How to Run a Peer Consultation Group

Posted on October 17, 2016 by Kristen Moran

Are you thinking about participating in a peer consultation group, but you aren’t sure where to start? Do you want some guidelines in how to make the experience a positive one? Are you wondering about such things like the size of the group, where to meet and how to get the most value from the group meetings? If so, you’re in the right place.

In this article, we go over the best practices for starting and running an effective peer consultation group.

Create a mission statement

Before forming a peer consultation group, or any organization of people for that matter, it is important to be clear on what everyone wants to get out of it. What is the group’s purpose? What is the mission of the group?

Having a mission statement helps to set the intention of the group, guide its development and create group cohesion. Is the main intent of the group to provide a social environment to informally mix and mingle? Or perhaps the group is more about business building and brainstorming marketing ideas. Other groups want to focus on applying and reinforcing their prefered model of therapy. Others want to focus on improving facilitative interpersonal skills.

At Theravue, our mission is to provide a platform where psychotherapists - such as marriage and family therapists, psychologists, clinical counselors, psychiatrists and social workers - can meet online to share and receive advice on their problems cases. Our ultimate goal is to apply tools and techniques that are proven to improve client outcomes.

Find members that fit

To receive the maximum benefit from a peer consultation group, it’s imperative that the members of the group fit well together. It’s important that everyone in the group feels comfortable with one another and that each member’s experience, training and therapeutic orientation are taken into consideration.

Here at Theravue, we attempt to form groups of like-minded professionals. For instance, we’ll form a group of marriage and family therapists with five to ten years of experience. That said, some groups have a mission of offering a broader range of perspectives and elect to have members whose backgrounds are more diverse. Because we draw from a large pool of members, if a group is not a good fit, the group can be disbanded and new groups formed, or a member can request a new group at any time.

Find the right size of group

The size of the group is another matter to take into consideration, as the size can influence the dynamics of the group. “Typically, in a small group, practitioners have more opportunities to contribute to discussions, while larger groups can offer participants more perspectives and feedback,” according to APA Practice Organization’s (APAPO) Practice Central.

While a larger group with broader perspective might be attractive, the other practical consideration for a group is the frequency and length of meetings.

In our experience, each member will need at least 45 minutes to share and collect feedback on their cases. If the group plans to meet once per month for three hours, only four members can receive feedback on their clients per month. If there are more than four members, not all members will get feedback every month. This may or may not be a problem for the group.

As a result, a larger group may elect to meet more frequently, requiring a bigger commitment from its members. Instead of meeting once per month for 3 hours, it may elect to meet twice per month for 2 hours, raising the time commitment from 2 hours to 3 hours per month.

A good rule of thumb is to adjust the size and time commitment of the group to have each member get feedback on their clients at least once per month.

At Theravue, we create groups of 4 therapists and recommend that they meet twice per month for at least 90-minutes. That way, each member can receive feedback from three other practitioners at least once per month.

Have a confidentiality agreement

When participating in a peer consultation group, it’s critical that all the members agree to hold the information shared confidential. The good news is that maintaining confidentiality is nothing new to professional, licensed psychotherapists.

Schedule meetings regularly

As discussed above, once a peer consultation group is put together, the members must decide how often and for how long they will meet. While there is no right or wrong structure when developing a meeting schedule for a peer consultation group, it is recommended that groups meet on a regular basis at the same time each week or month.

For example, a group that agrees to meet twice per month may opt to schedule their meetings for the second and fourth Thursday of each month, at 4pm. That way, meetings can be scheduled well in advance and it’s easy for members to remember when their meetings will take place.

Like the example above, here at Theravue, we recommend peer consultation groups meet twice per month for 2 hours, at the same times each month.

Decide where to meet

Due to the nature of the discussions held by peer consultation groups, it’s important that groups meet in a location that allows for private conversation. Meetings can be held at one of the member’s office or home. Other groups opt to reserve a private room at a nearby restaurant.

Groups can also meet online using video conferencing solutions, most of which are designed for use with clients. At Theravue, we have developed a HIPAA-compliant video conferencing system designed specifically for psychotherapist groups. Existing groups can join Theravue if they are looking for a convenient and secure way to meet online.

Assign a facilitator

In order to ensure the group meetings run smoothly and in a timely manner, it is ideal to appoint a facilitator for the group. The job of the facilitator is to schedule meetings, make sure the agenda is followed during meetings, jot down any notes, and generally keep everyone on track throughout the process.

The biggest challenge of the facilitator is to keep the feedback for a given member to the allotted time so all the members have equal amounts of time to share their client cases and receive feedback from the group. It’s easy to schedule 30 minutes of feedback per member and go an extra 10 minutes for the first member and run out of time for the subsequent members.

If nobody in the group wants to be the facilitator, the group can agree to rotate the position regularly, giving others the opportunity to fill the role. Having all of the members fill the role builds empathy and understanding for what it takes to keep the group running smoothly.

However the facilitator is selected and for whatever duration, it’s key that the group have a facilitator at all times, except for maybe the first meeting.

Here at Theravue, the facilitator is the only member of a group who can schedule meetings and take group notes during the call. Although a group can only have one facilitator, the facilitator can assign the role to any other member of the group at any time.

Structure your meetings

When deciding on a meeting structure, some peer consultation groups may prefer a formal, structured meeting, while others opt for something more informal. It’s best to work out these details prior to the first meeting to ensure all members are on the same page. It is also important to structure the time well in order to maximize the benefit of each meeting.

At Theravue, here’s what we suggest for a 2-hour meeting:

  • Intro (10 minutes) - Meet and greet, announcements
  • Member #1 (45 minutes) - Present and get feedback about their clients
  • Member #2 (45 minutes) - Present and get feedback about their clients
  • Wrap-up (5 - 20 minutes) - Wrap up the meeting/Extra time for member feedback

Of course, there are ways to use the same format for a shorter call. If your group members can only carve out 90 minutes for a call, you can have 5 minutes for the intro, 40 minutes each for two members to present and finish off with a 5-minute wrap-up.

Some groups may attempt to fit two client feedback cycles into a 60-minute meeting. It is possible but requires the group to keep the intro and wrap-up to an absolute minimum and to be particularly diligent with the time.

Join a peer consultation group today

If you are interested in participating in a peer consultation group, join Theravue today. We’ll set you up with a group of like-minded therapists. If you are already a member of a peer consultation group and want to try a convenient and easy system for conducting group meetings online, Theravue is designed for you.

About the Author

Kristen Moran

Kristen is the editor and community manager at Theravue. Kristen's desire to ask questions and share information with others led her to pursue journalism. While she has pursued various avenues in her field, it was her love of self-improvement and zest for life that made Theravue the perfect fit. Connect with Kristen through Twitter.