PG14 The specificities of conducting online therapy groups
Reflections and observations of a psychodramatist
Pavel Kornienko (Moscow, Russia) — psychologist, psychodramatist, psychodrama trainer and supervisor. Member of IAGP. Head and lead trainer of long-term professional psychodrama education programs in Moscow, Ryazan, Chisinau (Republic of Moldova) and other cities. Head of “Contemporary Psychodrama Workshop” School (Moscow). More about the author: https://psy-education.ru/link-en/pavel-kornienko
I would like to express my gratitude to Taina Bezrukova, Natalia Frolova and Irina Labzina, my first readers and the article’s editors in Russian.
I would like to thank those who helped me translate this article into English: Olga Simakova, Jane Pak, Adriana Mirza Balan, Darya Shkrebo, Kseniya Nemirovskaya, Anastasia Pashina, Margarita Smirnova and Olya Tapiola. Special heartfelt thanks to Kate Bradshaw Tauvon for correcting the English version at its earlier stage.
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Working with online groups
- 2.1 Immediate challenges of online groups
- 2.2 Creating a safe space
- 2.3 First contact with the new format
- 2.4 What can the group leader do?
- 2.4.1 Make active listening more visible and more expressed
- 2.4.2 Support participants’ response to each other
- 2.4.3 Organize group process that involves all participants
- 2.5 Online warm-ups: specific goals and examples
- 3 Group psychodramatic actions
- 4 The protagonist-centered session in online psychodrama group
- 4.1 How to choose the protagonist
- 4.2 How to do individual work for the protagonist in the group
- 4.3 Does the protagonist look at the stage or at the role in front of him/her?
- 4.4 Should the director try to replicate offline psychodrama in online format?
- 4.5 Psychodrama techniques in the online format
- 5 The leader’s main tasks and their implementation in online work
- 5.1 How to reduce the initial anxiety
- 5.2 How to make group relationships meaningful for the participants
- 5.3 How to help the group get a sense of togetherness
- 5.4 How to help the participants get in touch with their feelings
- 5.5 How to help the participants be in the active position
- 5.6 Summary of all section in two tables
- 6 Annexes
1.1 Working online during the spring lockdown
Because of the coronavirus lockdown, group therapists around the world have been forced to think about conducting group sessions online. Honestly speaking, I have always been rather skeptical about this format for groups. I had the impression that it would be impossible to create the same mystery and atmosphere online as in real-life psychodrama. I changed my mind after a few weeks of working with groups online. Now, I dare to suggest that we will harness this format fully without compromising on quality.
I have been leading online groups since March 2020. Despite my initial scepticism, group therapy works online! I have witnessed myself both the group tele and all Yalom’s group psychotherapy factors materialised. This is more than enough to suggest that we would go further in developing this format for the groups!
This discovery has left me extremely optimistic and encouraged my desire to work with online groups, as well as to write this text. Under the current circumstances — both the panic and the uncertainty caused by Covid-19 around the world — we need group psychotherapy more than ever. Thanks to a meeting organized by the Psychodrama-Online Section under the leadership of Viktor Semenov on April 1, 2020, I realized that many Russian psychodramatists were thinking alike. I am glad to join my colleagues with my contribution to this work.
It looks like some of our educational sessions on group psychotherapy that have been conducted earlier offline can now be moved online. This will be the consequence of Covid-19. Online work has now received a serious impetus, and it would be wise to include this format into future educational programs from the beginning.
In this text, I have gathered thoughts and ideas from my own experience of working with online groups over the past three months. I have benefited from reflecting on my work; these reflections help me understand things from another perspective. I would be happy if they would be useful for my readers. I would also be grateful for your feedback, questions and suggestions!
1.2 First impressions and scepticism of participants
The first impressions of online group participants were more negative than positive. Two more frequent complaints were the following: “I cannot feel emotionally connected nor can I feel (or connect with) other participants” and “online participation is physically tiring.” As I discovered later on, these two difficulties were easy to fix. It takes longer to start feeling connected to the group. The longer the experience, the more connected a participant will feel. Moreover, it can be intensified by specific activities from the side of the psychodrama director.
Some experienced participants faced additional difficulty — they felt differently in an online group than in their earlier offline groups. It seems that they expected that the change of format would not impact how they feel in the group. Some participants connected this discomfort with the online format itself. However, this was not helpful nor productive. What they needed was the group leader’s attention and acceptance. Their discomfort and frustration also needed acceptance to help them move towards a more constructive attitude towards the situation. This phenomenon should be seen through the same lens as the discomfort of being in an offline group. Participants should be encouraged to think along the following lines: “What can I do to be more to be included and benefit more from the group?” Everybody — and even those who think this format is temporary — will benefit from knowing how to feel included in an online group.
Interestingly enough, some group members — for instance, those who often felt emotionally overwhelmed in offline psychodrama groups — were surprised to find out that they felt more comfortable in an online format rather than offline. This phenomenon requires further exploration as it may open the door to new opportunities of online work.
1.3 Online-work: learn all over again
At some stage, it became obvious that all offline groups would be paused. We had only two options: to stop working completely or move to working online. One cannot lead offline groups anymore — that means one cannot do anything one is very good at. The first emotion was perplexity. How is it to work online? Nothing is clear! And, that was the most scary thing — the first experience of working with online groups merely confirmed this dreadful feeling. Nothing is clear and everything should be changed.
After two months of uninterrupted work with online groups, I can claim that nothing really changed. Working online turned out to be the same as working with groups face-to-face. My feelings at the beginning of lockdown were just a combination of two processes: my shock over the situation itself and the shock from the feeling “I do not know how to do anything now”. It was clear that well-developed skills were ruined and deautomised. That is why we got the impression that online work was difficult. Judging by my colleagues’ reactions, they too had quite a similar impression.
If I could go back and say something to myself when online work became the only option, it would be the following:
— Now you are shocked by everything that has happened. If you look around, you will find out that everyone is in shock. People need help, and online work will be very helpful in that regard. Just do your job for the sake of other people and it will heal you.
— Online-work seems to be an emergency measure and you think it is going to malfunction. It can be difficult at the beginning, but this too will pass. Remember your first year working with groups face-to-face; it was not clear what to do every single moment. You had to think about every step, and it was stressful. But now you do not remember that, you got used to leading groups. Now — as at the beginning of your practice — you need to slow down again and consider every action. You learn to do the same things in online groups as you did offline all over again.
— And yes, as a result, — it will be the same beautiful meaningful therapeutic group work as a real group work should be.
2 Working with online groups
2.1 Immediate challenges of online groups
I would like to start by listing the most obvious challenges of online work in a group. These are:
- Lower level of emotional engagement among the participants. In the online format, we miss the majority of physical sensations that we experience because of the physical presence of others in real life. Besides, we do not see the majority of the reactions of others to what we say. This makes emotional engagement more complicated and slows down the process.
- It is more difficult for the participants to feel part of the group. This is happening because of the above-mentioned challenge. The absence of common physical space for all the participants only adds to the feeling of not being connected.
- There has been a significant increase in the number of factors that we do not control. If we want to create a predictable and safe space for the group, we should keep in mind a wide range of different types of intrusions. And many of these intrusions are in principle out of the leader’s control.
- It is easier for online group participants to lose their attention and start participating “pro forma”. Participants need to be aware of this and invest in being more focused and paying attention to what is happening around them, in order to be involved in the group process. Consequently, the group leader also needs to do more to keep all participants involved.
- A long list of technology-related difficulties. For example: a) a user’s lack of confidence in working with a computer may, at least to an extent, result in the lack of confidence as a group participant; b) participants may feel uncomfortable with the quality of their equipment and connection and, as a result, appear less active.
- New challenges with confidentiality online. Some participants do not have a place at home where they can be alone and/or where they would not be overheard by their family members. Therefore, some are worried that the confidentiality of electronic communications is fundamentally at risk.
This list of challenges is not exhaustive, but it already shows that we have a number of new issues to be solved. I will below offer my ideas about how to do it.
2.2 Creating a safe space
2.2.1 New challenges with ensuring a secure space
In online work, we face completely new difficulties with creating a safe space. In offline groups, the group leader invites people to gather in a specific room. This helps create a safe environment for all participants. By contrast, in online groups, the responsibility for creating safe group space falls to a larger extent on the participants.
The leader also faces new challenges — s/he has to work on making participants observe the rules and principles aimed at creating this safe space. To do this well, s/he has to understand each rule and be able to explain it clearly to the participants.
Since the security of online group space depends more on the participants, it becomes even more important for the leader to interview them before the group starts. In this interview, it may be worth looking at whether the participants naturally want to be attentive to others. When security depends more on each and every one, every possible member requires attention.
It is useful to acquaint the participants with rules and principles that help bring safety to an online group in advance (for details please see next paragraph). This goes far beyond just sending the rules to the participants. It also means articulating the key principles to all the participants at the beginning of group session, namely:
- Confidentiality rules, while adjusting to a new reality — aside from keeping all group details confidential, please ask the participants to ensure that the group work cannot be heard or seen by outsiders. Participants should understand that they cannot make and publish any audio or video recordings, photos and screenshots without the clearly expressed permission (consent) of all participants.
- The need for uninterrupted presence during sessions:
- the participants should strive to participate in all group sessions; and enable video and audio connection during all sessions;
- they should focus on the sessions while putting other business on hold; they need to warn the group leader and other members if they need to turn off video or leave early.
- The importance of taking care of the comfort of other group members by turning off the microphone if there are external noises in the room and by ensuring that the camera of one’s mobile or tablet is fixed during the entire session.
- It is useful to admit in advance that we may not always be fully in control of possible technical difficulties: there may be network problems and the connection may be interrupted any time. But no matter how often the equipment and internet fail us, it is the only way for the group to stay connected.
2.2.2 Instructions before the start of the group
In this section, I will share the instructions I send to participants before a first online session. The first half of the guidelines are organizational recommendations, and the second half is about the ethics of online work.
How to participate in an online group?
We need to make the online group productive for everyone. For this to happen, it is important for each participant to take care of both him/herself and the group. The following points should be considered:
1. Please install Zoom and call someone to make sure it works and you can see/hear each other before the meeting. You need to know how to join a Zoom meeting and how to turn on and off your microphone during the session.
2. If you are using ZOOM for the first time, please join the session 20 minutes before the start. We may need time to resolve any technical difficulties.
3. If you will be working from your smartphone or tablet, please find a way to fix it to the table (or any other surface). It is important for the camera to stay stable and focused during the entire session. This is important for your and the group's comfort — a moving picture draws attention and increases the load on the network.
4. Try to create a private workspace in which you will not be disturbed. All your attention should be focused on the group process.
5. Select your clothes before the group so that you can be ready when it is time to join the call.
6. As any psychotherapy group, our online group has a confidentiality rule, which means that we do not make and share audio/video recordings, photos and screenshots without clear permission of all participants.
7. You will need to use headphones to protect the privacy of all participants, lest others in your home may hear something from our session.
8. It is important to sit close to the camera and have your face lit well. A light room and no bright objects behind you (windows, lamps etc) should be usually enough.
9. It is important to be fully involved in all activities during an online group session. Please make sure you will not be interrupted by anything to be able to focus on the session.
10. It is important to keep the camera turned on during the entire session (you can be seen by others). This increases the integrity of the group and the feeling of everyone's presence. Yet, there are exceptional situations when one cannot keep the camera on. If you need to keep the camera off for a while or the entire session, you should talk to the group about it in advance.
11. When joining an online session, please write your real name. It is helpful for the group to see the names of all participants.
12. During online work, somebody in our group (or all of us) may experience difficulties with the network or with his/her equipment. It would be useful to admit in advance that we did not have control over these issues. Sometimes technology upsets us but it also connects us.
If you have no prior experience of therapy groups, you may need to know the following:
13. Please take care of the group's safety: try to stay with the group all the time; tell the group if you need to leave before the session ends; mute your phone for the duration of the entire session.
14. In any therapy group, we aim to do as much as possible to respect the personal space of each participant. We cannot give advice or teach others. It is important to remember that each experience is unique and no experience is better or more valuable than the other. Every single person in the group should always be respected and treated as an equal.
Please feel free to use the above-mentioned list of instructions partly or fully. There is no need to refer to me.
2.2.3 Timing, interruptions and attention of the participants
Online work requires much more efforts from participants to stay attentive. Thus we need to consider very carefully the schedule of working time and breaks. For instance, online group participants will not be able to change their body position as much as in an offline group; they will therefore need more regular breaks. My experience shows that two hours of uninterrupted online group work is the most reasonable period, if followed by a long break. A fifteen-minute break may be enough if the group works for 1.5 hours; otherwise it needs a longer break. This corresponds with the duration of one “academic lesson” of 90 minutes.
Group participants become more engaged as they follow a reasonably balanced rhythm of work and rest once they know their schedule.
As group leader, I have also had to adapt my working methods to new conditions. As a trainer of a four-year psychodrama education program, I usually held a classic three-day workshop every few months, lasting daily from 10 a.m to 6 p.m. In an online format, the workshop is also three-day long but the sessions are shorter: two hours of work followed by a 1,5-hour break, and then two hours of work again. This seems to be the optimal balance for the moment. It helps the participants benefit from the group to the maximum. At the same time, it minimizes their stress level and helps them adapt to the new format. In a while, more working hours in one day may be possible.
2.3 First contact with the new format
In online work, at least two difficulties with similar features have been discovered. Both often disappear quite quickly (within 20 to 50 hours of online work). However, they are quite pronounced at early stages of online group work and hence they should be taken care of from the outset.
2.3.1 Confidence at working with equipment
Some people are not technologically savvy and use only 5% of their phone’s/laptop’s possibilities. Some feel anxious when they have to do something new. Online communication is not an exception. It is quite stressful to face many new things at the same time — a new program, a lot of new buttons and a group of people staring at him/her. First, a person may need to get used to the program, and only then s/he can become a group participant.
We need to understand this and take it into account in our work. At the beginning of a group, it is worth spending time mastering the basic skills needed to use a program. This would support those who are not used to working online and would help them deal with anxiety. They can be taken care of in the following way:
- “Do you feel confident using this program? Let me give you some tips, and we will try them together.”
- “Each of us has different experiences in using various devices; it is important to take care of everybody, ensuring that all are comfortable with the program.”
- “We are now creating a therapy space together in which we will be taking care of everybody. Helping those who are learning to use the program is also about caring.
A participant facing technical problems, for instance with sound, may feel guilty and hence appear less active during the session. We need a reasonable degree of tolerance of technical problems to ensure true inclusion of all participants. Ownership and the ability to use electronic devices is not a given for many people — it is a privilege.
2.3.2 Feeling embarrassed in front of the camera
Video sessions may be more stressful than many people expect. Many participants admit getting more tired of online work than during offline sessions. Their bodies feel more tense and stiff. In my opinion, there are several factors that bring such an effect. Different combinations of these factors have an impact on the participants:
- Some participants are confused by a camera being pointed at them, especially if this camera is very close to their face.
- A camera combined with the group context makes some participants feel like they are being watched by a large number of people.
- In many cases participants see themselves on the screen and it automatically raises their concerns about their look.
- In the context of a video conference the participants do not understand whether other people respond to them and how they do it.
For all these reasons, some participants may feel uncomfortable, feeling that “somebody is looking at me but I do not understand who exactly it is”. This effect can be reduced to some extent by a number of targeted actions by the group leader.
The leader may offer participants actions/exercises around the following ideas:
1. Exaggeration of embarrassment through a game. For example, the leader can ask participants to demonstrate an exaggeratedly uptight look in front of the camera and then relax. This can be followed by repeating the game several times, using an exaggeratedly embarrassed look, then exaggeratedly pretty look, etc.
2. Camera-related concerns. The leader can ask participants to describe or express their feelings related to being filmed. For example, they can be offered to discover their own camera as if it would be there unexpectedly and get scared of it. Then they may share their exaggeratedly suspicious thoughts about the camera with other participants.
3. Implicit permission to spontaneity. The leader can involve the participants in an activity requiring impulsivity and freedom. For example, the group can create a gallery of different faces together: scary, glam, stupid, and sweet faces etc. If appropriate, the group can be offered an informal activity before the official start, like a tea-party, meeting each others’ pets etc.
4. Implicit permission to watch. It can be an activity that would serve as an implicit permission to look at each other. Like taking a step from “they see me” to “I am showing myself.” For example, participants can show their rooms or tell others about an item visible to others through their camera.
In addition to all of the above, there is one more important tip: the group leader’s own relaxed manner, spontaneity and openness can help facilitate the participants’ spontaneity.
2.4 What can the group leader do?
2.4.1 Make active listening more visible and more expressed
The online format deprives us of the possibility to see the majority of the physical reactions of others. This complicates and slows down the way the group participants connect with each other emotionally. To deal with this, the group leader can make use of active listening techniques in a more visible/expressive way.
1. The leader can increase the number of affirmative reactions. These are short words like: “Yes”, “Aha”, “Yeah” to be used by the group leader during the participant’s speech to signal that the latter is being heard.
2. The group leader can echo the participants more expressively, to show the latter that his/her feelings are being felt/shared. For example, s/he can repeat as an echo the speaker’s main feelings.
This is needed to compensate for the loss of non-verbal signals during the video conference. It is important to signal to the participants that they are being heard and their feelings are being shared. It is crucial for both each member and the entire group as the leader’s active listening serves as a model for all group participants.
2.4.2 Support participants’ response to each other
It is also important to support participants in responding to each other. There are many ways to organize this process. Let me touch upon the most obvious of them.
184.108.40.206 Ask participants to react to each other
The leader can ask the participants to react to each other during the first round of sharing by giving specific instructions. For example, when one participant finished the sharing, the leader can say:
- — to the participant: — Thank you, Maria!
- — to the group: — My friends, please give two short replies to Maria! What has touched you? What sounds familiar? What does resonate with you?
(Whether online or offline, the reaction from group members will always be better than the response of the leader. If the group fails to respond, the leader can do it.)
220.127.116.11 Support the development and use of physical expression of emotions and sign language in the group
The group benefits from the development of certain common gestures and signs during the sessions. I noticed that if the group is developing well, its participants start using sign language without additional encouragement from the leader.
This can be compared to the appearance of a “smiley” in earlier online communication. Today, a smiley is a universally accepted and commonly used sign. It appeared as a response to the call for a new language that would help express emotions in online correspondence.
While the new language may appear naturally as part of the process, it would be useful to support its development and use by the group participants. The leader can do this in a number of ways. For instance:
- Use gestures and encourage his/her group members to follow his/her example. The group can create a tradition of raising a hand before speaking instead of using the app’s button.
- Invite the group members to participate in short dialogues using their hands. One can even ask more questions than necessary and ask the participants to reply using gestures. For example:
- “Are we ready to begin? If you are ready, please reply by making [a certain preliminary agreed] gesture.”
- Offer the group an exercise aimed at inventing or using gestures. The participants can be asked: “What kind of gestures would we need in our group?” and give them time to come up with a few ideas.
- Support the use of gestures by group members by saying things like:
- “Look, they are responding to you with different gestures! Three people are showing you that they are sharing your feelings now.”
Below are a few examples of the main gestures used in online groups:
- “I approve, I confirm, I accept” (thumbs up).
- “I agree” (“Ok” sign).
- “I join, I share your feelings” (two forefingers crossed like a plus that means +1).
- “I want to say something” (raised hand).
- “I hug you” (hug yourself or put palms together towards another group member).
I suppose that the gesture “✌” that means “I want to double you” in psychodrama may have a rebirth.
2.4.3 Organize group process that involves all participants
- lasser sense of physical presence among the members;
- lesser emotional involvement of participants in each others’ processes;
- more opportunities for distraction;
— all of this makes it difficult for participants to develop a sense of belonging to the group.
The group leader has another opportunity to compensate for this — to create group processes involving all participants. These could be exercises or games described in the next part, or it could be just a special way of dynamic group leading. One can maintain this style of dialogue in a group using the following tools. The leader:
- speaks briefly and focused, and encourages participants to follow his example.
- tries to involve all participants.
- uses a sequence of speaking when every participant may be approached unexpectedly at any moment. For example, s/he may ask every speaker “to pass the ball” to another group member.
- suggests examples of short replies for participants to keep appropriate dynamics.
- asks the participants by name, for example, in the order they appear on the screen.
18.104.22.168 Group leader’s instructions asking for brief answers
Let me list the key issues by giving you a few examples:
- Please tell us your name and your favourite colour today.
- Please say briefly, how did you feel at the beginning of our group?
- Tell us your name and how you feel about the device you are using to connect with us. Something like : “My name is Vasya, and I am connected to you via my good old laptop”.
- One after another, please complete the sentence: “I didn’t think that in self-isolation…”
- One after another, please complete the sentence: “When this is over, the first thing I do will be …”
22.214.171.124 In some cases to help participants take turns
Apparently, the online format also makes it difficult to agree on the sequence of the participants’ interventions. This partly happens due to the delay in internet connection. Partly, again, it is caused by the lack of those subtle nonverbal signals exchanged by the participants that help them talk without interrupting each other. If participants feel insecure, the pauses get longer and the participants find it difficult to start talking.
To mitigate this, the participants can be advised to raise a hand to signal when/if they are ready to talk. The group leader can define the order of speakers and relieve the participants of the need to negotiate with each other, and hence make the process easier. This may be helpful for the “educational” part of the group session when communication should be more dynamic. However, this may be harmful during the “therapeutic” part as it may destroy the attunement of participants.
2.5 Online warm-ups: specific goals and examples
In this section, I want to briefly describe a few challenges of online groups and suggest a number of specific warm-ups to help solve them. I will focus on a few tasks of online groups only.
For those interested in detailed description of group leader’s work in online and offline groups, please check Part 5 “The main tasks of the group leader and how they are implemented in online work”.
2.5.1 To feel oneself among people in the group
It is a lot easier for a participant of an online group to not enter into a relationship with the group: to be inactive, stay uninvolved, and not feel as part of the group. Naturally, this is bad for the participant and for the group process.
For the relationship with the group to start developing, two conditions are needed: a) the relationship with the group members should be important to the participant; b) s/he should start interacting with these people. In offline groups, a person is bound by socio-biological issues to concern about the attitude of others s/he shares the room with. In online groups, sometimes it is worth applying a number of special techniques to help its members start to be concerned about the attitude of others within the group. This would lead to them feeling as part of the group.
The easiest way is to ask the participants to share something personal about themselves. When a person does that, s/he starts caring about how other people take it. This activates the experience of relationships’ importance and gets one to be more involved in the group. A few possible simple steps:
- Ask every participant to introduce her/himself and say a few words about her/himself. If the group consists of people who do not know each other, they can just say something formal. But if the participants are completely not concerned about the attitude of others, the group leader may ask them to say something more personal.
- Conduct a number of sociometric exercises with participants raising hands to answer “yes” or “no”. However, the questions have to be carefully selected to give them an impression that their choice leads to a certain opening up and makes them a little concerned.
- Offer some kind of group action where every participant indirectly expresses him/herself by talking from a certain role. It goes off both that people open up their feelings and the playing of a role in front of the group makes the participant concerned about the attitude of others.
A few other ways of strengthening the feeling of participants’ belonging to the group could be:
- Offer participants to keep their microphones switched on all the time or for some time. When the mics are switched on, participants feel more visible to the group.
- Let the group experience awkward pauses when everybody looks at each other hoping one of them would start speaking and relieve others of this task. You can even offer the group to extend these pauses purposefully.
For more details please see the section: 5.2. How to make group relationships meaningful for the participants
2.5.2 To start engaging with each other
The participants start interacting with each other even before the offline group begins. They greet others even without knowing each other, chat (for instance, while choosing their seat in the room), and ask simple questions to orient themselves in the group. It goes without saying that even when the two people glance at each other, there is an immediate connection between them. This type of interaction is completely lacking in online work.
Yet, the interaction between the group members is crucial — it informs the development of relationships within the group. The leader should offer exercises to help facilitate such interactions. Any action that makes the participants choose somebody from the group, say his/her name or ask a question from others would work here. For example:
The choice by sociometric criterion
- 0: Please look at the group. You may know or not know somebody here. Looking at those whom you do not know, choose two people whom you seem to “not know the most”. Say their names. Who is ready?
- (Group member says two names.)
- (Leader — to those who were named.) Please respond with a gesture or with a few words.
Questions to each other (I saw it in one of Monica Zuretti’s workshops)
- 0: Please look at the group members. You may know or not know somebody here. Choose one person you know least and ask her/him something that interests you. Who is ready?
- (A participant addresses a question to somebody, and after hearing the answer, the group leader invites the respondent to question somebody else in the group).
Send a gift (based on what I saw in Manuela Maciel’s work at the 2020 Sociodrama conference):
- 0: Think about something important and positive for you now: a personal quality, an experience, an impression that you would like to share with the group.
- 0: Please take a look at the group and share this positive thing with somebody of your choice. You can say, for example, “I want to share with you, Masha, my calmness” and throw it to her like an imaginary ball. And the one to whom you sent it, catches it, reacts in a few words, and then sends something from her/himself to someone who has not participated in the exercise yet.
- [In reality, Manuela first asked the participants to choose the skills that they have received from their ancestors and that are helping them during the 2020 pandemics, and then asked to share these skills with each other following the logic described above.]
The participants’ interaction does not always require specific exercises. The group leader can simply give an instruction to encourage it, like:
- 0: Look at each other. Whom would you like to ask about their feelings now?
- 0: What were your feelings at the beginning of this session ? Please say it in three words. Can I ask Masha to start and once she shared her words, I would ask her to choose the next participant by saying his/her name and inviting him/her to speak by asking the question: “What about you?” So what about you, Masha?
- It is clear that the same technique can be used both at the end of the group and at any time during group work. Just a few examples:
- 0: In two words, with what feelings are you finishing this meeting? (+ “What about you?”)
- 0: In two words, what was your most important personal experience today? (+ “What about you?”)
- I saw this technique in one of Eva Fahlström Borg’s works.
- It is clear that the same technique can be used both at the end of the group and at any time during group work. Just a few examples:
2.5.3 Steps for feeling togetherness in an online group
One of the few important values of group work are emotional connection, cohesion, and togetherness that are gradually emerging in the group. For such cohesion to emerge, the participants should develop emotional attunement with each other. This takes longer to develop in online work. The leader can take a number of steps to help the group move there.
These may be the steps requiring participants to: a) emotionally attune with each other, for example, by copying others emotionality/physicality or b) solve a problem together.
The following exercises can be used:
- Joint body exercises. This already envisions the need to copy and to act together. It also includes some visually beautiful effects of actions’ synchronization. The participants can be asked to do a few physical exercises together, for instance, by “stretching.”
- The person and the mirror. The participant(s) who is supposed to play the role of a mirror repeats the movements and facial expressions of the partner. In offline groups, this exercise is usually done in couples; yet in an online setting it may work better if the entire group is copying the movements and facial expressions of one of its members.
- Show one’ emotional state with a gesture and a sound. The leader can ask each participant to show his/her emotional condition using a gesture and a sound, and the entire group would have to repeat it.
- Attunement with the group rhythm. This is a further development of the mirror theme, reinforced by a powerful tool of the group moving together in a joint rhythm. For example, one participant can set the rhythm with a move, while others will try to repeat it. Unfortunately, sound delays of the online format do not allow the group to use sound properly, for instance, to make an improvised orchestra.
- Children’s group games with the use of physical expressions. One can initiate a children’s game usually used with an offline group. For instance, it can be a game with the leader giving instructions, or a certain phrase is being repeated, and the participants making moves together and gradually achieving harmony.
- Create something visually beautiful as a group. It looks beautiful and at the same time it gives a feeling of group work when all participants make the same move simultaneously and a similar picture is seen on all the screens. For example, the participants can start “washing windows” together or make such movements with their hands, as if everyone is cleaning part of the picture as seen on his/her screen. Then they can be wiped and “opened as if to look into the yard.”
In addition to all of the above, the leader can get a desirable effect by giving the tasks where the participants would need to listen carefully and be attentive to each other. The leader’s heightened emotional responsiveness will serve as an additional asset.
For more details please see the section: 5.3. How to help the group get a sense of togetherness
3 Group psychodramatic actions
3.1 Simple sociometric group actions
3.1.1 Sociometric elements
I picked up a number of small but beautiful sociometric techniques at one of Daniela Simmons’ workshops (She is one of the most thorough scholars of online psychodrama and the author of the Tele’Drama method.)
1. The group leader can suggest to the new group’s participants to start interacting with each other by asking the following question: “How many people do you know in this group? Please show it with your fingers.” This makes everybody curious to see the “scores” — the number of raised fingers is a reflection of one’s initial sociometric status in the group. If needed, the leader can later on ask everybody to say the names of those s/he had identified earlier.
2. The leader may also ask the participants to measure their emotional state and show the results using fingers again or with the distance between the two palms. For example:
- 0: Please try to measure the degree of your openness in the group now, if this means closed (the leader puts his palms together) and this (s/he opens his/her arms widely) means you feel open. You can try to move your hands between these positions to see what suits you better now.
3.1.2 Simple sociometry through raising hands
Online work eliminated the possibility of using many sociometric tools with the group. We did not yet invent the full analogy of sociometric line-ups, division of participants into sub-groups with the help of certain criteria, nor did we figure out how to do star sociometry. One most obvious tool is left is — to ask the participants to make choices by raising their hands. This can be done in the following way: To find commonalities in order to improve the connection between the participants:
- Please, raise your hand if you fear for your health or life lately.
- Please, raise your hand if you feared for the life and health of your family members lately.
To help the participants understand their emotional state and become visible within the group. Here one can start with the following instruction:
- 0: I will ask you some questions and you will need to determine which end of the spectrum is closer to you. First I will ask to raise a hand to those of you who are close to the pole on the left, then those who are closer to the right one. You have to choose one in any case. If it is too difficult, you may raise your hand twice but the choice cannot be undone.
After that, for example:
- Cheerfulness or tiredness
- Please, raise your hand if you are more cheerful than tired now.
- And now, please, raise your hand if you are more tired than cheerful now.
- Adapting to the quarantine:
- 0: …if you got used to the situation rather than you did not.
- 0: …if you did not adapt to the situation rather than you did.
- About ending of the quarantine
- Let’s imagine two poles. At one pole we have “I want this to end immediately”, and at another — “No problem if it lasts longer”.
- 0: Who wants this to end as soon as possible?
- 0: And who does not want this to end too soon?
- Let’s imagine two poles. At one pole we have “I want this to end immediately”, and at another — “No problem if it lasts longer”.
For these questions to have the right effect, a few additional instructions should be given after each question:
- Please do not put your hand down, keep it for half a minute while looking at the others.
- Listen to yourself: how does it feel being in this group?
- Look at those who gave a similar answer — what do you feel towards them?
- Look at those who replied differently — what do you feel for them?
- Please try to express your feelings with a gesture.
This is not a mandatory list. The leader can pick the questions relevant for his/her group.
At the 2020 Sociodrama conference, I also picked up one useful technique — all participants were asked to switch off the video and activate “Hide non-video participants” mode. They were told a sentence with a certain criteria (e.g. “do you know more than five people in this session?”) and if it resonated, they had to show it by switching on their camera. Only those who fit the criteria were seen on the screen at that moment. They could see each other and were able to interact with each other for a short while. This was an excellent manifestation of sociometry in a large online group.
3.1.3 From sociometry to sociodrama
Then it gets even more interesting. The leader can go deeper after almost every sociometric exercise: s/he can ask more questions and listen to the answers:
- 0: Let’s try to understand the picture we just saw. May I ask those who are ready to continue the phrase:
- (Universal) “I raised my hand after the last question because…”
- (Adapting to quarantine) “I cannot adapt because…”
- (Quick ending of the quarantine) “I do not want this to end soon because…”
As we asked only those who have chosen one of the poles, we need to ask those who chose the second one. We are now one step away from a little sociodrama with position’s changing:
- 0: We just listen to replies from one of the poles. May I ask all of you to imagine joining another pole and continue the phrase while being there:
- “I do not want this to end as soon as possible because…”
- “But if it ends soon, the first thing I do will be…”
3.1.4 Sociodramatic elements
The leader can organize a sociodramatic action where all group members try both positions and speak from them. For example:
- 0: Let’s take the two poles: “There is not enough communication for me now” and “There is too much communication for me now.”
- (We are doing a simple sociometric exercise by raising a hand as in examples below.)
- 0: I am sure that many of you can resonate with both poles inside. Let’s listen to them. If you give space to “There is too much communication for me now”, what would you say from inside of it?
- Continue the phrase: “When there is too much communication for me I feel that…”
- Being in this position what can I say to those who need more communication?
- (After that repeat the same from another pole.)
Obviously, we can organize a real sociodramatic action with role reversal using the same instruments. Then we need to choose two antagonistic role positions and ask the participants to take on one of the roles:
- 0: Let’s look at two roles/positions that we see in our society now: “Everybody must stay home” and “There’s no point in staying home.”
- (Sometimes we can use such sociometric tool as raising a hand, mentioned above.)
- 0: Let’s listen to both positions one after another. Please, take the role of those who believe that staying home does not make sense.
- (There are some examples of the phrases that help hear the role more clearly and go deeper into it.)
- Continue the phrase: “When they tell me that I need to stay home, I feel…”
- Continue the phrase: “I feel stronger in my position due to the information that…”
- Continue the phrase: “I am trying to care about myself and those important to me doing…”
- Continue the phrase: “However I am afraid that…”
- What do I want to say to people on the other pole from my current position? To those who think: “Everybody must stay home”?
- (There are some examples of the phrases that help hear the role more clearly and go deeper into it.)
Then we change roles, speak from another role and organize interaction between them. First we need to find and see the conflict clearly, and then we move forward to deeper understanding and solving it. Further instructions are below:
- 0: Let’s all take the role of those who think that it doesn’t make sense to stay at home.
- Let’s listen to our feelings in this role. What do we feel for those who think everybody must stay home? Please name your feelings. Undoubtedly, they may be different.
- If you try to turn these feelings into words for those people, what would you say? (We listen to some phrases.)
- 0: Now let’s imagine us in the opposite role — of those who think that everybody must stay home.
- Listen (mentally) to the phrase addressed to you in this role. What do you feel hearing this?
- What do you want to answer?
- Which feelings push you to say this?
- Why is the aggression so strong here? What do you try to protect?
- Say about your feelings to another role directly.
3.2 Group actions based on role-playing
There is a number of simple role-playing techniques that would work for online groups. There are a few examples below:
Through the role-playing towards the feelings important to everyone. For this, all group members have to take on a role and start feeling as if being in it and talking from it.
- Let us all put on the role of a medical mask — you can decide what kind of mask you are — and complain to each other about our difficult lives as those masks. For example, you can say: “I am [this kind of…] mask, I am now [here…] and I feel [this…].”
Through the role-playing to the participants’ personal experiences. Here the group members should put on a role of something or somebody significant and start feeling as if being that and talking from it:
- Please put on a role of one of your events that was cancelled because of the lockdown, tell us about yourself, what would you would want to say to your “owner”?
Different variations of classical “Chair in the center” where one can place a socially or privately important individual and tell him/her about the feelings towards him/her. Then one can reverse roles, experience the words in that role and reply to oneself from the role. One can even put oneself in this chair. The participants can even find an image of an appropriate chair (or even an assortment of chairs) and share the picture with the group. I saw this idea at Daniela Simmons and Marcia Karp’s workshop. Here are a few ideas for the “Chair in the center” exercise:
- “Imagine a chair in the center of our group and see the version of yourself in January-February 2020 — just before all the problems started — sitting on it. Look at yourself! How did this person feel back then? (…) What do you feel for him/her and what do you want to say to him/her? (…) Please, raise your hand when you are ready. Who is ready?”
- “Let’s go to the future, for instance, three months after the lockdown is over. How do you feel here? (…) How is your life here? (…) How does your body feel and move now? (…) What are you doing here? (…) What do you like here most of all? (…) How does it feel to think about the lockdown period? (You can imagine yourself sitting in this chair in the past.) If you think about yourself back then, what would you like to say to yourself? (…) Who is ready to say something?”
4 The protagonist-centered session in online psychodrama group
4.1 How to choose the protagonist
The process of the protagonist’s selection is a beautiful and powerful mechanism — it makes all psychodramatic work to some extent sociodramatic. When the group is sufficiently warmed up, the choice of the protagonist reflects the needs, the problems and the interests of the entire group. This, of course, is the reason to use this classical procedure wherever it works that way.
Surprisingly, the classic process of the protagonist’s selection was very easy to adapt to online work:
- The candidates tell the group about their themes. The director interviews them to help the group understand the candidates’ feelings.
- The candidates make their choice first by answering the following question: “If I do not get my work, whose work would I choose?” It feels right to do it aloud and clear.
- The director asks all the remaining participants (including the candidates who already announced their choices) to open the chat and write only one name — the name of the person whose work would be beneficial for them most. When everybody is ready, the director asks the participants to send their messages simultaneously.
- The group can count the choices together and see the winner. To make the procedure more transparent, the general chat should be used — the entire group can be involved in a slow and careful counting.
- Last but not least, it is good to take care of those whose topic was not selected using whatever instrument available to the group. It is important to both the unselected members, the one who was selected and the rest of the group.
4.2 How to do individual work for the protagonist in the group
First, let’s name two possible options for working with the protagonist in an online group.
A. As if an individual online session. This means the director will have a psychodramatic therapy session with the protagonist as if it would be an individual session online with group members as the observers.
B. As if a psychodramatic group session conducted online. In this case, the director runs the same psychodramatic therapy session involving both the protagonist and other members playing different roles.
This should be sufficient enough to start the description. The rest of the options between these two poles can be added at a later stage.
4.2.1 Option A. As if an individual online session
The psychodrama director works with the protagonist one-on-one without involving other members. The main weakness of this option is that the group members are more likely to remain uninvolved. However, it may work well for the psychodramatist who is used to working with individual clients online — s/he can use her/his previous experience without making too many changes.
To compensate for the lack of group involvement and to help keep its attention, the director should know how to work with short formats, such as vignettes. Since the choice of the protagonist happens in the group and the former is already warmed up, the process — the work itself — can be more dynamic. This work in reality does not resemble the individual session. It comes closer to the group format without extra efforts than it may seem.
In my view, this is a great option for the online groups, especially if the director aims at small psychodrama sessions of around 30 minutes.
On top of that, it may be beneficial for the students of the training groups. They can adjust their screens to see the director’s work and see the protagonist through the therapist’s eyes. This would literally mean “to be in the director’s shoes and see the protagonist through his/her eyes” — an interesting effect that is unattainable in offline groups.
4.2.2 Option B. As if in a psychodrama group
Here, the director is working with the protagonist and engaging other members in the process. For example, s/he may ask the protagonist to invite a fellow member to play a role of somebody s/he is talking about and to start a psychodramatic dialogue with him/her. The main weakness is the complexity of the procedures and instructions used in a situation without a stage. Without a visual-spatial stage, the director needs to constantly help the protagonist keep the picture of the stage in mind and remind him/her who plays each role. The lack of the stage also brings the risk of having less involved participants as in the case above.
This can be solved with the help of a visually acceptable stage. Just imagine this — if the protagonist could be moving the windows with other members on his screen and the rest of the group would see these movements — this would be an analogue of the real psychodramatic stage.
For example, Bertram Wohlenberg and Marco Ius are now developing and testing the idea of using such a visual stage created from specific illustrations with the possibility of placing objects and participants’ photos that would be seen on the shared screen.
This allows us to build a stage similar to the one in offline psychodrama. First, one needs to select the participants for the roles, arrange these roles on the stage (using the participant’s real photos) and then arrange a psychodramatic interaction between the protagonist and the roles. In this option, physical interaction between the roles is still lacking but on the other hand, one gets the visual-spatial stage and the chance to work with it. For more information about the authors and their work, please see their presentation here: bit.ly/mb-arco and further instructions can be found here: bit.ly/mb-stage
At the moment, many psychodramatists around the world are probably coming up with different techniques to help them deal with the new challenges and developing online psychodrama as a specific working method.
4.3 Does the protagonist look at the stage or at the role in front of him/her?
Once we start doing the protagonist-centered psychodrama, there will be another choice to be made — shall we focus on the building of the stage or on the interaction of the roles? In the first case, the protagonist will look at the stage and see all the roles located there; whereas in the second case, s/he will look into the eyes of the auxiliary playing a certain role. It is possible to try and combine both but it is likely that every director will lean toward one or the other option. Let’s look at the examples below.
4.3.1 The protagonist looks at the auxiliary (i.e. focus on the roles’ interaction)
Here, the protagonist will have to look at the screen with the members playing the roles in his drama. I will try to explain this option by giving a few examples of possible interventions of the director:
- Please choose a person to be your brother.
- Show Vasya how he should sit to look like your brother.
- Please look at your brother.
- What do you feel when you look at him? Tell him about this feeling. (The protagonist looks at the auxiliary playing his/her brother.)
- Reverse roles. Now you are the brother, and Vasya is playing you.
- Vasya, please say those words to your brother. (The protagonist listens and looks at the auxiliary who is now playing the protagonist).
The key difference is that the protagonist is looking at the role while interacting with him/her. This helps the protagonist have deeper contact with the role and be more emotionally connected to it.
4.3.2 The protagonist looks at the stage (i.e. focus on the psychodrama stage)
In this option the protagonist sees a stage created by technical means or in the form of objects on the director’s desk on his/her own screen. This option will also be explained through the examples of director’s instructions:
- Please choose a person to be your brother.
- What object shall we choose to represent you and him on the stage? (If it is applicable to the technology used by the director, toys on the table, pictures on the screen etc.)
- Where shall we put you and him on the stage?
- What would you like to tell your brother? (The protagonist looks at the stage on which he sees himself and his brother).
- Reverse roles. Now you are your brother, and Vasya is going to play you.
- Vasya, please say those words to your brother. (The protagonist looks at the stage on which he sees himself and his brother, and listens to the voice of the auxiliary.)
The stage creation here is crucial. The protagonist may have a lesser emotional connection with the role but the director gets more possibilities of using the stage (e.g. locating the roles on the stage, their movement and possible compositions.)
4.4 Should the director try to replicate offline psychodrama in online format?
Faced with the question of creating online psychodrama, the first logical step for many psychodramatists was to try and simply transfer their techniques to working online. For instance, trying to build offline scenes in online format or inviting the participants to double the protagonist at the same moments as in the offline group. Having seen this, I would like to ask a few questions: should we do psychodrama online without trying to use the offline techniques? Should we create a completely different set of techniques and change the style of how we use them? The techniques and the way we are using them enable the entire group to be involved in psychodrama for one protagonist — to allow all the participants to feel needed and important for the therapy process — this should be the main rationale behind our thinking today.
The group gets a common goal once its members feel needed and important for psychodramatic healing of the protagonist. The real (not a role-playing) common goal brings the group together, and its cohesion paves the way for many group therapeutic factors. While choosing psychodramatic techniques for this task, one should focus on the following:
- The director can involve the entire group in stage creation by giving a number of small roles to each participant and allowing them to help the director (I saw this in one of Daniela Simmons’ works).
- The director has to interact with the role of another person played by the protagonist rather than with the latter in his own role. This allows to keep other group members engaged and enables them to double.
- The director can invite the participants to double whenever it seems useful for the protagonist. To do this, s/he would have to keep in mind the variety of existing tasks of doubling.
- The director can give permission to double the protagonist whenever the participants feel like and support the latter in their doubling efforts.
4.5 Psychodrama techniques in the online format
While there are difficulties with building a stage and interacting with the roles, many techniques are as good in the online format as they are working offline. The most striking example is when the members double the protagonist.
4.5.1 The doubling by the group members
The director can use doubling technique at any stage of the online psychodrama session online — both when s/he is working as if individually and when the entire group is engaged. S/he can ask the participants to double the protagonist in his/her own role and in the role of another person. Below please see a few examples of “classic” invitations to doubling:
- (To the protagonist.) Can I ask the participants to double you (in this role)?
- A few examples of the instructions for the members:
- “Try to help us find the words to express our feelings.”
- “If you feel that you may understand the protagonist’ experience, try to put your feelings into words.”
- “Try to express the feeling that you think may be hidden behind what is being said by this role.”
- “Try to name the motive behind this role’s words.”
These instructions would work for the experienced participants. The beginners would require further explanation about the doubling process. Yet, the instruction to the protagonist remains unchanged: if it is right — repeat it, if it is wrong — correct it (or put it in your own words if it’s correct, change it if it’s not or throw it out the window). Please forgive me for sounding like “Captain Obvious” — everybody knows this phrase and uses it. However, there is a voice inside me that asks for this phrase to be added after each doubling example.
And, as mentioned above, I look forward to the return of this gesture — “✌” — to be used by the participants to signal “I want to double!” at any time of the individual work.
4.5.2 Building the stage and the roles’ interaction
Here I want to give some examples of using psychodrama techniques in the individual work. I do not describe role reversal as it was covered in part 4.3 (“Does the protagonist look at the stage or at the role in front of him/her?”).
(0 — the psychodrama director; 1 — the protagonist)
126.96.36.199 To find oneself in psychodrama of the situation
- 0: And how exactly did your mother say it to you?
- 1: (…)
- 0: Let’s ask somebody to play your mother in that situation so that we can see your reaction. Who could play her?
- 1: (…)
- 0: Show to auxiliary how to play your mother in that moment.
- 1: (…)
- 0: (to the protagonist) Let’s go to that situation again and see what your feelings are there.
- 0: (to the auxiliary) Play us the mom.
188.8.131.52 To say directly to the role
- 0: Do you want to express your feelings to them directly?
- 0: Choose who will play them. If you want to speak to both of them at the same time, choose two people who are next to each other on your screen.
- 0: (to the auxiliary) Change your pose so that we could understand that you’re in the role now.
- 0: (to the protagonist) Look at them and try to tell them directly about your feelings.
4.5.3 Addressing the participants
The director needs to call any participant by their real name whether s/he is in the role or not because the former cannot use his eyes to point to the latter in online work.
For example, let’s take a protagonist (Mary) and an auxiliary ego (Ann) selected for the role of Mary’s mother. In the usual role reversal I would say:
- Ann in the mom’s role, say your words to Mary.
- Ann in Mary’s role, say your words to the mother.
- Mary, come back to the mom’s role. Mother, what do you want to say to your daughter played by Ann?
Unfortunately, this form violates the principle of addressing each person on the stage by his/her role-name as it leads to decreased engagement in the play. However, it makes the events clearer to the protagonist and other members and this — in turn — makes them more engaged in the entire process.
5 The leader’s main tasks and their implementation in online work
I want to do something unusual in this section — to describe the work of the group leader in the classic offline group and the online group simultaneously. Looking at these two formats through the prism of joint tasks may help us understand the meaning of each move and see that almost nothing changes when we switch from one format to another.
I will build this section around the list of tasks for the group leader. They will be arranged in the order in which they may arise in a typical situation. Yet, one needs to beware that each move is usually aimed at solving several problems simultaneously. The leader’s work is not just about taking the group through a number of well-known stages. It is the ability to feel if the members are lacking something for the group process, and to introduce the missing part almost invisibly, with as little movement as possible.
If you want to delve deeper and see more beauty of the subject after reading this section, please see the article “A pair of knots on the inside of the warm-ups” by Ekaterina Mikhailova (alas available only in Russian) psihodrama.ru/a1117.html.
Below there will be five paragraphs, sequentially describing the following tasks of the leader:
- How to reduce the initial anxiety.
- How to make the relationships in the group meaningful for the participants.
- How to help the group get a feeling of togetherness.
- How to help the participants get in touch with their feelings.
- How to help the participants be in an active position.
5.1 How to reduce the initial anxiety
The participants always feel anxious at the beginning of group work and it usually manifests itself in certain stillness. This is their natural anxiety from being in contact with other members, even if they are unaware of it. Anxiety causes stiffness and impedes the development of all group processes. It is usually very intense in a completely new group. If all the participants have been in the group with the same composition, their anxiety is still there but at a significantly lower level. Any changes in the composition automatically increase anxiety level to an extent that makes it an important factor during the group’s work.
One of the anxiety’s features is a certain concern about the attitude of other participants — and the next paragraph will be dedicated to it. To get to work with it, the leader will have to help reduce the initial anxiety of the participants.
Here, the leader’s main task is to deal with this anxiety and help the participants adapt to the new environment/group. Regardless of the group format, the main actions will be:
- Give the participants time to look around, while doing something rather traditional and anticipated. For example, the leader can introduce him/herself, tell something about him/herself, about the idea of this group — something rather ordinary to bring a sense of clarity about what is happening and allow the members feel relieved.
- Give the group certainty of what is going to happen in every sense of the word: tell them a few words about the work plan, breaks, work formats, while keeping in mind the goal — to make the environment more understandable and predictable and hence reduce their initial anxiety.
- Give the participants the possibility to see and “taste” the leader: see the way s/he is managing the group and his/her gentle attitude towards them. It would be good to come across as a frank, warm, predictable and coherent leader/director.
- At times, the introduction and discussion of group rules or a group ritual of accepting confidentiality clause can sometimes help reduce the initial anxiety and create a safe environment. However, I prefer to do this at a later stage rather than at the beginning of the group life.
In offline groups, the director can offer a few simple topics and invite the participants to have short discussions in pairs. This format is more comfortable and hence less stressful than talking in front of the entire group. After a few rounds of work in pairs, it will be easier for the members to return to a large group. By now they already know at least three people. Here are the examples of possible questions for the pairs:
- %2 What was your mood when you came to the group? (One minute per person.)
- %2 How did you decide to join this group? (One minute per person.)
In online groups, such a format will be too long and cumbersome. The group leader can instead do something light/simple to reduce the participants’ stiffness in front of the camera or — alternatively — facilitate the process of experiencing the initial anxiety and making it feel acceptable, e.g.:
- Ask the participants to share the first feeling they had when they saw the group.
- Ask the participants to greet other members in a visibly embarrassed manner.
The leader can also offer the group a simple structured action to give a sense of clarity and predictability until the initial anxiety subsides. For example, one can start the first round of sharing with the question: “How do you feel starting this group and what would you like to get from it?”
5.2 How to make group relationships meaningful for the participants
5.2.1 “Concern about attitude”
Usually, we are affected even by simply entering the room with other people — we start experiencing ourselves in the group. We start feeling surrounded by people and feel ourselves visible to them. Remember entering the room with a group of unknown individuals? One shyly looks at others and tries to understand how to behave here. This condition can be explained as “I am slightly worried, I do not know how to behave in this group, how to feel safe here and what kind of relationships I will have with these people”. Our socio-biological nature manifests itself here — we are concerned about the relationships with all the people surrounding us, their attitude matters to us. This type of concern is possibly the most important aspect of our group experience.
The semi-conscious concern “I care about the attitude towards me” (hereinafter referred to as “concern about attitude”) is also important for the leader. It can be considered as a door through which s/he can access the participants’ experience of inclusion in the group and further to the therapeutic effects of the group psychotherapy. Sometimes the participants are worried very little — it looks like “the attitude of others is not very important to me.” Online experience clearly demonstrates that the lack of concern about the attitude has a negative effect on the development of group processes. If only a few participants are concerned about attitude, the group cohesion will likely be weak.
The above-mentioned deficit of “concern about attitude” is quite rare for the offline groups. On the contrary, the concern is often so high that it blocks the participants from expressing themselves in a group. The leader has to choose exercises that will help them feel free to express themselves to a possible and comfortable degree. This makes the deficit of “concern about attitude” in online groups especially interesting and makes one eager to investigate it even further.
These two factors — “concern about attitude” and the encouragement of the participants to express themselves and interact with each other — help them be included in the group. Sometimes the leader can facilitate the group development by activating the participants’ “concern”. Yet, this should be done very carefully — if the level gets too high, the participants may shut down and stop expressing themselves in the group.
To summarize the above-mentioned:
- “Concern about attitude” factor is important for the group leader. S/he has to work on activating or increasing it if it is insufficient.
- “Concern about attitude” should not be too strong. The leader has to work on lowering it if the participants find it difficult expressing themselves and interacting with other group members.
- “Concern about attitude” coupled with the interaction with other members makes them more and more included in the group and leads to the group’s development.
5.2.2 “Activating” the participants’ concern about attitude
The easiest way to activate it is to suggest the participants open up to the group a bit more than they have done already. It reinforces their concern about “how I will be perceived” and makes them eager to be accepted. When a person opens up to a group, this launches two factors — it activates a person’s concern about the attitude of others and also leads to the interaction with them.
There is no need to think about it in offline groups — it happens automatically there. The members are concerned about each other just by being in the same room with or/and talking to others. This can be easily reinforced by asking them to say something about themselves — to have the voice of each participant be heard in silence by the entire group, and to have each of them say something meaningful about him/herself to the others. This usually happens during the traditional initial round of sharing (and it actually is the main task of this part of the session). If the participants open up while being concerned about attitude at this stage, it creates a special group atmosphere. When the person opens up in the group, the attitude of others starts being more important to him/her — this activates the importance of the relationships and makes the person who shared to feel more included in the group.
This aspect works differently in the online groups and it should be described in detail. It is easy to stay in the shadow in and not feel this particular concern about attitude in the online group. One may even say something about him/herself but the feeling “I care about how others see me and what they feel for me” (“concern about attitude”) may not materialize. As a result, the relationship with the others (and the group) does not become important, the participant risks staying disconnected.
To compensate for that and to make the group feel more connected, the leader can make a number of steps to activate the participants’ concern about attitude by suggesting them to reveal something more personal. The trick will be to offer the right degree of opening up that would “wake up” the right level of concern — not too little and not too much — at every particular moment of the group’s life.
The levels of self-disclosure/self-representation can be roughly divided into three levels. The leader can choose between them depending on the group’s needs:
- Formal. The leader can offer the participants to share something formal with the group — e.g. his/her name, city or profession — something easily shared with strangers. Yet, mentioning one’s professional status and experience among the colleagues may already prove to be difficult for some.
- Personal. This means to ask them to say something that would set them apart from others, yet something unemotional, not too deep. For instance, they can talk about something important on their desk.
- Emotional. The leader can offer them to share something emotionally important that makes them feel vulnerable. They can share their most emotional moment during an exercise or something that bothered them during the week.
Every group always has a few participants who are more warmed up than the others and who are ready to start sharing at the third level. Yet, if the leader follows their line, s/he risks losing the rest of the group. S/he should take the group deeper step-by-step following the least warmed up participants. The list of levels can be used as a set of steps to be followed for gradual inclusion of all members.
The leader can activate the members’ concern about attitude with the help of sociometric instruments. For instance, the participant with most votes starts feeling important to the group, whereas the one who gets no votes feels excluded. Both reactions help activate the above-mentioned concern.
The leader may also work by enhancing the effects of being visible and present in the group. For instance, s/he may ask them to keep the microphones on or suggest prolonging “unpleasant moments of silence” for a little longer.
A few additional ideas on the subject of concern about attitude can be found here:
The leader can start focusing on the participants’ interaction and moving the group towards better cohesion once its members feel themselves among the people and find the relationship with them valuable.
5.3 How to help the group get a sense of togetherness
Human being is an amazing creature: s/he can be physically present in the room with other people and at the same time not interact with them and not feel as a part of the group. The feeling of being part of the group is closely linked to the participant’s emotional empathy towards others. When we feel as part of the group, we start feeling emotional empathy towards its members. Once a person begins to feel emotional empathy for other members, s/he starts feeling part of the group. These two processes develop in parallel and help reinforce each other.
The therapeutic effects of the group psychotherapy are very tightly linked to the feeling of being part of the group and having an emotional attachment to other participants. However, we do not gather the group to simply make people play roles in psychodrama sessions. We get them together to help experience the effects of group therapy that are of incomparable power. Therefore, one of the key priorities of the leader would be to help his/her group members feel a stake in this group.
To achieve that, the leader has to create situations in which the members will interact with each other in different ways: look at, talk to, address, copy each other and do something together. There is a large number of techniques and warm-ups to help with this. Below please see a number of the most common techniquest and some of those I prefer to use.
In offline groups, to make the group more connected, the leader may offer its participants some exercises that would encourage their gradual interaction with each other. These exercises are arranged in approximately increasing complexity:
- The dialogues in pairs on a particular topic. This format is good for the first/early stage. A two-minute dialogue encourages interaction. It comes significantly easier than the group interaction. Some examples of such instructions were already given above. To make them have deeper effect, one can ask the members to emotionally connect with each other or emotionally respond to each other, for example, like this:
- 0: When you will be talking to each other, please do not use logic — listen carefully with your heart. At the end, you will have half a minute to share the moment that resonated with you.
- The exercises in pairs. These are different tasks that require some body/moving/game action, again done in pairs. They are tricky — there is a risk that these exercises will be premature for more reserved participants and simultaneously overstimulating for the others. Both results would be bad for the group dynamics.
- The sociometric exercises. In these exercises, the participants will have to choose each other according to the criteria offered by the leader. They are suitable for the current tasks in the later stages of the group life, provided the criteria are very “soft.” Each participant must choose one fellow member for each criterion. Each choice will lead to an intense emotional experience between the two people, and this is exactly what is needed! If a group leader wants to support the development of the group’s emotional connection without exacerbating anything, the wording could be the following:
- 0: Offhand, without thinking too much and as it seems now (it may already be different in a minute), choose one person from this group:
- Whom — it seems — you have not seen for a long time.
- Whom you did not have time to greet a bit longer than the others.
- Whom you were thinking about after our previous meeting.
- Whose condition today seems to be similar to yours.
- 0: Offhand, without thinking too much and as it seems now (it may already be different in a minute), choose one person from this group:
- Joint group activities. This is also a very large range of exercises. There are sociometric line-ups and joint discussions at one end of the spectrum, and at the other — there are games and assignments for the entire group. The most important task here is for the group to start doing something together in order to adjust to each other and take each other into account. A few examples of exercises within this subgroup, from simple to complex:
- Sociometric line-ups between the two poles, e.g. from being active to being tired.
- Move within the group’s space and gradually start interacting (for instance, greeting each other).
- Do something together (as a “chorus”), e.g. repeat gestures, sounds or even poems.
- Line up according to some criterion, e.g. by the first letter of a name.
- Participate in a group (or children’s) game according to the proposed rules.
- Try to solve a puzzle together proposed by the leader.
- The most complex joint actions listed at the end will have the most powerful effect, but they also require more warmed up participants. The above-mentioned list of exercises for this goal is not exclusive. All group actions, including discussions, when participants strive to act in unison would work. Undoubtedly, individual psychodramatic work itself is a manifestation of a joint action where the group feels as a witness and “accomplice” in this process.
- Work in subgroups. I put this group last and consider it the most difficult one because unlike the previous exercises, it does not have a leader. This pushes the participants to be even more involved and self-organized. Those able to partake in this type of assignment will feel strongly connected to the group in the end; whereas those who fail to participate will likely shut down. Therefore, this form requires a relatively warmed up group and reasonable/careful application. A classic example would be to ask the subgroups to discuss something and then show it in the form of a scene.
The above-mentioned exercises should not be treated as stages but rather as an arsenal of the leader’s techniques to be used in order to support group cohesion if the need occurs.
As said, I tried to arrange them from simple to more complex/complicated. The exercises on top of the list require lighter warm up of the participants whereas the actions on the bottom would need greater preliminary warm-up to give the best result, “best” meaning that all the members who have participated in it would get closer to each other while avoiding the following negative effects:
- shutting down if they would not be properly warmed up for the task;
- overstimulation if the task would require more efforts than naturally needed;
- enhanced polarization of the group (as the rise of one sub-group leads to the rise of the other).
Finally, about the online groups. The leader needs to pay special attention to developing the participants’ connectivity in online work as the above-mentioned tools of offline work are not fully available. Recent online work showed us the importance of a physical space and non-verbal response to each other for the development of connectivity between the participants. Below are the leader’s main tools to help group get a feeling of togetherness online:
1. Support the mutual response of participants to each other, physical expression of emotions and gestures.
- For details please see section: 2.4.2. Support participants’ response to each other
2. Organize the group process involving all the participants.
- For details please see section: 2.4.3. Organize group process that involves all participants
3. Offer joint actions to help the participants get in tune with each other.
- For details please see section: 2.5.3. Steps for feeling togetherness in an online group
4. Do simple sociometry exercises by raising hands.
- For details please see section: 3.1.2. Simple sociometry through raising hands
5.3.1 Psychodramatic work as the main group action
The power and the beauty of psychodrama certainly lays in its main group action — psychodramatic work for the protagonist. The individual psychodramatic work in a group (dramatization) is a joint action, created by all the members together. It takes the group to the next level of cohesion and connectivity. The individual work creates a strong emotional connection between the members and the protagonist, as well as within the group. It is after all one of the strongest forces that molds the group together.
This is exactly how the group psychotherapy and individual dramatizations reinforce and complement each other. A safe and connected group creates an environment for deep individual works while individual works bring the participants even closer. The leader works on group cohesion before the psychodramatic work not just to prepare the environment for the dramatization, but also to help the dramatization enhance the group cohesion. In that case, besides the therapeutic effect of dramatization we create appropriate conditions for group psychotherapy of the entire group.
The dramatization is the most powerful instrument for the development of group cohesion. In its efficiency, it exceeds any other exercises with similar aim. Firstly, individual psychodramatic work is a very real joint action for all members compared to the game-like warm-ups. The participants will always think of the latter as staged exercises. The people can only get closer to each other if they experience something meaningful and real together, without a taste of a game. Individual psychodramatic works give the chance to do just that — have something very real, genuine and important at least for one of its members.
The issues described in this paragraph allow us to look at the entire group psychodrama from a different angle.
- If dramatization is the best group action, then all other warm-up exercises would have to be moving the group towards the dramatization to make it work for the protagonist and the entire group.
- The process of choosing a protagonist is an important aspect of the participants’ further emotional engagement in the dramatization. All aspects matter during the selection process. We listen and try to connect. We are choosing according to criteria “Whose work will benefit me the most?” While choosing the protagonist, we are joining the worries of being chosen/not chosen and becoming much more involved in the entire process. Everybody participates in the selection process and every voice counts. This increases the participants’ engagement in the joint action — help the group reach its meta-goal. All efforts are called to maintain group unity and cohesion, even the process of taking care of those who have not been chosen.
- This explains why the leader is so eager to involve the entire group in the dramatization as much as possible: be that for playing roles, doubling, saying things together, and emotionally connecting to the others.
- This also helps understand the main criteria for developing methods and techniques for our online work. The leader should aim at involving and including the entire group in the joint action during the individual work online as much as s/he does offline. This should be as good as offline work involving and including the entire group in a joint action for the sake of the protagonist.
5.4 How to help the participants get in touch with their feelings
Many people who come to the group therapy are disconnected from their own feelings. This happens for many reasons but we are especially interested in these two:
- The intellectual and volitional processes required for regular activities inherently suppress and inhibit their emotions. Therefore, the members need to move from being unaware of their emotions to being connected with them. Once the connection with one’s own feelings is established, it becomes easier for the person to feel both his/her own emotions and understand the emotions of others. Usually, the connection with one’s feelings develops in parallel with the growth of emotional connection with others, and these two processes reinforce each other.
- Our psyche has a natural property to remove, hide or displace uncomfortable feelings, especially, the ones that feel as painful and at the same time the work on which would be the most beneficial. It activates various defense mechanisms, mainly, the simplest one — distancing from all feelings and emotions. All the leader has to do is to help the participants connect with their feelings to enable them to work on the most painful ones.
Generally speaking, the leader has to encourage the participants to connect with their own feelings and try to understand the emotions of others. Prior to that, the leader may need to help them move from an “action/activity mode” to the mode of “feeling one’s emotions” by:
- Inviting the participants — in one form or another — to “slow down” during the session, stop thinking about the outside world, and turn inwards by focusing on their emotional state. One can use certain words and/or intonation, or invite the participants to do some actions or rituals at the beginning of the session.
- If the session takes place in the evening of a work week, the participants may need to share something about their day to have a certain closure and then be able to focus on being in the group.
5.4.1 Supporting (maintaining) the direct contact with emotions
The group leader can help the participants connect with the feelings by supporting their emotional processes. S/he can do the following at any stage of the group work:
- “Validate” (or give affirmative reaction to) the emotionality in their stories by giving a strong reaction to the most emotional parts or simply echo these parts.
- Ask the participants about their feelings.
- Emotionally connect to the participants when they share their stories and try to double their emotions
- Observe the participants’ physical and emotional phenomenology and rely on it when choosing further interventions.
- Ask them to carefully listen to each other’s emotions, connect and respond to each other.
The group leader can also propose a number of exercises that directly support the manifestation of emotions, for example:
- The exercises with role reversals, role-playing and/or interaction from different roles.
- The exercises with the members tuning in with each other and emotionally responding to each other.
All exercises involving the roles’ or participants’ interaction will help the group cohesion described earlier.
In this aspect, there seems to be no fundamental difference between the offline and online group work except for the acknowledgement of the participant’s feelings that should be more pronounced in the latter format.
If the participants manage to connect with their feelings, they get their emotions “ventilated” from almost any type of emotional work that takes place in the group. All frozen and suppressed processes are starting to move, letting the participants feel them and be liberated from them. Many people join therapy groups precisely for this effect.
5.4.2 Two tips for a good warm-up
What is the most interesting part of helping the participants connect with their emotions? Of course, getting in touch with those about to be suppressed. This is where the group leader turns into a magician and the art and beauty begins! It becomes a piece of art because the process cannot be fully described and put into an algorithm, not that it is even necessary.
Two simple tips — the leader can create a warm-up that helps the participants connect with their feelings that are “about to be to be suppressed” in the following way: 1) “experimental action + reflection” or 2) “diversity of feelings + reflection.”
“The experimental action” — is a task that would involve some of the participants’ unconscious/spontaneous or not very controlled processes. For instance:
- In this room please find an object that you do not like for some reason and start talking to yourself (the person) and the world from its role.
- Make a drawing of your current emotional state, find something that causes the strongest feeling when you look at it, put on the role of that something and speak from it.
- Select an item/card/postcard from a set proposed by the leader, which, naturally, has been previously arranged to offer a variety of choices.
- Try to imagine an empty chair in the middle of the room and different people from your life on it.
The participants should be encouraged to reflect on their feelings after the experimental part. The experiences that pop up as a result of unconscious/spontaneous actions can be “caught” during the reflection. The following questions can be asked during that process:
- 0: Please pay attention to the feelings that emerged during the exercise. Looking at them, please find the ones that:
- Surprised you most of all and seemed interesting to you.
- Attract and worry you the most now.
- 0: When you imagined different people in this chair — whose image has made you feel strongest? You can keep the answer to yourself but please acknowledge it at least inside your head.
Here is an even easier way. Instead of an experimental action, the leader can make the group do something to bring a variety of emotions to the surface, and then invite them to reflect on what resonated most. Some examples:
- The exercise “Psychodramatic picture” — each participant chooses something that provoked his/her emotions, reverses roles with it, finds a place on the group picture and introduces him/herself from that role.
- The exercise where the leader marks out a number of zones with different roles/positions/emotions asking the participants to walk around and see how they feel in each of them.
- The exercise where the participants will find themselves in quite a wide range of different roles: people, objects, abstract phenomena, and something pleasant/unpleasant etc.
Once this part is over, the participants should be invited to reflect on their feelings as well:
- 0: Please pay attention to your emotions during the earlier exercise. Which ones interested you? Which of them surprised you? Which ones, perhaps, helped you understand what was actually bothering you?
5.5 How to help the participants be in the active position
This subject is as important as the others, even if it comes last. It is crucial from the very first moment of the group’s life to its very last minutes: from getting to know each other to assimilating the experience.
The entire psychotherapy works on one very important condition — the client must be an active participant of the therapy process: s/he must want something, agree with the course of the therapy, understand the proposed actions and agree with them, and focus on a certain real and relevant difficulty in today’s life. The person becomes a client or takes on a client’s role/position once s/he starts being an active participant of the therapy process, makes independent decisions and seeks to do as much as s/he can on her/his own.
The group leader can do a number of things to help the group members take on the client’s role. Below please see some of our basic tools. S/he can:
- ask the participants about their motivation, especially at the beginning of the group.
- invite them to think about their life and focus on a real current difficulty.
- invite them to choose a topic or a difficulty that is relevant to them today.
- encourage them to think and decide whether their therapy work is moving in the right direction.
- ask them to independently choose what the important parts in the group work.
In other words, the members need to both be in contact with their feelings and decide to work with them during the session. This decision indicates the participant’s permission for therapy work and gives him/her a chance to become the active participant in his/her therapy process. The participant may have strong feelings towards a certain topic but it may differ from the topic that s/he agreed to work with. This situation may be traumatic for him/her. The leader should “activate” the client’s role from the very first minutes of the group session and increase the chances of focusing on the topic that s/he personally chooses to work with.
In addition to all the above, there are two techniques (methods) aiming at similar results that should be described separately:
1. The exercise to activate the client’s role, to be done in pairs.
- 0: Please find your pair, you will have 4 minutes to work in each direction. Decide who is going to be “a client” and “a silent listener” in your pair — go for one round and then change roles.
- 0: The speaker takes half a minute to start gradually looking inwards and trying to notice what is going on in her/his life right now. Then, in a slow and lazy manner, s/he will list some events, thoughts, anxieties, and problems that have occupied her/his mind for the last few weeks… Just list everything that pops up now. After doing this for about 3 minutes, please ask yourself the following question: “which of these issues (or something else) is the most relevant to me today?”, think about it, choose one and, if you want, say it to your silent listener. Try spending a few minutes on listing all you have got before making your choice.
2. A universal tweak to the majority of exercises meant to activate the client’s role. After any exercise or series of exercises that expose some of the participant’s feelings (this is important!), the leader can say the following:
- 0: Something was happening here today. Please ask yourself — what touched you or provoked strong emotions in you during this session. Choose something that seems the most relevant for you today, something that you would like to change, or something where you could advance. Say it in your head — there is no need to say it out loud, or share it with the group if you feel like.
When it comes to keeping the participants in the active position, there seems to be no fundamental difference between the online and the offline formats.
In addition to being active in making decisions, the client’s role also means focusing on one’s personal feelings and naming them… but this is another story that goes beyond the scope of this article.
5.6 Summary of all section in two tables
Below are two tables with a brief summary of key ideas from this article — to cater for those who appreciate concise information in a table format.
6.1 Sketches of possible online workshops
I want to make a few sketches of possible online workshops, based on everything I said before. These examples can explain the logic of designing an online event. Here is the first sketch. Sign “%” means “group action.”
6.1.1 Highly structured online workshop
% The group leader presents him/herself, briefly explains the time limits and the general plan.
% Simple quick sociometry by raising hands.
- Please raise your hand if you are more cheerful rather than tired now.
- And now, please raise a hand if you are more tired rather than cheerful.
- Please raise a hand if you are more confident rather than unsure about Zoom.
- Now, please raise a hand if you are unsure rather than confident with Zoom.
% Ask each participant to tell their name and city.
% Ask each participant to describe what they see outside their window in two sentences.
% With the entire group, make a gallery of:
- glam photos;
- shots from horror movies;
- pictures of clowns;
- photos from the webcam at the wrong moments.
% Set the group rules.
% Make a few physical exercises together with mirroring the leader.
% The first step towards something personal
- Please put on a role of an event from your calendar that was cancelled because of the lockdown. Tell the group about yourself and what you would want to say to the person who was supposed to attend you.
% The main action
- Please, put on a role of something from your life that was on your mind this week. It may be an event, a person, or a phenomena of your today’s reality. And talk with these roles one after the other. (…) Please raise your hands when you are ready. Who is ready?
- Common questions:
- Who are you?
- What do you doing?
- What is your influence on the owner?
- Do you want to say something to the owner?
- And maybe a role reversal and a short reply.
% Sharing after the main action
- We will not discuss the situation, we will only talk about our feelings.
% Towards the end
- Let’s go to the future when the lockdown is over and normal life begins. Take a role of yourself in this future! How do you feel here? (…) What are you doing here? (…) What are your body sensations now? (…) What do you like here? (…) What do you think and feel about the lockdown time? Please think of yourself in the lockdown and find a few words for yourself back then. (…) Please, raise your hand when you are ready. Who is ready to say something to yourself from the future to the lockdown time?
% Last round of sharing
6.1.2 Support group based on the group work
% The group leader presents himself, announces the schedule, time, purposes of the work
% The group leader asks every participant to tell his/her name and where he is based now.
% Sociometric voting
- To demonstrate how the exercise works
- 0: Those of you who feel fresh rather than tired at the moment, please raise your hand.
- 0: Those of you who are tired rather than fresh at the moment, please raise your hand.
- About adapting to quarantine
- 0: Those of you who have adapted to the situation rather than not, please raise your hand.
- 0: Those of you who haven’t adapted to the situation rather than adapted, please raise your hand.
- 0: I can’t adapt because…
- 0: I feel that I rather adapted and the following was helpful: …
- About ending of the quarantine
- 0: Let’s imagine the two poles. At one of the poles, we have “I want this to end immediately”, and at another — “No problem if it will take more time”.
- 0: Who wants this to end as soon as possible?
- 0: And who doesn’t want this to end very soon?
- 0: I don’t want this to end very soon because…
- 0: But if it ends soon, the first thing I will do…
- 0: Let’s imagine the two poles. At one of the poles, we have “I want this to end immediately”, and at another — “No problem if it will take more time”.
% Psychodramatic picture “Our quarantine”
- 0: Certainly, you are hooked to something these days, maybe news or a phenomenon that symbolizes what is happening around us. It probably doesn’t come from the external reality, it may be something personal, for example, an emotionally charged concern or difficulty. Please, take your time and choose one strongest, the most frequent or the most important thing.
- 0: Then do the following: take the role of this subject, phenomenon, difficulty, and present it by a body movement or a sign and tell us who you are.
- (Brief interviewing of the roles)
% Long and detailed sharing
- 0: We have just seen many things that we worried about as a group. I am sure some things resonated with you and caused an emotional response in you. Now you may have a better understanding of what are the most difficult and emotionally charged issues for you. Try to say what has affected you most or what you have understood better about yourself.
6.2 The script’s scraps…
The script’s scraps is a secret box that contains small fragments of the text that were not included in the final draft. At some point, it became clear that they would not fit here. I left them in this part as a small piece for the gourmands.
6.2.1 Close to or far from the camera?
I have no idea how my thinking about the online work will change one day. Today, I think it is better for everyone and for the group work if the participants and the leader sit closer to the camera. Ideally, each participant should be visible approximately to the shoulders or maximum to the elbows. Seeing the group in a number of small icons on the screen gives us the possibility to read the participants’ emotions based on their facial expressions.
For individual sessions, one may sometimes need a completely different camera position. In some cases, the therapist and the client can be further away from the camera to show a larger part of both bodies on the screen and try to replicate the effect of an offline session. This format can be useful for clients whose therapy success depends on the tension in their client-therapy relations.
6.2.2 Breakout rooms in Zoom
I will not go into details about Zoom’s breakout rooms here. I will only give the text of the messages that I usually send to the participants working in pairs to help them manage their working time:
Exchange of roles in pairs:
- After 1 minute, change roles!
- Say 1-2 phrases and change roles.
- I assume that everyone has already changed roles. (One minute after the previous message.)
End of work in pairs:
- Around 2 minutes left to complete your work in pairs.
- Around 1 minute left to complete your work in pairs.
- Say 1-2 phrases, thank each other and come back to the group.
- Say 1-2 phrases, briefly share your impressions, thank each other and come back to the group.
- Please come back! We are waiting for you in the group room!
6.2.3 Soft ending of the group
This is a completely insignificant detail, but I feel an urge to write about it. I noticed that if something good was happening in the online group session, the session did not end quickly. After everybody says their goodbyes and the leader announces the end of the session, the participants take a few more minutes to leisurely disconnect one by one. A participant says goodbye to the group, those who are still there respond to him/her, and then s/he “leaves the room”. This is exactly how the members of the offline groups gradually disperse: with one-two people leaving the room, taking time to say goodbye or leaving fast, so that everyone can comfortably end the group for him/herself. Once I saw it spontaneously taking place a few times online, I started supporting such endings: I allowed the participants to leave at their most comfortable speed.
This text is a reflection of experience that I gained and systematized within three months of online work. Undoubtedly, many details will get clearer as the experience grows. However, I would be glad if the text would already be helpful to some of you. I would be grateful to all my readers for any questions or feedback — I really need it. Look forward to hearing from you!