Sitting down with a group of nine other people might not be what leaps to mind when we think of mental health counselling for depression or anxiety, but there are many reasons why it might be exactly what some students need.
“If students aren’t comfortable talking in-depth about their personal experiences but are looking for strategies and support to feel better, groups could be the right choice,” says Katrina O’Donnell, a counsellor with MacEwan University’s Wellness and Psychological Services.
Group therapy is one of several free, professional counselling services available to any student enrolled in a credit course. In group counselling, students meet once a week for between six and eight weeks and connect with others facing similar challenges. Here are three reasons why O’Donnell thinks students might want to consider giving this type of therapy a go.
1. You’re not alone (a.k.a., safety in numbers)
“Mental health concerns, like depression and anxiety, can trick us into thinking that we’re the only ones who feel this way,” says O’Donnell. “The power of group therapy is that we get to hear others talk about their experiences and realize that they ‘get it’ and feel the same way.”
Not only can participating in group therapy create a sense of community, but it can also provide greater accountability – and motivation.
“When one student finds a strategy that works for them, we’re all more likely to believe in the efficacy of that strategy and try it ourselves,” says O’Donnell.
2. It’s a safe space
Participating in online group counselling means students can do so from the comfort of their own homes – and do what they need to do to make their physical environment feel safe and comfortable. Ensuring the online environment feels just as comfortable as your home environment is one of the facilitators’ main priorities, says O’Donnell.
“We spend a good amount of time in the first session going over ways to protect each other’s privacy and setting the tone for building a safe, comfortable and supportive atmosphere,” she says. “Students also have a lot of autonomy and can decide how much or how little they will share.”
That means that group counselling can feel “easier” than individual therapy, according to students' feedback, making participants feel less vulnerable or emotional. “Students also tell us that being able to share ideas and experiences makes it easier to put the skills they are learning into practice.”
Changeways is a cognitive-behavioural group designed to help with depression that touches on goal-setting and motivation, lifestyle factors that affect mood, and how our thinking can contribute to depression.
Practicing Positivity is a positive-psychology group for anyone experiencing low mood, including students who have been feeling lower since the pandemic hit. The group focuses on improving quality of life and exploring concepts like individual strengths, values and gratitude.
Living Mindfully is an acceptance and commitment therapy group for students experiencing anxiety that discusses mindfulness, committed action, values and self-compassion.
Finding the right fit
Students don’t have to try to select which group they should participate in on their own, says O’Donnell.
“During a student’s initial consultation, our clinicians get to know them and talk a little bit about what’s been troubling them,” she explains. “From there, we can suggest any groups that seem like a good fit and provide more details.”
Regardless of which group a student participates in, being engaged is crucial, says O’Donnell.
“Whether a group is online or in-person, the more committed a student is to attending sessions and trying the things we discuss in a group, the more they get out of it.”
This story is part of Changing Minds: Creating a healthy campus – an initiative that makes mental health a priority. The program connects training opportunities, support services, resources and stories from real people across the MacEwan University community.
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