Hi, my name is Tienne Simons, and I am a mental health social worker working in Sydney, Australia with a Not for Profit called Lilly Pilly. In Oz, we have a program called NDIS, the National Disability Insurance Scheme. NDIS is a government-funded program that provides support for people with disabilities, both physical and psychosocial.

Last year I sat down with a colleague, and we were lamenting the fact that there were very few appropriate psychologically orientated programs for our clients on NDIS. We began to brainstorm ideas. A couple of months later, I did some further DBT training and in researching texts for DBT came across Julie Browns’ Emotional Regulation Skills System for Cognitively Challenged Clients. Suddenly we had a group to run throughout NDIS clients.

We began a small cohort of 4 to 5 people in February this year. Three weeks later we were in the thick of COVID19. It became impossible to meet as a group, but nobody wanted to leave. We moved to Zoom. We lost one person along the way and had just three or four people attending most weeks. Yet this small number suited the chaos of Zoom. The social distancing rules relaxed by week 12, and we met face to face for our final group.

It was an enjoyable experience, and all three of the very regular participants said they would do the group again – but wanted to meet face-to-face. The group members were very different in their needs and abilities but participated generously, and it gelled. The skills were equally relevant to all.

We are now running the program a second time and made a conscious decision to do this on zoom. We’ve done this for a few reasons:

  • many of our clients are socially anxious and won’t attend a face-to-face group-this format is good practice to them;
  • there is less travel time, and it means people are more likely to show up, and
  • in these COVID times we are not sure whether there will be another lockdown.

Here are some ideas for running the program on Zoom

  • Make a manual of all the handouts – we did not do this in our first class, and screen sharing didn’t work equally well with everyone’s technology.
  • Spend time before the group begins, making sure participants know how to use Zoom and how to access the E skills program. This first cohort of ours did not have access to the E skills program, and it would have helped.
  • Expect your numbers to drop. On the two occasions, we have run the program, not all who booked arrived, despite a pre-group interview. This is a dilemma, as maximum numbers to facilitate well with our clients on Zoom seems to be five people. I settled for booking 7 in, with the hope that four remain. Zoom makes the program cheaper to run, and the NDIS funding is what allows us to do this with small numbers.
  • Make it fun. As people get to know each other do funny things. Practice a new me activity such as dancing – and they can dance off-screen if they too shy just exposing an arm or a leg to the camera, or do finger dancing. It was great to play some music mid-group. Show small videos, get permission to record the mindfulness activity and send it to them as an MP3 for home practice.

I’m not sure how this second group will go. It made a big difference meeting up in person for a couple of weeks in the first group. Perhaps I’ll post an update in 12 weeks’ time.