The use of the Internet as an adjunct to group therapy

The Internet offers communication opportunities and fits into the author's theoretical framework

By John Breeskin, PhD, ABPP

I have been running this particular group for a year and a half now and the diagnosis shared by the group members is not in DSM-IV as it consists of “Existential Despair.” The group has approximately 9 people in it and the attendance is better than average. It is a mixed gender group and the genders are quite mixed, I assure you.

Early in the group history we decided to set up our own Google Group for members only and exchanged emails. While I was very dubious about this step, I decided to check it out carefully and see what would happen.

Related to this point is the fact that I have always encouraged out of group meetings between and among the group members with the carefully stated proviso that anything that happens outside of group between or among group members is group property and can be recalled into the group by any of the participants in the interaction or anyone in the group who simply wants to know what was said.

The group typically would meet for coffee after the group, and at that point, the real therapy would take place. The group members, who range in age from 24 to 72, have taken quickly to the Internet interaction and communicate with each other and amongst ourselves throughout the week. There is no way to categorize the communications as they range all the way from alerts about interesting events in the Washington, D.C., area to letters of condolence for a group member experiencing a personal loss. I use the communication process primarily for information, and I write at least two messages a week about organizational matters.

As far as I can tell, there have been no negative consequences of this new style of interaction. The group members have adopted the new procedure smoothly and, indeed, do not even question its propriety, its confidentiality or the novelty of the connections.

It is obvious that this technique fits comfortably into my overall theoretical framework. If a group therapist is more protectionistic or believes, naively, that group therapy can only take place in a small room, this will not work for everyone and I understand. For me, it has been an extremely new development and I will make it a part of every subsequent group that I run.