By AMANDA SMITH
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that “one in five college students experience a mental health condition, with 75 percent of all mental health conditions surfacing by the age of twenty-four.” UMW’s Talley Center wants to promote awareness of resources and solutions to students on campus and emphasize they have access to these so they can cope and overcome their struggles and stress in college. One highly recommended outlet, according to UMW’s Talley Center, is group therapy.
Group therapy is offered to any and all students attending the university, and all are encouraged to reach out by appointment so the counsellors can refer them a group that could help. The Talley Center runs about seven to eight unique groups per semester that offer a variety of outlets.
According to Dr. Tevya Zukor, Director of the Talley Center and certified group psychotherapist, students get over their initial intimidation at sharing their story with a group of strangers pretty quickly.
“When students open up to the process, they really benefit from the group, but also find when they give it a fair chance they really enjoy and want to continue the process,” he said.
UMW psychology professor Emily Stanley said, “In general, an advantage of group therapy is that it allows people to practice the skills they are working on with the other group members and to get ideas and feedback from the group members. It also lets people know that they are not the only one struggling with things.”
There are additional psychological benefits to participating in group therapy.
“We’ve all been members of groups – from our families of origin to school, work and social settings,” Jeremy Schwartz, a LCSW psychotherapist said in his 2017 article in US News. “Because of this, group therapy comes very close to our real-life experiences, providing a realistic setting to work through real-life problems.”
Students at UMW have said that group therapy can be an impactful experience. According to UMW psychology and special education major Megan Suprise, “group therapy can be more rewarding than individual therapy. Connecting with other people can be weird, but if you hear what they have to say, they could bring things you relate to and that can ultimately help you.”
Group therapy can be more rewarding than one-on-one sessions, according to JAMA Psychiatry. They say “it is believed that psychotherapy delivered in a group format may generally result in better outcomes for patients due to the additional exposure of social stimuli and interaction within the group format, than those in an isolated one.”
Dr. Zukor agreed.
“The research has shown that between individual talk therapy and group counseling, that group counseling has a better long-term progress on a person,” he said. “When we think about it, it makes a lot of sense; we are social beings we like communicating.”
Stanley said that group therapy removes the sense of being alone but that individual therapy can also be beneficial.
“Depending on the reasons why someone has gone to therapy sometimes individual therapy makes more sense, and sometimes group therapy makes more sense.”
For coping with these stressors, the Talley Center has provided specialized groups for students that might need another way to express how they feel. The most recent addition to the therapy groups offered is the expressive arts group. Student are given the opportunity to create art projects to show their feelings.
“The expressive arts group helps students find an outlet for expressing themselves that words cannot explain,” Zukor explained.
During these sessions, students attempt to explain their mental health through creative thought in art forms of drawing and paper crafts. One task students were given was to create an image that shows what their minds are going through daily.
“It is quite unique to this school,” Zukor said.
For student who are looking for problem-solving groups, Zukor also highlighted the Talley Center’s new “adulting” group, where participants learn life skills like paying bills and getting their cars serviced.
According to records from January, the Talley Center groups such as the sexual abuse survivors and LBGTQ therapy groups are in high demand, with an attendance rate estimated around thirteen consistent members for each group. Most therapy groups are supposed to be capped to around eight students per session.
“Both are really important populations, so we literally are borrowing chairs from other offices,” Zukor said.
The Talley Center is pleased to offer help to so many students, but there are some concerns.
“It’s good news and bad news, because there are some groups that are beyond capacity,” Zukor said. “We are fitting them all in because it is important to us to help so many students. I love that our students use and value our therapy groups, but at the same time, do I wish we didn’t have so much demand for these groups. We have a lot of students that are struggling in life right now and that is a concern. Overall, we want to help our university’s students recover.”
Students struggling with mental health or interested in group therapy are encouraged to call the Talley Center at (540) 654-1053.