Engaging Patients in Video-Based Groups—Leadership and Staff Confidence
When COVID-19 interrupted in-person group therapy at Strong Recovery in March 2020, the substance use disorder treatment program took their groups online using a video platform. During this transition, the program’s leaders made sure staff felt well-prepared and supported.
This discussion is part of a series that expands on our article “We’re Not Alone”: Preserving Group Therapy through Videoconferencing during COVID-19.”
Three members of the Strong Recovery team spoke with Christine Lasher, director of UR Medicine Recovery Center of Excellence, about the role effective leadership played in promoting staff confidence in this approach:
- Julie Achtyl, Program Director of the Strong Recovery Outpatient Clinic
- Charles Brown, Therapist
- John Cardinale, Peer Recovery Specialist
We are continuing the conversation with Julie Achtyl director of chemical dependence outpatient services at Strong Recovery Charles Brown therapist at Strong Recovery and John Cardinale peer recovery specialist this time highlighting the role organizational leadership plays in promoting the importance of group therapy and how that leads to staff confidence and buy-in. can you describe how important group therapy is to the suite of services you provide your clients today and do you feel fully supported by your leadership team i've been with this leadership team for quite a while every time that there was a challenge they rose to the occasion and that's what it's all about that's what that writer meant when he says anybody can steer the ship but it takes a leader to chart the course we got some real leaders on that leadership team and i feel very confident in what they do all of this is about trust and the speed of trust is not about how much you know how much do you care and john how about your thoughts on this topic what groups mean to the patients that that come in here is it's kind of everything they get to come in here and you know let loose and you know understand uh and group they get to see their friends and their peers and you know people that are also struggling and it's very encouraging so a lot of them our leadership throughout this whole process you know starting back in march and all the changes we had to make they've just been there for any questions any concerns and being flexible is the name of the game and you know we're just doing our best to you know take care of the people that we need to take care of can you talk about how invested strong recoveries leadership is in group therapy as a general practice and how you make that known to the staff would you consider this a part of your organization's dna and did this help to bolster the confidence that they had we recognize that group therapy is the most powerful form of treatment that you could ever give a person that's uh has substance use disorder so we are very lucky that we have highly skilled staff that come in here ready and excited to conduct group therapy and to come up with new and innovative ideas for our patients the therapists come to our program as an employee with a skill set but then they get to see how strong recovery does group therapy they get to see the focus the passion the attention that we put on group therapy because we know that it works it's the heartbeat of strong recovery and we treat it like that so the therapists recognize right from the start that group therapy is the most important part of our treatment and that's why we've been working so hard to make sure that we can continue to provide that high level of standard of care to our patients even throughout the pandemic we don't have any regrets about what we've done since corona hit we've taken advantage of everything that's been put on the table and we've moved forward with it and we're standing in front of the curve by putting into play those things we don't we don't have that shoulda coulda woulda but we didn't shoulda coulda woulda didn't we did when you suddenly had to pivot to delivering group therapy remotely could you sense a shift in confidence of your staff and how did that appear to you so there was a lot of confidence building from the leadership team from trainings that we did from myself going around to people individually to talk to them where are you at with this in implementation how are you feeling about it and what can i do to help you our staff was incredibly confident in their skills as group therapists because they had to do it almost every day so then you're asking them to do the same exact skill but to do it with a screen in between you and your patients and that in and of itself created a very significant decrease in confidence i'm concerned about the technology i'm concerned about how this is going to work i feel uncomfortable in front of a screen who do i look at you know does my hair look okay even you know it's like people are so concerned because they have to actually look at themselves there's so many more things to consider that get in your mind and get distracting when you have to do such an important job such as being a group facilitator but the confidence comes from practicing the skill from doing it over and over and over again until it becomes a new habit until it becomes second nature and i truly believe that a strong recovery we're at that place and we have a very supportive leadership team that's been supporting that process did you experience kind of a change in your own confidence and how did you overcome those feelings charles as we move to video-based group therapy uh one writer says practice does not make perfect perfect practice makes perfect in order to get it right you must first learn it right julie helped me to learn it right dr marcus in the group psychotherapy course taught me how to learn it right so then it was just about putting it into play and you put it into play by practicing and then you do deliberate practice like athletes do a baseball player will sometimes practice hitting sometimes practice fielding where you have to do the deliberate practice corona may be discomforting the disease of addiction may be discomforting the overdoses may be discomforting but we have learned how to flourish in our discomfort and deliver a quality product to our patients and john how about you did you experience any change in confidence and then what did you do about that yeah absolutely i was to be honest like quite terrified um to be you know switching to you know a computer-based you know platform um because i'm not a tech guy you know just not not my style and um you know i definitely miss being in the room with people and being able to you know just you know feel the energy and feel the vibe of you know being around you know an exciting conversation but you know as um as things went on i you know just you learn to adapt and you learn to be flexible and have the group run as fluidly as possible so what was leadership's role in promoting healthcare among your own staff during this time of coven 19.
i know the pressures of work and life are challenging while also trying to accommodate a new way of doing things so how did how did leadership deal with that and encouraging people to take care of themselves um we were so focused on making ends meet in a pandemic that had to transition expeditiously to telehealth we were a bit lost and we were just trying to find our way each day we did everything we could to support our staff we created a staggered schedule a split shift so staff were working at home and working at the clinic and it occurred to me one day that we've lost the spirit of strong recovery strong recovery has always been a vibrant lively energetic fun family so one day as a leadership team we said to each other we have to fix this we've got to figure something else out what do we want to make sure that we're doing for our staff you have to be creative with that you have to put on your thinking cap you have to figure out what's going to work for the staff what are they going to appreciate how are they going to know how much we appreciate them so we've created some fun fridays where we pick a theme each friday and we encourage the staff to join in and participate we recognize our staff at our staff meetings every month we check in with our staff and check in on their self-care this has been an incredibly stressful time for our staff because of what they're managing outside of work so we want to ensure are you able to continue to manage your job responsibilities given the stressors you have outside of work we have been very supportive in um any type of accommodations people are requesting but most importantly we had to be mindful of our interactions with our staff and again be more intentional with that what have you learned as a leader through this transition i learned a lot about telehealth but aside from that what is most important is to recognize that everyone has a different way of learning because you can sit there and try to train a group of people and you have that quiet person that's not going to ask questions and they don't understand it at all and if you had started with an individual approach from the beginning you could have caught some of those questions in a more comfortable way for them so i really learned the value of meeting with people face to face and recognizing the importance of that and recognizing how much people appreciate that never take for granted that individual one-on-one learning opportunities that staff need thanks to julie charles and john for joining us for more information on the importance of leadership in the context of group therapy this discussion continues at recoverycenterofexcellence.org
under updates and you will find another brief interview entitled engaging patients report building
Learn more about therapists’ perspectives on videoconferencing group therapy.
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