Therapists’ Perceptions of Online Group Therapeutic Relationships During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Survey-Based Study

Salvatore Gullo, Gianluca Lo Coco, Molyn Leszcz, Cheri L. Marmarosh, Joseph R. Miles, Zipora Shechtman, Rainer Weber, Giorgio A. Tasca

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: In 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most group therapists moved their practice to online platforms. Surveys of psychotherapists indicate that many intend to maintain at least part of their practices online after the pandemic. This survey-based study is an attempt to identify therapist experienceswith doing group therapy online, and to examine factors that are associated with therapist-rated outcomes. Method: We surveyed 307 group therapists about their ratings of the ease or difficulty in conducting group therapy online versus in-person, and indicators of patient outcomes in online groups.Aconfirmatory factor analysis resulted in a good fitting three latent factor solution: group therapeutic process factor (therapist ratings of ease to foster therapeutic alliance, group cohesion, and patient self-disclosure), group therapist factor (therapist presence, empathy, and focus in online therapy), and group therapeutic challenges factors in online work (related to the difficulty of working through conflict, managing avoidance, observing nonverbal communication, and discomfort during the online session). An online group therapy outcome factor was the dependent variable modeled as a latent factor of therapists’ perception of patient outcomes and their own satisfaction with online groups. In a structural equation model, higher levels of the group therapeutic processes and group therapist factors, and lower group challenges were associated with higher online group therapy outcomes. Discussion: The present study suggests that online groups operate based on many of the same factors that have been supported in in-person group treatment. These factors were associated with the therapist’s perceptions of online group effectiveness. However, difficulties in managing relationships in the online session may represent a barrier to enacting group therapeutic factors. Postpandemic research on conducting online group therapy and managing online therapeutic relationships may lessen perceived drawbacks to its use.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-118
Number of pages16
JournalGroup Dynamics
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022. American Psychological Association


  • Group psychotherapy
  • Online group therapy
  • Survey of group therapists

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Applied Psychology


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