With the restrictions of COVID and social distancing the need for virtual support groups has grown. Having the ability to facilitate groups through conference calls and/or Zoom has worked to keep people connected during a difficult time. And while these platforms have been a lifeline for people who are isolated, they pose unique challenges for the facilitator.
The Without Warning group has been offering weekly Zoom groups for caregivers and twice monthly groups for people with dementia. Not everyone from our program is able or interested in utilizing a Zoom platform. On the other hand, though, we have had people join meetings from across the country. What is interesting, though, is the people who are attending have developed a strong bond that might not have been there when meeting in person.
There might be a benefit in offering virtual groups even when the need for social distancing is relaxed.
Here are issues to consider when offering a virtual group.
- The issue of confidentiality is different with a virtual group. You might need to consider who is in the room with the person or able to hear the meeting. If this is a concern, you might need to have a conversation with the individual or the whole group.
- You might have someone join a meeting and it is difficult to know who it is. Maybe their name isn’t visible, or they don’t identify themselves. You might need stop a meeting to make sure everyone is identified and supposed to be in the group. I have also disconnected a person if I am not sure who they are. When that has happened, I will announce what I am doing so it is clear to all why someone is be removed from the meeting.
- Meetings for people with dementia might be a bit different on a virtual platform. The caregiver might be present for times during the meeting to help with technical issues or you might change the group to be for both people. Our music therapy group used to be for only the person with dementia. Through Zoom, we have made it for both the person with dementia and their caregiver. It has become a beneficial time for both people.
- Not everyone is comfortable on a virtual platform. There can be background noise and/or movement which could be distracting. As the facilitator, you might need to mute people or turn off their camera. You might need to offer individual training sessions for a participant to practice unmuting and turning on their camera.
- For people with dementia, it can be good, at times, to encourage them to utilize speaker view. Our music therapist will do this when she wants the group to focus on her. They will utilize gallery view when seeing the whole group is beneficial.
- Facilitating a support group through a conference call and/or video platform requires some flexibility. People might need to step away for a moment to care for an issue at home. They might arrive late to the meeting or leave early. People might disengage their camera for a bit. This is all behavior we might not see with an in-person group. You might need to discuss the need for flexibility during this time with the whole group or a specific individual.
Use of the Chat Function
- During a virtual support group, members might start using the chat function. We have found this another way for the group to support each other and offer comments. Not all group members might be able to see the chat or contribute to it. As the facilitator, you might need to monitor the chat and read any comments which should be shared with the entire group. If this is difficult, you might consider turning the chat function off for the meeting.
Poor Internet Connection
- At times you might experience poor internet connection. It could be the platform, an issue on your end or with a group member. You might need to encourage people to turn off their camera to see if that improves their audio. Or you might need to encourage a person to call in instead of using the sound through their computer.