Strength in numbers:groups at SHACS

Thank you for the opportunity to write about Student Health and Counseling Services’ (SHACS) group therapy program, as we are stepping it up to better serve the needs of Grinnell College students.

Most people are aware of the benefits of individual personal counseling with a therapist. Having a regular place to talk about issues that might be distressing or that you simply want to change can be a rewarding and empowering experience. However, research over the last 30 years has shown that group therapy can be even more impactful. Having a confidential space where peers can discuss issues pertinent to their age group or situation, hear that they are not alone with similar struggles, and help one another handle various life situations improves self-worth and increases coping in a variety of capacities.  Group therapy is highly effective for college students in that relationship building is so important during this phase of life. Having a place to “practice” relationships, get and give feedback on communication styles, learn what constitutes a healthy relationship and what does not, learn assertiveness skills, and feeling socially connected are vital aspects of healthy social functioning. Groups focused on specific topics have been shown to reduce drug and alcohol use, decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression, decrease chronic pain, increase empowerment and well-being in minority students, and increase healthy coping after a trauma or bereavement, just to name a few.

It is an unfortunate fact that counseling centers across the country are being overwhelmed by the need for services greatly outpacing their resources, and Grinnell College is no exception. As the newest staff member in SHACS, having started in July of this year, I have already heard concerns from students that the wait to see a therapist feels too long. Group therapy again comes to the rescue as it also has the added benefit of being efficient and cost-effective. One or two therapists can facilitate a group of about eight students over the same period of time they could see one or two individually. Due to this combination of efficiency and efficacy, SHACS is expanding its group therapy program to better serve the needs of Grinnell College students.

I have noticed in my career that whenever I talk to students about group therapy there is almost always hesitancy and nervousness about joining a group. This is very normal and often stems from ongoing relationship issues, anxiety about discussing personal issues with strangers, or feeling like others will not understand and relate to their personal issues. Often the therapy group facilitators will meet with potential group members individually for 20-30 minutes before the group discussion begins to discuss expectations, goals, and answer any questions students may have about the group session. When the group convenes, all group members discuss confidentiality and how to navigate being in a therapy group and seeing each other on campus, as well as sharing their own goals for being in a therapy group. As the group progresses, trust is developed and it becomes easier to share personal information and members realize they are not alone in their experiences.

Currently, SHACS is offering two therapy groups focused on relationship building and self-understanding, while another group will assist in the healing process after a sexual assault. We also have a couple of groups that are topic specific to help students cope with specific symptoms: one focusing on ADHD, and another on managing symptoms of anxiety and depression. For more information on these groups, including times, please see our web page at http://www.grinnell.edu/offices/studentaffairs/health/counselingsvcs/counssvcs/groups or call SHACS at x3230. If you are interested in a group but the time does not fit your schedule, please contact SHACS anyway as new groups may be added or times may change depending on need.

Sincerely,

A.J. Williams, PhD

Training Coordinator and Staff Psychologist

Student Health and Counseling Services