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- Best overall: Talkspace
- Best for therapy newbies: Grouport
- Best for 24/7 community support: 7 Cups
- Best free platform: TherapyTribe
- Best for specialized or in-depth treatment: Good Therapy
- Best boutique option: Catalyss Counseling
Whether you already have a regular therapy routine or you want to speak with a professional for the first time, online group therapy is a great option — especially if you have a busy schedule and find it tough to make time for appointments.
By going online, you cut out your commuting time and have more flexibility to make online group therapy appointments.
As medical services move online in order to keep people safe, many people may find that online group counseling or virtual mental health groups suit their needs. Here’s everything you need to know about online group therapy.
“Online group therapy is where a mental health professional, such as a psychologist, social worker, counselor, or psychiatrist meets with a number of patients together and provides psychotherapy,” says J. Ryan Fuller, PhD, a clinical psychologist of New York Behavioral Health.
Rather than attending a therapist’s office in person, you would attend a group over the internet, usually via video chat (although this might involve voice calls and chat room discussions, too).
The important thing to remember is that, while online group therapy involve other people experiencing the same issues, it will always be led by a mental health professional.
While online group therapy has become something of a necessity due to the COVID-19 pandemic, studies have found that digital treatments are actually preferable for some people.
A 2019 study found that only 44.5 percent of patients reported a preference for in-person treatment.
Mike Delaney, Clinical Director of Delamere Health, notes that the pandemic has changed the therapy landscape.
“Online support groups really have come into their own during COVID-19…. Therapists have pivoted and adapted their process to work virtually, through Zoom or FaceTime,” he says. “I used to think that I needed to feel the energy of the person to be able to work with them on an intuitive level, but I admit that COVID-19 has proven to me that this isn’t the case.”
As with any therapy session, online group therapy will be tailored to a person’s particular needs and will help them explore their condition alongside other people. Some of the conditions that might be treated via online group therapy include:
“The main difference between group therapy and a support group is the presence of a mental health professional who acts as a group facilitator. Without an educated and experienced therapist, you cannot have a therapy group,” says Eric Patterson, LPC.
Online support groups are often peer-led.
As a result, many people may be interested in exploring online support groups alongside online group therapy, as a complementary treatment.
Online group therapy provides many benefits, especially during a time when meeting medical professionals face-to-face is either difficult or inadvisable, such as during a pandemic.
As the therapy sessions are conducted over the internet, there are few accessibility barriers, as well as no need to commute to an appointment.
“The main benefit of online group therapy is convenience. It provides treatment opportunities for people who are otherwise unable to devote the time to attending in-person,” says Jeremy Barnett, LMH, CASAC, an expert at Help.org.
“In addition, online group therapy is more accessible for someone who may be unable to leave the house for any reason, such as depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues,” Barnett continues.
Online group therapy sessions also provide a greater level of confidentiality.
“In-person groups often involve waiting rooms and entering and leaving a facility,” Fuller says. “Some people may be concerned about being identified in those situations. Online therapy can make members more comfortable by being able to do therapy from their own home.”
For those hoping to try in-person group therapy in the future, attending online group therapy might be a great introduction.
“An online support group can help someone feel more comfortable expressing themselves, building up to a face-to-face meeting at a later date,” Delaney explains.
Online group therapy could be useful for anyone exploring their therapy options, especially if they feel uncomfortable about meeting one-on-one with a therapist, or if they function best when surrounded by peers.
“Group therapy is a great choice for many people, as you can receive the benefit of therapy paired with the peer support of interacting with others who share similar problems and struggles,” Patterson says. “People in group therapy settings like how they can gain different types of feedback from the therapist and other group members.”
Online therapy can also be effective for various issues.
“There is some scientific research that indicates online therapy is just as effective as in-person therapy,” Fuller says. “Group therapy has also been shown to be incredibly effective for anxiety, depression, anger, self-injury, and eating disorders.”
It’s also worth noting that online group therapy might be a cost-effective option for anyone who is unsure if they can afford treatment.
Online group therapy, and online therapy in general, isn’t for everyone.
If you don’t have a strong enough internet connection for video conference calls, that can affect the quality of the session. If you live with roommates or a large family and don’t generally have the privacy you need to do a therapy session at home, that can be a factor as well.
In addition, not all people enjoy therapy in a group setting. While many people like sharing and listening to a group, others may prefer one-on-one therapy instead.
You know yourself best and what you would benefit from in a therapy setting.
To choose the best online group therapy options, we considered many criteria, including:
- ease of signup
- user-friendly platform
- range of services provided
- positive consumer reviews
- Price: starts at $69 per week, based on location and plan
Talkspace has over 1 million users, making it a popular choice for online therapy. This platform offers both individual and group therapy, as well as psychiatry, and allows messaging with therapists 24/7.
You can also customize your monthly plan to fit your needs, whether you’re looking for one group session per month or one per week, and you can modify it anytime if your needs change.
Best for therapy newbies
- Price: $35 per week
Grouport specializes in online group therapy, making it the first stop for anyone looking to join a virtual group session. Each group has no more than 12 members and is led by a licensed therapist.
The cost to join is minimal compared with other platforms. You can cancel anytime, making it an affordable option for anyone who is new to therapy and wants to try it out without making a significant investment.
Best for 24/7 community support
- Price: $150 per month
This online therapy platform provides lots of options when it comes to choosing a therapist or exploring online group therapy for everything from grief and PTSD to social anxiety and sexual health.
What makes 7 Cups stand out, however, is its free 24/7 online peer-to-peer support groups, which allow you to connect with people experiencing similar conditions.
Best free option
- Price: free
TherapyTribe is a great resource if you’re looking for a support group, or simply want to find out what your options are. It includes a free online support community available to all, plus help finding the right therapist.
The site’s various “tribes” for peer-to-peer counseling include depression, marriage and family, anxiety, addiction, and LGBTQIA+.
Best for specialized or in-depth treatment
- Price: varies based on provider
Good Therapy has a large database of therapists and professionals specializing in a number of mental health concerns. The site also offers resources for marriage counseling, group therapy, rehab, and residential treatment centers.
If you’re looking for something specific with your treatment, or if you need more in-depth support, you can likely find the resources you need through this well curated platform.
Best boutique option
- Price: $40–$55 per group session, plus $150 for intake appointment
This Colorado-based therapy practice offers regular online therapy groups you can sign up for. Current specialized sessions include a “meaningful connections group,” a postpartum group, and general men’s and women’s support groups.
If you don’t feel like you click with the larger therapy platforms, a smaller business like this one could be a better fit for you.
What should I expect during an online group therapy session?
Typically, your therapist or group leader will serve as the facilitator of your group.
In your first session, group members will likely be encouraged to introduce themselves and share about themselves. Then, the therapist will open the floor up to anyone who wants to speak. Group members may be invited to give feedback or ask questions, and then the next person who is ready to talk will have their turn.
Do I need to talk during online group therapy?
In a word, no. You can do whatever makes you feel most comfortable.
You can choose to simply listen and digest the stories of the others in your group. However, you may get more out of your therapy sessions if you’re willing to be vulnerable and share your truth with your group members.
What if I don’t like my group?
Typically, your therapist or group leader forms a group in which issues and personalities will meld together well.
But if you don’t feel comfortable sharing in your group, or if you don’t think you’re getting anything out of the therapy sessions, it’s worth speaking with your therapist about your concerns.
Online group therapy has many benefits. Whether you’re new to therapy or you’ve enjoyed therapy for years, meeting virtually could be a good addition to your current schedule.
From finding support in the other attendees and learning from their experiences, to understanding yourself better with the help of a licensed professional, online therapy gives you the freedom to access treatment from your home.
Amy Mackelden is the weekend editor at Harper’s BAZAAR, and her bylines include Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, ELLE, The Independent, Nicki Swift, Bustle, xoJane, and HelloGiggles. She’s written about health for MS Society, MS Trust, The Checkup, The Paper Gown, Folks, HelloFlo, Greatist, and Byrdie. She has an unhealthy love for the “Saw” movies and previously spent all her money on Kylie Cosmetics. Find her on Instagram.