Group option makes therapy accessible: Counseling Center suggests group therapy as an alternative to individual counseling

Posted by Sarah Barry

The college Counseling Center has offered the option of group therapy for years, but an increase in advertising this semester has brought the group option into the spotlight.

Andrew Demaree, associate director of the Counseling Center, says that many students can benefit from participation in group therapy.

"It's a different type of dialogue when meeting in a focused group. There are lots of students who don't choose to come into private sessions who really might benefit from speaking with other students with [the same] concerns" Demaree said.

There are three group therapy options at Skidmore; two groups focus on specific issues and the third is an interpersonal group.

"The interpersonal group focuses on how people relate to each other," Demaree said.

The interpersonal group consists of students with a variety of concerns who are interested in a group discussion and feedback from peers. The three groups are led by two counselors and meet throughout the semester.

"There's a lot going on in a given session, so it can be helpful to have another person paying attention to what's going on," Demaree said.

The two counselors begin the conversations, but hope that students will take some control over the discussions as the session goes on. "We are active at the beginning, but ideally we play less and less of a role. We want to focus on what's important to them at the current moment," Demaree said.

The focus groups are formed at the beginning of each semester.

This semester the two focus groups center on loss and eating disorders.

"We are willing to run just about any group that students can think of or that they think they could make use of," Demaree said.

In the past, the Center has attempted to run a transition group for seniors, but they haven't seen a lot of participation in that focus area.

The Counseling Center draws ideas from different departments on campus when deciding which groups to form for the semester.

"We approach Residential Life and Student Affairs, and often administration approaches us with ideas for programs that might be useful to students," Demaree said.

The center also has a good relationship with practices within Saratoga who also provide ideas for group therapy.

According to Demaree, the group option provides

different benefits than one-

on-one counseling."There is a different level of support you get from peers than from a counselor. You know there's someone who is struggling with a similar issue, who knows what's going on with you even if you don't sit with them at lunch," Demaree said.

The focused groups connect people with similar struggles and experiences.

"The groups make it easier to talk about things that people see as separating them from the rest of the population," Demaree explained.

The two focused groups also provide a different level of support for students than the interpersonal group.

"A person struggling with anorexia might not be able to discuss that particular issue with someone who is struggling with roommate issues or social anxiety," said Demaree.

The focused groups try to eliminate this issue while still providing an option for group therapy.

Group therapy can also extend participation in counseling without any additional costs to students.

"There is a session limit on one-on-one counseling; there is no session limit for groups. It can be a good next step after one-on-one counseling," Demaree said.

Private counseling is limited to eight sessions on-campus through the Counseling Center, then students are recommended to professionals off-campus.

Many students worry about asking for help through the Counseling Center because of privacy issues, but Demaree says the fear is unwarranted.

"In 11 years I've never had a problem with confidentiality. People respect the confidentiality involved, but we still address the issue early in the first meeting," Demaree said.

The Counseling Center seeks to remove any stigma that is attached to counseling in general.

The number of participants varies each year, but generally Counseling Services sees approximately 450 students each year, in a combination of group and private settings.

"Letting students know how many students participate each year helps reduce any stigma," Demaree said.

Demaree explains that this number has risen in the past few years, but this is not an area of concern for the campus.

"I don't see it as an increase in mental health issues on campus. I think the number says that people recognize where they struggle and know there is a good resource for them on campus."

The Counseling Center is also interested in making the process of asking for help accessible for everyone.

"It should feel as easy as possible. Students are always welcome to see one of the other folks here after the first meeting," Demaree said.

"There is no certain level of distress necessary to participate and there's nothing to lose from trying it once."

The Counseling Center is open Monday - Friday, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Appointments should be made ahead of time if possible, though emergencies will be accommodated.

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