belluck, 2022).
The efficacy of group psychotherapy has been studied with a variety of populations experiencing the aforementioned conditions, with multiple clinical studies highlighting efficacy in reducing anxiety and depressive symptomatology (Thimm & Antonsen, 2014; Fawcett et al., 2020). Furthermore, this modality is an evidence-based, cost-effective practice that fosters social support and contributes to the improvement of psychosocial functioning (AGPA, n.d.). As the world continues to experience changes brought on by the pandemic, group psychotherapy can provide a forum for individuals to share their experiences with others and foster resilience and self-worth through the instillation of hope (Yalom & Leszcz, 2005).
Strengthening group psychotherapy training
Psychology programs are strongly encouraged to consider augmenting students’ preparation in group psychotherapy. In addition to increased training, psychology students need theoretical education focused on strategies pertaining to facilitating group interventions in a world impacted by COVID-19. Telehealth should be incorporated into training, emphasizing the importance of rendering services that address increased rates of anxiety, depression, SUDs, grief, and other reported psychological conditions as a result of the pandemic. The following are recommendations for enhancing students’ group therapy training amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Increase opportunities for practica and experiential training in providing group psychotherapy both in-person and via telehealth.
Invite psychology trainees to shadow experienced mental health professionals during the facilitation of group sessions and interventions.
Motivate students to practice group interventions with one another in the classroom setting (e.g., role play).
Offer didactics and seminars focused on adapting and incorporating group psychotherapy interventions into telehealth modalities and with case studies and topics of focus related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Engage in discussion with students about ways to consider accessibility and accessibility related concerns when planning and facilitating group therapy and interventions by means of telehealth.
Encourage the use of resources offered by organizations focused on group psychotherapy, including those distributed by the American Group Psychotherapy Association and APA’s Society of Group Psychology and Group Psychotherapy (Div. 49).
Provide students with information about certifications in group psychotherapy which are often designed to expand expertise and validate eligible mental health providers, and support students who may be seeking such opportunities.
American Group Psychotherapy Association [AGPA]. (n.d.). Evidence on the effectiveness of group therapy. AGPA. https://www.agpa.org/home/practice-resources/evidence-based-group-practice
Belluck, P. (2022). Covid patients may have increased risk of developing mental health problems. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/16/health/covid-depression-anxiety.html
Fawcett, E., Neary, M., Ginsburg, R., & Cornish, P. (2020). Comparing the effectiveness of individual and group therapy for students with symptoms of anxiety and depression: A randomized pilot study. Journal of American College Health, 68(4), 430–437. https://doi.org/10.1080/07448481.2019.1577862
Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). COVID-19 and your mental health. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/mental-health-covid-19/art-20482731
Thimm, J.C., Antonsen, L. Effectiveness of cognitive behavioral group therapy for depression in routine practice. (2014). BMC Psychiatry, 14(292). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-014-0292-x
Yalom, I. D., & Leszcz, M. (Collaborator). (2005). The theory and practice of group psychotherapy (5th ed.). Basic Books/Hachette Book Group.