Group Therapy Addresses Common Student Concerns

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For students who have struggled with anxiety, mood disorders, or relationship problems, group therapy has been demonstrated to be one of the most effective treatments on campus for these mental health concerns. 

Three years ago, Colgate’s Counseling and Psychological Services offered three weekly group therapy sessions. Today, we manage 10 to 12 group therapy sessions per week to our students — who have shown increasing awareness of the importance of mental health. In the 2018–19 school year, the counseling center provided services to 706 students, a 7.4-percent increase compared to 2017–18. Nearly 20 percent of those students attended a therapy group. 

Groups meet weekly at the same time and typically have up to eight students with one or two counselors. Most groups begin during the first month of the semester and will remain open for new students to join until they are full. In sessions, students are able to learn from each other in a safe, confidential, and supportive environment while also getting high quality treatment facilitated by a professional counselor. 

Oftentimes, group therapy can be more effective than standard individual therapy — students realize they are not alone with their problems and often form strong bonds with fellow group members. They can gain a different perspective from interacting with others who may have managed similar concerns. They are also able to translate social and emotional skills learned while practicing with peers to their relationships more effectively. 

In addition, group counseling gives students a place to use skills they have previously learned in individual therapy. 

Another goal with our group counseling options is to make therapy accessible to students who otherwise might not seek counseling. The various group themes help ensure that we can serve the diverse needs within our student community.
The most popular group is Understanding Self and Others (USO), which aims to address the most common concerns of stress, anxiety, depression, time management, and navigating peer relationships. Other groups include:

  • Stress and anxiety management 
  • Feel better fast: a condensed version of traditional USO
  • Grief and loss
  • Beyond the binary: exploring sexual orientation and LGBTQ+ issues
  • Survivors: A group for sexual abuse and assault survivors
  • Empower: A group designed specifically to address issues faced by students of color
  • Eating issues

We constantly evaluate the sessions, and thus far, student satisfaction surveys have shown that group therapy is effective and students really like it — some students come to our offices just to get involved in the groups. Students report enjoying having the consistency of having a session at the same time, same place every week. They also enjoy being able to hear from students who have managed similar concerns and the feeling that they are able to help others while they themselves are getting help. 

So how can parents support their students to consider group therapy as a resource?

  • If your student is struggling, share your awareness of this option for counseling on campus. Encourage your student to seek out an appointment with a counselor, who can talk with them in confidence about how a therapy group could meet their specific needs. 
  • Acknowledge any stress your student might be experiencing about trying something new like group therapy. Let them know that it’s normal to feel scared or anxious, and reassure them that the potential long-term benefits will likely outweigh their initial, short-term discomfort. 
  • Help your student consider the level of mental health treatment that they need and how to get those needs met while at Colgate. This may look different than what they were used to in high school. Many students who have managed long-term mental health issues throughout high school and college find the combination of group and individual therapies to be extremely beneficial. 

Students interested in learning more about counseling services at Colgate are encouraged to set up an appointment online, or call 315-228-7385.

—Niki Keating is associate director of counseling and psychological services and director of group therapy